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Evaluations

Thor's Cornerback Rankings

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: April 21, 2020, 3:34 pm ET

My previous entries in this scouting series examined the quarterbackrunning backwide receivertight endtackleinterior OLinterior DLEDGE and linebacker classes. Spiderweb graphs sourced from mockdraftable.com, SPARQ scores from Three Sigma Athlete, adjusted SPARQ from Rotoworld's Hayden Winks and RAS from Kent Lee Platte


1. Jeffrey Okudah (Ohio State) | 6'1/205

okudah

SPARQ percentile: ~99

Adjusted SPARQ: 0.96

RAS: 9.56

Comp: Marshon Lattimore (Danny Kelly

The No. 1 cornerback in the 2017 class and a five-star recruit, Okudah, a Texas native, chose Ohio State over essentially every major program in the nation. Urban Meyer’s haul that year also included Chase Young and JK Dobbins. Okudah’s mother, Marie, began a fight with lymphoma when Jeffrey was two-years old which lasted until the week after he enrolled early at Ohio State. When Okudah declared for the NFL Draft on Jan. 1, he did so with a letter to his mother published in The Players’ Tribune. It began with the sentence, “I’m going to start by telling you something you already know: I miss you.”


That letter, along with the anecdotes from coaches and former teammates, heck, the composure with which he answered that ridiculous question about his technique and (phantom) penalties at the NFL Combine – they speak to something we don’t talk about as much when we talk about Jeff Okudah, which is that he’s a mentally-strong self-starter who has turned his prolific athletic career into a sort of tribute to his late mother. Mentally, you’ll hear from any of his coaches, he’s elite. Physically, same, with an ideal build. And his athleticism ripples off the screen, with feet like the needle of a sowing machine, exceptionally fast, always under control.


Okodah can match up against any receiver in any scheme and excel. Over the last two seasons, per PFF, he allowed completions on only 45-of-106 throws for an opposing QB rating of only 52.9, never once giving up over 50 yards receiving in a game. He’s very physical in press coverage. He closes in a flash. His hips effortlessly swivel out of the backpedal to turn to run with the receiver. He’s more than willing to help in the run game. Heck, he used to be a stud gunner, too. Okudah is the total package, and a top-five prospect overall.


2. C.J. Henderson (Florida) | 6'0/204

henderson

SPARQ percentile: ~95

Adjusted SPARQ: .92

RAS: 10

Comp: Marcus Peters (Benjamin Solak)

A track star from Miami Dade County, Henderson was a longtime commit to the local Hurricanes before flipping to the Gators (Florida also signed his brother, four-star WR Xzavier, No. 73 on the ESPN 300, in January). Henderson’s college career started off strong, with four picks as a freshman, two of which he took to the house. Henderson became a star as a sophomore, allowing 18-of-36 balls thrown his way to be completed for 249 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and an opposing QB rating of 49.6. He was everywhere, defending nine balls, making five TFL, and even picking up three sacks.


Last year, teams understandably threw at him less, but Henderson surprisingly struggled a bit when they did, with his passer rating against spiking to 109.0 and his PFF coverage grade falling from 81.7 to 58.9. A high ankle sprain suffered in early September cost him two games and led to some up-and-down play upon his return. Henderson was a track star in high school who would go on to be a Bruce Feldman Freak Lister. He went blow-for-blow with Okudah at the NFL Combine, running a 4.39 with a 127-inch broad jump and a 37.5-inch vertical. That easy athleticism is a hallmark of his game. But he’s more than just an athlete. Florida DC Todd Grantham called Henderson the best corner he’s ever coached.


Henderson is a long-levered man corner who gives you very little room to breathe. A heady player who rarely gets fooled, Henderson has a knack for picking up tells. He recognizes patterns on the fly and will accelerate in and swat it away nonchalantly, or pick up a telegraph from the quarterback’s eyes that’ll, for instance, allow him to give more cushion, expecting something downfield. Smart and oh-so-fluid, Henderson is nearly Okudah’s equal as a pure cover man. One area he falls behind: Henderson missed 22.5% of his tackles last year and is a – how to put it? – reluctant tackler, despite the fact that he’s both weight-room strong and a very good blitzer. Henderson is also clearly more comfortable in coverage when he can see the entire offense in front of him; his instincts can go on the fritz downfield with his back to the quarterback when the ball is in the air, leading to penalties and completions.


3. Kristian Fulton (LSU) | 5'11/197

fulton

SPARQ percentile: 69.4

Adjusted SPARQ: .7

RAS: 7.79

Comp: Denzel Ward (Eric Edholm)

Fulton, from nearby New Orleans, arrived in Baton Rouge as a ballyhooed top-30 overall recruit. He barely saw the field as a true freshman, with LSU’s corner cupboard stocked as-usual (Tre’Davious White, Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver). From there, things got hairy. Fulton used someone else’s urine for a PED test – later explaining that he had smoked marijuana a few days earlier – and got caught. The NCAA hammered him with a two-year suspension. That penalty was eventually reduced to one season after a drawn-out,19-month fight with the NCAA that ended the week leading up to the 2018 kickoff.


Despite all that missed time, thrust immediately back into action as the starter, Fulton dominated in Dave Aranda’s press-man defense. He allowed a mere 17-of-41 targets to be converted into completions for an opposing passer rating of 65.3 while turning in a PFF coverage grade of 89.7 in 2018, elite territory. Last year, his 86.6 PFF coverage grade was top-10 among corners, and he tied for No. 8 in the land with 14 pass breakups. Fulton has a real knack for breaking on the ball out of his backpedal with timing and explosion, combining his ability to recognize route concepts with his special sauce of disrupting at the catch point.


Fulton is a LifeLock corner, the kind of dude who is covering you in man on the tarmac off the airplane. The build, athleticism, body-control, technique, you-can’t-have-that cover style and production (43.2% completions allowed the past two years) all suggest potential CB1 at the next level. But Fulton does come with risk. There was the harebrained drug test fiasco that he has to answer for. On the field, he could stand to improve as a tackler, though he’s not averse to the idea like Henderson. It would also be nice if he could start to convert some of those breakups into interceptions – Fulton only picked off two balls at LSU. 


4. Jaylon Johnson (Utah) | 6'0/193

jaylon johnson

SPARQ percentile: 64.3

Adjusted SPARQ: .28

RAS: 8.44

Comp: William Jackson III (Mike Renner)

A noted film junkie who draws raves from Utah’s staff for his work ethic, Johnson was a dominant college corner who combines quick brains and feet with loose hips and strong technique. Johnson gets on you from the snap, pressing with authority, physicality that can be disorienting. He tracks beautifully and has shown to be skilled in jump-ball scenarios, a master of timing in space. Athletically, he’s a quick-footed glider, smooth and sleek. And he’s a plus in run support. At times Johnson’s ever-running motor can get a bit hot, when he lets his natural aggressiveness get the better of him to the disservice of patience and technique. Six times over the past two seasons Johnson drew flags due to his rough-and-tumble treatment of opposing receivers.


But we know the kid is verified tough as nails. His top-flight 2019 season – he allowed a completion percentage of just 44.6% with a pair of interceptions and eight pass breakups – was made all the more impressive by the fact that he played through a torn shoulder labrum from September onward, ultimately undergoing surgery on his wing following the NFL Combine. That shoulder surgery was his third since high school, introducing an element of risk into his eval. If Johnson can stay healthy, and if he can learn to control some of his more wild-man tendencies, he has the instinctual moxie, athleticism and bulldog tenacity for a long NFL future as a press corner. Johnson is getting overlooked. I tend to find criticisms of his game overly nitpicky. With that one big caveat, of course: His shoulders must not betray him.


5. Jeff Gladney (TCU) | 5'10/191

jeffgladney

SPARQ percentile: 47.1

Adjusted SPARQ: .27

RAS: 8.34

Comp: Darius Slay (Kelly)

A mighty mite with a 620-pound squat and 400-pound power clean, Gladney plays like a bat out of hell. He punches above his weight class when colliding with larger men, hitting running backs with authority as though he were a linebacker. He’s a menace when sent on kamikaze blitzes, knifing home with urgency and arriving with a bang. In coverage, he’s very difficult to shake, harassing your personal space until the ball arrives and he can reach in and poke it away. His ball skills are outstanding, with 15 breakups apiece in each of the past two years (Amik Robertson was the only other FBS player to post 15+ breakups the past two years).


Gladney is another Feldman Freak lister. His testing disappointed slightly, but don’t read too much into that. He ran a 4.48 in Indy but has run in the 4.3s in the past. His athleticism and ability to anticipate routes leads to a brand of coverage that lends itself to very little separation – per PFF, Gladney forced the second-most contested targets the past two seasons with 46, and 27 of those were forced incompletions. Of slight concern is the drop-off in Gladney’s play between 2018 and 2019. His PFF grade dropped from 90.6 to 71.7, he drew more than twice as many penalties (three to seven) and he allowed three TD (one the year before) despite getting targeted 14 times less. He’s a smaller outside corner who really only had the one superstar season, a highly-intense player whose game can play down when he gets frustrated.


6. A.J. Terrell (Clemson) | 6'1/195

ajterrell

SPARQ percentile: 86.0

Adjusted SPARQ: .67

RAS: 9.69

Comp: Pierre Desir (Zierlein)

Terrell got lit up in the national title game. Let’s move past that, because his 29 consecutive starts prior to that were pretty dang impressive (including the title game the year before, when his pick-six of Tua kicked off a Clemson rout). A long press-man corner with high-end athleticism, Terrell disrupts at the catch point. He’s very slick and clinical for a tall drink of water, with a low, tight pedal and hips that flip that switch like Drake for clean mirroring machinations downfield.


Terrell plays feisty, jabbing those long arms into the chests of receivers at the line and then hounding them along their routes. He broke up 26 passes in college and proved adept at getting off the ground with his man and getting his hand on the ball downfield. Perhaps because of his aggressiveness, great route runners give him issues, as Terrell too often bites up on a fake, a real issue because his makeup speed has proven mediocre, despite what his 4.42 showing in Indy would have you believe. He also needs to clean up his tackling, having missed nearly a one-quarter of his attempts last fall. 


7. Trevon Diggs (Alabama) | 6'1/205

diggs

SPARQ percentile: N/A

Adjusted SPARQ: N/A

RAS: N/A

Comp: James Bradberry (Eric Edholm)

Diggs makes life miserable on opposing receivers with his suffocating length and his bully approach off the snap. He played receiver, himself, up until 2017, like his older brother Stefon. His familiarity with the position is evident in the way he attempts to imbed himself into the psyches of his opponents. The way he mirrors and steals steps, uses his surface area and levers to badger opponents, the way he plays the ball, anticipates routes…. almost as though he and his brother have run them, watched film on them and discussed footwork thousands of times. Up until last season, Diggs was a traits-based ball of potential. In 2019, he flowered into a collegiate star, a shutdown corner for the Tide who gave up a completion rate of just 42.3% and an opposing passer rating of 44.5 while forcing incompletions on one-fifth of his targets, per PFF.


Diggs does his best work around the line of scrimmage, where his length and immediacy set a physical tone that he’ll sustain all the way down the field. But despite Diggs’ work last year, he has a ways to go to become an NFL standout. He’s a work-in-progress both mechanically and when gauging opportunities, getting crossed up on breaks or biting up when deked. Issues like these only really got him lit up once last year – Diggs got torched for 9-of-13 completed targets for 133 yards against LSU and star WR J’Marr Chase but never once allowed more than 45 yards in another game – but will beat him in the NFL more often if not corrected, because Diggs already isn’t the smoothest mover laterally, nor is he a world-class sprinter. Once beaten in the NFL, he’ll need over-the-top help in the NFL to prevent a party for six. He’s a high-upside play who comes with a higher risk profile than the names above him on this list.


8. Noah Igbinoghene (Auburn) | 5'10/198

igbinoghene

SPARQ percentile: 66.3

Adjusted SPARQ: .44

RAS: 8.74

Comp: Kareem Jackson (Joe Marino)

A boom-or-bust prospect, Igbinoghene is a converted receiver built low to the ground and thicc. He just started playing corner in 2018, and allowed 12.3 YPR and 51.5 percent completions on 68 targets last fall with an 81.2 passer rating against while intercepting no balls. Strangely, he was a ton better the year before, his first go-around at the position, allowing 41.9 percent completions and a 62.0 passer rating against. Igbinoghene is a ball of clay. He’s very good against the run for a corner, physical and reliable.


In coverage, he changes direction like a breeze and has good burst. He proved a quick study at the art of press. And he has speed for days. He’s also a longtime special teams standout, lowering the risk profile a little. On the other end of it, because of his inexperience, he can get straight clowned by crafty route runners. And while he has good speed, you don’t want him covering downfield, at least not yet, because he isn’t comfortable turning his head to track the ball and is apt to allow completions he’s in the vicinity of, his ball skills at his new position are thoroughly unrefined, and he’s short to boot. Perhaps he should have returned to school to keep working. But the talent level is such, and the draft slot will likely to be high enough, that it was hard to blame him for jumping.


9. Cameron Dantzler (Mississippi State) | 6'2/188

 

dantzler

SPARQ percentile: 15.4

Adjusted SPARQ: .05

RAS: 4.58

Comp: Josh Jackson (Lindy’s)

A long, suffocating press-man corner from the SEC, Dantzler is a string bean, but he’s a hostile presence in coverage with eye-opening tape against elite competition. Dantzler uses his length to mug you at the line, and his quick fit and loose hips to stay on top of you from there. For being built so high off the ground, Dantzler doesn’t have issues changing directions. He’s difficult to shake, and downfield, he’s not often at a disadvantage in the air. Dantzler’s stock took a hit at the NFL Combine when he ran a 4.64, and he became a Twitter parody when a video was released claiming he ran a 4.38 forty at a personal pro day.


His athletic profile numbers above are a bit spooky, admittedly. But this is a guy who played more athletic than he tested, and who was a shutdown corner in college. Over three seasons, Dantzler gave up 42.7 percent completions and a 1/5 TD/INT ratio on 96 targets for an NFL QB rating against of 43.8. In his last game, he gave up 77 yards – he’d never allowed more. He’s a reliable tackler, he’s good in run support, and he’s strong on special teams. He’s still a Round 2 corner for me.


10. Amik Robertson (Louisiana Tech) | 5'8/187

robertson

SPARQ percentile: N/A

Adjusted SPARQ: N/A

RAS: N/A

Comp: Chris Harris (Kelly)

My gosh is Robertson active. The three-year starter broke up 48 passes, intercepted 14 (three pick-sixes) and posted 23 TFL and three sacks over 38 starts. Don’t let the size fool you: Amik has a “This are Sparta!” attitude on the field, and he plays larger than his dimensions. He’s one of the class’ most willing in run defense, throwing his body around like a safety, and he’s dangerous when sent on the blitz. Robertson idolizes Tyrann Mathieu, and you get the sense he’s watched plenty of Honey Badger YouTube cut-ups. Robertson is a real pest in coverage, physical in press, with the feet to stay glued to his man and the burst, instincts and hands to make plays on the balls.


Robertson’s lack of size and high-end speed makes the slot his most likely NFL destination. He won’t back down, but he’s powerless in downfield jump-ball scenarios against height and strength. And while he makes a lot of plays, he also missed 18.5% of his tackle attempts last fall. Calming his approach and improving his technique will help a bit, but physical limitations will cap his NFL disruption ceiling somewhat; he just doesn’t have the power to fell everyone nor the tackling strike zone to reach everyone. On the other hand: At least he tries (cough CJ Henderson, cough). 

Thor Nystrom

Thor Nystrom is Rotoworld’s lead CFB writer. The 2018 FSWA College Sports Writer of the Year, Nystrom’s writing has also been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to him on Twitter @thorku!