Welcome to the tenth installment of the BGA: 2016 NFL Draft series. As we head to the draft, I'll be sharing thoughts and observations about draft prospects for each position group. In our previous instalment, we looked at this year's wide receiver prospects, and we now move on to look at cornerbacks.
I'll be discussing whether the Jets are likely to have a need at these positions and reviewing some of the top prospects along with some players who might be options later on.
These articles are not necessarily meant to be exhaustive, so if you wish to bring some other prospects into the discussion, please do so in the comments section below. There are a few cornerback prospects that I'm saving for when I discuss special teams prospects in a few weeks.
Jets Needs: Cornerbacks
The Jets completely overhauled their cornerback group in 2015 by spending big money on Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine. Cromartie was a disappointment and has since been cut, but Skrine and Revis will enter the offseason program atop the depth chart, with Marcus Williams pushing Skrine for a starting role. Williams' production in a part-time role in 2015 was sensational, but in the only two games where he played more than 30 snaps, he missed 10 tackles. He did hold his own as a starter in the second half of 2014, though.
In addition to Cromartie, Darrin Walls also departed after the season, but Dexter McDougle and Dee Milliner - former third and first-round picks, respectively - will battle for a roster spot. There are also a few low-cost options (Kendall James, Kevin Short and Darryl Morris) who will probably need to shine on special teams to make the team.
There's definitely enough room to throw a rookie into the mix and the team might even be keen to bring someone aboard who can eventually be developed into a top-level starter.
2016 Draft: Cornerbacks
The consensus top cornerback in this draft is obviously Jalen Ramsey, who figures to go in the top five picks. However, I already discussed him in the safety article because I anticipate he'll be in a versatile role that results in him seeing time there.
Beyond Ramsey, there are four other players regarded as potential first-round picks but, beyond those four, not a whole lot else. On the whole, it looks like a pretty top-heavy cornerback class this year. Those four potential first-rounders are led by Vernon Hargreaves III from Florida. The others are Eli Apple from Ohio State, Houston's William Jackson III and Clemson's Mackensie Alexander.
Hargreaves has an excellent skill-set and is equally adept in man or zone coverages. However, he was less consistent last year than he was in 2014. He can be over-aggressive at times, so he's potentially susceptible to double moves. He gave up 15.8 yards per catch in 2015.
Jackson was targeted a lot more than the other top prospects and made more plays as a result. He has good ball skills, with five interceptions and 13 passes defensed in 2015. Jackson is also a good athlete but can apparently lose focus at times. Apple has nice size at 6'1" and ran a 4.40 at the combine to solidify his status. He did miss a lot of tackles in 2015, though, and has a tendency to not look back for the football, which means he doesn't make as many plays on the ball as he should and can run the risk of being flagged.
Alexander thrives in man coverage and Clemson was more than content to leave him on an island. He didn't allow a touchdown or a play longer than 25 yards all year despite rarely getting any safety support. Alexander held top receiver prospect Will Fuller to one catch and is capable of playing in the slot. If there's a knock on him, it's that he didn't have an interception in two years as a starter. Here, he makes breaking up a pass in the end zone look easy.
After those four (or five, if you're including Ramsey), nobody has really established themselves as a sure thing, so the next tier will be looking to get selected on day two.
Miami's Artie Burns ran a 4.46 at the combine and led the ACC in interceptions with six. He was penalized nine times, though. Burns is known for being good in press coverage, but he can also make plays in zone coverage, as you can see here.
Xavien Howard from Baylor didn't get off to a great start last season as he was burned for a touchdown on the first throw his way, as you can see below. From then on, he put up very good coverage numbers, but there was some luck involved with that as he got away with a few blown coverages. Howard is a very physical defender and makes a lot of plays on the ball (five interceptions). However, he can be over-grabby at times and this not only leads to him getting flagged, but also saw him get away with some things that might not fly at the next level. He also didn't have a very good combine.
Kalan Reed from Southern Miss also made a lot of plays on the ball, as he had 14 passes defensed last year. Reed displays outstanding closing speed on this play, although he only slowed the runner rather than completing the tackle himself. Impressively, he jumped a route for a 76-yard pick-six on the very next snap.
Two interesting ACC prospects with the potential to go in the middle rounds are Kendall Fuller from Virginia Tech and DJ White from Georgia Tech.
Fuller's brother, Kyle, was a first-round pick for the Bears two years ago and made an instant impact, becoming the first player in over 20 years to record three interceptions and two forced fumbles in his first three NFL games. Fuller, however, was shaky in 2014, giving up some big plays and then only played a couple of games in 2015 before suffering a season-ending meniscus tear. He's a player who was expected to have first round talent but never really got to that level in college. Perhaps he could prove to be a late bloomer who will be good value for whoever picks him up later on.
White was the best cornerback for the Yellow Jackets over the past few years and he made a number of big plays, including a memorable one where he ran down James Conner to knock the ball loose at the goal line and an interception in overtime against Georgia. However, White posted abysmal agility numbers at the combine and doesn't provide anything in the way of run-support. Could his teammate, Chris Milton, end up being more coveted by scouts? Milton is a better special teams contributor and ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at his pro day.
Two more potential mid-round picks also saw time at safety in college. Jalen Mills from LSU and Sean Davis from Maryland both have a nice combination of size and athleticism for the cornerback position, especially Davis, who had an outstanding combine. Mills matched up with receivers in the slot a lot and showed toughness by overcoming a serious leg injury and returning in the middle of the season. Davis stays with the receiver, keeps good inside positioning and tracks the deep ball well to make this play.
Northwestern's Nick VanHoose could be good value on day three. He makes a lot of plays on the ball, but will need to convince teams of his athleticism and could bulk up a bit. VanHoose shows good closing speed on this play.
Another good late-round sleeper could be Western Kentucky's Prince Charles Iworah. Iworah posted some excellent athletic numbers at his pro day (4.32 40-yard dash, 38" vertical, 128" broad jump, 25 bench press reps). Here he makes a fine play down the field.
Let's close with three small school sleepers who will probably go undrafted but could be good projects.
North Dakota State's CJ Smith was current Jet Marcus Williams' replacement, and his coaches have said he's a similar prospect. Smith had a 39" vertical and a 131" broad jump at his pro day.
Eric Rawls from Kentucky State earned himself an invitation to Florida Atlantic's pro day, where German wideout Moritz Boehringer made a name for himself. Rawls has nice size at 6'2" 195 and posted some good workout numbers, but what will really attract scouts is his 80+ inch wingspan.
Finally, Northern Arizona's Marcus Alford impressed in a blowout loss to division one Arizona, breaking up one pass and stopping a receiver short of the marker on a third down pass. Alford also had a vital pick-six in a 21-17 win over Portland State. He's not very big (5'9", 175) but registered a 37.5" vertical at his pro day (which the Jets attended) before going down with a hamstring injury.
I'll be back to look at offensive tackles next.