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2018 NFL Draft CB Rankings

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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Ranking the draftable cornerback prospects from the 2018 class, out of Southern Pigskin's coverage area.

These rankings are comprised of what are the draftable/PFA worthy prospects from our coverage area here at Southern Pigskin -- the ACC, SEC, Sun Belt, and SoCon.

These rankings include a basic rundown of strengths and weaknesses, from the pre-combine rankings, plus new round projections, player comparisons, and a more in-depth summation of my personal opinion on each respective player.

Starting with the quarterbacks, they will be released one day at a time until all of the position groups are up. After that, they will be easily found in a comprehensive database from a homepage that includes an updated mock draft.

QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | IOL (OG/C) | EDGE (DE/3-4 OLB) | DL | LB | CB | S

CORNERBACKS

1. Jaire Alexander, Louisville: 5’10, 196

Strengths: Versatility to play inside or outside. Speedy playmaker with plus ball skills. Smooth, agile, and keeps eyes on the quarterback. Sometimes looks like he’s running the receiver’s route better than the wideout. Particularly good against intermediate to deep patterns.

Weaknesses: Misses more tackles than one would like. Frame plus injuries in 2017 could lead to durability questions.

Player Comparison: Stephon Gilmore

IMO: Jaire Alexander may or may not be the best cornerback in this class, that’s up for debate, but he’s no lower than two (assuming you have Minkah Fitzpatrick as a safety, which you probably should). The guy that might be ahead of him, contrary to popular belief, would be Iowa’s Josh Jackson, not Denzel Ward from Ohio State, who I think is severely overrated. Ward had one good year for the Buckeyes and shares basically the same set of skills with Alexander, who has more good tape. I’ll hear Jackson over Alexander. I actually think Ward is very good, too, but there’s no case for him to be ahead of the former Louisville Cardinal. Still, with Jackson’s limited long speed, give me Alexander in spite of the injury concerns as CB1.

Round Grade: Mid 1st

2. Donte Jackson, LSU: 5’11, 178

Strengths: Track star, one of the fastest players in the entire draft. Can play in the slot or on the boundary. Aside from top end speed, really fluid acceleration and lateral agility helps him to recover from mistakes.

Weaknesses: Subpar instincts, feel. Questionable recognition skills.

Player Comparison: Ronald Darby

IMO: Everyone assumed that Donte Jackson would tear up the combine and that’s exactly what he did. This dude has jets. Athletically, few athletes can even begin to measure up, but it wasn’t until last year that he translated that into on-field success. He played inside and outside at LSU and has the potential to play both in the NFL, but he’s best suited as a slot corner where his recovery speed and change of direction could see him become on of the best in the league. That shouldn’t impact his value anymore, either. For all intents and purposes, nickel is the new base for just about everyone, so slot corners are as valuable as they’ve ever been.

Round Grade: Late 1st

3. M.J. Stewart, North Carolina: 5’11, 200

Strengths: Really well rounded, good in off or press-man, zone, and quick enough to play in the slot. Good build, can physically hang with tight ends. Plus in run support.

Weaknesses: Not as fast as one would like. Sometimes overly aggressive. No picks in 2016 or 2017.

Player Comparison: Josh Norman

IMO: Stewart is not a true cornerback. He’s more of a tweener defensive back that can play in the slot, handle safety duties, support against the run, and yes, cover the boundary situationally. There was a time where that would’ve been looked down upon. Now, it’s a huge pro. Football is hardly positionless and here’s still great value in specialization, but it is heading that way. NFL teams are in desperate need of versatility within the secondary. Stewart fills that need.

Round Grade: Mid 2nd

4. Carlton Davis, Auburn: 6’1, 206

Strengths: Solid in press-man coverage. Big, physical corner. Nice height, weight, athleticism candidate. Tracks the ball and gets his head around.

Weaknesses: Lacks the long speed to stay with true burners. Sometimes too physical, panics and gets flagged.

Player Comparison: T.J. Carrie

IMO: Physically, Davis is the type of corner that’s become in vogue of late. He’s big, strong, super long, and very well-rounded. He’s not the best true coverage option, but some teams may feel that what he lacks there and in top end speed, he make sup for in run support and press ability. Personally, I’m not as attracted to the bigger corners just because they’re bigger, but a lot of teams do and it’s worked out in a number of cases. Davis is scheme dependent but has a high upside in the right situation.

Round Grade: Late 2nd

5. Duke Dawson, Florida: 5’11, 197

Strengths: Excels in the slot. Consistent production. Elite in press coverage from inside or outside. Willing to mix it up in run support. Really instinctive.

Weaknesses: Only average athleticism for the position -- can get beat by faster receivers. Needs to cut down on missed tackles.

Player Comparison: Janoris Jenkins

IMO: Dawson hurt his stock a little last year, regressing slightly from a stellar 2016 campaign. He’s got the mindset to be good in run support, just maybe not the skill set. Nevertheless, he’s got two strong years in coverage on his resume and possesses plus ball skills. He is at his best in the slot where his average straight line speed won’t hurt him as much and he’s got adequate play strength to press guys from inside at the next level.

Round Grade: Early 3rd

6. Anthony Averett, Alabama: 5’11, 183

Strengths: Mirrors receivers. Plus athleticism. Reliable solo tackler. Above average play recognition.

Weaknesses: Susceptible to double moves and rub routes. Play strength leaves something to be desired.

Player Comparison: William Jackson

IMO: Averett is pretty well rounded with few weaknesses. He’s good against the run, good in man, good in press, good in zone, but not great at anything. He impressed at the combine with his 40 time, but simultaneously raised some red flags with his explosiveness, change of direction, and accel/decel numbers. His ball skills are only average, but his feel for the game will keep him from ever being less than average. He may never be a true number one, but has the potential to be a solid second cornerback.

Round Grade: Late 3rd

7. Isaac Yiadom, Boston College: 6’1, 190

Strengths: Aggressive press corner with good length. Physical at the line of scrimmage. Technically sound.

Weaknesses: Sometimes too physical, could pick up more flags in the NFL. Average athlete.

Player Comparison: Ross Cockrell

IMO: Yiadom is another one of those long corners that NFL teams so covet. He’s put together two solid seasons in a row, but has struggled to maintain consistency from one game to the next. One week he puts everything together, the next some things are clicking and some aren’t, and the next it can be a total disaster. There’s no one aspect of his game that’s totally reliable, game in, game out. He did play a lot of special teams at Boston College which could help see the field early, and he has the potential to eventually develop into a fringe starter.

Round Grade: Early 4th

8. Levi Wallace, Alabama: 6’0, 179

Strengths: Plus ball skills with those long arms equal a lot of pass breakups. Pretty technically sound, all around. Good closing speed.

Weaknesses: Slender with less than ideal play strength. Struggles with bigger, more physical receivers.

Player Comparison: Johnthan Banks

IMO: There’s only one full year of tape on Wallace, a former walk-on at Alabama, but it’s a darn good one. He was good against the run in college, but his play strength could hurt him in that respect in the NFL. He’s not super athletic and didn’t measure well at the combine, but he displayed good closing speed last year. His length and ball skills are the main selling points on Wallace. His upside is capped by his athletic limitations, but Levi Wallace is an awesome story and he’s not done writing yet.

Round Grade: Early 4th

9. Greg Stroman, Virginia Tech: 5’11, 182

Strengths: Plus speed. Good closing burst. Upper echelon ball skills. Excellent footwork out of press-man.

Weaknesses: Thin frame. Can’t always go up and get it against leapers.

Player Comparison: D.J. White

IMO: As far as the eye test goes, Stroman is not the kind of cornerback that NFL teams are usually checking for, yet the coverage ability that he has displayed over the past two seasons at Virginia Tech are impossible to overlook. He played predominantly outside in college but took snaps from the slot and at safety, looking comfortable anywhere. Despite his frame he has the strength of a press corner and flashed elite ball skills in 2017. He’s not a high end upside candidate, but his versatility and cover skills will see him stick around for awhile and probably even see the field early on special teams.

Round Grade: Early 5th

10. Rashaan Gaulden, Tennessee: 6’1, 197

Strengths: Great combination of length and top end speed. Does a good job of diagnosing and making plays in the run game. Versatile with experience inside and outside. Sticks to receivers from the slot.

Weaknesses: Played almost exclusively in the slot last year and was much less effective on the boundary than in the slot two years ago. Sometimes overly aggressive -- gives up some big plays.

Player Comparison: Xavien Howard

IMO: Gaulden picked up a lot of steam during the pre-draft process after what was really his only good year at Tennessee. He looked a lot more athletic during the season than he measured at the combine, so teams must reconcile that as they will. Regardless, even at his size, he’s at his best in the slot, so some of those concerns can be mitigated. If nothing else, Gaulden will be useful against the run and appears to be a moldable prospect.

Round Grade: Mid 5th

11. Tony Brown, Alabama: 6’0, 199

Strengths: Hyper competitive, alpha dog personality. Versatile with experience throughout the defensive secondary. Plus athleticism.

Weaknesses: Doesn’t necessarily excel in any particular aspect of coverage. Has had some off the field issues.

Player Comparison: Brandon Williams

IMO: Tony Brown is super fun to watch. This dude gets after it with a passion that is unsurpassed. He showed great versatility at Alabama, playing throughout the defensive backfield and is a heck of an athlete. The worry is his lack of noteworthy positives. Not many cons, but not many pros either.

Round Grade: Mid 5th

12. Chandon Sullivan, Georgia State: 5’10, 194

Strengths: High football IQ, route recognition skills. Choppy, quick feet. Nice jab at the line of scrimmage.

Weaknesses: Only average instincts. Neither great top end speed, nor physicality to make up for it.

Player Comparison: Bene’ Benwikere

IMO: Sullivan is highly cerebral player with pretty good length and all the intangibles. He did not run well at the combine, but we already knew that he wasn’t the fastest guy. What we didn’t expect were the explosion numbers he put up, which were off the charts. There’s a pretty strong correlation between players that did what he did in the jumping drills and successful NFL players. He may need to move into the slot in the league, but I would not be surprised to see Sullivan find work as a solid fourth cornerback at some point.

Round Grade: Late 5th

13. Avonte Maddox, Pittsburgh: 5’9, 184

Strengths: Fluid, fast twitch athlete. Good open field tackler. Tough as nails. Consistent in zone coverage.

Weaknesses: Impatient, overly reactive. Undersized, durability questions.

Player Comparison: Kareem Jackson

IMO: Maddox might be small, but he’s super twitchy with exceptional straight line speed, and a true competitor. When he showed up for games, he could be as lockdown as anyone, but there were also games at Pitt where it seemed like he didn’t get off the bus. A lot of teams will look past Maddox because of his size, and the ones that don’t will see him as a slot corner, as they should, but he rarely took snaps there in college. There could be a bit of a learning curve there, but he has all the athletic tools to make it work.

Round Grade: Early 6th

14. Kamrin Moore, Boston College: 5’11, 203

Strengths: Very technically sound in press. Competes from snap to whistle on every play. Fights at the catch point.

Weaknesses: Below average change of direction. Lack of athleticism could diminish his press value at the next level.

Player Comparison: Leonard Johnson

IMO: Moore put together two really solid years worth of tape between 2015 and 2016, and then took a real leap to the next level last season. He’s not the tallest guy, but he’s put together with adequate length. There’s not a coach in the world that won’t be taken with Moore’s competitive fire, not to mention his overall cover skills and technique. Athletic limitations will cap Moore’s upside, but he could be a solid fill-in in a pinch.

Round Grade: Early 6th

15. Dee Delaney, Miami: 6’0, 200

Strengths: Excellent awareness, play recognition and ball skills. Willing contributor in run support. Has the size to go up and fight for jump balls with bigger receivers.

Weaknesses: Only average athletically, at best. He improved as the season went on, but struggled mightily early after transitioning from FCS to FBS.

Player Comparison: Brandon Dixon

IMO: It took some time for Delaney to adjust to the FBS level of play after transferring to Miami from The Citadel. Eventually his play picked up, but then when he got adjusted, he couldn’t seem to stay on the field. There is no doubt that Delaney has great feel for the position and understanding of his role within the defense, but there are questions about his overall athleticism. It’s not that he’s not fast -- he has the long speed to keep up with even the faster guys on the outside -- but he may not have the acceleration, burst, and change of direction to keep with NFL starters. In any case, Delaney bet himself going from Charleston to “The U”, and he’s well worth a bet from an NFL team.

Round Grade: Mid 6th

16. Kevin Toliver II, LSU: 6’2, 192

Strengths: Good in off-man coverage. High upside height, weight, top end speed prospect. Promise-over-production candidate.

Weaknesses: Struggles in zone. Below average acceleration.

Player Comparison: Dre Kirkpatrick

IMO: Kevin Toliver, on paper, looks the part of an NFL cornerback, but isn’t as long as you would like given his height. He’s been consistent throughout his career at LSU, even as a freshman, but hasn’t improved much and has never really even been above average. Most NFL teams will see a project, possibly worth exploring, but his college career makes me nervous.

Round Grade: Late 6th

17. Tarvarus McFadden, Florida State: 6’2, 204

Strengths: Great size for the position. Has played a ton of press at Florida State, able to redirect at the line of scrimmage. Plus ball skills.

Weaknesses: Doesn’t get his head around. Tackling is a problem. Gives up too many big plays.

Player Comparison: Daryl Worley

IMO: McFadden regressed markedly after a huge 2016 campaign. Although, even two years ago, he really wasn’t as good as his numbers and subsequent accolades may suggest. He checks all the height, weight, length boxes and showed some explosiveness at the combine, but ran a really rough 40. He may struggle to keep up with burners on the outside, which was already something he had a hard time with in college, giving up a bunch of big plays. There a tools to work with here, but he’s not as NFL ready as some people see to believe.

Round Grade: Early 7th

19. Jamarcus King, South Carolina: 6’0, 185

Strengths: Sticks his arms in to force breakups when he gets his head around. Appealing length.

Weaknesses: Ball skills a concern. Gets beat downfield.

Player Comparison: Taveze Calhoun

IMO: Only one good year at South Carolina, but his length is enticing. He really needed to run a better 40 at the combine, too. His foot speed is a huge red flag. There’s just not much a track record of players like King having great success in the NFL. Still, his size and 2017 performance, which although inconsistent was more good than bad, could earn him a place in the league for a time.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP