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Combine Preview: Defensive Backs

Posted Feb 28, 2017

The deepest group in this draft is undoubtedly the cornerback position. The safety group is full of potential stars at the next level as well, so the workouts slated for next Monday should be quite the spectacle in Indianapolis. We’re going to group the two positions together for this preview, but Eagles fans are extremely excited to see how the cornerbacks in particular fare on the track. Let’s take a look at who I expect to shine.

For a primer on what each category below means, check out the running back preview which offered a full explanation. The Mr. Average chart will give you a snapshot of what the average prospect drafted at his specific position has looked like over the span of the last five years to give you some context when the numbers from Indy start pouring in.

Top Pick: S Jamal Adams (LSU)

With as many great cornerbacks as there are in this class, my two favorites come from LSU, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise given how much talent has come from that school in the secondary in recent years. Adams appears to be a potential top-five pick as a do-everything safety. At 6-1, 213 pounds, he’s a hyper-aggressive buzz saw who is always around the ball, plays extremely fast, and is a rangy player on the back end. He’s just a solid tackler right now, but he looks like a day one starter at either safety spot. At cornerback, TreDavious White, Adams’ teammate, is my favorite overall player. He’s got the potential to play anywhere in the secondary, despite the fact that many view Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore as a potential top-five selection.

Workout Warrior: CB Adoree' Jackson (USC)

There are a lot of outstanding athletes in the secondary. You need to be great in order to be a high pick in my opinion, but Jackson will take the cake here. A first-team All-America in football this past year, Jackson was twice named an All-America on the track as well as a two-time Pac-12 long jump champion. That speed carries over to the gridiron, where he was a game-breaking threat on offense, a dynamic return specialist, and a high-upside cornerback with shutdown potential. At 5-11, 185 pounds, I’m interested to see how big he checks in at the Combine. I expect the track star to test extremely well across the board.

Staying at cornerback, Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey is going to run very well in the 40-yard dash. At safety, Washington’s Budda Baker should stand out above the rest for his athletic prowess, but keep a close eye on Rudy Ford from Auburn as well. He's a converted cornerback with reported 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash. I actually think Ford has a better chance than Baker to turn into a traditional starting safety in the NFL, while the latter will be more of a subpackage player at the next level.

Stopwatch Shocker: CB Cordrea Tankersley (Clemson)

This won’t be much of a shock to me, but I expect the 6-0, 194-pound Tankersley to test very well and see his stock "rise" after the trip to Indianapolis. The former high school quarterback and safety recruit has only been playing at corner for four seasons, but he’s got all of of the physical traits you want in a starter on the outside. He’s big, fast, strong, athletic, and instinctive with natural ball skills. I expect Tankersley to be in most people’s top-five cornerback rankings after the week has concluded. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said during January’s Senior Bowl that UConn safety Obi Melifonwu could shock the world with a "Byron Jones-esque" workout, which would be extremely impressive for the 6-4, 219-pound strong safety.

Trust The Tape: DB Desmond King (Iowa)

After feeling that he was a bit overrated throughout the summer and early fall, I now look at Desmond King as a sort of bargain based off his current standing in most mock drafts. He’s an inch and a half short at 5-10. He's a step and a half too slow. I expect a 40-time in the mid-4.5-second range. The tape, however, shows a player in King who is tough, smart, and a natural at playing the ball in the air. King is a great run defender, has outstanding ball skills, and he mas made great plays in coverage due to his instincts every season I’ve watched him since 2014. I’ve never seen a true outside cornerback on a full-time basis, but whether he’s in the slot or even at safety, King is a player. Don’t knock him too bad for a subpar workout in Indianapolis.

I’d put Tennessee’s Cam Sutton on this list as well, though I do think he has a chance of sticking on the outside. I see him as a player who will definitely stick in the NFL with a starting role on defense. At safety, Michigan’s Delano Hill is one of the best pure strong safeties in the draft. If he doesn’t test well, I’ll be comfortable with it because his game is predicated more on his instincts and physicality rather than his movement skills.

Will Kill The Drills: CB TreDavious White (LSU)

The biggest concern with White going into the Combine is his long speed, which some believe could hover in the 4.5-second range making him a natural "Trust the Tape" fit as well. I expect him to crush the position drills, even if his athletic testing falls a hair short. White is technically sound, looks good flipping his hips, can finish on the ball with ease, and does everything in textbook fashion at the cornerback spot. I’m excited to see him work out next Monday.

Most To Prove: CB Quincy Wilson (Florida)

There are two cornerbacks in this class who I want to see run before I peg them as locks for the first round. Quincy Wilson is a big, physical corner with a knack for defending the run. I question his ability to run vertically with receivers. I felt the same way to a lesser extent about Sidney Jones from Washington. He’ll also want to help ease teams' caution about his frame. No corner has been drafted in the last five years weighing Jones’ listed 170 pounds. Kevin King needs to prove if he’s a cornerback or a safety. His test scores will help spell that out for evaluators. Wilson’s teammate in the secondary, Teez Tabor, has three suspensions in three years with the Gators. Major red flag. He arguably has much better physical gifts than his teammate.

Most Productive College Player: CB Damontae Kazee (San Diego State)

Kazee is undersized at 5-10, 183 pounds, but the three-year starter has been a true ballhawk in the secondary. Only one corner (King) has had more combined ball disruptions (interceptions and pass breakups combined) than Kazee’s 46 at the Combine. He ranks third in the cornerback group with 240 tackles. The California native will need a really impressive workout to be anything more than a late third-day selection because of his size. He projects best to the slot in the NFL. West Virginia’s Rasul Douglas led the country with eight interceptions this year in his lone season as a starter, while Colorado’s Ahkello Witherspoon led the country with 22 pass breakups.

Best Story: S Lorenzo Jerome (St. Francis)

An undersized safety from the small-school ranks who didn’t play the position until day one of his freshman season? Sure, count me in. Jerome made headlines in the all-star game circuit after two interceptions in the NFLPA game and two more in the Senior Bowl, but this is nothing new for the senior. A great returner and ballhawk in the secondary, Jerome intercepted 18 passes in 42 starts during his career as a four-time, first-team All-Northeast Conference selection. He’s undersized, but don’t count this kid out as a potential selection in the middle rounds.

Philly Connection: CB Nate Hairston (Temple)

Nate Hairston doesn’t have quite the same story as Jerome, but the Frederick, Maryland native certainly proved that he can hold his own in the secondary in his brief time on defense. A receiver through the end of the 2014 season, coaches at Temple felt that Hairston’s size (6-0, 185 pounds), athleticism, and ball skills would be better served on defense. He responded in a big way in his first year as a starter. The redshirt senior made a number of big plays at Lincoln Financial Field this fall, and is looking to prove that he has what it takes to stick on the back end of an NFL roster in 2017. Want another random Philadelphia connection? Colorado cornerback Chidobe Awuzie’s godmother’s nephew is former Eagle Nnamdi Asomugha.

Mr. Average - Cornerback
Height 5-11 Official 40 4.50 seconds
Weight 193 pounds 10-Yard Split 1.56 seconds
Hand Size 9 1/8" 3-Cone Drill 6.93 seconds
Arm Length 31 1/2" Short Shuttle 4.19 seconds
Wingspan 75 1/2" Broad Jump 10'2"
Unofficial 40 4.46 seconds Vertical Jump 36"
Mr. Average - Safety
Height 6-0 Official 40 4.57 seconds
Weight 208 pounds 10-Yard Split 1.58 seconds
Hand Size 9 3/8" 3-Cone Drill 7.00 seconds
Arm Length 31 1/2" Short Shuttle 4.26 seconds
Wingspan 76 3/8" Broad Jump 10'2"
Unofficial 40 4.52 seconds Vertical Jump 35.5"

Fran Duffy is the producer of “Eagles Game Plan” which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices and opponents.

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