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Cornerbacks to watch for the Falcons at the NFL Combine

With the 2022 NFL Combine coming soon, we’ll be breaking down the players to watch at every position. We continue with cornerback, one of the deepest groups in the class. Can the Falcons find a long-term running mate for Terrell?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 06 Tulsa at Cincinnati Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2022 NFL Combine is fast approaching, with workouts kicking off on Thursday, March 3. To prepare Atlanta Falcons fans and fellow draft enthusiasts for the “underwear olympics”, I’ll be breaking down the top players to watch at every position heading into the event. In case you missed any of my previous entries, you can find them all listed below:

DEFENSE: EDGE | DT | LB | CB | S

OFFENSE: QB | WR | TE | RB | OT | C/G

Today I take a closer look at cornerback. One of the strongest position groups in the 2022 NFL Draft, Atlanta will have plenty of options to choose from. Whether the need is for a high-end CB1 (Booth, Sauce, Stingley) or for a CB2 or depth player, the Falcons should have a multitude of options throughout the first four rounds of the draft.

Read on for some of the top cornerbacks to watch in Indianapolis.

Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson

This is apparently controversial, but I’ve currently got Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr. as my CB1 in this draft class. Technically, grades aren’t final yet—athletic testing from the Combine is a part of my evaluation—so there’s a chance Sauce Gardner could pull ahead. But I simply love Booth, particularly as a long-term running mate across from Terrell. So much so that I drafted him in the top-10 in a previous mock draft. Here’s how I described his skillset:

Booth is a legitimate blue-chip prospect—a former five-star recruit and Atlanta native—who has put on a show this season at Clemson. He’s got ideal size at 6’0, 200, high-end athletic traits, and experience in a variety of coverage schemes. Put simply, there’s nothing that Booth doesn’t do well. He’s an exceptional coverage player with a fiery attitude, physicality against the run, and a reputation as a film junkie and defensive leader. CB is not the biggest need on the defense, but the addition of an lockdown running mate alongside A.J. Terrell would give the Falcons’ defense something it has lacked for years: an identity as a potentially elite secondary.

Coby Bryant, Cincinnati

One of the better corners at the Senior Bowl, Cincinnati’s Coby Bryant has a lot to gain from an impressive performance at the Combine. He’s got the size, now he just needs to prove the athleticism. Bryant isn’t in the same tier as the 1st round guys, but he’s got the upside of a CB2 in the NFL if he can fix some holes in his game. Here’s how I described Bryant in my Senior Bowl preview:

While all the attention in Cincinnati’s secondary went to Sauce Gardner—and rightly so—the corner across from him was getting tested constantly. Coby Bryant had an admirable season in 2021, and he’s got the length that NFL teams are looking for on the outside (6’2, 185). He’s scheme-versatile and is a ballhawk, with 6 INTs and 18 PBUs over the past two seasons.

Kaiir Elam, Florida

I’ve always been a little sour on Florida CB Kaiir Elam because of what his uncle, former Ravens safety Matt Elam, did to my high school football team in the state championship. Never forget! Seriously though, Elam is a very intriguing potential CB1 with some notable concerns on tape. He’s got exceptional size at 6’2, 190 and is capable of matching up with bigger, stronger receivers on the outside, but Elam has struggled against some of the quicker players he’s had to face. His tackling is also very inconsistent and needs work. Elam’s Combine testing will tell us if his struggles are primarily an athleticism issue, or a technique issue that can be corrected.

Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Cincinnati

The other corner who is in contention for CB1, in my opinion, is Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. In truth, he should probably be the #1 overall player for his name alone. Sauce is arguably the best zone coverage corner in the draft class and pairs it with exceptional size and length at 6’2, 190. He looks like a very good athlete on tape and should test very well at the Combine. Gardner can be inconsistent as a tackler—though it’s certainly not due to a lack of physicality—and he’s not quite as good in man coverage. His biggest weakness is a tendency to grab, and he’s likely to get flagged more often in the NFL. Sauce has the look of a high-end CB1 and could give Atlanta a very good complementary option to Terrell, who has tended to struggle against the bigger receivers that Gardner excels against.

Mario Goodrich, Clemson

If the Falcons elect to wait a little at CB—which I think is pretty likely if they don’t take one of Booth or Gardner at 8—a good late-Day 2 option could be Clemson’s Mario Goodrich. Goodrich had a good week at the Senior Bowl and could help himself even more with quality athletic testing at the Combine. Here’s how I described Goodrich’s skillset in my Senior Bowl preview:

A late bloomer, Goodrich played a rotational role for much of his college career before seizing a starting spot in 2021. Across from an elite talent in Andrew Booth, Goodrich was targeted a lot—and he came through with a strong season. Goodrich has good size at 6’0, 190 and pairs it with quality athleticism. He played particularly well in zone coverage, where his instincts and closing speed helped him generate 9 PBUs and 2 INTs this year. As a run defender and tackler, Goodrich stands out. He’s physical, aggressive, and takes good angles to the ball. As just a one-year starter, there’s a lot of potential for Goodrich to continue to grow—particularly in man coverage.

Kyler Gordon, Washington

With a stacked group of corners at the top, Washington’s Kyler Gordon often falls into Day 2 in many mock draft simulations—where he’d be a terrific value as a high-end CB2. Gordon doesn’t have elite size, but he’s got a thick build with sufficient length for the outside (6’0, 200). His best trait is his overall athleticism, as he possesses excellent long speed and fluid movement skills. Gordon is scheme-versatile and is capable in both man and zone coverage, and is a physical hitter in run support. If you want the Falcons to add a high-end running mate for Terrell outside of the first round, you should keep an eye on Gordon early in the second.

Derion Kendrick, Georgia

Georgia’s Derion Kendrick was one of the players I wanted to watch most at the Senior Bowl. While he didn’t disappoint, I wouldn’t say that he stood out in a big way either. Kendrick appears to be an outside-only prospect but measured in a little small at 5’11, 200. His Combine testing—particularly his long speed—will be important for my final eval, but I still think he’s a worthy Day 2 pick with CB2 upside. Here’s how I described his skills in my Senior Bowl preview:

A well-known player on Georgia’s defense, Derion Kendrick is a bit of a tough eval. He had a great season in 2021 with 4 INTs, has solid size at 6’0, 190, and has very good lateral mobility. However, I’m not sure about his true long speed—and he’s extremely raw in man coverage. He’s got good instincts in zone and looks like a potential outside starter, but how will he look outside an elite defense?

Roger McCreary, Auburn

The most impressive corner in Mobile, Auburn’s Roger McCreary doesn’t get the hype of the “big-3” corners but is probably closer to them than many would admit. He did measure in smaller than expected at 5’11, 190 and had the shortest arms of any CB at the Senior Bowl. But length really wasn’t a big issue for McCreary on tape, and he went up against some very tough competition in his college career. We’ll see how his size affects his draft position. Here’s how I described McCreary in my Senior Bowl preview:

While he doesn’t have the eye-popping length of Stingley or Gardner, McCreary still has solid size (6’0, 190) and pairs it with very good athleticism. McCreary is scheme-versatile and technically advanced—he’s a smart player who is ready to start immediately in the NFL. He’s a strong, physical tackler and an asset in run support.

Trent McDuffie, Washington

Much like McCreary, Washington’s Trent McDuffie is also on the outside looking in when the top corners in the class are discussed. McDuffie is certainly worthy of first round discussion, however, though for similar reasons to McCreary he isn’t likely to crack the top-3. He’s got the build of a versatile corner who can handle outside or slot duties at 5’11, 195, and the athleticism to thrive just about anywhere. He’s scheme-versatile and very good in both man and zone coverage assignments. McDuffie is also a physical run defender who is reliable and forceful as a tackler. If you can get over the lack of ideal size, McDuffie offers a potential CB1 package and could also be a very good slot defender.

Derek Stingley Jr., LSU

I don’t think there’s a more polarizing player in this class right now than LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. In his freshman year, Stingley put forth one of the most impressive seasons you’ll ever see. Over the past two seasons, Stingley has missed a ton of time—and when he did play, the on-field results were nowhere near as good. Stingley has prototypical size and special athletic traits, but he hasn’t put out good tape since 2019. That’s a big red flag for me, and while I agree he has the highest ceiling of any corner in this class, it gives me pause on him as a top-10 pick. It’s likely Stingley has an awesome Combine performance, further complicating matters for teams and evaluators.

Tariq Woolen, UTSA

One of the more interesting “wild card” prospects in this year’s class, UTSA’s Tariq Woolen had a quality week at the Senior Bowl against some tough competition. He measured in close to his estimated size at over 6’3, 205 and looked every bit as athletic as he did on tape. Woolen is a big gamble, but his upside combined with a strong suite of Combine testing could push him into the early Day 2 conversation. Here’s how I described his talents in my Senior Bowl preview:

Coming in at 6’4, 205, Woolen spent the first three years of his college career at wide receiver and it shows. Just a two-year starter at CB, Woolen has grown quickly and has enormous upside. Obviously, he’s raw technically and probably isn’t going to play much outside of special teams in year one. But he’ll go on Day 2 simply because of his potential—which is that of an elite, versatile defensive back.

I hope you enjoyed this NFL Combine prospect preview! Stay tuned for our next position group tomorrow.