2018 NFL Draft Cornerback Rankings

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Photos Courtesy: Joe Maiorana- USA TODAY Sports, Grant Halverson – Getty Images, and Scott Olmos – USA TODAY Sports)

 

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Four Round Mock Draft: Thursday (4/26)

 

I am very excited for the cornerback class in the 2018 NFL Draft. Headlined by three players who will become significant leaders for their new team’s defense, the cornerback position is also among the deeper fields as far as top-end talent this year. I expect five corners will be selected in the first round of the draft, and there will be excellent value towards the end of day two. Many of these corners will find the field early in their careers in nickel and dime sets, with the addition of special teams contributions as well. Let’s get right into these defensive backs.

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Grant Halverson – Getty Images)

1: Jaire Alexander, Louisville

Grade: Top 10

Scheme Fit: Man or Zone

My number one corner in this year’s class and a player who I think has potential to become a perennial All-Pro. Alexander struggled through injury in the 2017 season, but when you turn on the 2016 tape he jumps off the screen. The former Cardinal has excellent hip fluidity and has the tools to excel any scheme at the professional level. Jaire could use some improvement in his tackling and pursuit angles against the run. Alexander is a player that I would feel comfortable drafting in the top half of the first round, as long as he passes all medical evaluations.

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Marvin Fong – The Plain Dealer)

2: Denzel Ward, Ohio State

Grade: Top 15

Scheme Fit: Press Man

The battle between the top-two corners in the 2018 NFL Draft is a close one, but Ohio State product Denzel Ward comes up just shy in second. Ward has excellent press skills at the line of scrimmage, with great hand usage as well. He was arguably the most dominant corner at the college level this season, and NFL teams will hope that production transfers over quickly to his pro career. Ward’s signature skill is his electric speed, with fantastic acceleration over short distances, and great straightline speed with a 4.32-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Ward will most likely be the first cornerback taken on Thursday night and whichever team drafts him will be getting a solid starter from day one.

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Ron Chenoy – USA TODAY Sports)

3: Isaiah Oliver, Colorado

Grade: Top 15

Scheme Fit: Press Man

What the 2018 NFL Draft does lack from the cornerback position is a depth of prospects who physically possess the size that NFL teams look for in outside cornerbacks. One of the more physically intriguing prospects who I have a first-round grade on is Colorado’s, Isaiah Oliver. Measuring in at over six-foot tall, and weighing in just over 200 pounds, Oliver will be able to match-up with almost any wide receiver at the professional level. Oliver’s best trait is his excellent ability to play the ball in the air, high pointing the ball and winning the 50-50 matchups against wide receivers. Oliver will likely go late day-1 to early day-2, but I think he should be valued much higher than that.

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Reinhold Matay – USA TODAY Sports)

4: Mike Hughes, Central Florida

Grade: 1st Round

Scheme Fit: Press Man

This draft class is full over corners who will be able to produce as starters from their first day in camp, and Mike Hughes of UCF is no exception. Hughes was a starter for one year at Central Florida, previously he was at UNC before being kicked off the team after his freshman year. Hughes has a great athletic profile and plays the ball excellently in the air. He has great hand usage at the line of scrimmage and will be suited best as a press corner on the outside. Hughes struggles against the run, where he needs to improve his tackling in one on one situations, especially against shiftier backs.

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Jeffery Becker – USA TODAY Sports)

5: Josh Jackson, Iowa

Grade: 1st Round

Scheme Fit: Zone Coverage

Josh Jackson isn’t a corner that all teams will have on their draft boards, but the teams that do have him on their board will value him highly. Jackson’s best traits are his fantastic instincts as well as his ability to make plays on the ball and create turnovers. He has a fantastic athletic profile, which was highlighted by his excellent work in timed drills at the NFL Combine. Jackson will need to be matched with a zone scheme to succeed immediately in the NFL, but if he is drafted to a team like the Packers at fourteenth overall, he could be in consideration for rookie of the year.

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Greg McWilliams)

6: Carlton Davis, Auburn

Grade: 2nd Round

Scheme Fit: Press Man

With a great physical profile and better than average talents against the run, Carlton Davis separates himself from the other cornerbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft. Davis, who presents excellent skills at the line of scrimmage, will most likely not start year one in the NFL, but will be an excellent special teams contributor and depth corner used in rotation. I would be hesitant to use Davis in the slot, as he has the tendency to get rigid in his hips more often than not. Davis is a great pick in the middle of day two for coaches that see his traits and are willing to coach him up to a pro bowl talent.

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Michael Switzer)

7: M.J. Stewart, North Carolina

Grade: 2nd Round

Scheme Fit: Slot Corner – Man

It’s taken us getting all the way to seventh to get to our first slot corner on the list, but North Carolina’s M.J. Stewart shows on tape why he is the best slot corner prospect in this draft. Stewart had a great week at the Senior Bowl, where he shined as the best cornerback in practices over the first few days. While I do think that Stewart has the ability to play outside corner or even safety at the next level given enough practice reps, he is most ready-made to jump into any NFL roster as a starting slot corner.  Stewart plays with the physicality and body size that would allow him to transfer over to the strong safety position if he improves his game against the run.

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Tom Pennington – Getty Images)

8: Duke Dawson, Florida

Grade: 3rd Round

Scheme Fit: Press Man

Another prospect who can fit well in both outside positions and in the slot is Florida’s, Duke Dawson. The former Gator is a very solid athlete across the board, but where he excels most is with his excellent skills on the line of scrimmage while pressing against wide receivers. Dawson does struggle some when in zone coverage, but that may be due to a lack of experience in the role.

 

(Tom Pennington - Getty Images)

(Tom Pennington – Getty Images)

9: Darius Phillips, Western Michigan

Grade: 3rd Round

Scheme Fit: Slot Corner – Man

When a player has the special teams capabilities that Darius Philips possesses, they immediately catch the eye of anyone watching. Phillips, who was a former wide receiver before switching to cornerback after his freshman season, and it’s obvious that he still loves to have the ball in his hands. Phillips projects best as a slot corner and can play well in both man and zone. His exceptional special teams abilities will get him drafted higher than just his cornerback skills warrant, but he can be a gamechanger that every team should have on their radar.

 

2018 NFL Draft

(Kevin C. Cox – Getty Images)

10: Anthony Averett, Alabama

Grade: 3rd Round

Scheme Fit: Zone Coverage

No list would be complete without analyzing a player who currently is a project but could turn into a starter you can win within a few years. Anthony Averett from Alabama is a raw talent, but I am willing to bet that a team will reach for him in this draft because of his physical abilities and potential he brings to an NFL team. In a few years’ time, Averett can excel at either outside corner or slot corner, but for the time being, I would play him primarily as a rotational player in a zone scheme. Averett will need to acquire a more aggressive demeanor towards the game, along with adding additional body strength in order to stick around in the pros.

 

Best of the Rest:

11: Isaac Yiadom, Boston College

Grade: 3rd Round

Scheme Fit: Press Man

 

12: Quenton Meeks, Stanford

Grade: 3rd Round

Scheme Fit: Press Man

13: Donte Jackson, Louisiana State

Grade: 4th Round

Scheme Fit: Slot Corner – Man

 

14: Nick Nelson, Wisconsin

Grade: 4th Round

Scheme Fit: Press Man

15: J.C. Jackson, Maryland

Grade: 5th Round

Scheme Fit: Slot Corner – Man

 

16: Holton Hill, Texas

Grade: 5th Round

Scheme Fit: Slot Corner – Man

 

17: Kevin Toliver, Louisiana State

Grade: 5th Round

Scheme Fit: Zone Coverage

 

18: Taron Johnson, Weber State

Grade: 6th Round

Scheme Fit: Zone Coverage

 

19: D.J. Reed, Kansas State

Grade: 6th Round

Scheme Fit: Zone Coverage

 

20: Levi Wallace, Alabama

Grade: 7th Round

Scheme Fit: Off Man

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