Any casual fan would notice that, outside of exceptional play by safety Haha Clinton-Dix, the Packers’ defensive of backfield was, to say the least, atrocious in 2016. While injuries decimated the group, it also proved you can never have enough quality, talented cover men on a roster. Opposing offenses licked their chops week in and week out and the Packers’ secondary held on just enough until the wheels fell off for good in the Georgia Dome for the NFC Championship. As Aaron Rodgers stated in his last press conference, the Packers need to “Reload,” not rebuild. Luckily for the Green and Gold, there is a plethora of talented Defensive Backs in this year’s Draft class to help the “reload” process, with anywhere from 4-6 cornerbacks projected to possibly go in the First Round and 12 in the first 2 rounds. With the NFL Combine taking place in Indianapolis from February 28 through March 6, quite a bit can still change. From the tape on the field, here are projections and quick takes on the top 12 cornerbacks available. The Packers will be sure to keep an eye on these individuals, as the shaky future of Sam Shields and the disappointing play of the Packers’ cornerbacks in 2016 makes the position a target early on in the draft.
Listed by projected draft order – Pre-Combine (Class/HT/WT)
Marshon Lattimore – Ohio St. (RS SO/6’0”/192) – The prize of the 2014 recruiting class for Ohio State now finds himself as a prized NFL prospect. Projected as a top 10 pick in the Draft, Lattimore checks the boxes with every trait you want in a cornerback: twitchy, explosive, fast, alert, and confident. He has a history of chronic hamstring issues which could raise a flag at the combine and he lacks ideal bulk but that can be added in a hurry with an NFL training regimen. He was not thrown at a whole lot his sophomore season and led the Buckeyes in passes defended (13) and was second in interceptions (4), earning First Team All-Big Ten Honors. Compares to Janoris Jenkins of the New York Giants, who is currently a top-10 cornerback in the NFL.
Jalen “Teez” Tabor – Florida (JR/6’0”/201) – Ranked as the 16th overall prospect by ESPN’s Todd McShay, there is a good chance Tabor will be long gone by the time pick 29 is on the clock. The talent is off the charts, with twice earning All-SEC honors along with numerous post-season accolades, stemming from a season during which Tabor teamed with Quincy Wilson to form the most talented Defensive Backfield in the Nation. Tabor was noted as the big play guy who has tremendous ball skills and a knack for finding the ball as evident through his four interceptions and one pick-six. He’s been compared to Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters.
Marlon Humphrey – Alabama (RS SO/6’1”/198)- Dubbed as one of the best athletes in all of college football and scouts believe he’s just scratching the surface of what he could become. Allowed only 29 completions all season (2.41 per game) with 2 INT’s (1 returned for a TD) on his way to First-Team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America. Comes from an excellent athletic bloodline, as his father Bobby was an All-American RB at Alabama and drafted by Denver in the first round in 1989 and his mother Barbara set the still-standing record in the outdoor 400 meters at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Humphrey has been compared to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie of the New York Giants, based on similar size, speed and awareness in coverage. Would be a great pick up for the Packers if he slides down to them. Expected to go anywhere from 15-30 overall in the draft.
Sidney Jones – Washington (JR/6’0”/ 181) – Considered the best pass defender of this DB group. Light feet and loose helps have allowed him to shadow receivers and stay on them like glue. Is able to deliver a jolt at the line of scrimmage and has been a dependable tackler. His slight frame has led NFL scouts to question how his durability will be even though he played in every game during his collegiate career. May be limited in certain schemes but will most certainly translate to an effective cover corner on Sundays. Compares to Trae Waynes of the Minnesota Vikings due to his similar combination of light feet and loose hips and plays bigger than he measures due to terrific timing and good strength for his size.
Quincy Wilson – Florida (JR/6’1”/213) – After sharing starting duties as a Sophomore, Wilson started all 13 games his Junior season. Wilson finished with 9 passes defended and 3 interceptions to earn Second Team All-SEC Honors. Scouts rave about his physicality, toughness and instincts and some see him as having more upside than his former counterpart Teez Tabor at Florida. Wilson is a fearless run defender and uses his long arms to take away passing lanes while also possessing NFL ball-skills along with supreme confidence and short memory. Scouts, however, question several aspects of his “football IQ” and technique issues. Wilson can get caught being lazy in his technique and gets caught leaning too much leading to contact downfield and penalty flags.
Desmond King – Iowa (SR/5’11” 206) – The 2015 Jim Thorpe award winner had a so-so Senior Bowl week appearance which has left NFL scouts to ponder as to whether he projects better as a corner or a safety at the next level. Is considered a better football player than an athlete and has been compared to Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles, who was a cornerback when he first entered the league but started all 16 games at safety for the Eagles last season. It will be interesting to see where King falls in the draft. Analyst Bucky Brooks believes King might not fit well at cornerback on a team that uses a lot of man-to-man press coverage because of his short arms and average 40 time, but feels he could do very well with a team that plays mostly zone.
Tre’ Daviones White – LSU (JR/5’11”/191) – A rare 4-year starter in the secondary for LSU, White ended his collegiate career on a high note by collecting First-Team All-SEC . White had an interception for a touchdown against Wisconsin at Lambeau Field to start the 2016 season and had a very impressive Senior Bowl week showing before tweaking his ankle and being unable to play in the game. White broke up 15 passes on 42 attempts in his Senior year and has impressed scouts with his exceptional footwork and technique. Can also return punts and had 68 returns for 679 yards with 1 Touchdown in his career. Some early Mock Drafts have the Packers taking White with the 29th selection, so he is definitely a player for Packer Nation to keep their eyes on at the combine.
Cordrea Tankersly- Clemson – (SR/6’1”/200) – Size, athleticism and ball-skills, especially in man coverage paired with his safety like size have NFL Scouts excited about his promising versatility at the next level. If he can gain more discipline and avoid grabbing onto receivers when he gets beat or turned around he could make an NFL franchise very happy. Tankersly’s decision to return to Clemson for his senior year displays a maturity as he knew he had things he needed to work on to become even better and more prepared for Sundays, and he won a National Championship to add the cherry on top.
Jourdon Lewis- Michigan – (SR/5’10”/188) – Lewis, a quiet and extremely hard worker who was First-Team All-Big Ten and collected multiple All-American honors, flew under the radar playing on a flamboyant defense that included rirst-round talents in safety Jabrill Peppers and defensive end Taco Charlton. Lewis’ play spoke volumes throughout the year, and, even though he is undersized, generously listed at 5’10,” he is strong and can make plays like this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flj5t63nI20 which may have been the finest play of the year by any cornerback, even if it unfortunately happened in a key moment against the Wisconsin Badgers. Lewis has the talent to be a first round pick, as evidenced by his allowing the lowest QB Rating against by a cornerback in college football, but ultimately his size will push him to Day 2.
Gareon Conley- OhioSt. – (RS JR/6’0”/195) – Conley, one of Ohio State’s captains, didn’t reach his potential until his 4thyear in the Ohio State program, but flashed the ability to become a high-level pro prospect once he did. In his second season as a full-time starter, Conley earned second team All-Big Ten honors with eight pass breakups and four interceptions. Scouts view Conley’s combo of size, quickness and instincts to be a fit in multiple defensive systems, including both zone and man-to-man schemes. He allowed the 2nd Lowest QB Rating in College Football (slightly behind Jourdon Lewis). Has been projected as a 2nd-3rd round selection, and if he is around other talented playmakers, like he was at OSU, he could really flourish.
Cameron Sutton- Tennessee – (SR/5’11”/182) – Missed a large portion of his senior season due to a fractured ankle he suffered in September, but had previously started all 38 games of his college career, and had a very nice showing in the Senior Bowl. Sutton has the confidence and athletic ability to play in any area of a defensive backfield whether it is cornerback, safety or nickelback. His superb initial quickness helps him break on underneath routes while he also has the strength to jam receivers on the outside before turning and running with them. Was a projected top 50 pick had he came out in 2015. His ankle injury may be a cause for concern, but he could be a very nice Day 2 pick for a team like the Packers needing help in the defensive backfield.
Adoree Jackson – USC (JR/5’11”/185) – Three-year starter at cornerback and regarded as one of the most dangerous return men in the country. Jackson was the 2016 Jim Thorpe Award winner and the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year; Jackson flourished in every facet of the game, compiling a junior season stat line that included four touchdown returns (2 punt, 2 kick), five interceptions, 16 passes defended and an average of 94.6 all-purpose yards per game on offense. Jackson is a remarkable athlete who defended his title as the Pac-12’s elite long jumper (25’-11.5”) and finished second in the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.44 seconds. However, Jackson has some work to do technique wise, as he gave up several big plays, including seven touchdowns which have made scouts compare him to legendary return man Devin Hester more so than a dependable starting cornerback. There is no doubt Jackson is best with the ball in his hands, showing electric speed, but, if a team wishes to draft him to make an immediate impact at cornerback, they will need to make sure they have outstanding safety help over the top.