NFL Draft

2017 NFL Draft could feature historic group of shutdown cornerbacks

October 1, 2016:Florida Gators corner back Jalen Tabor (31) during a 13-6 win by Florida over Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Jamie Gilliam/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Jamie Gilliam/Icon Sportswire)

Much of the hype for the 2017 NFL Draft has surrounded the running back and pass rusher groups that are loaded with talent, but the cornerback class has completely flown under the radar.

In a group rich with plenty of round one talent, a great starting point is the fantastic duo of Jalen ‘Teez’ Tabor and Quincy Wilson in the Florida Gators’ secondary. Both have the desired length at 6-foot-plus and size at 200-plus pounds. They play with a tenacity in man coverage, jamming receivers at the line and running stride-for-stride to make a play on the ball.

Tabor has four interceptions and Wilson has three, with each of them taking one back to the house this year.

What’s incredible about their takeaways is how rarely each player is targeted. Wilson has allowed eight catches for 95 yards on 25 targets, where quarterbacks have a 18.3 NFL passer rating when targeting him. Tabor, who came into the season with a bigger reputation than Wilson, has only allowed eight catches for 138 yards on 18 targets this season. Both players are expected to be round one selections next Spring.

Take a look across the country at another talented secondary, the Washington Huskies are led by lockdown corner Sidney Jones. At 6-foot, 181 pounds, the junior is a long and lean physical defender with top notch athleticism. He’s been targeted 18 times this season (half of those coming from Utah this weekend), allowing nine catches for 116 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception.

From the broadcast angle, Jones rarely even appears as quarterbacks rarely look his way. When watching him in coverage, though, he constantly gets his hands on receivers at the line and tracks the ball well in the air.

Iowa’s Desmond King would have been a top 50 pick if he declared in 2016, but he opted to return for his senior year. Little has changed in King’s level of play and that’s a good thing. He throws his body around against the run as good as any corner in college football, but most importantly, he continues to excel in coverage.

He’s been targeted 36 times, only surrendering 15 catches for 188 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception with six passes defended. Factor in King’s 15 solo stops and you have one of the most productive defensive backs in the country.

Speaking of senior cornerbacks who passed up the 2016 NFL Draft, LSU’s Tre’Davious White has picked up right where he left off. He was a lock to go in the top 75 last spring and his projection remains much of the same after surrendering 18 catches on 36 targets for only 127 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. White does not have the same length and size as some of the top cornerbacks in the group, but his ability to play the slot will give him added value for team’s in need of a nickel corner.

While much of the country focused on Mackensie Alexander last year in the Clemson Tigers’ secondary, his counterpart Cordrea Tankersley began to blossom across from him. The 6-foot-1, 200 pound corner has led the way for the back end of the undefeated Tigers’ defense. He’s allowed 16 catches for 138 yards and a touchdown on 32 targets. While he hasn’t had an interception this year, he’s broken up five passes, getting closer each and every week.

The dark horse in this group to shoot up draft boards is Alabama redshirt sophomore Marlon Humphrey.

While still young and raw, the 6-foot-1, 200 pound defender has plenty of promise. He’s as physical in man coverage as Tabor, Wilson and Jones but might opt to return to school for his redshirt junior season.

In a league that continues to air it out and construct penalties strict on defenders in coverage, the demand for blue chip cover corners is higher than ever. Fortunately for the NFL, the 2017 draft class is a gold mine full of top tier cornerback prospects.

All stats from College Football Focus Premium

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