Patriots draft positional preview: Cornerback
PRE-DRAFT POSITIONAL BREAKDOWN CORNERBACKS
PATRIOTS NEED LEVEL: 7
The Patriots started fresh last season at the cornerback position and reaped the rewards. Malcolm Butler established himself as a legitimate No. 1 and was named to the Pro Bowl. Making almost an equally staggering leap was Logan Ryan, who more than held his own against some of the game's best wide outs (Demaryius Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins) once he was given the starting role in Week 3. While the Patriots will be fine with those two at the top of the depth chart in 2016, they need help at this spot. Not only is the team lacking in proven bodies after Butler and Ryan -- though second-year players Justin Coleman and Darryl Roberts have shown promise -- but both starters could be looking for new teams after the season. Butler will be a restricted free agent in 2017, and Ryan will be an unrestricted free agent. In order to protect against one of their top two getting injured, and to prepare for the possible departure of one or both after the season, the Patriots should add a corner with one of their four picks in the top 100.
Jalen Ramsey, Florida State, 6-foot-1, 209 pounds
Like each of the next four prospects listed, the Patriots have no shot at drafting Ramsey. Most teams won't. His elite-level athleticism and versatility (some believe his best position may be safety) will almost certainly get him drafted somewhere in the top three picks.
Vernon Hargreaves, Florida, 5-10, 204 pounds
With the physical ability to play both outside and in the slot, good ball skills and remarkable football IQ, Hargreaves (pictured) will step into an NFL secondary and have an immediate impact. Sometimes his aggressiveness in jumping routes will get him in trouble, but more often than not his instincts are on the money.
Eli Apple, Ohio State, 6-1, 199 pounds
For teams looking for a true cover corner on the outside, Apple is their guy. The two-year starter's size and speed (ran a 4.40-second 40-yard dash at the combine) give him the look of a prototype.
Alexander Mackensie, Clemson, 5-10, 190 pounds
In two seasons with the Tigers, his numbers (zero interceptions, 10 passes defensed) weren't staggering, but smart teams often opted not to challenge him. Mackensie's cockiness and his ability to shadow his man will help him overcome what he lacks in terms of size.
William Jackson III, University of Houston, 6-0, 189 pounds
His dynamic physical abilities make everything look easy. He has size, speed (4.37-second 40), and a knack for his getting his hands on footballs that will make him a first-round pick, and maybe a top-half-of-the-first-round pick.
Cyrus Jones, Alabama, 5-10, 197 pounds
My cornerback pick for the Patriots in the second round, the 'Bama product feels like a Patriot. Groomed by Nick Saban, Jones has extensive experience in the SEC, good speed and quickness, the versatility to play man or zone, a willingness to support against the run, and special teams skills. A bit undersized, Jones (pictured) may be able to polish his technique for a season under defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and behind Butler and Ryan.
Artie Burns, Miami, 6-0, 193
Projections are all over the map here. There may be a team willing to pounce on Burns as early as the first round, but there's a chance he slides into Day 3. He's raw, but there simply aren't many corners entering the league with the holy trinity of traits: size, speed and ball skills. Burns, who competed in the hurdles for the Hurricanes, checks all those boxes.
Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech, 5-11, 187 pounds
A meniscus tear last season forced Fuller to miss most of the year and could help drop him down into the late second round or further. When healthy, he's a smart corner who reads quarterbacks well and breaks on attempts quickly. In 2013 and 2014 combined, he snared eight picks.
Sean Davis, Maryland, 6-1, 201 pounds
A big-hitter in the secondary, Davis is another long-limbed defensive back who could interest teams looking for playmakers on the back end. With his size and violent playing style, Davis could be a box safety at the next level, filling a role similar to the one Patrick Chung has played for the Patriots over the last two seasons.
Kalan Reed, Southern Mississippi, 5-11, 192 pounds
He wasn't invited to the combine, but at his pro day he ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash and jumped 41.5 inches in the vertical, which would have tied Ramsey for the best mark in Indy. Reed is impressive on tape as well. He was a pass-breakup machine, and he has proven he's not afraid to get up the field to make a hit in the running game. He didn't see elite competition on a weekly basis, but the Patriots were comfortable taking Reed's former teammate Jamie Collins in the second round back in 2013. Pro Football Focus calls Reed "one of the most underrated players in the draft."