The No. 1 cornerback in the 2017 class and a five-star recruit, Okudah, a Texas native, chose Ohio State over essentially every major program in the nation. Urban Meyer’s haul that year also included Chase Young and JK Dobbins. Okudah’s mother, Marie, began a fight with lymphoma when Jeffrey was two-years old which lasted until the week after he enrolled early at Ohio State. When Okudah declared for the NFL Draft on Jan. 1, he did so with a letter to his mother published in The Players’ Tribune. It began with the sentence, “I’m going to start by telling you something you already know: I miss you.”
That letter, along with the anecdotes from coaches and former teammates, heck, the composure with which he answered that ridiculous question about his technique and (phantom) penalties at the NFL Combine – they speak to something we don’t talk about as much when we talk about Jeff Okudah, which is that he’s a mentally-strong self-starter who has turned his prolific athletic career into a sort of tribute to his late mother. Mentally, you’ll hear from any of his coaches, he’s elite. Physically, same, with an ideal build. And his athleticism ripples off the screen, with feet like the needle of a sowing machine, exceptionally fast, always under control.
Okodah can match up against any receiver in any scheme and excel. Over the last two seasons, per PFF, he allowed completions on only 45-of-106 throws for an opposing QB rating of only 52.9, never once giving up over 50 yards receiving in a game. He’s very physical in press coverage. He closes in a flash. His hips effortlessly swivel out of the backpedal to turn to run with the receiver. He’s more than willing to help in the run game. Heck, he used to be a stud gunner, too. Okudah is the total package, and a top-five prospect overall.
A track star from Miami Dade County, Henderson was a longtime commit to the local Hurricanes before flipping to the Gators (Florida also signed his brother, four-star WR Xzavier, No. 73 on the ESPN 300, in January). Henderson’s college career started off strong, with four picks as a freshman, two of which he took to the house. Henderson became a star as a sophomore, allowing 18-of-36 balls thrown his way to be completed for 249 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and an opposing QB rating of 49.6. He was everywhere, defending nine balls, making five TFL, and even picking up three sacks.
Last year, teams understandably threw at him less, but Henderson surprisingly struggled a bit when they did, with his passer rating against spiking to 109.0 and his PFF coverage grade falling from 81.7 to 58.9. A high ankle sprain suffered in early September cost him two games and led to some up-and-down play upon his return. Henderson was a track star in high school who would go on to be a Bruce Feldman Freak Lister. He went blow-for-blow with Okudah at the NFL Combine, running a 4.39 with a 127-inch broad jump and a 37.5-inch vertical. That easy athleticism is a hallmark of his game. But he’s more than just an athlete. Florida DC Todd Grantham called Henderson the best corner he’s ever coached.
Henderson is a long-levered man corner who gives you very little room to breathe. A heady player who rarely gets fooled, Henderson has a knack for picking up tells. He recognizes patterns on the fly and will accelerate in and swat it away nonchalantly, or pick up a telegraph from the quarterback’s eyes that’ll, for instance, allow him to give more cushion, expecting something downfield. Smart and oh-so-fluid, Henderson is nearly Okudah’s equal as a pure cover man. One area he falls behind: Henderson missed 22.5% of his tackles last year and is a – how to put it? – reluctant tackler, despite the fact that he’s both weight-room strong and a very good blitzer. Henderson is also clearly more comfortable in coverage when he can see the entire offense in front of him; his instincts can go on the fritz downfield with his back to the quarterback when the ball is in the air, leading to penalties and completions.
3. Kristian Fulton (LSU) | 5’11/197
SPARQ percentile: 69.4
Adjusted SPARQ: .7
Fulton, from nearby New Orleans, arrived in Baton Rouge as a ballyhooed top-30 overall recruit. He barely saw the field as a true freshman, with LSU’s corner cupboard stocked as-usual (Tre’Davious White, Donte Jackson and Kevin Toliver). From there, things got hairy. Fulton used someone else’s urine for a PED test – later explaining that he had smoked marijuana a few days earlier – and got caught. The NCAA hammered him with a two-year suspension. That penalty was eventually reduced to one season after a drawn-out,19-month fight with the NCAA that ended the week leading up to the 2018 kickoff.
Despite all that missed time, thrust immediately back into action as the starter, Fulton dominated in Dave Aranda’s press-man defense. He allowed a mere 17-of-41 targets to be converted into completions for an opposing passer rating of 65.3 while turning in a PFF coverage grade of 89.7 in 2018, elite territory. Last year, his 86.6 PFF coverage grade was top-10 among corners, and he tied for No. 8 in the land with 14 pass breakups. Fulton has a real knack for breaking on the ball out of his backpedal with timing and explosion, combining his ability to recognize route concepts with his special sauce of disrupting at the catch point.
Fulton is a LifeLock corner, the kind of dude who is covering you in man on the tarmac off the airplane. The build, athleticism, body-control, technique, you-can’t-have-that cover style and production (43.2% completions allowed the past two years) all suggest potential CB1 at the next level. But Fulton does come with risk. There was the harebrained drug test fiasco that he has to answer for. On the field, he could stand to improve as a tackler, though he’s not averse to the idea like Henderson. It would also be nice if he could start to convert some of the those breakups into interceptions – Fulton only picked off two balls at LSU.
4. Jaylon Johnson (Utah) | 6’0/193
SPARQ percentile: 64.3
Adjusted SPARQ: .28
A noted film junkie who draws raves from Utah’s staff for his work ethic, Johnson was a dominant college corner who combines quick brains and feet with loose hips and strong technique. Johnson gets on you from the snap, pressing with authority, physicality that can be disorienting. He tracks beautifully and has shown to be skilled in jump-ball scenarios, a master of timing in space. Athletically, he’s a quick-footed glider, smooth and sleek. And he’s a plus in run support. At times Johnson’s ever-running motor can get a bit hot, when he lets his natural aggressiveness get the better of him to the disservice of patience and technique. Six times over the past two seasons Johnson drew flags due to his rough-and-tumble treatment of opposing receivers.
But we know the kid is verified tough as nails. His top-flight 2019 season – he allowed a completion percentage of just 44.6% with a pair of interceptions and eight pass breakups – was made all the more impressive by the fact that he played through a torn shoulder labrum from September onward, ultimately undergoing surgery on his wing following the NFL Combine. That shoulder surgery was his third since high school, introducing an element of risk into his eval. If Johnson can stay healthy, and if he can learn to control some of his more wild-man tendencies, he has the instinctual moxie, athleticism and bulldog tenacity for a long NFL future as a press corner. Johnson is getting overlooked. I tend to find criticisms of his game overly nitpicky. With that one big caveat, of course: His shoulders must not betray him.
5. Jeff Gladney (TCU) | 5’10/191
SPARQ percentile: 47.1
Adjusted SPARQ: .27
A mighty mite with a 620-pound squat and 400-pound power clean, Gladney plays like a bat out of hell. He punches above his weight class when colliding with larger men, hitting running backs with authority as though he were a linebacker. He’s a menace when sent on kamikaze blitzes, knifing home with urgency and arriving with a bang. In coverage, he’s very difficult to shake, harassing your personal space until the ball arrives and he can reach in and poke it away. His ball skills are outstanding, with 15 breakups apiece in each of the past two years (Amik Robertson was the only other FBS player to post 15+ breakups the past two years).
Gladney is another Feldman Freak lister. His testing disappointed slightly, but don’t read too much into that. He ran a 4.48 in Indy but has run in the 4.3s in the past. His athleticism and ability to anticipate routes leads to a brand of coverage that lends itself to very little separation – per PFF, Gladney forced the second-most contested targets the past two seasons with 46, and 27 of those were forced incompletions. Of slight concern is the drop-off in Gladney’s play between 2018 and 2019. His PFF grade dropped from 90.6 to 71.7, he drew more than twice as many penalties (three to seven) and he allowed three TD (one the year before) despite getting targeted 14 times less. He’s a smaller outside corner who really only had the one superstar season, a highly-intense player whose game can play down when he gets frustrated.
6. Trevon Diggs (Alabama) | 6’1/205
SPARQ percentile: N/A
Adjusted SPARQ: N/A
Diggs makes life miserable on opposing receivers with his suffocating length and his bully approach off the snap. He played receiver, himself, up until 2017, like his older brother Stefon. His familiarity with the position is evident in the way he attempts to imbed himself into the psyches of his opponents. The way he mirrors and steals steps, uses his surface area and levers to badger opponents, the way he plays the ball, anticipates routes…. almost as though he and his brother have run them, watched film on them and discussed footwork thousands of times. Up until last season, Diggs was a traits-based ball of potential. In 2019, he flowered into a collegiate star, a shutdown corner for the Tide who gave up a completion rate of just 42.3% and an opposing passer rating of 44.5 while forcing incompletions on one-fifth of his targets, per PFF.
Diggs does his best work around the line of scrimmage, where his length and immediacy set a physical tone that he’ll sustain all the way down the field. But despite Diggs’ work last year, he has a ways to go to become an NFL standout. He’s a work-in-progress both mechanically and when gauging opportunities, getting crossed up on breaks or biting up when deeked. Issues like these only really got him lit up once last year – Diggs got torched for 9-of-13 completed targets for 133 yards against LSU and star WR J’Marr Chase but never once allowed more than 45 yards in another game – but will beat him in the NFL more often if not corrected, because Diggs already isn’t the smoothest mover laterally, nor is he a world-class sprinter. Once beaten in the NFL, he’ll need over-the-top help in the NFL to prevent a party for six. He’s a high-upside play who comes with a higher risk profile than the names above him on this list.
7. A.J. Terrell (Clemson) | 6’1/195
SPARQ percentile: 86.0
Adjusted SPARQ: .67
Terrell got lit up in the national title game. Let’s move past that, because his 29 consecutive starts prior to that were pretty dang impressive (including the title game the year before, when his pick-six of Tua kicked off a Clemson rout). A long press-man corner with high-end athleticism, Terrell disrupts at the catch point. He’s very slick and clinical for a tall drink of water, with a low, tight pedal and hips that flip that switch like Drake for clean mirroring machinations downfield.
Terrell plays feisty, jabbing those long arms into the chests of receivers at the line and then hounding them along their routes. He broke up 26 passes in college and proved adept at getting off the ground with his man and getting his hand on the ball downfield. Perhaps because of his aggressiveness, great route runners give him issues, as Terrell too often bites up on a fake, a real issue because his makeup speed has proven mediocre, despite what his 4.42 showing in Indy would have you believe. He also needs to clean up his tackling, having missed nearly a one-quarter of his attempts last fall.
8. Cameron Dantzler (Mississippi State) | 6’2/188
SPARQ percentile: 15.4
Adjusted SPARQ: .05
Comp: Josh Jackson (Lindy’s)
A long, suffocating press-man corner from the SEC, Dantzler is a stringbean, but he’s a hostile presence in coverage with eye-opening tape against elite competition. Dantzler uses his length to mug you at the line, and his quick fit and loose hips to stay on top of you from there. For being built so high off the ground, Dantzler doesn’t have issues changing directions. He’s difficult to shake, and downfield, he’s not often at a disadvantage in the air. Dantzler’s stock took a hit at the NFL Combine when he ran a 4.64, and he became a Twitter parody when a video was released claiming he ran a 4.38 forty at a personal pro day.
His athletic profile numbers above are a bit spooky, admittedly. But this is a guy who played more athletic than he tested, and who was a shutdown corner in college. Over three seasons, Dantzler gave up 42.7 percent completions and a 1/5 TD/INT ratio on 96 targets for an NFL QB rating against of 43.8. In his last game, he gave up 77 yards – he’d never allowed more. He’s a reliable tackler, he’s good in run support, and he’s strong on special teams. He’s still a Round 2 corner for me.
9. Noah Igbinoghene (Auburn) | 5’10/198
SPARQ percentile: 66.3
Adjusted SPARQ: .44
Comp: Kareem Jackson (Joe Marino)
A boom-or-bust prospect, Igbinoghene is a converted receiver built low to the ground and thicc. He just started playing corner in 2018, and allowed 12.3 YPR and 51.5 percent completions on 68 targets last fall with an 81.2 passer rating against while intercepting no balls. Strangely, he was a ton better the year before, his first go-around at the position, allowing 41.9 percent completions and a 62.0 passer rating against. Igbinoghene is a ball of clay. He’s very good against the run for a corner, physical and reliable.
In coverage, he changes direction like a breeze and has good burst. He proved a quick study at the art of press. And he has speed for days. He’s also a longtime special teams standout, lowering the risk profile a little. On the other end of it, because of his inexperience, he can get straight clowned by crafty route runners. And while he has good speed, you don’t want him covering downfield, at least not yet, because he isn’t comfortable turning his head to track the ball and is apt to allow completions he’s in the vicinity of, his ball skills at his new position are thoroughly unrefined, and he’s short to boot. Perhaps he should have returned to school to keep working. But the talent level is such, and the draft slot will likely to be high enough, that it was hard to blame him for jumping.
10. Amik Robertson (Louisiana Tech) | 5’8/187
SPARQ percentile: N/A
Adjusted SPARQ: N/A
Comp: Chris Harris (Kelly)
My gosh is Robertson active. The three-year starter broke up 48 passes, intercepted 14 (three pick-sixes) and posted 23 TFL and three sacks over 38 starts. Don’t let the size fool you: Amik has a “This are Sparta!” attitude on the field, and he plays larger than his dimensions. He’s one of the class’ most willing in run defense, throwing his body around like a safety, and he’s dangerous when sent on the blitz. Robertson idolizes Tyrann Mathieu, and you get the sense he’s watched plenty of Honey Badger YouTube cut-ups. Robertson is a real pest in coverage, physical in press, with the feet to stay glued to his man and the burst, instincts and hands to make plays on the balls.
Robertson’s lack of size and high-end speed make the slot his most likely NFL destination. He won’t back down, but he’s powerless in downfield jump-ball scenarios against height and strength. And while he makes a lot of plays, he also missed 18.5% of his tackle attempts last fall. Calming his approach and improving his technique will help a bit, but physical limitations will cap his NFL disruption ceiling somewhat; he just doesn’t have the power to fell everyone nor the tackling strike zone to reach everyone. On the other hand: At least he tries (cough CJ Henderson, cough).
11. Damon Arnette (Ohio State) | 5’11/195
SPARQ percentile: N/A
Adjusted SPARQ: .26
Comp: Kyle Fuller (Crabbs)
A smooth operator in coverage who cares not for your social distancing practices, Arnette is a sticky cover man with slick feet and a technically savvy game. Ohio State played a variety of coverages over Arnette’s four years and moved him around, so we know he’s versatile and comfortable inside and out. Arnette showed a particular knack for press, with a physicality he also brings with authority at the catch point. On the other end of it, his ball production is poor, he’s a good-but-not-great athlete who lacks elite speed, he’s grabby, and he’s had issues controlling his emotions in the past. Set to turn 24 in early September, Arnette is at this point what he is. Low-floor, medium-ceiling type of prospect.
12. L’Jarius Sneed (Louisiana Tech) | 6’1/191
SPARQ percentile: ~98
Adjusted SPARQ: .81
A high-octane athlete, Sneed tore it up at the NFL Combine, running a 4.37 40 with a 41-inch vertical and 10-11 broad. That made projecting his move back to corner from safety (where he played last year) easier, as does his above-average PFF coverage grades all four years in school. With length, ball skills, athleticism to spare and a high school background at receiver, Sneed is dangerous with the ball in the air – he defended 28 passes, picked off eight, and returned three for scores in college. He didn’t look as sure of himself at safety last year, drawing six penalties. He also needs work as a corner, as his footwork can get clunky and he can get grabby. But Sneed has shown cover chops – allowing an opposing passer rating of 61.8 in college on 153 targets and holding opponents to 50% completions when lined up as an outside CB, per PFF – and has a ton of physical ability, a leaper with world-class speed who plays with a physical edge in press and against the run. I love the sleeper appeal.
13. Bryce Hall (Virginia) | 6’1/202
SPARQ percentile: N/A
Adjusted SPARQ: N/A
Comp: Aaron Williams (Crabbs)
Hall was an absolute eraser in 2018, leading the country with 24 passes defensed. He would have been in contention to be one of the first corners off the board in last April’s draft and in hindsight probably should have declared for it. Instead, his 2019 season ended after six games following ankle surgery. Hall is long, well-built, strong, and he comes equipped with outstanding ball skills as a former high school receiver. He’s a mediocre athlete for the position, however, lacking top-notch speed and twitchy movement. When beat, Hall has an unfortunate habit of taking a fistful of jersey, something he’s going to have to knock off at the next level. But all-in-all, so long as he finds his destiny in a Cover 3 scheme, he should develop into a crafty if limited pick-pocket of a zone corner.
14. Michael Ojemudia (Iowa) | 6’0/200
SPARQ percentile: 66.5
Adjusted SPARQ: .66
As happened during his recruiting process, following a high school career miscast as a TE/LB/S, Ojemudia is being overlooked. Back then, ESPN didn’t even give him a star rating and Ojemudia wouldn’t have gone to the FBS had Iowa not offered. Now, he’s a long, well-built corner with plus athleticism who has shown tangible improvement on the field each season. Last year, Ojemudia surrendered a passer rating against of a mere 55.6 while allowing only 8-of-33 targets 10-plus yards downfield to be completed with 10 forced incompletions, per PFF. He shows good ball skills, with six picks and 21 breakups the last two years.
He plays a little high and is more of a straight-line athlete than joystick mover, so technicians can wobble him with a nifty move. But Ojemudia is still early on the developmental curve and improving, and Iowa didn’t do him any favors in Norm Parker’s off-coverage heavy system, where his responsibilities weren’t as intensive. Ojemudia looks like a much better fit for a press-intensive scheme, but the Hawkeyes only allowed him to press 115 snaps over the past two campaigns. That requires a bit of a leap of faith in the projection, but all the tools appear to be there.
15. Josiah Scott (Michigan State) | 5’9/185
SPARQ percentile: N/A
Adjusted SPARQ: .35
Scott quivers with burst and twitch — he ran a 4.42-second 40 at the combine — but plays under control, rarely careening recklessly about. Quicksilver fast and balanced, with a homing pigeon’s nose for the ball, he’s incredibly difficult to shake. There’s a reason teammates nicknamed him “The Gnat.” And when Scott sticks ball-carriers, they stay stuck. He’s a superb form tackler, missing just nine tackles in 108 attempts for his MSU career per PFF, something made all the more impressive by his diminutive stature. While he rarely whiffs on tackles, he lacks the size and length to combat box-outs, with larger, more physical receivers capable of shrugging him off at the catch-point. If you’re shopping for a reliable, sticky slot corner, you could do a lot worse.
Best of the Rest…
16. Troy Pride Jr. (Notre Dame) | 5’11/193
17. Harrison Hand (Temple) | 5’11/197
18. Javaris Davis (Auburn) | 5’10/183
19. John Reid (Penn State) | 5’10/187
20. Darnay Holmes (UCLA) | 5’10/195
21. Reggie Robinson II (Tulsa) | 6’1/205
22. Javelin Guidry (Utah) | 5’9/191
23. Kindle Vildor (Georgia Southern) | 5’10/191
24. A.J. Green (Oklahoma State) | 6’1/202
25. Essang Bassey (Wake Forest) | 5’9/191
26. Lamar Jackson (Nebraska) | 6’2/208
27. Dane Jackson (Pittsburgh) | 6’0/187
28. Parnell Motley (Oklahoma) | 5’11/177
29. Shyheim Carter (Alabama) | 5’10/194
30. Lavert Hill (Michigan) | 5’10/190
31. Stantley Thomas-Oliver III (Florida International) | 6’0/192
32. Trajan Bandy (Miami) | 5’7/180
33. Grayland Arnold (Baylor) | 5’9/186
34. Stanford Samuels III (Florida State) | 6’1/187
35. Rodney Clemons (SMU) | 5’11/200
36. James Pierre (Florida Atlantic) | 6’0/183
37. Nevelle Clarke (Central Florida) | 6’0/187
38. Myles Bryant (Washington) | 5’8/184
39. Levonta Taylor (Florida State) | 5’10/181
40. DeMarkus Acy (Missouri) | 6’1/195
41. Keith Washington Jr. (West Virginia) | 6’0/178
42. Elijah Riley (Army) | 6’0/205
43. Luq Barcoo (San Diego State) | 6’0/172
44. Tino Ellis (Maryland) | 6’0/195
45. Debione Renfro (Texas A&M) | 6’1/202
46. Manny Patterson (Maine) | 5’10/180
47. Jace Whittaker (Arizona) | 5’9/182
48. Christopher Fredrick (Syracuse) | 5’11/195
49. Madre Harper (Southern Illinois) | 6’2/196
50. Amari Henderson (Wake Forest) | 6’0/180