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NFL Combine Prospect Preview: Cornerback

The Falcons struggled at the CB position in 2019 despite a lot of investment over the past several seasons. Does the position remain a major need in 2020? We take a closer look at the CBs participating in the 2020 NFL Combine.

NFL Combine - Day 5

The NFL Combine officially kicks off on February 24, and all eyes will be on Indianapolis to see which draft prospects are able help or hurt their stock with their performance. We’ve already covered the wide receivers and tight ends. The final group is the defensive backs, which consists of the cornerbacks and safeties. These groups will officially participate in on-field drills on Sunday, March 1.

To prepare everyone for the flurry of activity that is the NFL Combine, I am back to once again provide you with my Combine Prospect Previews—brief summaries of some of my favorite prospects in each position group. These are players who I believe the Falcons will be most interested in come draft day. Hopefully, these names will give you a little bit of guidance about who to watch when the players hit the field.

If you missed any of the other prospect previews, you can find them below:

WR | TE | RB | C/G | EDGE | DT | LB | CB | S

For added context, I’ll be incorporating player rankings from The Draft Network. This way you can have a general idea of where a current consensus of scouts ranks a particular player. Today’s report takes a closer look at the cornerbacks, a position where the Falcons struggled in 2019 despite a lot of investment over the past several years.

Damon Arnette, Ohio State

6’0, 195 | 35 total tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 INT, 8 PD, 1 FF

TDN Prospect Rank: 41 (2nd Round)

I believe the sweet spot for the Falcons selecting a CB is probably their first second round pick—which is 47 overall. There are quite a few CBs projected to go around that range, and there’s always the chance that someone higher could fall. The first of those prospects to cover is Ohio State’s Damon Arnette, who had an excellent senior season playing across from potential top-5 pick Jeffrey Okudah. It took Arnette a little bit of time to find his footing in college, but that also makes him one of the most experienced CBs in the class.

Physically, Arnette has the build of an outside NFL CB: he’s 6’0, 195, with adequate length to match up with size on the boundary. He’s most comfortable in press-man coverage, and brings excellent physicality to the position. Athletically, his short-area quickness and change-of-direction abilities are top-notch, and he’s got some polished footwork to go along with it. Arnette lacks top-end speed, however, and will likely struggle if asked to cover deep routes consistently. He’s also fairly inexperienced in zone, as he wasn’t asked to do it often at Ohio State. Overall, I like the strength that Arnette brings both as a tackler and in press coverage, and he’s got CB1 upside—although I’d feel more comfortable with him playing a CB2 role early on. If he’s available in the second round, he’d be a good fit in the Falcons defense—and could be a potential Trufant replacement in 2021.

Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State

6’2, 185 | 40 total tackles, 2.0 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 2 INT, 8 PD, 1 FF

TDN Prospect Rank: 51 (2nd Round)

If the Falcons are looking for more length at the CB position, Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler could fit the bill. At 6’2, 185, he’s got long arms and can absolutely match up with size on the outside. Dantzler is a versatile player in coverage, with plenty of experience executing both man and zone concepts and the athletic ability to survive in a variety of roles—though his length and long speed make him a better fit on the boundary.

Dantzler is tenacious at the catch point and is adept at breaking up passes. He’s also got adequate ball skills, although I wouldn’t call him a ballhawk by any stretch. My concerns with Dantzler stem from his thin frame and lack of functional strength. 185 is simply not going to cut it in the NFL—he’ll need to bulk up to around 200 to avoid getting dominated at the line of scrimmage. He’s also been fairly ineffective against the run, although he’s a willing tackler and blitzer. Dantzler is more of a developmental player than some of the other Round 2 prospects, but his frame, scheme versatility, and athleticism give him significant upside. He seems like the type of player Dan Quinn would love to develop into a long-term starter.

Trevon Diggs, Alabama

6’2, 207 | 37 total tackles, 0.5 TFL, 3 INT, 8 PD

TDN Prospect Rank: 48 (2nd Round)

If the Falcons are looking to inject some ballhawking ability into their CB group, Alabama’s Trevon Diggs is one of the best in the class. Atlanta struggled mightily at producing turnovers in 2019, with Desmond Trufant the only CB to register any (he actually had the most productive season of his career with 4). I sent Diggs to the Falcons in the second round of my most recent mock draft, and here’s how I described his skillset:

Diggs has flirted with first-round consideration throughout the offseason, but could easily see himself fall into Day 2 due to the abundance of talent at the top. He’s a perfect fit in Atlanta’s Cover 3 defense, with strong footwork and instincts in zone coverage. As a WR-to-CB convert, he’s also got natural ball skills and tracks the ball well. Diggs would be a potential outside starter for the Falcons with good size (6’2, 207), but he’s got some issues with his tackling that must be fixed. Adding Diggs would give the Falcons additional flexibility in 2021, and also add some competition for Isaiah Oliver this season.

Kristian Fulton, LSU

6’0, 200 | 38 total tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 INT, 14 PD

TDN Prospect Rank: 12 (1st Round)

The consensus CB2 in the class according to many scouts, LSU’s Kristian Fulton is a high-level prospect with prototypical size, coverage skills, and athleticism. Fulton is an elite mover, with fluid footwork and change-of-direction skills. He’s also got plenty of long speed to carry routes down the field and is an expert at mirroring opposing receivers. At 6’0, 200, he’s got plenty of size and length to survive on the outside and that’s where he’ll likely have the most upside—though he’s more than quick enough to take snaps in the slot if needed.

Fulton is one of the most accomplished press CBs in the class, with a great feel for when to jam and when to bail out. He’s got excellent instincts in man coverage and consistently reads receivers and routes effectively. Fulton is less experienced in zone coverage, but has the requisite quickness and click-and-close ability to make plays here. I love Fulton’s ball skills, and he’s an expert at breaking up passes downfield—as his impressive 14 PDs in 2019 can attest. Where he’s lacking is play strength, as Fulton has a bad habit of diving for ankles as a tackler. I don’t think it’s an attitude problem, however, so I have confidence he can be coached up in this area. If the Falcons were going to take a CB at 16, Fulton is the most likely candidate due to his length, athleticism, and ball skills. He’s got all the traits of a future NFL CB1.

Jeff Gladney, TCU

6’0, 183 | 31 total tackles, 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 1 INT, 14 PD

TDN Prospect Rank: 32 (1st Round)

One of my favorite Day 2 prospects at CB heading into the offseason, TCU’s Jeff Gladney has unfortunately been rocketing up draft boards as more analysts get a chance to watch his film. A high-end prospect in man coverage who has some room to grow in zone, Gladney’s competitive toughness and attitude are his calling cards. I love his fire and his moxie, which is great to have at a position like CB. I previously mocked Gladney to the Falcons all the way back in Week 14, and here’s how I described his game:

TCU CB Jeff Gladney is a versatile CB prospect who can fill a number of roles on the Falcons defense. At 6’0, 183, he’s big enough to survive on the outside and is a strong tackler. But Gladney’s best attribute is his ballhawking ability: he’s put up 12 and 14 PDs in 2018 and 2019, respectively, to go along with 3 INTs. Gladney has the athleticism to keep up with NFL WRs and the competitive fire that you love to see from your DBs. He’s got some technical stuff to clean up, particularly in the short area of the field, but Gladney could end up being a steal if he falls into Day 2.

Bryce Hall, Virginia

6’1, 200 | 20 total tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 4 PD

TDN Prospect Rank: 68 (3rd Round)

A top CB from the 2018 draft class who elected to return to school in 2019, Virginia’s Bryce Hall unfortunately saw his senior season cut short due to a season-ending ankle injury. But look back at his 2018 production and you’ll see why he was such a highly-regarded prospect: his 21 PDs led the NCAA, and he added 3.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 2 INTs, and 2 FF on top of that. Hall is an exceptionally smart, productive CB who can thrive in a zone-heavy defensive scheme at the NFL level.

At 6’1, 200, Hall has great size and length for the position and is more than capable of matching up with size on the outside. He’s got tremendous ball skills and is one of the most disruptive players at the catch point in the class. Hall also brings a lot of play strength and physicality to the position, and he’s a plus player against the run and as a blitzer. However, Hall is a relatively average athlete who isn’t particularly impressive in terms of fluidity or long speed. He’ll be best served in a zone scheme where he can use his fantastic football IQ, instincts, and physicality to disrupt routes and break up throws. His injury hurt his stock in 2019, which could make him a steal in the middle part of Day 2 for the Falcons.

C.J. Henderson, Florida

6’1, 202 | 33 total tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 11 PD

TDN Prospect Rank: 24 (1st Round)

Perhaps the most frequent CB projection for the Falcons at 16, Florida’s C.J. Henderson certainly looks the part of a Dan Quinn outside corner at 6’1, 202. The Florida connection also makes this a logical fit for analysts. Henderson is certainly an intriguing prospect: he’s got great size and length, and pairs it with exceptionally fluid movement skills and enough long speed to cover downfield. Henderson displays admirable qualities and technique in both zone and man coverage, although I think his size and length are best utilized in press situations in the NFL.

He’s smart and reads the QB well in zone, and has plenty of burst to close on receivers entering his zone. In man, he’s exceptionally quick and sticky, especially for a player his size. Henderson didn’t have any INTs this year, but he put up 2 and 4, respectively, in previous seasons to go along with his 11 PDs in 2019. He’s tough at the catch point and loves to chirp with opponents, too. Henderson has some weaknesses as a run defender, however: he’s very inconsistent as a tackler and can shy away from head-on contact at times. He also has a tendency to aim for the big play, which can lead to big gains if he misses or guesses wrong. Henderson is a worthy, scheme-versatile projection in the first round—although I’m not sure he’d be worth 16th overall for the Falcons, considering their other needs.

Jeffrey Okudah, Ohio State

6’1, 200 | 34 total tackles, 1.0 TFL, 3 INT, 9 PD, 1 FF

TDN Prospect Rank: 4 (1st Round)

The consensus CB1 according to just about every analyst, Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah has the makings of an elite player at the position. TDN currently has him projected in the top-5, and he could easily find himself selected as early as #3 to the Lions if they don’t trade down. Okudah is a rare prospect: he’s prototypical man-coverage corner who is capable of matching up with and shutting down WR1s. I had the Falcons selecting Okudah way back when they were picking in the top-5—they’re obviously very unlikely to get him now without a significant trade-up—and this is how I described his skillset:

At 6’1, 195 and with excellent athletic traits, Okudah has all the makings of an elite shutdown corner in the NFL. There were concerns about his ball skills and instincts coming into this season, but he’s addressed those concerns with 3 INTs in 2019. While CB isn’t the biggest need for Atlanta, it’s an area that must be addressed either now or in 2021 (when the team is likely to move on from Desmond Trufant). Okudah would give the Falcons a huge injection of talent in the secondary, and some insurance should Isaiah Oliver fail to improve.

Troy Pride Jr., Notre Dame

5’11, 193 | 40 total tackles, 1 INT, 6 PD

TDN Prospect Rank: 93 (3rd Round)

If the Falcons decide to wait until the end of Day 2 to add a CB, Notre Dame’s Troy Pride Jr. is one of my favorite choices. One of the biggest winners from the Senior Bowl, Pride put on a show in Mobile by matching up favorably with a very talented WR group. He didn’t have eye-popping production while at Notre Dame, but he’s clearly a talented and versatile player in the secondary. I had the Falcons selecting Pride in the fourth round of my Senior Bowl mock draft, and described him like this:

What Pride lacks in ideal size—he’s just 5’11, 193—he makes up for with football IQ, overall athleticism, and physicality. Pride matched up with a lot of very talented WRs at the Senior Bowl and held his own all week. He demonstrated his physicality both at the line of scrimmage and the catch point, and showed off his strong footwork and athletic ability in one-on-one drills. He’s never going to be an ideal matchup against NFL WR1s due to his size limitations, but Pride could become a valuable member of a rotation and has a great chance to outperform his draft stock.

A.J. Terrell, Clemson

6’1, 190 | 34 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 2 INT, 3 PD

TDN Prospect Rank: 56 (2nd Round)

There’s an abundance of quality CB prospects who could be available in the second round, and one of my top choices is Clemson’s A.J. Terrell. At 6’1, 190, Terrell has the size that Dan Quinn demands from his outside corners and has plenty of athleticism to go along with it. He’s a little less developed—particularly in zone—than some of the other prospects, but he can also potentially be had a little later. I had Atlanta adding Terrell in the second round of my first offseason mock draft, and here’s how I described his game:

Clemson CB A.J. Terrell is an excellent man coverage prospect with ideal size (6’1, 190) for the position and exceptional athletic ability. He’s confident playing both press and off-coverage and is physical at the catch point. Terrell is a fluid, easy mover who can shut down a wide range of route combinations with his strong footwork. He doesn’t have as much experience in zone—though I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t develop there—and while he’s a willing tackler, his technique can be sloppy at times. Still, Terrell would be excellent value at this point in the draft and would provide competition for Oliver and long-term insurance for Trufant.

What are your thoughts on the CB class participating in the 2020 NFL Combine? How big of a need do you think CB is for the Falcons, and when when you prefer to add one? Who’s your favorite prospect for Atlanta at this point in the offseason?