We’ve gone through the entire front seven with out 2020 NFL Draft position rankings, but now, it’s time to get to the most valuable defensive position- cornerback. Though many believe that rushing the passer is the most important part of defensive play, having strong cornerback play forces the quarterback to hold onto the ball longer, which in turn leads to more sacks. Therefore, in order to combat high-flying passing offenses, players at this position are in high demand. Luckily for teams in need of reinforcements in the secondary, this cornerback class is absolutely stacked with talent; after gathering as much information on these prospects as possible, I have concluded that there are seven prospects worthy of being first-round picks. So, who headlines this prestigious group of players? Let’s take a look at the top-ten cornerbacks in the 2020 NFL Draft!
#1: Jeffrey Okudah, Ohio State
Height: 6’1″ Weight: 200 lbs
Pro Comparison: Aqib Talib
Best Fits: DET, MIA, NYG
Overall Grade: 92.23625 (Top 3)
It’s very rare to find a truly elite man-cover corner, but that’s exactly what Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah figures to be. He’s lengthy and explosive as you can be, which are two traits that are needed in order to be an elite player, and for his size, a 4.48 40-yard dash was not a bad time to run. His technique in press-coverage is as profound as it gets, as he uses his power and length to his advantage, and if he were to somehow lose at line of scrimmage, he’ll make up for it with his exceptional recovery ability. Cornerback prospects who have as few limitations as Okudah are hard to find, and when you add his competitive and confident demeanor, he’s the exact prototype of a true shutdown #1 cornerback.
Okudah is such an incredible physical specimen, that he can sometimes get lazy with his technique, but I don’t expect that to carry over to the NFL. For the most part, other than some minor issues with his ball skills, and the need for more experience in zone coverage, there aren’t any true weaknesses with his game.
In my opinion, Jeffrey Okudah is the best cornerback prospect we’ve had enter in the draft in recent memory, and in short time, he should be one of the league’s premier cornerbacks. His ability to be a lockdown corner in man-coverage should appeal greatly to the Lions at pick #3, and if he weren’t the pick there, the Giants should easily jump on the opportunity to select him. There’s a debate between him and versatile linebacker/safety hybrid Isaiah Simmons at the moment, but given how many teams are in desperate need of help in the secondary, I don’t know how he’s not the clear third-best player in this draft (after Joe Burrow and Chase Young).
#2: Kristian Fulton, LSU
Height: 6’0″ Weight: 192 lbs
Pro Comparison: AJ Bouye
Best Fits: OAK, ATL, IND
Overall Grade: 88.325 (Fringe Top Ten)
There’s a drop-off after Okudah, but if you’re looking for an immediate contributor in your secondary, LSU’s Kristian Fulton can be that. The 21-year-old may have the best overall technique in this class, as he’s super patient, and every rarely gets beaten due to poor discipline. That’s allowed him to thrive in the toughest conference in college football, but even more than that, he’s also a tremendous athlete. His seamless ability to change directions and incredible movement skills make him a true man-coverage cornerback, and he was able to silence the doubts about his long speed with a 4.46 40-yard dash. Plus, with his elite reactionary quickness and ability to break on routes, he also would be fine in a zone-heavy scheme, making him one of the more reliable and balanced cornerback prospects in this class.
Though Fulton flashes terrific ball skills at the catch point, he can be inconsistent in that regard, as he too often was beat on 50/50 balls, since he’s not the strongest of cornerbacks. He’s also not a true ballhawk, which may lower his value in the eyes of some, which makes him similar to Byron Jones in that regard.
Kristian Fulton doesn’t have the highest upside in this class, but does it matter? Outside of Okudah, he’s easily the most reliable cornerback prospect in this class, and his patience and athleticism fit tremendously in a press-men scheme; he could honestly be successful in any scheme, however. Right now, his draft stock isn’t super high, so he may last into the mid 20s in the first round. If that’s the case, whichever team drafts him will be getting an absolute steal- he’s literally a carbon copy of AJ Bouye, who before this past season was considered a top-ten cornerback.
#3: Jeff Gladney, TCU
Year: RS Senior
Height: 5’10” Weight: 191 lbs
Pro Comparison: Steven Nelson
Best Fits: MIA, ATL, NO
Overall Grade: 87.5425 (1st)
In my opinion, there may not be a more competitive and feisty cornerback in this draft than TCU’s Jeff Gladney. Despite not being the biggest of cornerbacks, he’s super physical, and plays the ball at the catch point exceptionally. Said physicality also shows up at the line of scrimmage, as he’s tremendous in press coverage, and when he whiffs, has the recovery quickness to avoid getting beat over the top. He’s another player in this draft class with amazing movement skills, which allow him to mirror receivers- he’d thrive in a man-heavy scheme. Plus, he’s also the most willing run defender and pass rusher in this draft class, so if he’s forced to play in the nickel, is an excellent chess piece for defensive coordinators.
At the end of the day, Gladney’s smaller frame is going to be a problem in the NFL, as he’ll need to add a lot of mass to be a full-time outside cornerback. Plus, although he offers some upside in zone coverage with his ballhawking ability and closing quickness, he is inconsistent in his route anticipation currently, and also isn’t a very lengthy cornerback.
He’s not the biggest of cornerbacks, but in a day and age where a 5’10” Chris Harris Jr. has consistently been one of the most successful players at the position, I’m very confident Jeff Gladney can overcome his size deficiencies at the next level. His agility and quickness should make him a plus man-coverage cornerback, and if he’s moved to the nickel, his run defense and pass rushing ability is just another added bonus. Now, I don’t expect Gladney to actually be a first-round pick, as teams value size and length at the position. Still, I see value with him starting in the middle of the first round, and should he last until the second round, will be one of the steals of the draft. His best and most likely landing spot, in my opinion, has to be the Miami Dolphins; they run a man-heavy scheme and five picks within the first two days of the draft. Regardless, whomever drafts Gladney will be getting a quality nickel corner, which is super valuable and worth a first-round pick in today’s game.
#4: Trevon Diggs, Alabama
Height: 6’1″ Weight: 205 lbs
Pro Comparison: Josh Norman
Best Fits: JAX, IND, SEA
Overall Grade: 86.9725 (1st)
As mentioned previously, several teams value length at the position, and with that, they ought to be intrigued with Trevon Diggs. The Alabama product’s 32 3/4 inch arms are super intriguing, as it’ll allow him to thrive in press coverage, and there’s no doubt he’ll hold his own against the bigger wide receivers. Meanwhile, his ball skills, both in general and at the catch point, are fantastic, so he’d be quite the fit for a team that runs a lot of zone coverage. To his credit, he’s also a pretty refined player, as his 90.1 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus is extremely impressive, especially when considering that he played in the SEC.
Out of all the first-round cornerbacks, Diggs may be the most scheme dependent. He simply doesn’t have the athleticism to play off-man coverage, and not participating at the combine won’t help him address those concerns. That’s really his only weakness, but it’s a major one, to the point that teams may take him off their board in the first-round entirely.
Coming out of a well-regarded university in terms of producing NFL players, Trevon Diggs has the technique, length, ball skills, and size many front offices desire from the cornerback position. Yet, because he doesn’t he doesn’t have ideal athleticism and long speed, he won’t be a fit for a lot of defensive schemes, which may cause him to fall in the draft. He’s best served in a Cover 3 scheme, or any scheme that uses a lot press-man coverage or zone coverage, making the Jaguars, Colts, Seahawks, Vikings, 49ers, Cowboys, Redskins, Bills, Chargers, and Falcons his most ideal fits. He’s such a refined player, so I believe he could adapt to any scheme overtime, but if for him to be a elite #1 lockdown corner, those ten teams are where he personally should want to end up.
#5: CJ Henderson, Florida
Height: 6’1″ Weight: 191 lbs
Pro Comparison: Greedy Williams
Best Fits: MIA, LV, ATL
Overall Grade: 86.76375 (1st)
If there’s one player who can challenge Okudah as the best cornerback from this draft class in ten years or so, it’s CJ Henderson. Based off sheer upside alone, the Florida product is probably the second-best prospect of this group, as he’s simply an athletic freak. At the combine, Henderson ran a 4.39 40-yard dash, and that shows up with his play, as his elite change of direction ability allow him to be super sticky in man coverage. He’s also super long and lanky, which will allow him to play against bigger receivers, and to his credit, he certainly embraces the physicality to comes with being a cornerback. His patience at the line of scrimmage and ability to diagnose routes are also top-notch, and similarly to Fulton and Diggs, playing in the SEC should help with the transition to the NFL level.
Henderson’s upside is super intriguing, but his inconsistency is pretty concerning. Though he should do better against taller receivers with his lengthy frame, he far too much is outmuscled at the catch point, and sometimes can struggle in press-coverage too. Plus, he also has a tendency to trust his speed too much, which leads to him breaking to the ball late, and at times, he can both be very grabby and be beat due to mental lapses. Overall, he earned just a 58.9 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus, and since he often didn’t play with his 100% effort, it’s hard to gauge how quality of a cornerback he truly is.
If I had to guess how this draft plays out, I’d say that Henderson is the first cornerback drafted after Okudah, based on his man-coverage skills and athleticism. However, his need to add muscle and his significant inconsistency are serious concerns, and ideally, I’d rather draft a cornerback in the first-round who wasn’t a replacement level player in his final season in college. Now, he did deal with an ankle injury, and was dominant in 2018, so I do believe he’s a much better that he showed in 2019, and is on the same-level of a cornerback prospect to Diggs. Still, I’d much rather have Fulton, and even Gladney, who are both much more reliable prospects; based on Greedy Williams’ struggles this season, we should know by now that it’s much more difficult than it looks to suddenly translate athleticism into better production at the NFL level.
#6: AJ Terrell, Clemson
Height: 6’1″ Weight: 195 lbs
Pro Comparison: Charvarius Ward
Best Fits: BUF, NO, MIN
Overall Grade: 86.66125 (1st)
After running a 4.42 40-yard dash at the combine, in addition to measuring it at 6’1″ and 195 pounds, AJ Terrell has the type of size-speed combination that should allow him to find success at the next level. With his seamless change of direction ability, he’s able to mirror receivers tremendously, and when he has to close quickly, he has the juice to do so. Meanwhile, since he’s a pretty lengthy corner, he’s able to thrive in press-man coverage, while his length and agility give him a high upside in zone coverage as well; he also has some of the best ball skills in this draft class.
Terrell has all the tools needed to be a #1 corner, but at the moment, he’s a little inconsistent. Between adding strength and gathering himself better, there are minor improvements he’ll have to make to keep up with NFL athletes. Plus, he lacks the eye discipline to consistently play off coverage, which could allow him to get beat over the top, despite his tremendous long speed.
It’s difficult to find cornerbacks with the size-speed combination that AJ Terrell has, and even though he had a rough game in the National Championship versus LSU this season, he was fantastic versus Alabama in the previous season- he can more than hold his own versus high-end receivers. However, he’ll have to utilize his skillset better in the NFL, but luckily for him, all of his issues are extremely coachable. For the most part, he’s a first-round caliber cornerback prospect capable of succeeding in any scheme, and at the moment, he’s not getting the recognition he deserves in this deep cornerback class.
#7: Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State
Year: RS Sophomore
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 188 lbs
Pro Comparison: Kevin Johnson
Best Fits: SEA, SF, CIN
Overall Grade: 86.11125 (1st)
Unlike some of the other players on this list, Cameron Dantzler isn’t a big-end athlete, but he more than makes up for it in terms of his technique. He’s more than capable of playing in man-coverage with his ability to stick with receivers and never be out of position, and when he needs to jam them at the line of scrimmage, he’s more than capable of doing so with his patiences and mechanics in press coverage. However, I like what Dantzler brings to the table even more as a zone-coverage defender, as his route anticipation and ability to break on balls is simply fantastic. To top it off, he truly does have elite ball skills, as when he’s put into contested catch situations, he plays like a receiver rather than simply trying to bat the ball down.
Despite Dantzler’s incredible technique, there is almost no chance he actually is drafted in the first round. That’s due to his lack of long speed or strength, which is not an ideal combination by any means. He ran just a 4.64 40-yard dash at the combine and clearly has to add significantly more muscle mass, and perhaps most worrisome, only measured in with 30 5/8″ arms- despite his height, he’s not a lengthy cornerback. In the end, it’s safe to say that he doesn’t have #1 corner upside, and despite his success in the SEC, there will be many who don’t believe he’ll be able to handle NFL receivers.
Cameron Dantzler’s poor 40-yard dash time, middling length, and lack of muscle mass are all legitimate concerns, and because of that, he’ll never be a true shutdown #1 corner. However, for any team that utilizes a lot of zone coverage or Cover-three, his outstanding technique and route anticipation will stand out, and I still see him as a first-round cornerback for that reason. He’s an excellent day-two target, especially for the Seahawks, whom he’s a perfect scheme fit for and has three picks in the first two rounds.
#8: Jaylon Johnson, Utah
Height: 6’0″ Weight: 193 lbs
Pro Comparison: Jalen Mills
Best Fits: LAC, SEA, JAX
Overall Grade: 84.28625 (Early 2nd)
Having a true playmaker in the secondary is a major asset for teams, and that’s exactly what Utah’s Jaylon Johnson has proven to be. He’s someone who is known for watching a lot of tape, and when he believe he’s diagnosed a route, he’s not afraid to trust his read and go for the ball. He’s certainly a player who doesn’t lack confidence, and to his credit, is extremely physical and disruptive, particularly at the line of scrimmage. Plus, even if he’s more of a cover-three cornerback, he’s not a poor athlete by any means, as his 4.50 40-yard dash was not a bad number for him by any means. With his footwork, ability to play man and zone coverage, physicality, and ball skills, there are going to be plenty of front offices that fall in love with what he could become.
Though you want confidence from the cornerback position, it’s safe to say that Johnson may be overly confident. It’s way too easy for opposing receivers to beat him on a double move, and when he’s in a rough situation, he way too easily reverts to being grabby and drawing plenty of penalties as a result. Since he’s not a high-end athlete, he’s someone who is always in danger of being beaten over the top with that extreme aggressiveness, which means that teams that run a lot of cover-one will definitely want to look elsewhere for a starting cornerback.
Since he’ll get beaten over the top so much unless he completely changes the way he plays, which could also neutralize some of his best traits, Jaylon Johnson is a scheme-specific cornerback who won’t fit well with single-high safety schemes. However, any team that runs a lot of cover-three, such as the Seahawks, Chargers, Jaguars, and 49ers, his length, physicality, and ball skills makes him a tremendous fit. He’s too flawed of a prospect to be a first-round pick in my books, but at the beginning of the second round, I’d definitely take a shot on him as long as he’s being put into the right scheme.
#9: Bryce Hall, Virginia
Height: 6’1″ Weight: 200 lbs
Pro Comparison: James Bradbury
Best Fits: LAC, IND, SEA
Overall Grade: 84.10375 (Early 2nd)
If you utilize a lot of zone coverage, then Virginia’s Bryce Hall may be the perfect non first-round cornerback prospect. He has the ideal size and length to perform well in zone coverage, but it’s his skill, rather than his traits, that truly stick out. His recognition is routes is superb, as is his reactive quickness and ball skills. Meanwhile, his length and physicality make him a fantastic press-corner, and with his wingspan, he’s fantastic at the catch point. He’s a pretty refined and polished prospect at this point.
Unfortunately for Hall, his slow change of direction ability and lack of route mirroring skills mean that he’ll struggled massively in man coverage. That’s fine, but it does make him very scheme dependent, as due to his lack on long speed, he’ll be more prone to being beaten down the field. Plus, he missed most of the season after undergoing ankle surgery, which is worth keeping an eye on as we get closer to the draft.
Though Johnson, Dantzler, and Diggs are pretty scheme-specific prospects, no player is need of going to a proper defensive scheme more than Bryce Hall. From day one, he could be one of the best zone-coverage cornerbacks in the league, but he won’t survive in man coverage, and it’s harder to gauge his athleticism since he couldn’t participate at the combine. If you can’t stick in man-coverage, you shouldn’t be drafted in the first round, but in the second round, teams like the Chargers, Colts, Seahawks, and Jaguars could covet Hall, who needs to be in a zone-heavy or cover-three scheme.
#10: Damon Arnette, Ohio State
Height: 6’0″ Weight: 195 lbs
Pro Comparison: Troy Hill
Best Fits: BUF, MIN, IND
Overall Grade: 82.91 (Late 2nd/Early 3rd)
Despite teams always being in the market for man-coverage cornerbacks, zone coverage is still used way more. In that regard, Damon Arnette clearly fits today’s game. Due to his processing and awareness, his upside in zone coverage is fantastic, as he’s at his best anticipating and jumping routes. Plus, he’s fine in man-coverage, as he’s got more than enough agility and attacks the catch point well. Adding more intrigue to his profile, he’s capable and experienced of playing on the outside or inside, making him a nice versatile piece for defensive coordinators.
Though Arnette is a decently well-rounded prospect, but he doesn’t have any major trump card, which limits his upside. Additionally, he only ran a 4.56 40-yard dash, and since he’s not a lengthy corner by any means, I seriously question his ability to win consistently on the outside. For someone who’s going to be 24-years-old in his rookie season, you’d also prefer for him to be more refined with his footwork, and he lacks the physicality to play press coverage.
Damon Arnette served as the second-fiddle to Jeffrey Okudah at Ohio State, but he’s a solid prospect in his own right; his zone-coverage upside makes him an intriguing day-two target. However, he’s an older prospect that lacks the ideal speed or physicality to play on the outside, and without the ideal footwork to be a day-one starter; he never earned great grades from Pro Football Focus. Similarly to his college career, he’s best as a #2 or #3 corner behind an elite #1 corner, but for teams looking for a cornerback with a lot of potential, Arnette may not be their guy.
Here are the other prospects that were considered for this list, ranked with their overall grade:
11) Darnay Holmes, UCLA (82.7975, Early 3rd)
12) Noah Igbinoghene, Auburn (81.48125, Late 3rd/Early 4th)
13) Essang Bassey, Wake Forest (81.3925, Early 4th)
14) Amik Robertson, Louisiana Tech (81.1525, Early 4th)
15) Michael Ohemudia, Iowa (80.39, Late 4th/Early 5th)
16) Lamar Jackson, Nebraska (80.275, Late 4th/Early 5th)
17) Troy Pride Jr., Notre Dame (80.2675, Late 4th/Early 5th)
18) Kindle Vildor, Georgia Southern (80.16125, Late 4th/Early 5th)
19) Lavert Hill, Michigan (80.055, Early 5th)
20) Dane Jackson, Pittsburgh (79.73375, Early 5th)
21) Shyheim Carter, Alabama (78.89125, 5th)
22) Reggie Robinson, Tulsa (77.91, Late 5th/Early 6th)
The talk of the 2020 NFL Draft is with the wide receiver class, but in my opinion, the cornerback class may be just as strong, at least on the front end. I see nine players worthy of being traded within the first 40 picks, and no matter what scheme you run, there is a player for you. Every team is in need of cornerback help, but specifically, these are the teams who should pursue these players: Dolphins, Raiders, Eagles, Saints, Colts, Jaguars, Seahawks, Vikings, Lions, Falcons, and Cowboys. Luckily for those teams, players such as Gladney, Terrell, Dantzler, and maybe even Diggs and Fulton may last into the second round, despite being first-round caliber prospects. In other words, if you’re looking at which position could provide teams with the best value, it may be this cornerback class. Considering that Byron Jones is the only high-end free-agent cornerback, I expect the draft to be where teams look to add starting players at the position, and honestly, that may be the best approach. Defensive coordinators need answers to stopping the recent growth of explosive passing offenses, and perhaps this cornerback class can be a turning point for them.