Pre-combine NFL Draft rankings: Crowded cornerback group after Jeff Okudah
Dane Brugler
Posted: 2020-02-24

The cornerbacks who make up the top tier in the 2020 NFL Draft is not a long list: Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah. The former Buckeyes player sits atop the mountain by himself and has a great chance to be the second defender drafted (after his former teammate Chase Young), possibly as early as the top three picks.

But that second tier is a crowded, diverse group of cornerbacks, making it tough to figure out where it ends, and the next tier begins. For most NFL teams, cornerback is a stopwatch position, meaning the combine could alter how these corners are stacked on the board during pre-draft meetings in March.

Here are the top 10 pre-combine cornerbacks:

1. Jeff Okudah, Ohio State (6-1, 200, 4.45)

Grand Prairie, Texas (South Grand Prairie), junior. Age: 21.23 (calculated to nearest 100th on draft day)

A one-year starter at Ohio State, Okudah lined up at left cornerback in defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley’s press-heavy scheme, seeing extensive reps on an island in Cover-1. The Buckeyes have been a cornerback factory when it comes to producing NFL-level players, but none of them were unanimous All-Americans like Okudah, who led the team in passes defended and interceptions in 2019.

Okudah owns the athletic twitch to attach himself to receivers and make plays on the football, showing a keen understanding of zone, man and different schemes. He learned from three different position coaches in his three seasons in Columbus, and his technique quickly caught up with his traits. Overall, Okudah owns the necessary physical and mental makeup to be a No. 1 cornerback early in his NFL career, projecting as one of the best defensive prospects in the 2020 draft class.

2. CJ Henderson, Florida (6-1, 196, 4.43)

Miami, Fla. (Columbus), junior. Age: 21.56

A three-year starter at Florida, Henderson was the boundary corner in defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s versatile 3-4 scheme, playing man and zone coverages. He didn’t record an interception as a junior, but he was targeted only 4.2 times per game in 2019 as teams looked to throw away from him (Grantham: “He’s the best corner I’ve ever coached”).

A finely tuned athlete, Henderson often does everything right for the first 90 percent of the play with coordinated movements to blanket routes, but his catch-point skills are immature, leading to early contact and inconsistent plays on the ball. While he has a quick trigger to drive on plays in front of him, his break down and finishing skills are not currently strengths to his game. Overall, Henderson needs to become a better tackler and playmaker at the catch point, but his athletic traits, length and mindset are why he is one of the best press-man prospects in the 2020 draft class, projecting as a rookie starter.

3. Jeff Gladney, TCU (5-10, 183, 4.43)

New Boston, Texas (New Boston), redshirt senior. Age: 23.36

A four-year starter at TCU, Gladney was the starting left cornerback in head coach Gary Patterson s press-heavy scheme, often following the opponent s best receiver. He registered more passes defended (43) than starts (42) over his career and was one of only two FBS players (along with Amik Robertson) with at least 15 passes defended each of the past two seasons.

Gladney has the athletic movement skills to pattern match from press and instinctively plays through the hands of the receiver. He plays like a junkyard dog, but he isn t a technically sound player, with a bad habit of grabbing and gripping downfield. Overall, Gladney is a scrappy, quick-footed athlete with an ultra-competitive play personality, and if he can improve his route anticipation and be more subtle with his physicality, he will be a decade-long NFL starter.

4. Trevon Diggs, Alabama (6-2, 202, 4.46)

Gaithersburg, Md. (Avalon School), senior. Age: 22.59

A two-year starter at Alabama, Diggs lined up primarily at left cornerback in Nick Saban’s press-man heavy scheme, occasionally seeing snaps against the slot. He was better known as Stefon Diggs’ younger brother growing up, but he grew out of his shadow and carved his own path, playing his college ball at Alabama instead of Maryland and changing his number (wears No. 7 due to Tyrann Mathieu).

Diggs arrived in Tuscaloosa as a two-way player, and his offensive background benefits him on defense with his ball skills and awareness for what the offense is trying to do. Alabama allows him to be an athlete on the field and he clearly lacks refinement, which can be frustrating at times, but his read/react skills allow him to get away with it. Overall, Diggs needs to clean up his technique and discipline in coverage to reach his full potential, but he has shown improvement in those areas and projects as an NFL starter due to his size, speed and competitive nature.

5. Kristian Fulton, LSU (6-0, 194, 4.46)

Metairie, La. (Archbishop Rummel), senior. Age: 21.64

A two-year starter at LSU, Fulton lined up as the left cornerback in defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s NFL press-man scheme, also seeing snaps inside against the slot receiver. After his one-season ban and two season-ending injuries, he returned to Baton Rouge in 2019 with plenty to prove, earning high grades in coverage as a senior.

Fulton has a patient process to stay under control in his transition movements, displaying the athletic and mental requirements to match receiver steps mid-route. He shows the instincts and toughness to handle nickel duties, but he must become a more reliable run defender. Overall, Fulton has room to improve his tackling and body positioning downfield, but he stays in the pocket of receivers with his disciplined process, athletic traits and feel for reading breaks, projecting as an NFL starter.

6. Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State (6-2, 183, 4.48)

Hammond, La. (St. Thomas Aquinas), redshirt junior. Age: 21.64

A two-year starter at Mississippi State, Dantzler was the field cornerback in former defensive coordinator Bob Shoop’s 4-2-5 scheme. Primarily a quarterback in high school, he played cornerback only “a few times” in high school and credits former Bulldogs’ cornerbacks coach and 14-year NFL veteran Terrell Buckley for developing his coverage skills.

Dantzler is quick-footed with slick hips to turn and run on command without losing balance, staying attached to receivers. He doesn’t shy from run support, but his thin frame and lack of body armor are concerns against NFL competition. Overall, Dantzler needs to better find the football and limit his contact downfield, but his reactive athleticism, length and competitive mentality are the baseline traits for starting press-man work in the NFL.

7. Jaylon Johnson, Utah (5-10, 194, 4.45)

Fresno, Calif. (Central East), junior. Age: 21.01

A two-year starter at Utah, Johnson was the left cornerback in defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley’s 4-2-5 base scheme, lining up both inside and outside. He is a goal-oriented individual who applies a business-like, persevering approach to football, which has paid off for him to this point.

Johnson is a good-sized athlete with the press-man skills and toughness that will attract him to NFL coaches. Although he has recovery speed, his aggressive reaction skills can be a double-edged sword, and savvy route runners will create false steps for him. Overall, Johnson needs to be a better finisher and continue his instinctual development, but he has the athletic traits to ride receivers up and down the field and his competitive mentality will be an immediate fit in a pro locker room, projecting as an NFL starter.

8. Damon Arnette, Ohio State (6-0, 197, 4.49)

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (St. Thomas Aquinas), redshirt senior. Age: 23.64

A three-year starter at Ohio State, Arnette lined up at right cornerback in defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley’s NFL press-man scheme, seeing extensive reps on an island. Although he wanted to leave for the NFL after his junior season, he returned to Ohio State and became one of the most improved seniors in the country in 2019. (Safety Jordan Fuller: “He’s just a different guy his whole approach to everything he does has changed.”)

While he cleaned up the panic plays that plagued him as an underclassman, Arnette aggressively rides receivers in coverage and still has room to improve his downfield discipline and ball skills. As an athlete, he shows terrific reaction quickness and enough speed to stay on top of receivers vertically. Overall, Arnette is a charged-up run defender and boasts the athletic traits to stay hip-to-hip with receivers at all depths of the field, projecting as a man-to-man NFL starter if his reported maturation checks out.

9. Noah Igbinoghene, Auburn (5-11, 199, 4.45)

Trussville, Ala. (Hewitt-Trussville), junior. Age: 20.41

A two-year starter at Auburn, Igbinoghene was the right cornerback in defensive coordinator Kevin Steele s man-heavy scheme. Despite not playing on defense since middle school, he made a smooth transition from receiver to corner in 2018 and rarely came off the field, playing 89.5 percent of defensive snaps the past two years.

The son of world-class track athletes, Igbinoghene has outstanding lower-body athleticism and was groomed from a young age to be a high-performance athlete, attaching himself at the hip of receivers. Although he holds up well in run support, his mechanics and recognition skills at corner are undeveloped areas to his game, biting on route fakes and mauling receivers. Overall, Igbinoghene is a traits-based prospect who is a better athlete than refined cover man right now, but his pro-level foot speed and super-competitive nature are qualities NFL coaches will want to develop.

10. A.J. Terrell, Clemson (6-1, 192, 4.49)

Atlanta, Ga. (Westlake), junior. Age: 21.58

A two-year starter at Clemson, Terrell lined up at cornerback in defensive coordinator Brent Venables 4-3 base scheme, playing primarily press-man coverage, but also saw reps in off-man, zone and inside/outside. He didn t perform very well in the final two games of his college career, especially in the national title game against LSU where Ja Marr Chase dominated the matchup, but his overall body of work shows a talented player, including a pick-six against Alabama a year earlier in the national title game.

Terrell loves to challenge receivers up and down the field, showing the length and athleticism to stay within arm s length. However, he will struggle against route specialists due to his average speed and inconsistent fundamental transition skills. Overall, Terrell must develop his hip and lower-body mechanics to maintain his balance in coverage, but he is a well-built athlete with the physical and mental toughness to compete for starting reps early in his NFL career.

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