2018 Cornerbacks – Top 25 CB’s + Seahawks notes

The class of 2018 Cornerbacks is knocked for its top-end talent, but it’s full of quality depth. Which prospects will Seattle target for the future Legion of Boom?

This is a much better group of 2018 Cornerbacks than I’d anticipated prior to evaluation. Not only is there considerable depth at the position, but there are underrated talents at the top of the class as well. The top 25 are ranked below, along with notes on the 1st round prospects. Then we dive deep into the Seahawks CB situation, with additional analysis on the 2018 CB class:

2018 Cornerbacks – Top 25 prospects

1) Denzel Ward, CB/Slot – 5’10, 190 lbs – grade: Top 15

  • Freakish speed, agility and explosiveness. 4.23 40-time, 3.88 SS, 6.75 3-cone, 39.5” VJ, 10’11” broad jump.
  • Can count the change in WR’s pockets. Hounds them in coverage with lightning quick footspeed & athleticism.
  • Able to wait longer than other CB’s to flip his hips, due to remarkable fast-twitch footwork in his backpedal.
  • Not yet a finished product. Occasional false steps in press coverage. Also face guards downfield instead of turning his head, but magnificently times his leap & swats at the receiver’s hands. Always right in their grill.
  • Undersized at listed 5’10, 191 lbs (which may even be generous), but has good length for his height & can hit. Willing & able run defender, though size & play-strength are limiting factors.
  • AP 1st team All-American & PFF’s #3 graded CB in the country. 37 tackles, 2 INT’s & 15 pass break-ups.
  • Ultimately was a shutdown CB despite size, youth & raw tendencies. Great upside with added development.

2) Joshua Jackson, CB – 6’1, 190 lbs – grade: Top 15

  • Exceptional athletic profile. Great frame at 6’1” with decent length. Terrific short-area burst. Explosive leaper.
  • Played a lot of cover-2 zone for the Hawkeyes, but showed immense potential in deep zone coverage.
  • Instinctive playmaker with spectacular body control & ball skills. Weapon vs. vertical routes & 50/50 balls.
  • Unanimous 2017 1st team All-American. Heavily targeted & made ‘em pay: 8 INT’s, 2 TD’s & 18 pass break-ups. Per PFF, he yielded a microscopic 35.0 QB rating on throws into his coverage, and a 44% completion %.
  • Concerns: 1) Only one full season with starting experience at Iowa. 2) Not as twitchy/fluid when changing directions. 3) Inconsistency in man &/or press coverage. 4) A little light on weight & tackling technique.

3) Jaire Alexander, CB/Slot – 5’11, 190 lbs – grade: R1

  • Average size at 5’11” tall & 192 lbs, but highly athletic. Sub-4.40 speed, 36.5” vertical & quick-twitch agility.
  • Superb cover skills. Fundamental press technique & transitions. Slick & sudden mover in any direction. Constantly stays in phase with receivers, and attacks the ball with impressive timing & explosiveness.
  • Smart, tough & aggressive in coverage and vs. the run. Wins with instincts & leverage along with athletic gifts.
  • Missed several games with multiple injuries in 2017, yet yielded a phenomenal 17.7 QB rating on throws into his coverage (per PFF). Raw 2016 #’s include: 39 tackles, 5 INT’s, 9 pass break-ups & 1 forced fumble.

 4) Carlton Davis, CB – 6’1, 205 lbs – grade R1-2

  • Prototypical physical tools. Great size/frame with ridiculously long arms. Plenty fast, athletic & fluid.
  • Outstanding press CB. Balances in deep squat at the LOS & square with patient feet until the WR shows his hand. Forcefully jams receivers with supreme length & physicality, and bullies them into the sideline.
  • Desirable coverage skills as well. Physical & sticky man-to-man defense. Very grabby & erratic downfield, resulting in too many big plays. Basic zone coverage instincts. Fearless tackler & run stopper at CB.
  • AP 2nd team All-American. 3-year starter with career #’s of: 136 tackles, 4 INT’s, 3 FF’s & 28 pass break-ups.

5) Mike Hughes, CB – 5’11, 190 lbs – grade: R2

6) Isaiah Oliver, CB – 6’1, 195 lbs – grade: R2

7) Donte Jackson, CB – 5’11, 175 lbs – grade R2

8) Nick Nelson, CB/Slot – 5’11, 205 lbs – grade: R2-3

9) Isaac Yiadom, CB – 6’1, 190 lbs – grade: R2-3

10) Tarvarus McFadden, CB – 6’2, 205 lbs – grade: R3

11) Arrion Springs, CB – 6’0, 205 lbs – grade: R3

12) M.J. Stewart, CB/Slot – 5’11, 200 lbs – grade: R3

13) Anthony Averett, CB – 6’0, 185 lbs – grade: R3

14) Holton Hill, CB – 6’3, 200 lbs – grade: R3-4

15) Rashaan Gaulden, CB/Slot – 6’1, 195 lbs – grade: R3-4

16) Quenton Meeks, CB – 6’2, 200 lbs – grade: R3-4

17) Duke Dawson, CB/Slot – 5’10, 200 lbs – grade: R3-4

18) D.J. Reed, CB/Slot – 5’9, 190 lbs – grade: R4

19) Kevin Toliver, CB – 6’3, 205 lbs – grade: R4

20) Kameron Kelly, CB/Slot – 6’1, 195 lbs – grade: R4

21) Darius Phillips, CB/Slot – 5’10, 190 lbs – grade: R4-5

22) J.C. Jackson, CB – 6’1, 195 lbs – grade: R4-5

23) Levi Wallace, CB/Slot – 6’0, 180 lbs – grade: R4-5

24) Brandon Facyson, CB – 6’2, 195 lbs – grade: R5

25) Christian Campbell, CB – 6’1, 195 lbs – grade: R5

 

Notes on the 2018 Cornerbacks & the Seahawks

1) John Ross bested Chris Johnson’s longstanding combine record in the 40-yard dash last year at a blistering 4.22 seconds. However, there’s no guarantee it holds through the 2018 event. The top competitors could very well come from the CB group, where Denzel Ward and Donte Jackson will look to run in the 4.2’s. Several more stand a chance of timing under 4.40, including Jaire Alexander, Mike Hughes, Anthony Averett, Tony Brown, Isaac Yiadom and Rashard Fant (to name a few).


2) Sticking with the upcoming combine, many cornerbacks have a lot to gain in a fluid class. While the group of 2018 CB’s is quite deep, there aren’t a ton of obvious standout prospects. Ward and Joshua Jackson are at the head of the class, and are the only locked-in 1st rounders as of now. We covered Jackson’s game in detail a week ago, since he is frequently mocked to Seattle at this stage (perhaps too much so):

Seahawks mocks: Playmaking CB Joshua Jackson


3) Arrion Springs is arguably the deepest sleeper in the 2018 NFL Draft, regardless of position. He didn’t even receive a combine invite, but he’s got a 3rd round grade on my board. The Oregon CB isn’t elite in any area, yet all he does it check boxes. He has average or better size, speed, athleticism and coverage skills. All of which helped him tie with Jackson for 3rd in the country with 18 pass break-ups this year. I just wish he was a little longer so he’d garner strong consideration from the Seahawks. He doesn’t have T-Rex arms by any means, but I think he’ll measure short of Seattle’s 32” threshold.


4) Speaking of the Seahawks, what do we make of the team’s CB situation? A lot of national media evaluators see cornerback as a pressing need with the L.O.B. nearing its end. Jackson is the trendy 1st round pick, though other top CB’s have been mocked to Seattle as well. While I understand the general reasoning behind these projections, it flies in the face of what we know about the Hawks.

Here are all eight corners Seattle’s drafted under Pete Carroll and John Schneider:

  • Shaquill Griffin – 3rd round, 32 ½” arms
  • Walter Thurmond III – 4th round, 33” arms
  • Richard Sherman – 5th round, 32” arms
  • Tharold Simon – 5th round, 33” arms
  • Tye Smith – 5th round, 32” arms
  • Byron Maxwell – 6th round, 33 ½” arms
  • Jeremy Lane – 6th round, 32” arms
  • Michael Tyson – 6th round, 32” arms

The Seahawks have exclusively picked lengthy (32+ inch arms) CB’s in the mid or late rounds, relying on Carroll’s ability to develop low-cost DB’s. Griffin was the highest selection made at 90th overall, and that came when CB was an urgent need last offseason. In contrast, the position is far down Seattle’s list of needs heading into free agency next month.

Cutting or trading Richard Sherman would change things, which is possible according to Jason La Canfora:

The Seahawks entertained trade offers for Richard Sherman a year ago and certainly would do so again – though his injury situation clouds things.”

However, Sherman expects to stay with the Seahawks, and will represent himself as he seeks a contract extension. I would not put it past him to come back from injury as strong as ever, just as Earl Thomas did last season. For now, I’d consider the odds greater than 50/50 that he’ll play for Seattle in 2018, though it’s obviously a situation to monitor.

Sherman’s status is just one reason why we have CB so low down the list of team needs this offseason. Byron Maxwell and/or DeShawn Shead can affordably be re-signed to round out the CB room with Griffin, Tyson, and Justin Coleman. The Seahawks could still add talent later in the draft in that case, but there are larger holes to fill on the roster with premium picks.

Given the lukewarm need at CB and their aversion to drafting them early, it would likely take an extraordinarily long and athletic corner to entice them with their 1st pick. That last statement applies whether Sherman is back for next season or not.


5) If Seattle were to buck the trend and draft a CB in the first two rounds, the names to know are Carlton Davis and Isaiah Oliver. Davis both looks and plays exactly like a Seahawks cornerback. He overwhelms receivers at the line of scrimmage due to his incredible length, physicality, and press coverage technique. He also possesses the athleticism and footwork to mirror and match well for his size, while providing a lift in run support. Unfortunately, his similarities to Seahawks corners don’t end there, as he has the same weaknesses. Specifically, being too physical at the top of routes, and inconsistency in off-coverage. Davis is tailor-made to be a press CB in a Cover 1/3 scheme, thus making him a great fit for Seattle…

On the other hand, Oliver is a raw athletic specimen with plus size, length, long speed and explosiveness. He broke out for Colorado this year, after waiting in the wings behind 2016 day-2 picks Ahkello Witherspoon and Chidobe Awuzie. Oliver may be the best prospect of the trio, but is just scratching the surface of what he can be. I prefer Davis, though Oliver has sky-high upside with successful coaching and development.


6) It would still be a huge surprise for the Seahawks to draft a CB early (despite the promise of Davis & Oliver), for the reasons above. The more intriguing area of the draft is rather the middle rounds, where Seattle has drafted exceptionally well at the CB position. Here are the top targets who figure to generate the most interest:

Boston College’s Isaac Yiadom is a CB we covered extensively both during and following Senior Bowl week. In fact, his performance was so impressive that I mocked him to Seattle in the 5th round of our Seahawks Senior Bowl mock draft. Consequently, I was more excited to study his tape than most other 2018 Cornerbacks. How did that turn out?

Well, it was freaking awesome – Yiadom is the man folks. His size, length, speed, athleticism, physicality and skills all scream “Seahawks cornerback.” He is 6’1” with over 32” arms, but a little thin in the high 180’s. However, he plays much bigger than that, utilizing wiry strength and explosiveness to win at the line of scrimmage. That includes an ability to annihilate WR’s in press coverage, as well as some striking plays in run support. There are few CB’s in this draft class who can better defend vertical routes, making him a fantastic fit in a press cover-3 scheme (aka – Carroll’s defense).

Yiadom may blaze a fast 40-time, though I’m more interested in his jumps and agility testing at the combine. He displays quick-twitch athleticism at times, but can also lack fluidity in his transitions. That stiffness is the main reason he’s not a 1st-round type; I’ve graded him as a day-two (R2-3) prospect instead. His stock jumped into the middle rounds after the Senior Bowl, which – if it holds – would make him a prime draft target for Seattle…

Texas CB Holton Hill is a tremendous talent at cornerback, but it’s impossible to accurately value him right now. Maturity and professionalism are huge question marks, especially after Texas suspended him in November for violating team rules. Depending on their severity, his character issues could make him a steal in the middle rounds of the draft.

Hill was downright dominant at times for the Longhorns this season, highlighted by a shutdown performance vs. 1st/2nd round WR prospect James Washington. He has outstanding size and length, and plays with excellent footwork, awareness and toughness. His combine performance will be key, particularly his 40 time and interviews. If on-field ability was the only factor, Hill would be a borderline top-5 CB in this class…


7) There are several more 2018 Cornerbacks who figure to measure out at 6+ feet tall with 32+ inch arms at the combine. We’ll know for sure in a couple weeks, and we can surely consider those that do to be a near-exhaustive group of potential Seattle CB targets. Here are some notes on other candidates likely to measure like Seahawks cornerbacks:

Tarvarus McFadden and Quenton Meeks are both exceptionally tall & long CB’s with intriguing ability. However, they’re deficient in speed and/or quickness, and struggle through inconsistency on the field. Their size and skillsets warrant consideration on late day-two / early day-three of the draft, yet could be pushed higher in this CB class. Despite their size, they may not have the athletic profiles necessary to entice Seattle that early in the draft. Keep in mind that Griffin was Seattle’s only 3rd round corner pick under PCJS, and he tested in the 96th percentile of NFL CB athletes…

Levi Wallace emerged as a key member of Alabama’s star-studded secondary this year, an impressive feat for a former walk-on. He’s more advanced than much of this CB class, particularly with his jab and footwork in press coverage. At 6’0 3/8” tall with 33.5” arms, Wallace is plenty long for Seattle. However, he weighed in under 180 lbs at the Senior Bowl and his slight frame poses problems on tape. While the Seahawks’ brass will surely love his long arms, they’ve exclusively drafted CB’s (during Carroll’s tenure) who were 10-25 lbs heavier…

I’m not sure what to make of towering LSU CB Kevin Toliver. He’s got a beastly frame at 6’3, 205 lbs with good length, and appears to be plenty mobile and explosive. He was a 5-star recruit and excelled right away as a freshman, but didn’t noticeably improve over the next two years. Granted, injuries played a role in his lack of development, although he reportedly lacks maturity as well. I’m eager to learn more about Toliver in the coming weeks, since his size and athleticism are seemingly right up Seattle’s alley…

Maryland CB J.C. Jackson also has character questions that need to be answered. Specifically, has he matured since being kicked off Florida’s football team as a freshman? I’m not sure his size and athletic ability are enough to offset the off-field concerns, plus some coverage deficiencies…

San Diego State CB/S Kameron Kelly is a guy I need to see more of. He played Safety for most of his career (also at the Senior Bowl) before switching to CB in 2017. The transition apparently did wonders for his draft stock, and his tape shows promise on the boundary. Kelly filled the stat sheet with 67 tackles, 5 for loss, 3 INT’s, 2 FF’s and 7 pass break-ups this year. Additionally, he measured in at 6’1 5/8” with 32 ¼” arms at the Senior Bowl, and figures to perform well at the combine. Seattle may consider him on day-three of the draft if looking for depth at nickel CB…

Christian Campbell and Brandon Facyson stand out to me as potential targets in the late rounds of the draft. They’re certainly not the most spectacular prospects, lacking fluidity in their movements and possessing unrefined skillsets. However, they’ve both got great size and some athletic traits to work with. The Seahawks like to find tools-y CB’s they can mold in the late rounds or undrafted free agency…

8) Sorry for the infrequent posts as of late! I’ve been buried deep in this CB class over the past two weeks, spending all my HawkTalk time studying this group from scratch. We’ve now covered every position group except TE, LB, WR and QB, and hope to knock off 1-2 of those prior to the combine. Afterwards, we’ll dive into combine coverage, update some of our early rankings and develop Position Profiles for Seattle to identify top draft targets. Not to mention free agency coverage and unique offseason analysis. Go Hawks!