The NFL Combine is here, which means that we’re about to witness the top NFL Draft prospects in the 2019 class compete in the on-field workouts that we playfully refer to as the “Underwear Olympics”. It’s pretty good fun if you’re a fan of the NFL draft—although we can certainly debate the usefulness of some of these metrics in evaluating prospects—and hopefully it will help complete the picture on some of the more polarizing players.
I’ve been breaking down each position group by giving you the top 10 players that might be of interest to the Falcons. If you’ve missed any of the previous entries, you can find them below:
Today’s report concerns the CB class, which is by all accounts (including my own) the weakest position group of all in the 2019 NFL Draft. That’s bad news for teams desperate for CB help, and will lead to many prospects getting drafted far higher than they should. The Falcons certainly have a need at CB with the free agent departures of Robert Alford and probably Brian Poole, but I doubt they’ll target someone high in a weak class.
With that in mind, I’ve intentionally left off the top CB prospects—Greedy Williams, Byron Murphy, and Deandre Baker—as unless the Falcons take one of them at 14, they don’t have a realistic shot at landing them. Here are ten of the most interesting CB prospects for the Falcons who are participating in the 2019 NFL Combine.
Corey Ballentine, Washburn
Listed Size: 6’0, 204
2018 Production: 50 tackles, 28 solo, 3.0 TFL, 3 INT, 4 PD, 2 FF
A relatively unknown small-school player with high-end athletic traits and good size, Washburn’s Corey Ballentine could be an intriguing “sleeper” pick for the Falcons late on Day 3. I haven’t seen much of him on tape (you try finding Washburn tape, folks), but what I’ve heard is very encouraging. Scouts rave about his competitiveness and high football IQ, and he’s got an ideal frame for the position.
Ballentine certainly struggled with the step up in competition at the Senior Bowl, and expecting him to make an instant impact in the NFL would be foolish. But as a late-round developmental prospect that can make an impact on special teams (he had 3 blocked kicks in 2018), Ballentine could certainly find a home in Atlanta.
Blace Brown, Troy
Listed Size: 6’0, 183
2018 Production: 44 tackles, 25 solo, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 6 PD
Troy’s Blace Brown is another Day 3 option that could end up outperforming his draft stock. Brown was I player I liked a lot in 2017, but he ended up tearing his ACL. I was excited to see him come back this year, but it was pretty clear that he wasn’t fully recovered. Prior to his injury, Brown was one of the best ballhawks in college football. He showed off great instincts in coverage and smooth movement skills in space.
Brown isn’t the biggest CB, and I don’t think he has great long speed. But he’s a smart defensive back that can succeed in any coverage scheme, and if he can return to his pre-injury form, I think Brown can be a starting nickel CB in the NFL. That’s a big question mark, however, which makes him a bit of a gamble—but if he’s available in the 6th or 7th round, it could be a gamble worth taking.
Sean Bunting, Central Michigan
Listed Size: 6’1, 181
2018 Production: 37 tackles, 26 solo, 3.0 TFL, 2 INT, 5 PD, 2 FF
A bigger option at CB on Day 3, Central Michigan’s Sean Bunting could be a possible depth option on the outside in the mold of Isaiah Oliver. He doesn’t have the elite measurables that Oliver has, and I’m not sure he’s quite as a good an athlete, but Bunting plays with a similar style.
I like Bunting’s smoothness in space, and he’s shown off some impressive ballhawking ability in his career. However, there are concerns about his long speed and ability to match up with truly elite size and strength. Bunting is a quality special teams contributor and I think he can be a reliable reserve, but his Combine testing will likely determine if he has starting upside.
Mark Fields, Clemson
Listed Size: 5’10, 181
2018 Production: 7 tackles, 6 solo, 5 PD
Almost a total unknown coming into 2018 after serving as a depth option at Clemson, Mark Fields burst onto the scene with an impressive game against Alabama in the CFP Championship. He followed that up with a quality performance at the Senior Bowl, and has suddenly found himself very much in the Day 3 conversation.
I like Fields’ potential as a future starting slot CB in the NFL. He’s physical, aggressive, and athletic in space, with the speed to cover downfield and the lateral quickness to match up with more agile receivers. Fields isn’t the most polished player and it’s clear that he needs time to develop his instincts in coverage, but he’s the rare late-round pick with legitimate starting upside.
Isaiah Johnson, Houston
Listed Size: 6’3, 195
2018 Production: 66 tackles, 50 solo, 2.0 TFL, 2 INT, 5 PD
One of Falcons’ fans favorite targets, Isaiah Johnson certainly looks the part of a Dan Quinn CB at an imposing 6’3, 195. Johnson has high-end traits and the look of a potential press nightmare on the outside, with good long speed, quickness, and the physicality to match up with the bigger and stronger WRs in the NFL. He’s a former WR that clearly understands the other side of the game, and he reminds me a little bit of former Falcon C.J. Goodwin.
Johnson seems like a more natural CB than Goodwin did, but that doesn’t mean he’s a finished product. For starters, Johnson can be maddeningly inconsistent, and it’s clear that he still needs a lot of technical development. He has some bad habits with his hands, which could translate into penalties in the NFL. Johnson is a good value for the Falcons early on Day 3, but his traits could wind up pushing him higher in a bad CB class.
Lonnie Johnson, Kentucky
Listed Size: 6’2, 207
2018 Production: 23 tackles, 17 solo, 1 INT, 4 PD, 1 FF
Another prototypical Quinn CB, Kentucky’s Lonnie Johnson certainly checks the “size” box in any evaluation. He’s got long arms and a very impressive frame with good athletic traits. Johnson is a smooth mover in space and has a physical streak to his game. He looks the part of an NFL starter on the outside, but unfortunately I have a lot of issues with his tape.
For one, Johnson lacks ball skills. In his two-year career at Kentucky, he didn’t notch a single interception. There are also questions about his competitive fire that stem from a very inconsistent motor and a lack of want-to in run support. I also saw him get burned deep far too many times, which leads to questions about his long speed. Johnson has started to generate Day 2 hype because of his traits, but there are far too many red flags for me to be interested.
Justin Layne, Michigan State
Listed Size: 6’2, 185
2018 Production: 72 tackles, 44 solo, 2.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 1 INT, 15 PD
A WR-to-CB convert that raised his stock considerably with a strong 2018 season, Michigan State’s Justin Layne is a Day 2 option for the Falcons that should be able to find his way onto the field immediately. Like several of the other CBs I’ve covered, Layne has exceptional size at 6’2, 185. He combines that with smooth movement skills and surprisingly good technique.
Layne posted 15 pass deflections in 2018, which is downright absurd. In that way, he reminds me of Desmond Trufant—he’s far more likely to go for the break-up than the INT. That style lends itself to more consistency but fewer big plays, so it’s really a matter of preference. Of all the early-round CBs, I’d be most happy with Layne in the third round, but I have questions about his competitiveness and want-to in run support. Regardless, I believe a team will go after Layne even earlier due to the weakness of this CB class.
David Long, Michigan
Listed Size: 5’11, 187
2018 Production: 17 tackles, 10 solo, 1 INT, 6 PD
Michigan’s David Long is a CB that reminds me a lot of Brian Poole. He’s a bit undersized at 5’11, 187, but his best traits are his physicality, blitzing ability, and run support. Long is explosive in the short area and is a nasty tackler with a fiery on-field demeanor. He’s the rare corner that’s actually fun to watch as a tackler, and he has great instincts as a run defender.
Unfortunately, those instincts don’t translate well to coverage. He’s serviceable in zone coverage, particularly if he can keep plays in front of him, but otherwise he’s below-average in most respects. He doesn’t have the length or long speed to succeed on the outside, which probably pushes him into the slot. Still, we saw how effective Brian Poole could be in the Falcons’ scheme. David Long could be a potential replacement on Day 3.
Iman Marshall, USC
Listed Size: 6’1, 200
2018 Production: 48 tackles, 37 solo, 5.5 TFL, 9 PD, 1 FF
While I initially thought USC’s Iman Marshall could be a fit on the outside at CB, I have come to see him more as a potential safety convert in the Falcons’ defense. He’s certainly got the size to succeed on the outside, but he’s more of a short-area mover than someone I’d trust to carry receivers downfield. Marshall is simply too stiff to succeed long-term against NFL WRs, but with his physicality and plus run defense, he could be a legitimate option at SS.
Marshall has solid coverage technique, particularly against big, strong receivers. He’s a fierce tackler with a nastiness to his game and plenty of toughness. Marshall will need to add some bulk to survive full time at SS, but I think he might eventually be a better option at covering TEs and RBs than WRs. At his late-Day 3 price tag, he’s a relatively low-risk pick.
Rock Ya-Sin, Temple
Listed Size: 6’1, 200
2018 Production: 47 tackles, 36 solo, 2.0 TFL, 2 INT, 12 PD
A Georgia native and another Day 2 option for the Falcons, Temple’s Rock Ya-Sin turned a single season of FBS play into a possible second or third-round draft selection. It’s easy to see why teams are interested: he’s got ideal size at 6’1, 200 and is surprisingly smooth in his movements. Ya-Sin has a future in a variety of schemes, with adequate foot quickness and the physicality to handle bigger receivers on the outside.
Physically, Ya-Sin checks all the boxes. But technique-wise, he’s totally raw. I just don’t see a scenario where you can trust Ya-Sin on an NFL field in his rookie season—he’s inconsistent in coverage, and his tackling technique is unreliable. If you can afford to develop him for a year or two, I think he’s got legit CB2 potential. He’d be a great future fit in Quinn’s defense, but he’ll probably demand a third round selection.
What are your thoughts on the 2019 CB class? Any players you’re watching closely for the Falcons? When do you think Atlanta should target the position in the 2019 NFL Draft?