Red Zone

Rating the top cornerbacks in the NFL Draft with an eye on Chiefs’ needs

Washington’s Kevin King, rated as one of the top cornerbacks in this year’s NFL Draft, made a one-handed interception against Arizona State in November.
Washington’s Kevin King, rated as one of the top cornerbacks in this year’s NFL Draft, made a one-handed interception against Arizona State in November. TNS

Included in measurables are height, weight, age they turn this year (if available) and 40-yard-dash time. Grades and rankings are based on film study (at least six games worth, whenever possible) and proprietary reporting. Quotes are harvested from conference calls, individual interviews and television broadcasts. Grades are intended to convey a general sense of the draftee’s value, and where he might be selected.

1. MARSHON LATTIMORE, Ohio State

Measurables: 6-0, 193, 20, 4.36

Bio: First-year starter who had 41 tackles (one for loss), four interceptions, 13 passes defensed and nine pass breakups in 13 games in 2016. Also had zero forced fumbles, zero fumble recoveries, zero sacks and zero quarterback hurries. Declared after redshirt sophomore season.

Strengths: Is young for a prospect. Outstanding tester who checks most of the athletic boxes, including height-weight-speed. Ran a blazing 4.36 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and also posted a 38  1/2 -inch vertical and 132-inch broad jump, which were all among the top marks at his position. Arm length (31  1/4 inches) is adequate. Plays with physicality in press-man coverage and has some jolt in his hands. Has balance out of his backpedal, quick feet to turn and run and the hips to mirror and match receivers. Long speed is good and he can run with just about anyone on the deep ball. Has ball skills; tracks it in the air and is adept on making plays. Very willing hitter who plays with an edge and seems to enjoy contact. Several draft analysts believe he’s an elite prospect. “He stood out as having the best pure movement skills and cover skills of the corners in this class,” ESPN’s Todd McShay said. “When you can get a guy who can take away opponents’ No. 1 receiver in man-to-man coverage, I think there’s a lot of value there.” ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr. also called him a lockdown corner. “He looked like he could be Darrelle Revis, a corner you could take in the top-10 and be one of the best corners in the NFL,” Kiper said. “He can actually cover. He doesn’t give you that (handsy) concern, he’s a tremendous cover man. He’s as good as anybody in this draft after Myles Garrett.”

Weaknesses: Has small hands (8  7/8 inches). For all the raving about him, there are some major concerns among some about his hamstrings, which have caused him to miss multiple games in college and gave him problems dating back to his days in high school. “He is probably the most athletic, the most polished in terms of being the natural shutdown corner that you look for,” NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks said. “Hamstring issues and durability issues kind of prevent me from jumping on him as a guy that could be a star at the position.” Fellow NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah was a tad less critical, but agreed with the gist of that concern. “I had Lattimore as high as number two on my list (in the entire draft) … I ended up dropping him down a little bit,” Jeremiah said. “That was based off of purely the soft tissue issues when you look at the hamstrings, not being able to complete the combine workout scared me a little bit, as I’m sure it raised a red flag with some teams. He has a history there.”

Grade: 7.4

Games I watched before grading him: Oklahoma 2016, Wisconsin 2016, Penn State 2016, Nebraska 2016, Michigan 2016, Clemson 2016

2. KEVIN KING, Washington

Measurables: 6-3, 200, 21, 4.43

Bio: Three-year starter who had 44 tackles (3  1/2 for loss), two interceptions, 13 passes defensed in 14 games in 2016. Also had zero forced fumbles, zero fumble recoveries, zero sacks and zero quarterback hurries.

Strengths: Absolutely killed it at the Combine; his marks in the vertical jump (39  1/2 inches), three-cone (6.56 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (3.89) and 60-yard shuttle (11.14) were among the best at his position. Has 32-inch arms and 9  1/2 -inch hands. Has quick feet and hips for his size. Former safety who has lined up against slot receivers. Has played a lot of off-man/zone coverage and is adept at planting and driving. Played more press coverage in 2016. Showed the ability to win 50/50 jump balls; also flashed ball skills with a spectacular one-handed interception on a fade vs. Arizona State. Held up well when he was targeted on an island often in 2016 as teams sought to avoid fellow cornerback Sidney Jones, who saw his stock drop due to a predraft Achilles tear. “What impressed me about him was that when you watch Jones, they attacked King and he was up to the task,” Kiper said. “He showed ball skills, awareness, anticipation, he would tackle and he’d throw his body around. He emerged. And then he worked out great, so right now, some people think he’ll be the second corner taken. He’s definitely helped his stock this year and with his workouts.”

Weaknesses: Not a ton of collegiate ball production. Can be beaten vertically in press coverage and needs to work on his technique when getting his initial jam, which should be stronger for his size. Inconsistent motor in run support; flashes aggression but whiffs on tackles in space and lacks overall physicality for a big guy. Can get stuck on blocks.

Grade: 6.9

Games I watched before grading him: Boise State 2015, Washington State 2015, Southern California 2016, Arizona State 2016, Colorado 2016, Alabama 2016

3. MARLON HUMPHREY, Alabama

Measurables: 6-0, 197, 20, 4.41

Bio: Three-year starter who had 36 tackles (three for loss), two interceptions, and five pass breakups in 14 games in 2017. Also had one forced fumble, zero fumble recoveries, zero sacks and zero quarterback hurries. Declared after his redshirt sophomore season in which he missed a game due to a hamstring injury. Son of Bobby Humphrey, a Pro Bowl running back for the Denver Broncos in 1990.

Strengths: Is young for a prospect. Good bloodlines. Was among his position’s top testers in the three-cone (6.75). Has nice frame and long arms (32  1/4 inches) to redirect in press coverage. Also had good feet and plus athleticism. Has some ball production in two years as a contributor (five interceptions). Shows good instincts when playing underneath coverage. Has some special-teams chops. Very willing tackler who throws his body around and projects to be a plus run defender from the corner position. Likes putting his hands on receivers; has some jolt in his punch and really enjoys the physicality of it. Actively tries to rip the ball out. Plays hard and is into the game. Scouts like him because it’s not hard to envision him growing into a complete corner once he matures. “Really good young corner with size, speed, athleticism, ball skills,” one scout said. “Willing to get better, too.”

Weaknesses: Has small hands (8  3/4 inches) for his size. Could stand to break up or deflect away more passes. Needs to clean up his cover technique; can be beaten vertically if the receiver has some serious jets, is liable to occasionally take the cheese on double moves and Is a little grabby. Was targeted with pick routes late in Alabama’s loss to Clemson and will need to learn how to play those better. Shows the ability to track the ball and be a capable jump-ball defender but needs to keep working on his awareness. “I love everything about Marlon Humphrey except he struggled to find the football in the air with his back to the quarterback,” Mayock said. “That’s a huge deal.”

Grade: 6.9

Games I watched before grading him: Clemson 2015, Tennessee 2016, Texas A&M 2016, Auburn 2016, Washington 2016, Clemson 2016

4. ADOREE’ JACKSON, Southern California

Measurables: 5-10, 186, 21, 4.42

Bio: Three-year starter who had 55 tackles (two for loss), five interceptions, 16 passes defensed and 11 pass breakups in 13 games in 2016. Also had zero forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, zero sacks and zero quarterback hurries. Returned 26 kicks for 767 yards (29.2 average) and two touchdowns, and also returned 20 punts for 315 yards (15.8 average) and two touchdowns. Declared after true junior season in which he won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back. Had a formal interview with the Chiefs at the Combine.

Strengths: Team captain in 2016. Two-way player who also has terrific traits and production as a returner and receiver; he’s caught 39 passes for 628 yards and six touchdowns in his career. Arm length (31  3/8 inches) and hand size (9  1/4 inches) are adequate. Outstanding field speed and quickness; shows the ability to stay with almost anyone. “Athletic and fast,” a scout said. “Playmaker … he has enough special (traits) to overcome his lack of size.” Has played off and press-man. Has natural instincts with the ball in the air; playmaker who plays the ball like it’s his, doesn’t panic and is competitive on 50/50 balls by timing his jumps well. Super competitive and into it at all times. Willing tackler who gets after it and is physical for his size. Has juice as a returner; is elusive in the open field with terrific burst and can be an immediate contributor in this facet. Runs tough, too — doesn’t avoid contact. Mayock sees him as a potential Pro Bowler down the road. “He’s got a long way to go, but I was impressed,” Mayock said. “The press-man stuff he’s going to learn. And I know he’s a smaller physical corner, but whether he’s a nickel or on the outside, I’m all in on the kid. I know he’s going to be a very good player. And what’s beautiful about it is day one he’s your punt returner, he’s your kick returner and you expect he can put the ball in the end zone for you while he learns his craft as a corner.”

Weaknesses: Lacks height and overall bulk. Bigger receivers could give him problems in the NFL, either by boxing him out in the passing game or stalking him in the running game. Technique and route recognition needs work; experienced route runners can turn him around (see his matchups against Washington’s John Ross in 2016). “May be the best athlete of the crew, but is a little unrefined in his technique,” Brooks said. “If he fixes that part of his game, he has a chance to be a Pro Bowl player.” Needs to stop carrying the ball like a loaf of bread in the open field; players will actively go after the ball on this level.

Grade: 6.9

Games I watched before grading him: Alabama 2016, Stanford 2016, California 2016, Washington 2016, Notre Dame 2016, Penn State 2016

5. TRE’DAVIOUS WHITE, Louisiana State

Measurables: 5-11, 192, 22, 4.47

Bio: Four-year starter who had 35 tackles (four for loss), two interceptions, 16 passes defensed and 14 pass breakups in 12 games in 2016. Also had zero forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, a half-sack and zero quarterback hurries. Returned 24 punts for 186 yards (7.8 average) and a touchdown. Had a formal interview with the Chiefs at the Combine.

Strengths: Team captain in 2016. Has long arms (32  1/8 inches) for his size. Hand size (9  1/8 inches is adequate). Wore No. 18 at LSU, which is always given to a respected, productive, selfless player. Tremendous production over four years. Has quick feet and loads of natural cover ability; can blanket receivers with his technique, anticipation and ball skills. Has experience in the slot, and is comfortable playing press or off coverage. Can step in and be a No. 1 punt returner; has three touchdowns off those in his career. “Plays the ball really well,” Kiper said. “Has punt-return ability as an added bonus. Stock has dropped just a bit. I like him as a football player.”

Weaknesses: Could have solidified has status as a first-round pick with better workout numbers. Can be beaten on double moves and outrun on the hoof. Can get overanxious in press and get off balance after his strike. Can get boxed out by bigger receivers. Drag-down tackler who doesn’t give you much in run support unless he has to. Gets stuck on blocks. Some see him as a low-floor, high-ceiling guy. “Maybe a little limited on the upside,” Kiper said. “But he’s ready to play right now.”

Grade: 6.8

Games I watched before grading him: Alabama 2015, Mississippi 2015, Texas A&M 2015, Wisconsin 2016, Florida 2016, Texas A&M 2016

OTHERS TO WATCH

▪ Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado; Fabian Moreau, UCLA; Jalen “Teez” Tabor, Florida; Cordrea Tankersley, Clemson; Quincy Wilson, Florida

GRADING SCALE

7.5-7.1: Top 10 pick

7.0: picks 11-20

6.9: 21-32

6.8: Top half of the second round

6.7: Bottom half of the second

6.6: Top half of the third

6.5: Bottom half of the third

6.4: Fourth-round pick

6.3: Fifth-round pick

6.2: Sixth-round pick

6.1: Seventh-round pick

6.0: Priority free agent

5.9: Non-prospect

2017 NFL DRAFT PREVIEW: CORNERBACKS

What the analysts say: “Corner is a really, really deep group, even though we've had a couple injuries at the position,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said.

Chiefs’ need at this position: High. The Chiefs have no shortage of talented, young players they like here, led by two-time Pro Bowler Marcus Peters. Steven Nelson emerged as a reliable No. 2 corner, while Terrence Mitchell was a revelation in the nickel package. The Chiefs still have the talented Phillip Gaines, who has been plagued by injuries in Kansas City but is entering a contract year, and 2016 sixth-round pick D.J. White, who showed a knack for being around the ball. But you can never have enough corners in this league, and if Mitchell regresses and/or Gaines gets hurt again, the Chiefs could be short at a position where three players now play at least half the time in the new-age NFL. The Chiefs would be wise to invest a top 100 pick in this position.

QB: With no consensus on draft’s top QB, Chiefs could have plenty to choose from | rankings

RB: Chiefs could draft big-play threat from loaded crop of running backs | rankings

FB: Chiefs try Lindenwood’s Connor Harris at fullback during local pro day | rankings

WR: Curtis Samuel showed he can be more than a receiver at Ohio State | rankings

TE: Mizzou’s Sean Culkin eager to prove he can do more in the pros | rankings

OL: Pro day performance caps fun two days for Missouri Western’s Travis Anderson | rankings, to come

DL: Former Park Hill star Ondre Pipkins hoping for NFL shot | rankings

EDGE: K-State’s Jordan Willis has worked his way into first-round discussion | rankings, to come

ILB: K-State linebacker Elijah Lee is betting on himself in NFL Draft | rankings

CB: Confident, deep crop of rookie corners should be enticing for Chiefs | rankings, to come

S: Pitt State’s Deron Washington carries on NFL dream for family | rankings, to come

The Terez A. Paylor All-Juice Team: 2017 (to come) | 2016 | 2015

Terez A. Paylor’s mock drafts: 4.0 (to come) | 3.0 | 2.0 | 1.0

Terez A. Paylor, tpaylor@kcstar.com

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