Countdown to the NFL draft: SEC CBs
The NFL draft begins Thursday in Chicago, with all 32 teams looking for the next great pro talent to emerge from the SEC.
We’ve taken a position-by-position look at the SEC’s draft prospects in the days leading up to the event. We started with running backs, receivers, defensive tackles, defensive ends, safeties, quarterbacks and tight ends. We continue today with cornerbacks.
One of the positions in the NFL that has constantly increased in value in the last three years, perhaps growing more than even pass rushers or athletic receivers, teams never can have enough good cover corners.
More and more NFL franchises are using spots at the bottom of the roster exclusively for defensive backs who can help on special teams and play a number of positions on defense.
As a result, as many as six SEC players have a solid chance to get drafted at the position in 2015.
Let’s take a look at some of the news, projections and buzz at the position entering this year’s draft.
BIGGEST STAR: Jalen Collins, LSU
Collins, at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, entered April as a first-round cornerback, judging by the consensus among major mock draft projections.
Then the media learned that Collins failed multiple drug tests at LSU. Add Collins’ recent foot surgery to his pre-draft resume, and there are multiple factors to consider beyond his skills on the field.
NFL teams no doubt already knew of the failed drug tests. Will they slot the LSU corner as a second-day pick on their draft boards, or do they feel that Collins’ unique combination of size/speed/overall athleticism warrants one of the first 32 selections?
It’s hard to say that Collins is “falling” when, if NFL teams are going to collectively pass on him in the first round, they’ve already decided that before the media got the news.
It could be that the media overstated Collins’ projection all along. He only started 10 games in college and still needs to grow into his athletic potential, so it’s unlikely he’ll start immediately.
But Collins has clear first-round talent as his ceiling and fits the profile of recent NFL standout corners, who have gotten bigger and maintained quickness in the last five years or so.
Collins’ foot doesn’t seem to be a big issue, so if he can overcome whatever off-field drug issue he’s facing (or has faced), he’s got a great opportunity to be the best NFL corner from this year’s class.
RISING: Senquez Golson, Ole Miss
Despite being an All-American and leading the SEC in interceptions in 2014, Golson never was a legitimate first-round candidate. At just 5-foot-9 and 176 pounds, Golson isn’t a candidate to start for a team that likes to feature press coverage.
He ran a decent, but not elite, 4.46-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, but some analysts believe he doesn’t have ideal long speed in coverage either.
Golson needs the right defensive system, but he could excel on a team that allows him to play zone coverage. A ball hawk who could be asked to cover slot receivers in the NFL, he made an eye-popping nine picks and 16 pass deflections in ’14.
Projected anywhere from the second half of the second round to the fourth round, Golson very likely will be the second SEC cornerback off the board, and most seem to like him better as a prospect now than they did at the end of the season, much less before ’14.
Mel Kiper just said Senquez Golson is the most underrated player in the draft. I'd have to agree.
— Samuel Crotwell (@SamuelCrotwell) April 23, 2015
I've been high on Ole Miss CB Senquez Golson and Mel Kiper thinks he would be a steal in the second-round but he's vertically challenged.
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) April 25, 2015
FALLING: Nick Marshall, Auburn
I wonder if Nick Marshall, NFL cornerback is getting overplayed in the media just because it’s a terrific story.
As a developmental project, in some respects Marshall is a long shot. There just aren’t many players converting from offense to defense just months before the NFL draft that have experienced success at the pro level.
Marshall ran 4.54 seconds in his NFL Combine 40-yard dash. That’s terrific for a quarterback, but borderline too slow to play in the NFL at cornerback. Couple that with stiff hips and questions about how willing he may be in run support, and Marshall may or may not ever convert his raw football ability into “viable cornerback” at the next level.
Some teams reportedly think his physical profile fits better as a safety, but he has even less experience there and again, we don’t really know how well Marshall can tackle or if he’s willing to stick his nose into NFL tight ends and running backs on big collisions.
NFL teams, however, may attempt to convert a few cornerbacks in this class to safety, as it’s a weak draft group at that position.
Search for safety help in NFL Draft could lead teams to Nick Marshall, analyst Mike Mayock says
— Bradley Mason (@bradthetruth) April 24, 2015
Still others think he’s a core special teams guy, but there’s arguments about whether he’s a punt returner or a kick and punt coverage player.
There’s also debate about whether Marshall offers any hidden value as a legitimate third quarterback.
Even as a special teams player, there are unanswered questions about Marshall. His multiplicity sounds good in theory, but keep in mind that it’s only worth something if Marshall can truly add value to an NFL roster at each spot.
It’s likely that he gets drafted on the third day, but Auburn’s former starting quarterback may get squeamish waiting for his name to be called Saturday night.
NON-SEC PLAYERS TO WORRY ABOUT
- Trae Waynes, Michigan State
- Marcus Peters, Washington
- Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest
- Byron Jones, Connecticut
- Eric Rowe, Utah
THREE BIGGEST QUESTIONS
- Will Jalen Collins slip out of the first round on Thursday?
- Can Tennessee CB Justin Coleman extend Tennessee’s 51-year streak of at least one drafted player?
- Will Auburn’s Nick Marshall get drafted as a corner?
THREE TO WATCH FOR 2016
- Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
- Jonathan Jones, Auburn
- Cyrus Jones, Alabama
- Tennessee’s Justin Coleman ran a fairly slow 40-yard dash for a corner at the NFL Combine — 4.53 seconds — and many analysts feel he lacks anticipation in coverage. At 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, he’s small for a run-supporting nickelback, but he did manage an impressive 20 repetitions on the bench press at 225 pounds. He has a very good chance to get drafted as a core special teams player who competes to start opposite the other team’s slot receiver on defense.
- Georgia utilized defensive back Damien Swann in a variety of different roles, which is an even more marketable skill at the NFL level. He can play nickelback, dime or safety as well as contribute on special teams. He plays tougher than his 189 pounds against the run. Overall, most projections don’t see him as a full-time starter at corner or safety in the NFL, but he’s the type of versatile defensive back that teams are looking for as they fortify themselves against the pass with as much depth as possible.
- Speaking of NFL teams looking to move cornerbacks to safety for their coverage skills (see Nick Marshall above), I wonder if some enterprising scout may offer up Texas A&M’s Deshazor Everett as an undrafted free agent safety. Everett made a whopping 16 tackles against the run-heavy Arkansas Razorbacks in 2014 — yes, as a cornerback(!). Then again, his measurables at A&M’s pro day were explosive. Whether or not he’s drafted, and at what position, shouldn’t matter in training camp. Everett must make an NFL roster by becoming a standout special teams player.
- Other SEC cornerbacks who probably will try to land a spot in training camp on an undrafted free agent contract: Jamerson Love (Mississippi State), Trovon Reed (Auburn), Tevin Mitchel (Arkansas) and Jonathon Mincy (Auburn).