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2017 NFL Draft: Potential cornerback prospects for Detroit Lions

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The Lions will probably be targeting a defensive back early in the 2017 draft. The first of a two part series, here’s a closer look at some of this year’s prospects.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

If we’ve learned anything from the 2016 NFL season, it’s that the Detroit Lions need help on defense, and they need it bad. Last week we took a closer look at potential linebacker targets that general manager Bob Quinn may have his eye on, and this week we’re moving on to the secondary. The Lions had some poor luck with injuries in their secondary this year, but they also underperformed, to say the least, which caused them to rank dead last in DVOA for pass defense efficiency via Football Outsiders.

Here are some cornerback prospects from this year’s class that the Lions brass may or may not target in the upcoming NFL Draft:

The kids from Ohio

Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State

This year’s draft sports a litter of talented cornerbacks, and Marshon Lattimore is easily the best of the bunch in my eyes. Lattimore’s footwork and movement skills are top quality and his ability to mirror the movements of his assignment is absolutely remarkable. Take this play vs. Indiana for example:

Located at the top of the screen, Lattimore is able to go stride for stride and stay in his receiver’s hip pocket the entire way on a double-move. He’s constantly using his quick feet to stick to his assignment and restrict them from creating any separation whatsoever.

But what separates Lattimore from some other CBs in this year’s class is his willingness and aggressiveness in run support. It’s quite often that you’ll find college corners acting hesitant or timid vs. the run, but Lattimore has no problem getting his hands dirty in the run game.

It’s difficult to find many flaws in Lattimore’s game. He’s arguably the best cover corner in the class, excels in run support, is a phenomenal athlete with plenty of upside and has even shown some flashes when asked to blitz. The only knock(s) against Lattimore would be the fact that he’s coming off of a few minor leg injuries, along with him coming from a very talented Ohio State defense. Lattimore is also a redshirt Sophomore and has a decision to make on whether or not he will declare for the 2017 NFL Draft.

Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State

Conley, not unlike his comrade, Marshon Lattimore, loves to win with his feet in coverage and has the uncanny ability of sticking to his assignment like glue. However, Conley is going to need to learn how to use his hands more while in press coverage, as he can sometimes get outmuscled when fighting for the ball.

What really stands out on tape is Conley’s length and athleticism. At a listed 6-foot-0, 195 pounds, he has good size for the position, and still has room left on his frame to add more muscle. In the play above, Conley shows off his great leaping ability and nearly makes a one-handed interception.

Conley is at his best with his back turned to the ball and will succeed the most in a man-cover scheme. He’s going to need to add some muscle and learn how to shed blocks in the run game, as he tends to get pushed back and swallowed up far too often on outside runs.

Those DBs down in Florida are something special, too

Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida

Wilson is another top-tier, stud CB prospect that was maybe a little underrated early in the 2016 season, but has since seen his draft stock rise. In fact, back in October, one NFL executive went as far as to say that Wilson was the best CB in college football. He has the largest frame of all the top-tier prospects in this year’s class and uses it to his advantage in press-coverage, but can sometimes disappear in the run game.

In pass coverage, Wilson is always within an arm’s length of his assignment and consistently puts himself in a position to make a play on the ball. In the play above, Wilson (No. 6) is located at the bottom of the screen. He gives up the inside release fairly easily, but keeps one hand on the receiver throughout the play, and does a fantastic job of locating the ball and undercutting the receiver’s route to break up the pass. Wilson has All-Pro potential as a lockdown corner, but needs to use his size to his advantage in the run game and work on tackling technique.

Teez Tabor, CB, Florida

Unlike most of the prospects in this piece, Teez Tabor excels mostly as a zone corner. He’s much better with the ball in front of him, rather than having his back to the ball, and has a knack for jumping routes and reading the opposing QB’s eyes.

In 37 career games, Tabor recorded nine interceptions, while taking three of them to the house for a touchdown. He has the ability to be a game changer, but has also gotten exposed on the occasional double move.

Tabor is a plus-athlete with good size for the position and will likely be selected in the first round. He can play man or zone, but will likely be utilized in a zone scheme to put his playmaking ability to better use. If he can show more willingness as a tackler and do a better job of taking the right angles and shedding blocks in the run game, he can turn out to be a great all-around corner in the NFL.

More Day 1 talent

Sidney Jones, CB, Washington

I wasn’t kidding when I told you this year’s CB class was extremely talented. Jones is a personal favorite of mine and my No. 2 CB behind Marshon Lattimore. He’s got just about everything going for him. He has elite foot quickness and movement skills, while his instincts and ball skills are off the charts, as made evident by his nine interceptions and 21 pass deflections throughout his three-year career.

The following GIF does a really nice job of encapsulating Jones all in one play:

It appears that initially, Colorado is attempting a double pass. Jones—located at the bottom of your screen—is hardly fooled, and instead of prematurely sprinting toward the ball carrier, he displays the awareness to stick with his receiver until the ball carrier decides to tuck in run. Once that happens, Jones heads up field to meet the ball carrier head on and knocks the ball loose. Despite his thin frame (6-foot-0, 181 pounds), Jones has an attacker mentality is more than willing to make plays in run support, which is becoming a rare quality from CBs in today’s NFL.

The biggest and most obvious knock on Jones is his ultra thin frame. At just a shade over 180 pounds, Jones will need to add some extra muscle to his frame by the time the NFL Combine rolls around. In his matchup against USC, Jones was occasionally beat by JuJu Smith-Schuster, who used his superior strength to outmuscle Jones.

Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

There may not be a more physical corner than Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey, but that’s not exactly surprising to hear from a Crimson Tide prospect. Currently, CBS Sports has Humphrey as their No. 1 CB prospect and is listed at No. 7 overall on their big board.

It’s possible that Humphrey will not be on the board by the time the Lions are on the clock, and it’s also possible that he may not be the best fit for Teryl Austin’s defense—assuming he stays in Detroit. Humphrey is still a raw prospect and has struggled in off-man coverage, and we know how often Austin loves to leave cushion between his DBs and opposing receivers.

I’m also pretty skeptical about any Alabama cornerback entering the NFL. It’s often hard to judge a prospect when playing behind an NFL-bound front seven at all times. Regardless, Humphrey is a top talent in this year’s class and will see his name called early on, should he declare for the draft.

Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson

Tankersley was smart to stay in school for his Senior year, as he had plenty to work on with his technique and mechanics. I’m still a bit skeptical on whether he is truly a Day 1 talent or not, but the size, athleticism and upside is surely there.

Tankersley’s footwork is inconsistent and his change of direction can be clunky at times. In off-coverage, he needs to limit his wasted steps and react sooner to the ball being delivered on in-breaking routes. I would also like to see him show a little more tenacity in the run game. Against Virginia Tech this past year, he had a play where he literally just shoved the running back into the end zone, rather than going for a touchdown saving tackle.

On the positive side, Tankersley has some of the best ball skills in this year’s class. He accumulated nine interceptions in his last two seasons with Clemson and will continue to create plenty of turnovers in the NFL.

When Tankersley does manage to put himself in position to make a play, he does a fantastic job of using his length to contest the pass and attack the ball at its highest point.

Tankersley is still raw, but his flaws are completely coachable, and with the right staff, he could easily contribute to an NFL team sooner rather than later.