TEAM NEED – The Vikings have used a first-round pick here twice in the last three years – taking Rhodes in 2013 and Waynes last year. With the combination of young talent and veterans like Newman and Munnerlyn, the Vikings seem pretty well stocked at the position. Compounding matters is that, if they keep Sherels, they will already have five cornerback spots taken. This is a deep class so it wouldn’t be out of the question to see a cornerback taken relatively early in the draft, but the first round would seem like a stretch to project given their recent investment in the position.
POSITION ANALYSIS – This is one the deepest cornerback classes in recent years. A case can be made that five or six cornerbacks will come off the board on opening night and just as many following them in the early part of Day 2. This is a deep class that will produce prospects throughout the draft and every round will likely include a handful of cornerbacks being selected, with many of them being good enough to have a legitimate chance of making a roster and 10 or more having the expectation of becoming starters sooner than later.
CREAM OF THE CROP
Jalen Ramsey, Florida State, 6-1¼, 209 – Third-year junior…Started all 41 games of his college career, recording 181 tackles, 15½ tackles for a loss, five sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 22 passes defensed and three interceptions…A consensus All-America in 2015…Has elite speed and coverage skills, and experience playing both cornerback and safety…Has extremely good range and a second gear to close on plays when the ball is in the air…Has very smooth change-of-direction skills and doesn’t a lose a step when he flips his hips…Plays very physical and brings the fight to wide receivers…Needs to refine his technique – has got by on athleticism to date…Will get himself out of position peeking into the backfield too often for his own good…Will need to add some upper body strength…Ran a blazing 4.41 40 at the Combine with 14 reps of 225 pounds, a 41½-inch vertical jump and a 11-3 broad jump.
PROJECTION: In our view, he’s the best pure athlete in the draft. The only question is whether the team that drafts him will want him to potentially be a Pro Bowl cornerback or potentially be a Hall of Fame safety. He shouldn’t last much longer than the third or fourth pick in the draft.
Vernon Hargreaves, Florida, 5-10½, 204 – Third-year junior…Started 35 of 37 career games, recording 121 tackles, three tackles for a loss, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, 27 passes defensed and 10 interceptions…A consensus All-America in 2015…Has excellent speed and looks fluid and natural in coverage…Plays very physical and is a strong tackler in the open field…A nice combination of size, balance and read-and react skills in coverage…Has a second gear and can make up for missteps…Has a hard time with big receivers at the line…A little shorter than prototypical NFL cornerbacks…Will give receivers a lot of room coming off the line, allowing for short completions in front of him…Ran a 4.50 40 at the Combine with 15 reps, a 39-inch vertical jump and a 10-10 broad jump.
PROJECTION: An extremely talented corner who excels in press or man coverage and checks all the boxes that scouts look for in players. A top-10 talent.
Eli Apple, Ohio State, 6-0¾, 199 – Third-year sophomore…Started 27 of 28 games, recording 86 tackles, 7½ tackles for a loss, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, 17 passes defensed and four interceptions…Very good discipline in his assignments and can blanket big, physical receivers and smaller, faster receivers…Very aggressive when the ball is in the air and wins most 50/50 battles…Doesn’t shy away from contact and will take on blockers in run support…Has good mechanics and can flip his hips and turn without losing anything in translation…Doesn’t always wrap up tackles and lets receivers get away at times…Will get grabby downfield and you don’t get away with that for long in the NFL…Is not an explosive tackler who lays out receivers…Did not jump at the Combine after suffering cramps, but ran a 4.40 40 with 13 reps.
PROJECTION: A lightning-fast cover corner who is young and still learning the finer points. Had he stayed one more year in school, he would be a top-10 pick. As it stands, he will come off the board most likely in the second half of the first round and follow in the history of great OSU corners in the NFL.
William Jackson, Houston, 6-0½, 189 – Fourth-year senior who spent a year at Trinity Community College…Two-year starter who had 80 tackles, three tackles for a loss, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, 33 passes defensed and seven interceptions in that span…Is elite and mirroring receivers deep down field, he flips his hips as well as any corner in the draft class…A good combination of speed and physicality…Has very good awareness when the ball is in the air and consistently times his jumps at the right time…Is thin and will need to add some upper body strength…Needs to work on his press coverage technique because he will occasionally lose his balance and leverage…Needs to be more of a presence defending the run…Didn’t vertical jump at the Combine, but ran a blazing 4.37 40 with 10 reps of 225 pounds and a 9-8 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A great natural athlete who needs to add some muscle and bulk strength to compete at a high level in the NFL. A first-round talent who will need to clean up some aspects of his game but could be really good.
Mackensie Alexander, Clemson, 5-10½, 190 – Third-year sophomore…Started all 27 games he played, recording 45 tackles, one fumble recovery, 11 passes defensed and no interceptions…A very impressive combination of speed, balance and read-and-react skills…Is very confident in himself and plays mirror press coverage well…A physical player who can jam at the line and deliver a big hit downfield…Does not play with good discipline and will get out of position…Uses his hands too much downfield and will get penalties in the NFL…His next interception will be his first pick since high school…Got a medical exclusion at the Combine with a right hamstring injury and had 11 reps of 225 pounds.
PROJECTION: An aggressive player who has a ton of swagger and self-confidence. He has some areas of his game that he needs to improve upon, but most of his flaws can be corrected with coaching. A potential late-first-round prospect.
Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech, 5-11½, 187 – Third-year junior…Started 28 of 29 career games, finishing with 119 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, 3½ sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 25 passes defensed and eight interceptions…Missed all but three games in 2015 with a torn meniscus…Has three brothers that have made it to the NFL, including his brother Kyle, who was a first-round pick of the Bears in 2014…Has good speed and athleticism and can flip his hips with ease…Has elite balance and body control and tracks the ball well in the air…Can play aggressive press coverage, off-coverage and zone coverage equally well…You have to watch old tape because he saw such little action in 2015 and will likely needed a clean bill from a medical staff before he gets drafted…Does not have great sustained deep speed…Takes a lot of missteps, which he could make up for in college, but that doesn’t work in the pros…Didn’t work out at the Combine due to his right knee surgery but did 15 reps of 225 pounds.
PROJECTION: A player from a strong NFL bloodline, he has the requisite skills to be an NFL starter, but surgeries the last two years (wrist in 2014, knee in 2015) will have some teams nervous early. That will likely drop him into the second round, but he won’t last long once he gets there.
Artie Burns, Miami, 6-0, 193 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who had 76 tackles, three tackles for a loss, two sacks, one fumble recovery, 11 passes defensed and six interceptions in that span…A nice combination of speed, height and arm length…Can be physical at the line and has great mirroring speed…High points the ball and consistently attacks the ball in the air…Doesn’t have explosive immediate speed, as he needs to build up to full speed…Hasn’t perfected his technique and has gotten by this far on athletic gifts alone…Will need to add some bulk and muscle to reach his full potential…Chose not to lift at the Combine and didn’t jump with a right knee issue, but ran a 4.46 40.
PROJECTION: He has a lot of the intangibles needed to be a starting cornerback in the NFL and his skill set is very good. He has a couple of flaws, but nothing that won’t have him drafted somewhere in Round 2.
BEST OF THE REST
Deiondre' Hall, Northern Iowa, 6-1¾, 199 – Fourth-year senior…Started 46 of 51 career games, finishing with 247 tackles, four forced fumbles, 15 passes defensed and 13 interceptions…Has ideal size, arm length and fluidity of movement…Very good ball location skills and has the ability to be an offensive player – he returned four of his interceptions for touchdowns…Is a solid form tackler and does a good job in run support…Is a little skinny and will need to add some working muscle and bulk…Doesn’t have ideal footwork and takes too many steps when changing direction or re-routing…Doesn’t stick with his receivers long enough when a quarterback extends a play…Didn’t lift at the Combine due to a right hand injury, but ran a 4.68 40 with a 37-inch vertical jump and a 10-7 broad jump.
PROJECTION: He’s going to need some time to improve his technique and become more aware, but he has the pure natural ability that he will get picked somewhere on the second day of the draft.
Keivarae Russell, Notre Dame, 5-11¼, 192 – Fourth-year senior who had to sit out the 2014 season after an academic issue led to a one-year suspension…Has good size and arm length…Very strong at the line jamming receivers as well as in run support…Has good vertical speed and can turn and run without losing a step…Doesn’t have ideal balance and tracking skill deep downfield…Still raw having come to Notre Dame as a running back and being moved to corner…Bites on fakes and double moves and struggles to recover…Got a medical exclusion from the Combine with a right tibia injury.
PROJECTION: A player who has a couple of red flags, he looks the part and could be a solid pro at either corner of safety. But his red flags will likely be enough to keep him on the board into the start of the third round.
Eric Murray, Minnesota, 5-10¾, 199 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 187 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, one sack, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, 24 passes defensed and five interceptions in that span…Has very good upper-body strength and is strong in press coverage…Is a versatile player who was asked to play all types of coverages and was willing in run support…Tracks the ball well in flight…Does not have ideal sustained deep speed…A little too hands-on and picked up too many holding penalties for a top corner…Will play a little high-cut and will lose a half-step when forced to transition…Ran a 4.49 40 at the Combine with 15 reps of 225 pounds, a 39½-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A solid athlete who looks the part and plays well, but would be a second-round pick with a little better playing speed. As it stands, he will likely be a third-round pick with a chance to become a starter at some point.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Minnesota, 5-9½, 193
James Bradberry, Samford, 6-0¾, 21
Morgan Burns, Kansas State, 5-11, 195
Juston Burris, NC State, 6-0¼, 21
Taveze Calhoun, Mississippi State, 6-0½, 192
Maurice Canady, Virginia, 6-1, 193
Mike Hilton, Ole Miss, 5-9½, 186
Xavien Howard, Baylor, 6-0¼, 201
Cyrus Jones, Alabama, 5-10, 197
Jonathan Jones, Auburn, 5-9¼, 186
Cre'von Leblanc, Florida Atlantic, 5-10, 195
Harlan Miller, Southeastern Louisiana, 6-0, 182
Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State, 5-10½, 181
Will Redmond, Mississippi State, 5-10¾, 182
Rashard Robinson, LSU, 6-0½, 171
Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma, 5-11, 185
D.J. White, Georgia Tech, 5-11, 193
Tavon Young, Temple, 5-9¼, 183