Scouting Combine Research Series: Cornerbacks (Part 1)

Who changed from basketball to football? Who switched from receiver to cornerback? Whose father was a famous running back? Those answers and more as we get to know a deep cornerback class.

Here are the 34 cornerbacks who have been invited to the Scouting Combine. Players are listed in alphabetical order. Heights and weights come from All players are seniors unless noted. For Part 2, CLICK HERE. For Part 3, CLICK HERE.

Brian Allen, Utah (6-3, 208): Allen started his career at receiver but wound up playing 32 games at cornerback. Nine of his 12 career starts came as a senior, when he had four interceptions and broke up six other passes. Of his 35 tackles, 4.5 came behind the line of scrimmage. He had no interceptions and four passes defensed in his previous seasons combined.

He admittedly “hated” the move to defense. “Coming from high school, I hadn’t played any defense at all. I didn’t know how to tackle, I didn’t know how to do anything on the defensive side. But now in two-and-a-half seasons working with (the coaches) after practice every day, I feel like it’s coming naturally to me now and I love playing defense. I feel like I’ve been playing it forever.”

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The move to receiver wasn’t the only change in Allen’s life. Last summer, Allen welcomed his first child, a daughter named A’mya, with his wife, Paula. “It’s me taking on a lot more responsibility,” Allen said of his family. “As me being a senior, being a father has made me a humbler person. With my wife, she supports me with whatever I do. My baby girl keeps me up at night, but those guys are who really motivate me to come out here and do what I do every day.”

Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado (5-11, 205): Awuzie was a jack-of-all-trades defender during his four seasons, playing cornerback, nickel, safety and even some outside linebacker. So, he has the unusual combination of ranking fifth in school history with pass deflections (35) and first among defensive backs with nine sacks and 26 tackles for losses. As a senior, he had one interception, 13 pass breakups, four sacks and two forced fumbles to earn first-team all-Pac-12 honors. As a kid growing up in San Jose, Calif., Awuzie wasn’t allowed to play backyard football games. “I didn’t get to really play with kids because I was too rough. We’d play games, and they’d say I couldn’t play with them because I was just going to hurt somebody.” That toughness was put to the test when he suffered a lacerated kidney as a sophomore.

His godmother’s nephew is Nnamdi Asomugha.

Jeremy Clark, Michigan (6-3, 206): A part-time starter in 2014 and 2015, Clark was poised for bigger and better things as a senior before suffering a torn ACL during the third game of the season. The NCAA would not give him a sixth year of eligibility. In 36 career games in the secondary, he had 49 tackles, three interceptions and nine breakups.

All three career interceptions came in 2015, when Clark moved from safety to cornerback. The move caught Clark off-guard. “It was just in the middle of a meeting one time, no warning. At first, I was kind of iffy about it.”

Gareon Conley, Ohio State (6-0, 195): Redshirt junior. Conley was second-team all-Big Ten this season with four interceptions, including the clincher vs. Michigan State, one vs. Wisconsin and another in the playoff loss to Clemson. He added eight breakups for a total of 12 passes defensed. Conley notched a pair of interceptions in 2015, his first year as a starter. He originally committed to rival Michigan.

“That was really my first big offer. I really didn’t play football in high school. I was a basketball player, so once there was a Big Ten school that came across I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to jump on it because I probably won’t get anything better.’ Then more schools started coming and I wanted to explore my options.”

Conley didn’t start playing football until his sophomore year of high school in Massillon, Ohio. “I watched him on the basketball court as a freshman and knew right away this kid could be special," Massillon Washington football coach Jason Hall said. “He didn't play one real snap at corner until he was a junior. Towards the end of his sophomore year we looked at each as a coaching staff and said this kid is going to be really good”

Treston Decoud, Oregon State (6-2, 203): Decoud took a meandering path to Oregon State, with time at Chadron State, Nicholls State and one All-American season at Northwest Mississippi Community College. At that point, he pitched himself to several schools. Oregon sent back a rejection letter. “That (e-mail) always stuck with me," Decoud said. “I thought I could play with those guys.”

Why the meandering path? He went to Division II Chadron State because of academic issues, then transferred to FCS Nicholls State to be closer to his mom, who had been diagnosed with cancer. The NCAA deemed him ineligible to play there, so he moved on to Northwest Mississippi.

Finally, Decoud wound up at Oregon State, where he started for both seasons. As a senior, he intercepted two passes and broke up 10 others while contributing 58 tackles. As a junior, he had a team-high five pass breakups.

A chance to play in the NFL is good news. So, too, is the news that his mom is cancer-free. “I’ve faced the worst adversity the world can give you, and that's the possibility of losing your parents. I think if you can overcome that, you can overcome anything. I just gotta keep working and put my mind to it.”

Rasul Douglas, West Virginia (6-2, 204): Douglas took the nation by storm as a senior with eight interceptions. He added eight more pass breakups to finish with 16 passes defensed. The big season was a big payoff for Nelson, an All-American at Nassau (N.J.) Community College. “I would say one word to describe Nassau: struggle,” Douglas said. “It’s honestly a struggle. I feel like if you can make it out of there, you can make it anywhere. ... You wake up every day. You don’t want to go to school. You’re lonely. Your mind isn’t focused. You’re working out, but it’s not helping because you’re not eating. You lose more weight.”

Douglas’ “struggle” started before two years at Nassau and a year as a backup at West Virginia. One of seven siblings raised by his grandmother in East Orange, N.J., it was his grandmother and a mentor for at-risk children by the name of Mike Davis who kept Douglas active and out of trouble. Douglas dreamed of playing college basketball but was too short. His size, however, made him attractive to the coach at Nassau. However, with no on-campus dorms, it was an eight-mile commute by bus to get to school. And with his grandmother raising the other kids, there was no money. "That was probably the hardest part of my life, for sure. It felt like nothing was going my way. I couldn't ask my family for money, because they needed it. I didn't have a lot. I was struggling to eat."

Corn Elder, Miami, Fla. (5-10, 179): Elder started seven games as a junior and all 13 games as a senior, tallying three interceptions and 23 pass breakups during that span. He was first-team all-ACC as a senior with one interception, a team-high 12 pass breakups, three sacks and 4.5 tackles for losses. As a junior, he returned a punt for a touchdown and scored after the last of eight laterals on a kickoff return to stun Duke.

At The Ensworth School in Nashville, Tenn., Elder rushed for 6,351 yards and was MVP of the state basketball tournament three times. He tried out for the basketball team at Miami but gave it up after a few days. “I just sat back and thought about it. I talked to my mom about it. We decided to do what’s best for me and focus on football. Two sports, that’s a lot on your body. I wanted to focus on keeping my body healthy and ready for this upcoming season.”

Shaquill Griffin, Central Florida (6-0, 198): Griffin turned in a big senior season with four interceptions and 15 additional passes defensed to go with 50 tackles. Griffin got his first crack at the starting lineup as a junior and tallied two interceptions, 13 breakups and 50 tackles.

Twin brother Shaquem Griffin recorded 92 tackles, including 20 for losses, during a big senior season in 2016. Shaquill was born 1 minute before Shaquem. Remarkably, Shaquem has only one hand. Doctors removed it when he was 4 years old. Due to a birth defect, the fingers in his left hand were the consistency of jelly and in constant pain. One night, Shaquem tried to take matters into his own hands.

Nate Hairston, Temple (6-0, 192): Hairston’s bio on Temple’s Web site lists him as a wide receiver. That’s the position he played for his first three years, with a total of 20 catches as a freshman and sophomore. As a junior, he moved to cornerback. As a senior, he started and had two interceptions, three breakups and 27 tackles. “In high school, I played a little bit of defense, but I was really an offensive guy. I am glad I made the switch to defense, but in the beginning, going from offense to defense was odd.”

Marlon Humphrey, Alabama (6-1, 196): Redshirt sophomore. Humphrey redshirted in 2014, was a Freshman All-American in 2015 and earned some first-team All-American honors in 2016. In 2016, he had two interceptions — including a pick-six in the opener vs. USC — and five additional pass breakups. He started all 29 career games and finished with five interceptions.

The five-star recruit is the son of former Alabama and NFL running back Bobby Humphrey. His mom owns the school record in the 400 meters at Alabama-Birmingham. In high school, Marlon Humphrey won the 110-meter hurdles and the 400-meter hurdles at the 2013 World Youth Track & Field Trials. He won seven Alabama state championship event titles across the indoor and outdoor track seasons in 2013. A brother, Mardrecus, played receiver at Arkansas. Bobby Humphrey was a record-setting running back at Alabama who frittered away his NFL career. "It could be drugs, alcohol, cheating on a test — I teach my kids it's OK to say no," Bobby said. "I wasn't able to do that." Said Marlon, vowing to learn from his dad’s mistakes: “He used to be a very dumb football player.” Both players wore No. 26 at Alabama.

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