Patriots

2020 NFL Draft player rankings: Top 10 cornerbacks available

2020 NFL Draft player rankings: Top 10 cornerbacks available

Cornerback is routinely one of the most popular positions to target in the NFL draft. In two of the past three drafts, cornerback has been the most selected position by NFL teams. And it's easy to understand why.

In the modern NFL, teams need to have as many athletic cover men as possible to keep pace with the league's best passing attacks. Often, it's recommended to have at least four strong corner options while also holding onto a young player to see special teams action or play at the position.

In 2020, cornerback figures to be a popular position once again. There are plenty of talented players at the position and as many as five could be selected in the first round. But if the number is lower than that, Day 2 will surely see a lot of potential starting corners come off the board.

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Cornerback is one of the New England Patriots' strengths. On the outside, they have arguably the league's best cornerback in Stephon Gilmore as well as quality veteran Jason McCourty and solid third-year player J.C. Jackson. In the slot, Jonathan Jones has been very good for the team and plays a key role on special teams for the squad.

But you can never have too many cornerbacks. And with McCourty turning 33 in August, the Patriots may want to add some depth at the position with one of their many mid-round picks.

And perhaps if the Patriots are lucky, one of the top 10 cornerbacks available will fall into their lap at some point during the 2020 NFL Draft.

1. Jeffrey Okudah

College: Ohio State
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 34 tackles, three interceptions, nine pass defenses

Okudah is the best cornerback in this draft class. He's a natural in coverage, has solid athletic ability (he ran a 4.48 40-yard dash at the combine and logged a 135-inch broad jump), and has good size and length on his 6-foot-1, 205-pound frame. Even playing on a team with Chase Young, arguably the best overall prospect in this draft, Okudah showed that he can be a stud at the next level and his ball skills were a big part of Ohio State's run to the College Football Playoff. He should be a No. 1 corner in the NFL for a long time and may be the second defensive player off the board in the draft.

Projected Round: First (Top 10 picks)

2. C.J. Henderson

College: Florida
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 26 tackles, zero interceptions, 11 pass defenses, one sack

Henderson is a player who has been on the rise of late. The Florida product could work his way into the top 10 and is similarly sized to Okudah (6-foot-1, 204 pounds). Henderson is an excellent athlete and was a standout at the combine, blazing a 4.39 in the 40 with a 37.5-inch vertical jump. He plays as fast as his numbers suggest and he should be able to cover speed receivers as well as bigger-bodied guys. And for those worried that he had no interceptions last year, he had six in the previous two combined. So, with better luck, he'll likely grab some as a rookie.

Projected Round: First (Top 20 picks)

3. Trevon Diggs

College: Alabama
Class: Senior
2019 stats: 37 tackles, three interceptions, eight pass defenses

Diggs started his career as a wide receiver at Alabama, the same position as his brother, Stefon. But he moved over to the defensive side of the ball given Alabama's talent at receiver and that has worked out well. Diggs had a very good senior season after recovering from a foot injury that sidelined him at the end of his junior campaign. He set career highs in all major defensive categories and should track the ball well in the NFL thanks to his skills as a receiver. And at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, he nearly identically matches Okudah and Henderson's size and had the longest arms among cornerbacks measured at the combine (32 3/4 inches).

Projected Round: Late First/Early Second

4. Kristian Fulton

College: LSU
Class: Senior
2019 stats: 38 tackles, one interception, 14 pass defenses

Joe Burrow wasn't the only reason the LSU Tigers won the National Championship last season. The defense had to hold up against some tough offenses and that included Clemson. Fulton was the top corner, across from freshman standout Derek Stingley, and had a very good season. The 6-foot senior held up well in coverage and contested catches consistently. His 4.46 40-yard dash and sub-7-second time in the 3-cone drill helped him as well. He could be a late first-round pick as a result of those numbers.

Projected Round: Late First/Early Second

5. A.J. Terrell

College: Clemson
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 34 tackles, two interceptions, three pass defenses, 0.5 sacks

Terrell is a former five-star recruit and while he had a lot of trouble against LSU in the National Championship Game, he has done a bit to rehabilitate his stock in recent weeks. Terrell performed well in the combine drills and showed off his good athletic ability by clocking a 4.42 40. He may need some time to continue to develop in the NFL, but the raw athletic potential is there and some team may view him as a starter on the outside who will only get better with time.

Projected Round: Late First/Early Second

6. Jaylon Johnson

College: Utah
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 36 tackles, two interceptions, 11 pass defenses

Johnson was a big-time playmaker for Utah defense the past three seasons. The sturdily-built 6-foot, 193-pound corner was a great ball-tracker for Utah in his final season and likely played himself into the second round. He wasn't flashy at the combine -- a 4.5-second 40, 15 bench press reps, 7.01-second 3-cone drill -- but he showed well in the athletic tests and did well in the on-field drills. He looks like a rock-solid starter at the next level.

Projected Round: Second

7. Cameron Dantzler

College: Mississippi State
Class: Redshirt junior
2019 stats: 40 tackles, two interceptions, eight pass defenses, 0.5 sacks

Dantzler is one of the bigger corners in this class at 6-2. He was once considered to be a potential first-round pick, but a slow 40 at the combine (4.64 seconds) will likely drop him to the second round. That said, he plays faster than that speed and he knows how to use his height to his advantage. If he can bulk up a bit (188 pounds) while maintaining his play speed, he should be a fine starter.

Projected Round: Second

8. Jeff Gladney

College: TCU
Class: Redshirt senior
2019 stats: 31 tackles, one interception, 14 pass defenses, 0.5 sacks

Gladney has been a stalwart on the TCU defense for the better part of four seasons. He's highly productive and has a knack for knocking down passes with his 31 7/8-inch arms.  At 5-10, 191, he doesn't have great size. Still, he's a solid athlete who showed well at the combine and simply knows how to impact plays. Due to Gladney's slighter frame, he may be forced into slot detail in the NFL, which keeps him lower on these rankings than some have him. Either way, he should find an NFL home and hold up well on the outside or inside.

Projected Round: Second or Third

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9. Noah Igbinoghene

College: Auburn
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 42 tackles, zero interceptions, seven pass defenses

Igbinoghene converted to defensive back after his freshman year at Auburn. And while he is raw, he has the makings of a really good NFL corner. Igbinoghene has a thick build. He's just 5-foot-10, but he tips the scales at 198 pounds and has 31 3/4-inch arms. He should hold up well against strong receivers and has enough athletic ability and explosiveness (4.48 40) to stay with quicker guys. Because of his lack of experience, he may need more time to hone his technique before he can be a starter. But his upside is sky-high.

Projected Round: Second or Third

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10. Damon Arnette

College: Ohio State
Class: Redshirt senior
2019 stats: 35 tackles, one interception, eight pass defenses

Arnette was overshadowed a bit by Okudah, but he was still a strong corner for the Buckeyes last season. He is versatile with the ability to play outside or in the slot and plays faster than his 4.56 time in the 40 would indicate. Arnette isn't perfect and he'll need to improve his discipline in the NFL. Still, he has all the tools needed to make that happen.

Projected Round: Second or Third

Julian Edelman, DeSean Jackson make plans to 'educate one another'

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USA TODAY Sports photo

Julian Edelman, DeSean Jackson make plans to 'educate one another'

Maybe some good will actually come from DeSean Jackson's anti-Semitic Instagram posts after all.

It all started last weekend, when Jackson posted several pieces of content which were immediately criticized by the public, NFL, and the Eagles organization. 

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While Jackson later apologized for his posts, Edelman — who is Jewish — reached out to the Eagles wide receiver via Instagram because he saw "an opportunity to have a conversation." Edelman suggested the two players visit both the Holocaust Museum and Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and then "have those uncomfortable situations."

Happily, it looks like Edelman's message was well received. Friday morning on social media, Edelman shared that the two wideouts are planning to "use our experiences to educate one another and grow together."

As Edelman said in his initial post to Jackson, "This world needs a little more love, compassion and empathy." And despite the ugly origins of this story, the two players can hopefully turn that around into a positive result.

NFL Rumors: Patriots would be perfect landing spot for TE David Njoku

NFL Rumors: Patriots would be perfect landing spot for TE David Njoku

Now may not be the best time for the Patriots to be wheeling and dealing, shopping and swapping.

They remain tight to the salary cap (a little more than $1.2M in cap space according to Pats cap expert Miguel Benzan), the number of players who’ll actually be allowed in training camp remains in flux, the NFL is pilfering one of their third-round picks for the videotaping silliness last season … there are just a lot of moving parts right now.

Still, Browns’ tight end David Njoku? That’s an enticing player at a position of need.

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And he’s sitting right there giving the Patriots a chance to take a mulligan on a spot they ignored in the draft for almost a decade.

Njoku, who turns 24 today (July 10) was a first-round pick in 2017, a year when the Patriots should have been drafting a tight end but took Derek Rivers, Antonio Garcia, Deatrich Wise and Conor McDermott.

Last weekend, Njoku’s agent Drew Rosenhaus let it be known Njoku wants out. That stance probably has something to do with the Browns signing Austin Hooper in free agency but it was also reported Njoku’s been unhappy there for a while.

As enthused as we all got over the Patriots finally drafting tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene in April, Njoku is barely a year older than Asiasi, who turns 23 next month. And Njoku’s already spent three years in the league with 32 catches for 386 yards as a rookie and 56 for 630 in 2018.

Last year, he played in just four games because of a wrist injury — two in September and two in December.

The Browns picked up his fifth-year option in April, meaning they have committed to him in 2021 for about $6M. Njoku’s 2020 base salary is $1.76M which is the cap hit that would travel with him for this season if he were traded.

The Browns, according to longtime Cleveland.com beat writer Mary Kay Cabot, were still very committed to Njoku when they picked up the option in April.

“(Browns GM Andrew) Berry effectively eliminated that uncertainty (over Njoku’s future role) when he stressed that the tight end was an integral part of the team’s future even though they drafted Harrison Bryant in the fourth round out of Florida Atlantic and signed Austin Hooper to a blockbuster, four-year, $42 million free-agent deal that made him the NFL’s highest-paid tight end at $10.5 million a year.

"To David in particular, our perspective remains the same,'' Berry said. "I have been pretty consistent this offseason in terms of we still have a ton of belief in David. He is very talented.

"Obviously, he was not on the field much last year, but he is a guy with outstanding physical tools, he has proven NFL production and we still think the future is very bright with him here. David has always been and continues to be in our plans, and we are going to continue to add competition all across the roster.”

Njoku, who missed 10 games last season with a broken wrist that required surgery, returned late in the year only to be a healthy scratch for two of the last four games after Freddie Kitchens lost faith in him. In four games, he caught five passes for 41 yards and one touchdown. But the Browns believe that Njoku, 23, still has plenty of upside and will be a big playmaker in Kevin Stefanski’s tight-end-friendly offense, which most often utilizes two tight ends and sometimes three.

The Patriots weren’t able to provide a capable tight end option for Tom Brady in his lone post-Gronk season with the team. And they didn’t do anything of consequence to plan for that period either. But even before signing Cam Newton, the team realized how deficient they were at the position and grabbed Keene and Asiasi.

As committed as the Browns GM sounded in April, there’s no doubt the asking price for Njoku right now will be high. Probably too high for any team to spend on a guy with just this year and next at $6M left on his deal.

But, like Tampa Bay tight end O.J. Howard, Njoku is now a former first-rounder who feels like he’s soon to be on his way out of his present situation.

Despite the drafting of Keene and Asiasi, tight end is a position that shouldn’t be seen as sewn up. It’s going to be critical to the success of a Newton-led offense and the Patriots can make up for lost time if they can convince Cleveland to cough Njoku up.