5 to Watch: Cornerbacks
By: Maxwell Traill
These are 5 corners I think are worth talking about in short, nothing full or final, but CBs I want to keep an eye on. These are 5 guys I want anyone reading to know more about or to keep track of throughout the year.
We have seen prominent corners come out of Ohio State in recent years, everyone knows the names Denzel Ward and Marshon Lattimore, with less NFL success out of Eli Apple, and if you open it up to all DBs you can include budding safety Malik Hooker. Jeffrey Okudah, to me has all the tools to jump into the top tier of Ohio State corners. The thing that jumps off the page with Okudah is his twitch and extremely quick reactions. His ball skills need work, but Ohio State has a history of not developing ball skills with the players at the College level in favor of face guarding. All those guys mentioned above have exceptional ball skills in the NFL today. Even Eli Apple flashes it if he hasn’t been beaten off the ball. You can see it in the lack of INTs on Okudah’s stat line and make some lazy takes on him, but he is extremely physical and tough at the line. Don’t confuse him for a Brandon Browner big slow corner either, they guy has legit 4.3 speed, and the acceleration pops up on tape a lot. To make an NFL comparison, I see a Joe Haden level of play throughout his career.
C.J. Henderson needs to be a more willing tackler, even if it’s not the most crucial thing. Coverage is paramount for corners, I would think this would be obvious, but we saw a 6-foot-2, long and quick corner who showed flashes of elite coverage drop to the 2nd round because he wasn’t a good/willing tackler. If C.J. Henderson can cover the way we have seen him in the 1st 3 weeks, I want him on my team, however NFL executives might not. For his own sake, he needs to look like he wants to tackle, or he will drop in the draft, similar to Greedy Williams. The way I look at it is shutting down a WR, or your zone with Henderson’s ball skills is so important, you should overlook his lack of tackling prowess. Asante Samuel was one of the worst tacklers in the history of the position and he made a lot of QBs avoid his side in coverage. Henderson will impact the pass at the next level and that’s what is paramount in today’s game.
My 2nd corner is UVA senior, Bryce Hall. Hall’s placement isn’t based off his potential, but what we have seen on film over his last season and this season so far. Hall would have been right up with Murphy for my number 1 corner if he decided to leave last year. He is technically sound, more so than any corner in the draft. Hall finds a way to make a play on the ball even if he seems behind the play. I will stand on a table for Bryce Hall this year, even if he isn’t athletically gifted like Okudah or Henderson. My biggest knock on him would be I worry of how he will play in a man scheme. Ball skills are typically easier in zone defense because you’re looking at the QB, and he showed that. I could see him a lot like Marcus Peters, where you can see him making plays, but if you put him into the wrong scheme there would be a lot of misses. If he is scheme dependent, it’s what makes him the number 2 corner behind Okudah, however if he can show his prowess in man the number 1 corner spot is open for Hall.
In today’s NFL we have seen an increased importance on the slot cornerback. You have to value the position now with the nickel being the base defense. Darnay Holmes might be the next guy to fill that hole for a team. Justin Coleman, Desmond King, and Tavon Young have been into very valuable defenders due to their work in the slot. Darnay Holmes likely won’t be able to work on the outside, he’s slightly too small, but good news for him, with where the NFL is trending, he likely won’t have to. Don’t let Holmes’ size trick you, he is physical, the guy will get up into a WR’s pads and will let you know he’s there. It’s the kind of strength we probably won’t see on bench reps, but we will see on film. The speed is unquestioned, if you’re in any doubt check the 2018 game in Oklahoma and watch him run step for step with Hollywood Brown, who is now burning NFL players. He isn’t without his faults, his ball skills need work and he seems to try and take too many risks, leading to plays on him. I heavily intrigued by Holmes, because he doesn’t work in the NFL years ago, but with the increase on speed and the increased focus on slot corners and nickel sets, he fits today’s NFL like a glove.
Speaking of slot prospects, Myles Bryant isn’t getting nearly enough hype coming into this draft process. Bryant might be the quickest 0-60 defender in the draft. At 5’8, he’s another corner limited to the slot, but if you put him in that position, I truly think he can be elite. Watching my number 1 corner last year, Byron Murphy, I would get excited at a play and then realize it wasn’t #1, but rather #5. My biggest problem with Bryant is the first step in coverage. He often can rebound due to his insane quick athleticism, however, WRs seem to get where they want on their 1st step off the line, whether it’s inside or outside. This is something Bryant needs to work on, because he’s not going to be able to alter their route with physicality, he needs to be in position early or he will lose on contested catches inside or outside, regardless of how big the WR is.
These are prospects that you should keep track of if your databases at home and pay attention to during their games, each for different reasons. From Okudah’s wide range of outcomes, to Hall’s zone dependency, it’s all worth keeping an eye on.