2023 NFL Draft

Pavelle: CBs And Cover-Safeties In The 2023 NFL Draft

It’s time to look at the Cornerbacks now that free agency has come and gone. It’s a lot more involved than people seem to think. Contrary to popular belief, the Steelers do not have a desperate need for an outside Corner. Indeed, one can make a stronger argument for a hole at the Nickel DB spot than outside. It’s just that this year’s CB class is particularly strong, with clusters of talent that seem to coincide with Pittsburgh’s selections. So improving the position makes sense, right? Especially since there is exactly one (1) designated CB under contract for 2024, that being Patrick Peterson.

Here’s my outline for what you’re about to read:

  1. First, some key definitions to make sure we’re all using the same words in the same ways.
  2. A look at the current roster, taking care to note which players are suitable for outside/boundary duty, who can play in the slot, and who can do both.
  3. Analysis of how I see the team wants and needs in light of the roster.
  4. A plea for help on how modern coverage schemes are changing the sort of assets and skills we need to look for and avoid.
  5. A list of the prospects broken down by boundary-capable, slot-capable, and multi-faceted talents.
  6. An excerpted big board with the relevant prospect descriptions.
  7. A conclusion section to wrap things up.

Skip ahead as ye desire.


“SHUTDOWN CB” a/k/a “ISLAND CB” – One of those top 5-7 players in the league who can reliably handle man-on-man coverage duty against the opponent’s star receiver. No one can reasonably expect a true Shutdown/Island CB to fall out of the top 10 in any draft, so if there is one in this class you may as well cross the name off as a possibility. Ain’t Gonna Happen.

“CB1” – One of the top 20-25 CBs in the league, who can reliably handle any job he’s asked to do so long as there is occasional Safety help against the elite WRs like Ja’Marr Chase. Later career Joe Haden is a perfect example. CBs are expected to do well against any type of receiver too, from small-and-shifty, to ultra-speedy, to tall-and-tough. Everyone is better against one more than the others, but a proper CB1 isn’t weak against any. NOTE: There are never enough CB1s to go around, which is why I’m using a number less than 32 for the total. All Shutdown CBs are also CB1s. They’re just especially good ones.

“CB2” – Someone in the top 25-65 Corners of the NFL. CB2s do their assigned job in a reliable manner, but have enough shortcomings to require help against a mismatch WR, or in a particular defensive scheme that doesn’t suit his talents. CB2s could also be called nice, solid starters whose main failure is the lack of being special. Levi Wallace is a very good example. Pretty much every team has at least one, and they are highly valued.

“OUTSIDE CB” a/k/a “BOUNDARY CB” – The Corner who plays most of his snaps between the hashmarks and the sideline. The job description starts with, “Don’t Get Beat Deep!”, but also includes “don’t allow chain moving outs and curls,” “don’t lose control on crossing routes and slants if that’s your assignment,” “intercept the ball on bad throws or bad routes,” “understand and do your job when asked to play in zone,” and “at least slow the RB down if he gets outside the first level containment.” All these jobs are vital; it’s just that only the first one gets the capital letters and exclamation mark. The skill set includes route recognition, press-man coverage, off-man coverage, and how to crowd WRs into the sideline. The assets to look for include superior height, weight, speed, arm length, a good backpedal, smooth hips to transition from backpedal to running downfield with the WR and click-and-close (sudden burst forward from zone coverage or in run support). The list is not exclusive, of course, and every player has stronger areas, weaker areas, and areas where some special level of skill or talent makes up for a lack of native talent or skill.

“SLOT CB” – WRs lined up in the slot do not need to be on the line of scrimmage, which means it is exceptionally hard to deliver a good jam. They don’t have to worry about the sideline, which means they can end up darting in any of three directions (right, left, and forward). Slot Corners therefore need to have exceptional change of direction talent (COD), and also an extremely high football IQ. The latter comes from both the special need to accurately predict what a given WR/QB/OC combination is likely to call in particular situations, and because their inside position involves more communication than you need from Outside CBs.

“NICKEL DB” – A hybrid position that combine the abilities of a Slot CB with the tackling and blitzing skills of a Safety. “Nickel” refers to the formation with five defensive backs rather than four, which has become the standard defense against 11 personnel offenses (1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WRs). Great Nickel DBs like Polamalu rotate into a Safety or CB position when the team isn’t in one of the several Nickel packages. It takes at least two and often three sub-package specialists to replace a single great Nickel DB, which is done by rotating those specialists on and off the field as appropriate for the down, distance, and opponent.

SUB-PACKAGE DB” and “STARTER”  – A distinction that comes down to snap counts over the course of a year. Starters will get 800+ snaps in a season if they can stay healthy, with really good starters getting up into the 900s. Sub-package DBs rotate off the field so often that they cannot reach that threshold, and thereby offer less value to the team as a whole. Ordinary Nickel DBs are sub-package guys, while exceptional Nickel DBs can count as starters. Troy was obviously a great Nickel DB (and thus a starter), while Mike Hilton was an excellent Nickel DB who hovered right near the boundary line.

“ZONE-ONLY CB” – A Corner whose set of skills and talents makes him good in particular types of coverage and weak in others. My guy Ross Cockrell was a perfect example of a Zone-only CB. His combination of brains, burst, and savvy made him an easy CB2 and arguably a CB1 so long as his team gave him a region to cover rather than needing to trail someone all over the field. He became a liability when the Steelers shifted over to using more man coverage. Note that it’s possible to have a Man-Only CB too, but that is much less of a liability because a defense can almost always accommodate a CB who can succeed in Cat Coverage duties (“You cover that cat over there, and we’ll take care of the rest”). The cartoon version of Ike Taylor could be accused of being a man-only stereotype, though I couldn’t say for certain how true that was for the actual player.

“SEATTLE-TYPE CB” – The famous Legion of Boom defenses in the early 2010s were built on a brilliant version of Cover-3 that allowed the team to use long, tall, athletic Corners who suffered from COD limitations. That is a pretty common problem, since COD ability tends to go down as a man gets taller. The details don’t matter. The point is that this innovation gave Seattle (and its imitators) an advantage comparable to the old stereotype of the Steelers’ 3-4 having access to elite pass rushers that other teams viewed as too small. The formation has fallen out of fashion, but the term remains useful as a way to describe prospects with elite height/weight/speed athletic profiles but who are too tight in the hips to handle all the duties a mixed-formation secondary (like Pittsburgh’s) will demand.

“MAN MATCH” and “ZONE MATCH” – These are the more cutting-edge approaches in secondary play, which also allow for certain limitations when it comes to COD talent. I do not understand the specifics well enough to describe them. Suffice it to say, Pittsburgh has been an exceptionally man-heavy team in recent years, and thus Seattle-type CBs continue to be poor fits for what Tomlin and Co. would prefer to field.


  • CB Patrick Peterson. 6’0¼”, 198 lbs. with 32” arms and 9¼” hands. Turns 33 in July. A future HOF’er in his twilight years. Outside CB who knows every trick in the book and can be relied on to be a coach on the field for all the developing prospects. Signed on a two-year deal for 2023 and 2024. NOTE: Peterson is the only Corner who is under contract for 2024 in addition to 2023.
  • CB Levi Wallace. 6’0¼”, 179 lbs. with 32¾” arms and 9⅜” hands. Turns 28 in June. 2018 Buffalo UDFA who made good, and then signed a 2-year, $8 Million contract to play for Pittsburgh in 2022 and 2023. Wallace is emphatically not a miracle athlete (bottom 25th percentile), but has made a very successful CB2 career out of being the sort of tough, physical, in your face, jam-at-the-line player who opposing WR’s flat out hate. They know they can beat the SOB, and should beat him according to every measurable characteristic, but somehow it just never happens. A junkyard dog meaner than Leroy Brown. On the field, that is. He’s supposed to be a perfectly fine human being in other situations.
  • CB Ahkello Witherspoon. 6’2¾”, 195 lbs. with 33” arms and 9⅞” hands. Turned 27 earlier in March. A top 2% athlete, Witherspoon was the 49ers’ Round 3 pick in 2017, and made his way to Pittsburgh in 2021. He’s been a tremendous cover-corner throughout his career, but only when healthy, which is rare. He’s been bedeviled by so many injuries that it’s fair to call him fragile. He looked like the team’s best Corner in 2021, and then hurt his hamstring in September of last year (week 3). After that he looked really bad in the few instances he could make it onto the field. It should come as no surprise that he is terrible in run support.
  • CB James Pierre. 6’0”, 185 lbs. with 31¼” arms and 8½” hands. Turns 27 in September. The 2020 UDFA who has been almost… there… throughout his rookie deal, with occasional starts in which he flashed and others where he looked terrible. He’s teased and tantalized us with maybe this will be his year… for the past few seasons and is back after signing a one-year contract earlier this month.
  • CB Madre Harper. 6’2”, 196 lbs. with extremely long 33-34” arms. Turns 26 in October. A 2020 UDFA for the Raiders, he bounced over to the Giants, back to the Raiders, then to the Panthers for two years, and then to Pittsburgh in January. A top 1% athlete on the measurables, he’s been trying to learn professional-level technique. Let’s say he’s on the James Pierre Track but a little behind, and probably has less COD talent.
  • CB Chris Wilcox. 6’1⅝”, 195 lbs. with 31⅝” arms and 9⅞” hands. Turns 26 in October. Picked by Tampa Bay in Round 7 of the 2021 draft, he bounced to the Colts, then the Cardinals, and then to Pittsburgh in 2023. Legit 4.3-something speed (4.31 at his Pro Day) but held back by poor COD talent.
  • Nickel CB Arthur Maulet. 5’10”, 190 lbs. with 31¼”arms and 9¾” hands. Turns 30 in July. 2017 UDFA who joined Pittsburgh in 2021.
  • Nickel CB Duke Dawson. 5’10⅝”, 198 lbs. with 31½” arms and 9” hands. Turns 28 in October. A Round 2 New England pick in 2018, selected to be a slot/Nickel CB. A promising prospect who lost his rookie year to hamstring problems. Traded to Denver in 2019 and sat. Lost 2020 to an ACL. Injured again in 2021, and then moved to the practice squad. Moved to the Panthers, where he was injured in 2022 and then waived. Spent the 2022 season on Pittsburgh’s practice squad. One senses a pattern.

In case you missed the note, be aware that Patrick Peterson is the only Cornerback under contract for 2024 in addition to 2023.

  • SAF Minkah Fitzpatrick. He’s great at the job but what a waste!
  • SAF Damontae Kazee. He can play Nickel DB, but it isn’t his strength, and who would be the #2 Safety?
  • Nickel SAF Tre Norwood. 5’11⅝”, with 29⅜” arms and 9⅜” hands. Turns 24 in April. Pittsburgh’s Round 7 pick in 2021, Norwood looked extremely promising as a rookie but disappeared into obscurity for most of 2022. So-so as a pure athlete, but understood to be a smart, hard-working young player too.
  • Box SAF Keanu Neal. 6’1”, 212 lbs. with 32¾” arms and 10⅝” hands. Turns 28 in July.
Outside Slot/Nickel Both
Patrick Peterson
Levi Wallace
Ahkello Witherspoon
Madre Harper
Chris Wilcox
James Pierre
Arthur Maulet
Nickel SAF Tre Norwood
Duke Dawson
SAF Damontae Kazee?
SAF Minkah Fitzpatrick


It could be worse, though it could also be a lot better. Here is the lemonade view: If Ahkello Witherspoon stays healthy and James Pierre makes the next leap, the team would be in pretty good shape on the outside (assuming Omar Khan can get them signed for 2024 and beyond). Patrick Peterson played very well in 2022, and his only real question mark for 2023 comes in the form of Father Time’s straw piling up on the camel’s back. Levi Wallace is as solid a CB2 as you could ask for. And a year ago we were all wondering if Witherspoon had finally shed his injury bug thoroughly enough to be the genuine CB1 he looked like in 2021. That adds up to three legitimate starters on the outside, plus depth, Nickel DBs, and Safeties. Better than most teams, right?

Then there is the other outlook: “Lemons, lemons, the world has nothing but lemons and my poor Steelers are doomed, Doomed, DOOMED. Peterson is older than dirt and bound to break his hip in a fall on day 1. Wallace may be a legit CB2, but that’s all he is; he is going into his final year, and the refs are out to get him anyway because he makes WRs look bad. Witherspoon might as well just shoot himself in the knee to save us all the waiting. And not a single one of the others is under contract beyond 2023, nor are they worth the time to insult. Death, doom and gloom / misery, suffering, and fear / destruction, heartache, and tragic loss / we should just give up right here…”

It makes you crazy, no? How about we agree on a middle ground. Pittsburgh’s outside Corners include a fading superstar as its CB1, a solid but unexceptional CB2, and a fringe CB1/2 with an absolutely awful history of repeated injuries. That’s more or less a league average room with extra room for extra swing toward either good or ill – on the outside. The Slot/Nickel half of the room is weaker but deeper. Thus (i) a promising young rookie for Peterson and Wallace to mentor would fit in great, and (ii) a top-notch Nickel DB would raise all boats significantly.

At least one CB pick seems likely, and maybe even two if the team sees bargains for both the Boundary and the Slot positions. There’s no cause for full on panic but we would all have a right to be very disappointed if the draft day gods deprive us of the chance to fish in the extremely dense waters of this year’s draft class.


I (we!) really need some guidance on how man-match and zone-match systems are going to change the characteristics Pittsburgh will demand and/or avoid in the draft. I get that they might, and indeed must to some extent or another; but how and in what ways?

As I understand it, over the last 10-15 years modern versions of pre-snap motion, detailed film study, audibles, and option routes have given offenses a distinct advantage. When combined with more restrictive rules on coverage techniques, the net effect has been all those 30-point averages that Roethlisberger used to target. No matter what the defense does, man or zone, a good offense with a great QB can make that defense wrong by shifting into particular route concepts at the line of scrimmage. “Match” schemes are the newest defensive countermove. They work by allowing the defense to shift between man and zone principles after the snap, in response to the routes as they are run. Corners that start out in man coverage are taught to shift their man or move over into zones against particular patterns. Same thing for Corners who start out in zone.

You’ve seen and heard all those reports about teams relying ever more heavily on Cover-2 defensive schemes? I believe they aren’t “cover-2” in the classic sense, but rather a cover-2 starting point that morphs mid-play according to these match-and-react principles. Somehow or other. As I said, the specifics remain outside of my grasp for now, but the net effect has been many fewer games where the offense became unstoppable.

All this evolution is forcing me (us!) to re-evaluate some of the rules we’ve used to evaluate CB prospects over the past 10-20 years.

Under Dick LeBeau the Steelers ran a base cover-3 zone for a heavy percentage of plays, mixing in man coverage only as needed to keep the offense from knowing exactly what was coming. That scheme lessened the need for pure height and speed, and instead put an emphasis on finding extra smart Corners with good COD skills, who could click-and-close with violence in their hearts when it came to tackling the catch.

The team evolved to a much heavier dose of man coverage after LeBeau departed. That left guys like Ross Cockrell out in the wind, and put a new premium on recovery speed, silky-smooth hips, strength at the catch point, and a nice combination of height/length to shrink the windows available for super-accurate NFL quarterbacks. The team could work around lack of size when the CB had wonderful technique, but we draftniks knew we had to screen out the Seattle-type Corners because their particular flaws just wouldn’t work in a Mike Tomlin defense. This approach has continued in recent years, subject to the growing need for a good Nickel DB in addition to classic Outside/Boundary CBs.

The statisticians tell us that Pittsburgh ran the most man-intensive coverage schemes in the NFL last year, and the eye test confirms that it really worked. But I’m told those man-coverages also mix a lot of match-man concepts, which changes things around because… Aaaarrrrrgh.

So riddle me this if you are someone who actually understands the Xs and Os at this deep a level. Are the draft rules changing again? If so, what are the things we need to highlight with extra stars, or label with special flags and question marks? All this matters more this year because the class is so very strong, but also features a lot of those big-and-tall prospects who might have been downgraded as Seattle-types in earlier years. Here is a list of this year’s prospects, organized once again into three basic categories. NOTE: The following table omits many Day 3 prospects because they either have so many flaws that it is hard to see their path toward any of these roles, or because they are pure zone CBs.

Outside CB Slot/Nickel DB Inside/Outside CB
1:10 – Joey Porter Jr.
1:25 – Deonte Banks
1:25 – Kelee Ringo
2:01 – Juju Brents
2:12 – Tyrique Stevenson
2:24 – Kyu Blu Kelly
2:24 – Darius Rush
2:24 – DJ Turner
2:24 – Rejzohn Wright
3:12 – Eli Ricks
3:24 – Darrell Luter Jr.
3:24 – Terrell Smith
3:24 – Cory Trice
4:01 – Anthony Johnson (Va.)
4:01 – Jaylon Jones
1:15 – CB/SAF Brian Branch
2:01 – CB Clark Phillips III
3:01 – CB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson
3:12 – CB Kei’trel Clark
4:16 – CB Arquon Bush
4:16 – CB Mekhi Garner
4:16 – CB Riley Moss
2:01 – SAF Antonio Johnson
2:12 – SAF/CB Jartavius “Quan” Martin
2:12 – SAF JL Skinner III
3:01 – SAF Jordan Battle
3:12 – SAF Jammie Robinson
3:24 – SAF Sydney Brown
3:24 – SAF Anthony Johnson Jr. (Iowa St.)
4:01 – SAF Christopher Smith II
4:01 – SAF/CB Jay Ward
4:16 – SAF Chamarri Conner
4:16 – SAF Keidron “Keibo”
5:16 – SAF Kaevon Merriweather
6:16 – SAF Daniel Scott
1:10 – Christian Gonzalez
1:10 – Devon Witherspoon
1:20 – Cam Smith
2:12 – Emmanuel Forbes
3:12 – Garrett Williams
4:01 – Mekhi Blackmon
5:01 – Jakorian Bennett
5:16 – Alex Austin


Please let me know of any grades you disagree with, and why! This group is very far from finalized.

HV 1:05 – CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon by way of Colorado (Junior). 6’1⅜”, 197 lbs. with 32” arms and 9½” hands. Turns 21 in June. This is going to feel like I’m jinxing the kid, but my take is HOF potential with a starter floor. He’s had success outside and in the slot, and in press man, off man, and zone. Despite his youth, he’s got three years of starter experience (though he didn’t ‘arrive’ until his final one in 2022). He’s even got good hands. Extremely fluid, plenty fast, very young, and on a distinct upward curve. Tom Mead’s gif-supported Depot scouting report does find some nits to pick, particularly in the area of pure play strength. Big men like Tee Higgins and jump-ball experts like George Pickens will give him fits early in his career, and he is an eager tackler with so-so skill at the job. But those are all things that good coaching can fix, which only means his potential is that much higher. It’s hard to find a scouting profile that doesn’t come close to a rave review. He is Lance Zierlein’s CB1, with a grade barely a tick behind CB/S Brian Branch. “The ingredients are already present to become a feared CB1 if he plays to his gifts.” This goes to the “early pro bowler” TDN scouting profile. “Arguably the best cover corner in this class… beyond smooth along with having top-tier size and athleticism” says this Vikings-oriented January scouting profile. Here’s another solid looking January scouting profile. This January scouting profile is the most critical I’ve found, arguing that Gonzales can be too conservative at times, can be susceptible to double moves, and may lack ball skills (which everyone agrees was an issue until 2022, when he cleaned that up and suddenly became good at it).
HV 1:10 – CB Joey Porter Jr., Penn St. (Junior) [Mtg. at Combine, Visit and Childhood]. 6’2½”, 193 lbs. with insanely long 34” arms and 10” hands. Turns 23 in July. Don’t be sold by the hype or put off by the backlash against that hype. This is actually an easy grade in the larger sense. Joey Porter Jr. is a Round 1 lock with great upside, but he isn’t a Colbert Special. If he achieves his potential, the original J. Peezy could end up being remembered as Joey’s Dad. And if he doesn’t, the odds are excellent that Junior will still be a very solid starting Corner for many years to come. Joey the prospect is built like a pure press-man expert, and is very good at that job, but he is also athletic enough to play the other techniques too. Pure movement skills seem to be in the B to B+ range on the NFL scale, but he’s a solid A if you factor in size and length. If there’s a weakness it would be reaction time against DJ-level quickness or 4.2 speed, but that is true for all but the most elite coverage experts in the league. Both concerns are mitigated by his extraordinary length, leaping ability, and his skill at reaching in/over to tip away passes. Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting report adds that he’s also a willing tackler and a physical presence in the secondary who’s very good at run support. Came in at #16 on Daniel Jeremiah’s initial Top-50 list, which makes him the clear CB2 based on “elite size, length, and speed” combined with good tackling and fluid COD skills. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting report sees the COD concerns, but nevertheless ends with a strong Round 1 grade and a comp to Amani Oruwariye. A top 3-4% athlete after the Combine  with a truly special 10-yard split, but without the agility testing we most wanted to see.
HV 1:10 – CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois (Junior). 5’11½”, 181 lbs. with 31¼” arms and small 8⅞” hands. 22, turns 23 in December. A quality Corner through and through, in every facet of the game, with exceptional coverage ability, tone setting physicality, and the playmaker’s gene. You might think, “more athletic version of Cam Sutton,” which is high praise indeed. Like Sutton, his floor appears to be “tremendous slot Corner.” The ceiling is “do it all CB1.” All he lacks as a prospect is great long speed (his is only good) along with the extra size and heft to excel in press man as well as he does in off and zone. Some also question whether his body will hold up to the pounding his physical playing style creates. Daniel Jeremiah’s initial CB1 at #5 overall, and at #6 in March! Josh Carney’s gif-supported Depot scouting report likewise grades him out as a “Day 1 Starter” and “Pro-Bowl Talent.” Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile sees all the upside, but also sounds some warning notes before ending with none other than Levi Wallace (the finished version) as his pro comp.
HV 1:15 – Slot DB (SAF/CB) Brian Branch, Alabama (Junior) [Mtg. at Combine]. 5’11⅝”, 190 lbs. with 30¾” arms and 9½” hands. Turns 22 in October. Plays the hybrid position Nickel Back position located directly on the line between Slot Corner and Safety, and does it as well as anyone who has come through the draft since Minkah Fitzpatrick. Came in at #25 overall on Daniel Jeremiah’s initial Top-50 list (#31 in the March version 3.0) when viewed as more of a Corner. Indeed, Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile has him as the CB1 overall, with a comp to none other than Minkah Fitzpatrick (one reason why I list him as a S/CB instead of CB/S). Among other superlatives, Zierlein says Branch’s “football intelligence is through the roof,” and “there are areas where he can improve but no real weaknesses, which could make him one of the safest picks in the draft.” Chandler Stroud’s gif-supported Depot scouting report uses Jamal Adams as the likely pro comp for this “certified hitman.” A terrific prospect who needs to be used correctly. Pittsburgh could use an excellent slot-DB, and one who’d double as a Minkah-lite deep Safety could be giggle worthy indeed.
HV 1:20 – CB Cam Smith, S. Car. (Junior) [Mtg. at Combine]. 6’0¾”, 180 lbs. with 31⅝” arms and 9⅛” hands. Turns 22 in December. Sudden, shifty, smart, ultra-aggressive, very physical in space, and all but violent in run support. You name it, he does it, and Smith has also played and excelled in all types of defensive coverage and scheme against SEC competition. He’s even got an excellent backpedal that many college coaches won’t even try to teach. His main flaw is being very grabby in man coverage, even when measured by college standards. Which translates to “near perfect zone CB prospect” but a penalty-waiting-to-happen man corner who also has moderate length. Note that handsy CB play is both common and fixable for CB prospects, though it often takes a year or three of hard work to break the habit. Pittsburgh runs a man-based system of course. You could summarize Owen Straley’s gif-supported Depot scouting report as, “A- athlete with A+ skills and attitude.” In other words, as a true day 1 starter with a round 1 floor (ignoring the ever present bust/injury factor), but some will argue for a ceiling set at all-pro rather than HOF. Indeed, Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile sees him in a much more critical “average starter” light: “While his timing/length can be formidable weapons on contested catches, he often fails to move his feet quickly enough in transitions and ends up grabbing receivers, leading to penalties. Smith appears to be better suited for zone coverages and off-man but if he can trust his technique, he might become more scheme-diverse and develop into a CB2.” Bucky Brooks’ analysis agrees: “Smith is an instinctive cover corner with outstanding eyes, instincts and ball skills [who] is ideally suited to play in a zone scheme [that would enable] him to showcase his strengths as a playmaker.” He didn’t make Daniel Jeremiah’s initial Top-50 list either. His Combine numbers make him a top 5% athlete even without the agility drills, which may be his strongest suit.
HV 1:25 – CB Deonte Banks, Maryland (RS Junior) [Mtg. at Combine]. 6’0⅛”, 197 lbs. with 31⅜” arms and 9⅜” hands. A big, long, strong-press man Corner who came in at #42 on Daniel Jeremiah’s initial Top-50 list (#28 in the March version) with the only complaint being just-average COD skills; which is still pretty amazing for a man this size if you think about it. Also adept in zone and off skills. Killed the Combine with a Top 1%(!) athletic profile that snuffed out all questions about his straight-line speed. He did not do the agility drills, however, and Alex Kozora’s gif-supported Depot scouting report suggests that this is exactly where his Achilles heel lurks in waiting. “Given his [hip] tightness, he’s an ideal fit in a [Seattle] Cover-3 scheme where he can carry and match routes vertically without having to break down and defend in-cuts.” Here is a good PFN scouting profile. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile notes that “He’s capable of matching the release and running with his opponent [but] struggles to play with poise and awareness when his back is to the football.” Has several blocked kicks to his credit. This Steelers-oriented, gif-supported scouting report names Banks as the obvious CB4 of the class behind Witherspoon, Porter and Gonzalez, and argues that he deserves to be seen as a longshot, emergency option for 1:17.
HV 1:25 – CB Kelee Ringo, Georgia (RS Soph) [Mtg. at Combine, Visit]. 6’1¾”, 207 lbs. with 31¼” arms and 8½” hands. Turns 21 years in late June. One of the easiest players in the draft to see as a HOFer in 20 years, and also easy to see as a great “If only…” Ringo is a physical marvel (top 3% athletic profile) who dominated even the most athletic college WRs (see the CFB championship where he shut down Quentin Johnston completely), but he has been exposed by truly slick route runners (see Marvin Harrison Jr. in the CFB semifinal). The bottom line is clear: he will get cooked on a regular basis in the NFL until he learns his craft, but that HOF career will be very reachable if he does. Getting there will take at least 2-3 years, and there’s no way to know if he has some hidden gap in the profile that college WR’s couldn’t sniff out. Came in at #40 on Daniel Jeremiah’s initial Top-50 list. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile agrees entirely on both the potential and the limitations, identifying two specific issues worth mentioning: “He is very average at anticipating breaks and transitioning with them to squeeze the top of the route,” and “has issues consistently tracking deep balls.”
HV 2:01 – CB Julius “Juju” Brents, Kan. St. (RS Senior) [Mtg. at Visit]. 6’2¾”, 198 lbs. with looooong 34” arms and 9⅝” hands. Turned 23 in January. Supposed to be a really fine human being in addition to his football talent. Cue the “Richard Sherman stereotype” music – except that Brents has a top ⅕ of 1% athletic score with elite agility grades that are stunning for a man his size. [Sound of needle scraping]. Huge for a CB, physical, and knows how to use both in his very effective press-man game that could still be improved. He can be a half step slower than you want for dealing with WRs who can really burn, but the height and length make up for that. One of the most dominant CBs at the Senior Bowl, where this position looked especially strong. Tyler Wise’s gif-supported Depot scouting profile says his feet are surprisingly nifty for a man his size, the speed is good enough, and he seems to be an especially smart player, all of which puts him squarely in the crosshairs for a Steelers Day 2 pick. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting report ends in an easy Day 2 grade, calling him “a classic zone cover corner with an outstanding blend of size, length and leaping ability.
HV 2:01 – SAF Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M (Junior) [Mtg. at Combine]. 6’2”, 198 lbs. with 32⅛” arms and 8¾” hands. Turns 22 in October. The closest I can come is ‘SS who covers.’ Johnson has mostly lined up in the slot as a ferocious, if overly lanky, tackler who uses his length and instincts to be adequate in coverage too, especially against TEs and big slots who are used to winning with size. Has played Cover 2 Safety as well, but less often. A fine prospect if Edmunds departs. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile sums it up nicely: “Johnson is positioned to become a good starter whose best ball will be played near the line of scrimmage.” Alex Kozora’s gif-supported Depot scouting report calls him a slightly more instinctual version of Terrell Edmunds, which is not exactly an insult once you’re out of Round 1.
HV 2:01 – CB Clark Phillips III, Utah (Junior) [Mtg. at Combine]. 5’9”, 184 lbs. with 29⅛” arms and 9⅛” hands. Turns 22 in December. The sort of Corner who could use a sound effects bubble over his film. It would feature a lot of flick!, whoosh!, boing!, snap!, and grrr!, but not much bang! or pow! The best Nickel CB in the draft if he can improve his tackling, which we can safely assume given his attitude. The impact of his actual height and weight will decide whether he has the potential to play outside as well. The TDN scouting profile catches it well: “his impact and elite competitive spirit are impossible to deny. He is a dog!… continuously showed up with impact plays in the biggest stages [but] while he competes well above his weight class, teams were not shy about forcing him to play off contact and tackle.” This Vikings-oriented January scouting profile lauds his “incredible click-and-close ability” and ends in a late-1st grade. This January scouting profile describes Round 1 quickness, savvy, and film, but ends in a mid-late 2nd grade based on play strength concerns. In a parallel vein, this succinct January scouting profile sees a wonderful zone/slot corner due to his reaction time, instincts, quickness, and attitude, but again worries about the actual size and length. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile uses Mike Hilton as the comp and makes a point of emphasizing that Phillips is a “voracious student of the game… who is tough, smart, and knows how to play.” Owen Straley’s gif-supported Depot scouting report agrees with everyone else, ending with a Round 2 grade. Phillips had a surprisingly rough day at the Combine, putting his grade in flux until the March 23 Pro Day confirmed or denied the earlier testing.
HV 2:12 – CB Emmanuel Forbes, Miss. St. (Junior) [Mtg. at Combine, Visit]. 6’0¾”, 166 lbs.(170 at his pro day) with 32¼” arms and small 8½” hands. Turned 22 in January. A long and wiry Corner who makes up for his lack of oomph with an impressive combination of ferocity and off the charts ballhawking talent. We’re talking more than half a dozen INTs in 2022 alone! Could also be called “skinny” instead of “wiry,” which is where the question marks arise. Excellent on special teams too as a kick-block rusher. One of those guys who always manages to be right near the ball. Came in at #21 overall on Daniel Jeremiah’s initial Top-50 list. The gif-supported Depot scouting report by Chandler Stroud calls him an improvable press man talent who is “potentially elite” in zone, ending in an enthusiastic late-2nd grade. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile sounds similar but ends in a fringe-1st type of grade, worrying most that “his slender build and lack of tackle strength will make him a target for opposing running games.”
HV 2:12 – CB/SAF Jartavius “Quan” Martin, Illinois (Senior). 5’11”, 194 lbs. with 31⅛” arms and 9⅝” hands. Turns 23 in April. A classic tweener who straddles the line between Safety and Corner but may lack the strength to become a starter at the first spot, and the speed to succeed in the second. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile admires the “buttery smooth hip swivel,” but counters that with concerns about “lack of ideal recovery speed.” Good hands when the ball comes into reach. Owen Straley’s gif-supported Depot scouting report (Round 2 grade) sees a true, multi-purpose Nickel Back who can slide out to play Safety in base.
HV 2:12 – SAF JL Skinner III, Boise St. (Senior). 6’4¼”, 211 lbs. with 32” arms and 8½” hands. Turns 22 in April. Here’s a fun fact. His name is actually “JL”; those aren’t initials An enforcer in the middle who can turn and run with TE’ all day but can be beaten by pure shiftiness. Tom Mead’s gif-supported Depot scouting profile used Kam Chancellor as the player comp, but Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile (solid Round 2 grade) reminds me more of a somewhat less elite version of that profile, like Terrell Edmunds.
HV 2:12 – CB Tyrique Stevenson, Miami (FL) by way of Georgia (Senior). [Mtg. at Visit] 6’0”, 198 lbs. with 33⅝” arms and 9⅝” hands. Turns 23 a day after the draft. A freakish, 5-star H/W/S player with good length. The testing shows an easy top 10% straight line athlete, with very low agility scores. One hopes he will make his way to a Seattle-type defense with a Cover 3 base that would protect him against quick COD routes. Alas, that won’t be in Pittsburgh, especially with this year’s surfeit of other options. Came in at #36 in Daniel Jeremiah’s initial Top 50-list and Jeremiah particularly praised his “outstanding speed and aggression.” Had a tremendous Senior Bowl week. A CB who takes risks because covering alone isn’t enough for this much motor; he’s also been known to have that backfire. In college he usually had the speed and athleticism to make up for those mistakes. In the NFL…? This good looking February scouting profile lauds his “amazing play strength” when lined up in press, excellent mirroring ability, quick hips speed, and above all his instincts. Much less impressive in zone. The NFL.com scouting profile ends in a solid Day 2-ish grade, with particular admiration for his press-man game, and notes that he had struggles when playing in off and zone. TDN’s scouting profile ends in a Round 3-4 grade out of concerns that he would be limited to press coverage schemes. Alex Kozora’s gif-supported Depot scouting report (Round 2 grade) calls him “a good hitter who throws his weight around,” especially in press coverage, but worries that the poor agility tests suggest he might be stiffer than he looks on tape. “Honestly though, I didn’t see a lot of obvious and clear flaws in his tape… Long, good straight-line speed, a little tight, needs to work on his zone and off-man…. Overall, a Cover 2 and press-man system is best for [him].” Yes, Pittsburgh does play that system quite often.
HV 2:24 – CB Kyu Blu Kelly, Stanford (Senior). 6’0”, 191 lbs. with 32” arms and 9¾” hands. Turns 22 in May. Son of CB Brian Kelly, an Interceptor Supreme who won a Super Bowl in 2003 with Tampa Bay when Mike Tomlin was his Defensive Backs Coach. The son is a smooth, sticky, pre ss-man specialist with four years of starting experience and a very professional approach to the game. Good hands and fiercely competitive once the ball is in the air but may be vulnerable to exceptional speed or twitch, both of which are abundant in the NFL. (Jordan Addison won big and ugly in their competition). This goes to the TDN scouting profile, which says he is much better in press than zone or off man. Had a tremendous Senior Bowl week. Tyler Wise’s gif-supported Depot scouting report describes Kelly as a very skilled prospect with good speed and athleticism who prefers press coverage, feels uncomfortable in off, and plays well in zone but with mistakes based on triggering too hard. It ends with a Round 4 grade based on poor play in run support, and those question marks in zone and off-man coverage schemes. This top-quality, Giants-oriented S.I. scouting profile grades him out as a Round 2 talent. Here is a pre-Senior Bowl interview worth reading because of what it shows about his thought process. This February scouting profile ends in a Round 4 grade due to concerns about tackling and possible limitations to man coverage only. This Vikings oriented pre-Senior Bowl scouting profile calls him a solid CB2 to be picked on Day 2. This Bucs-oriented scouting profile agrees that he is a press man specialist with a Round 2 grade, whose tackling needs work.
HV 2:24 – CB Darius Rush, S. Car. (Senior) [Mtg. at Combine]. 6’2”, 198 lbs. with 32⅜” arms and 9½” hands. Turned 23 in February. A WR turned CB who is still learning his new craft, and already looks awfully good. A top 3% athletic profile without any agility testing. Very impressive at the Senior Bowl, where he showed better technique and athleticism than expected, recorded the fastest GPS time by a generous margin (21.6 mph!), and played Steady Eddie ball. The converted WR really understands route concepts and what the offense is trying to do to him. Played across from Cam Smith, this year’s technical wizard at Corner. This goes to a Senior Bowl interview with Jonathan Heitritter, who describes Rush as an energy bringer who also takes pride in his special teams ability. This good looking February scouting profile describes him as a tough, physical, and competitive player who also has some Safety experience, but ends in a Round 5-6 grade based on how new he is to the position, and also some questions about whether he could handle quick NFL receivers. Alex Kozora’s gif-supported Depot scouting report (Round 2 grade) sums him up as an “interesting prospect who is an ‘A’ athlete.”
HV 2:24 – CB DJ Turner, Michigan (Senior). 5’11¼”, 178 lbs. with 30¾” arms and 9⅝” hands. 22, turns 23 in November. Long, smooth, quick, and very, very fast (4.26!), which combined to earn him a top 5% athletic profile. He’s also technically sound. The grade would be a solid half round higher if he had the frame to stick his nose into the run support fan. Showed flashes of real dominance as a pure coverage player, even against all-star WR/QB combinations he faced against Ohio State in both 2021 and 2022. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile is darned close to a rave review, using phrases like “explosive athlete with rare speed and change-of-direction quickness,” “graceful with his mirror and match movements,” and “plenty feisty when challenging throws or hitting receivers after the catch.” The concerns go to whether Turner has the pure size to avoid getting big-boyed in bad matchups, and in run support of course. Tom Mead’s gif-supported Depot scouting report adds some gristle to go with the meat. He argues that Turner does indeed have fringe-1st coverage skills, with multiple techniques and legit ultra-speed but worries about whether Turner’s lack of physicality is only due to his size. Does he also lack some “wanna” when it comes to tackling? And could he survive a decision to start proving that wanna?
HV 2:24 – CB Rejzohn Wright, Oregon St. (RS Senior). 6’2”, 193 lbs. with 32½” arms and 9⅝” hands. Turns 23 in September. Solid in press coverage but needs work in zone and off. Owen Straley’s gif-supported Depot scouting report describes “a unique combination of size, physicality, football IQ, and desire to get involved in the run game,” and “early day 2 upside.” The profile ends in a Round 2 grade that is significantly higher than many other scouting reports. The Sports Illustrated scouting profile (Round 4 grade) sees the same potential, but less realized physicality and prowess in run support. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile should get your antennae buzzing because he heaps special praise on Wright’s ability to mirror, which is usually the stumbling block for men this size.
HV 3:01 – SAF Jordan Battle, Alabama (Senior) [Mtg. at Combine]. 6’1”, 209 lbs. with 32” arms and 8½” hands. Will turn 23 as a rookie. A ball-hawking Safety who can succeed at any task from run support to single-high. Alex Kozora’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends with a strong Round 3 grade based on a very high ceiling offset by uncertainty in his own reads, which can cause both delay in starting and a little hesitation in finishing. The sort of player who’d be SAF1 on a weak defense, and SAF2 on a really good one. This goes to Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile. Combine testing (size and dash only) suggested a top 20% athletic profile.
HV 3:01 – CB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU (Senior). 5’8”, 178 lbs. with 29” arms and 8⅝” hands. Turned 23 in January. Every year there’s one or two CB’s where you say, “This kid would be CB1 if he was only 5 inches taller and 40 pounds bigger.” This year’s entry is THT. Ultra-quick and ultra-aggressive but also extremely undersized. Owen Staley’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends in a Round 3 grade, saying “ [TVHT] could serve as an every-down Nickel in Pittsburgh, capable of playing the run and blitzing on early downs, while providing effective man coverage that the team lacks.” His comp is none other than Mike Hilton.
HV 3:12 – CB Kei’trel Clark, Louisville (Junior). 5’10¼”, 181 lbs. with 29⅝” arms and 8¼” hands. Turns 22 before the draft. A smart, adept, and versatile CB who has moderate size, very good initial burst, moderate long speed, and could be a fine part of the defensive solution if he internalizes the right coaching. Tested as a very good top 20% athlete. Experienced in a variety of coverage schemes. This goes to a Shrine Bowl interview with Owen Straley. Here is Owen’s gif-supported Depot scouting report, which ends in a Round 3 grade. “Having the opportunity to interview him, it was abundantly clear that he was an extremely high-IQ player… [who is] capable of filling the team’s need for an every-down Nickel.” Note that Clark dominated the Shrine Bowl practices enough to earn universal praise. Rumor has it that Pittsburgh “is showing a lot of interest in Clark.”
HV 3:12 – CB Eli Ricks, Alabama by way of LSU (Junior) [Mtg. at Combine]. 6’2”, 188 lbs. with 32⅜” arms and 8⅞” hands. Turns 22 in September. He’s got the size. He’s got the length. He’s got the instincts. He’s got the hands. And he’s got the brains. But the athletic testing is going to be key because at times he has looked a step too slow or a twitch behind. Some of that can be attributed to irregular technique, like rising into his transitions, but we need to confirm how much is/might be physical. He has also battled injuries. A willing but not physical tackler. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile describes him as a press-man CB who is “often a step slow to find top gear when opening to run laterally or vertically, but [] a human blanket against short and intermediate routes without much wiggle to them.” Owen Straley’s gif-supported Depot scouting report deserves a careful read. “Turn on one of Eli Ricks best games and you’ll find yourself wondering why he isn’t being mentioned among the top corners in this year’s class. Turn on his worst game and you’ll find yourself wondering whether he has the coverage skills to survive at the next level.”
HV 3:12 – SAF Jammie (JAY-mee) Robinson, Fla. St. (RS Junior) [Mtg. at Combine]. 5’10⅝”, 191 lbs. with 29⅝” arms and 8¾” hands. Turned 22 in January. Assets: twitch, burst, pop, passion, instincts, tackling, overall athleticism, and versatility inside the box from undersized coverage-ILB out to SS. That’s a lot. But the weaknesses (hands, man coverage, and range) are also there, and he lacks a good bit of size. Late 1st if he was 3-5” taller and 15-25 lbs. heftier but he’s not. This goes to Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile.
HV 3:12 – CB Garrett Williams, Syracuse (RS Junior). 5’10”, 192 lbs. with 31” arms and 9¼” hands. Turns 22 in June. [Significant injury discount for an October ACL] When he has two good knees, Williams is a fringe-1st talent lacking just a bit of polish and discipline in every part of his game. Those add up to enough flaws to get him beat by exceptionally crafty WR/QB combinations, of which there are many in the NFL. So it is a problem. But it’s also a set of issues that can all be fixed with time, hard work, and good coaching. He was at 2:01 until I learned about the ACL, and Owen Straley’s gif-supported Depot scouting report would have moved him up closer to that grade if the Steelers weren’t so historically cautious when it comes to injury flags. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile basically agrees, though he expresses some concern that Williams “is inconsistent playing with his back to the quarterback,” and could stand to have his long speed double checked with a proper dash (which won’t happen because of the ACL).
HV 3:24 – SAF Sydney Brown, Illinois (Senior). 5’9¾”, 213 lbs. with 31½” arms and big 10¼” hands. Turned 23 in March. His twin brother is RB Chase Brown, and I can heartily recommend this wonderful 2022 Sports Illustrated feature about the two. Looked fantastic at the Senior Bowl, showcasing smooth, easy, and effective coverage skills. Elite speed and explosion numbers led to a top 4-5% athletic profile held back only by size. Tackles okay but can be beaten by good size. A good comp might be CJ Gardner-Johnson, a solid but undersized defender who will help your team without being a star. Alex Kozora’s gif-supported Depot scouting report chose the 49ers Ben Hufanga on similar grounds. NOTE: Brown’s highest and best use may be as an ideal, sub-package puzzle piece who can neatly straddle the line between box-Safety and Nickel-CB. That, combined with obvious special-teams value, gives him a very solid floor despite our limited ability to project him as a genuine starter. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile expresses concern about far too many missed tackles.
HV 3:24 – SAF/CB Anthony Johnson Jr., Iowa St. (RS Senior). 6’0”, 205 lbs. with 31¼” arms and 8¾” hands. Turns 24 in December. [Do not confuse with CB Anthony Johnson from Virginia or Safety Antonio Johnson from Texas A&M] Team captain with a hot motor. Played 4 years at Corner, and then converted to Safety. Takes pride in hitting like a truck, but retains the coverage chops to be a Nickel DB. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile implies that he is still a few years away from mastering the upstairs part of this complicated position and may be vulnerable to manipulative QBs and erroneous reads, but he will at least make his mistakes at full speed. Good explosion numbers earned him a top 9-10% athletic profile. The gif-supported Depot scouting report by Tom Mead notes that Johnson has experience playing outside, in the slot, as a box Safety, and as a deep Safety. Versatility galore, and extremely physical.
HV 3:24 – CB Darrell Luter Jr., S. Alabama (Senior). 5’11¾”, 189 lbs. with 32⅜” arms and big 10⅜” hands. Turns 23 years this month. Dominated D-II competition with his length and very good athleticism, but real questions exist about his ability to step up against NFL WR’s. This goes to Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile. Tested fine (78th percentile) at the Combine, with basically average scores highlighted by a fantastic vertical leap and a truly awful short shuttle (though the 3-cone was well above average). Owen Straley’s gif-supported Depot scouting report expresses confidence that “he will be able to contribute in a sub-package capacity as early as his first year in the league” and makes a player comp to Kendall Fuller, who has been a fine pro.
HV 3:24 – CB Terell Smith, Minnesota (Senior) [Mtg. at Combine]. 6’0½”, 204 lbs. with 32⅞” arms and 9” hands. 23, turns 24 in September. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile describes Smith as “an ascending cornerback with an outstanding combination of size, speed and toughness, [with] game film [that] improved from 2021 to 2022, [a good] backpedal, [and] above-average footwork for a cornerback his size.” He’s also described as a reliable and aggressive tackler. In other words, Mr, Traits. Something of a one-year wonder, without the proven hands and statistical production you want. The Sports Illustrated scouting profile (Round 6 grade) loves the size, length, and long speed but detects some COD issues.
HV 3:24 – CB Cory Trice, Purdue (Senior). 6’3⅜”, 206 lbs. with 32⅜” arms and 9¾” hands. Will be a 23-year-old rookie. An athletic press CB with great size, the speed to stay with anyone but true 4.3 guys, and nice physicality/tackling in run support. But how will he deal with NFL athletes who are exceptionally quick or crazy fast? And will his COD skill be clunky enough to limit him to a Cover 3 system? The size and length propelled him to an enormous top 1-2% RAS score, with 4.47 speed to back it up. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile says he “is physical in coverage but lacks the same temperament in run support… [A] decent athlete but lacks ideal fluidity and speed to recover when beaten, so press and zone coverages are where he should live.”
HV 4:01 – CB Mekhi Blackmon, USC (Senior). 5’11”, 178 lbs. with 31” arms and 9¼” hands. Turned 24 in March. He isn’t the biggest guy but neither is he overly small, and he plays a tough, hitting brand of football up to those physical limitations. Good ball skills. Plays with proper CB arrogance, and a broad skillset that lets him back it up, particularly in press man. The sort of player who sometimes gets beat but rarely loses. Good, high CB4 floor, but will be challenged to reach “solid CB2.” There’s a lot of Levi Wallace or William Gay to the better parts of his game. This goes to the TDN scouting profile (Round 3 grade). This scouting profile lists slot coverage against TE’s and big WR’s as a particular area of strength. The SI scouting profile (Round 6 grade) describes him as, “an experienced, savvy, and physical cornerback who knows how to contribute from a variety of roles, but his physical limitations prevent him from contending for a top-100 selection.” Tyler Wise’s gif-supported Depot scouting report (4th Round) admires his man coverage skills and ability to play both in the slot and outside but worries about his “struggles with click-and-close on quick-breaking routes, footwork in off-coverage, and [occasional hesitation] in the run game.”
HV 4:01 – CB Anthony Johnson, Virginia (Senior). 6’2”, 205 lbs. with 32⅝” arms and 8⅝” hands. Turned 24 in January. Team captain. [Do not confuse with SAF Anthony Johnson Jr. from Iowa St. or Safety Antonio Johnson from Texas A&M] Excellent experience with desirable size and length. Alex Kozora’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends in a Round 3 grade, describing Johnson as a feast-or-famine, press-man CB with limited 4.63 speed, but good physicality. Alex suggests that he may even be destined for use as a press-man specialist limited to sub packages. Other reviewers have reached diametrically opposite conclusions, which means this is a prospect who deserves a much closer look. The TDN scouting profile, e.g., sees a prospect with good (not great) speed, COD concerns, and a notably quick click-and-close trigger that would make zone schemes the proper fit. Both worry that he plays a little high and looks a bit tight in the hips, which raises COD concerns and makes off-man coverage the weakest projection. [About that apparent conflict, Alex emphasizes that he focused on what ‘was’ in college. The TDN piece appears to be aimed heavily at what ‘might be.’ This would harmonize the different views and gives us a good bottom line: If Johnson can succeed in press as well in the pros as he did in college, and also develop expertise in zone, you’d have an excellent starter vulnerable only when asked to play an off-man technique. If either of those ‘ifs’ does not come through, he projects as a limited but still useful role player. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile admires the H/W/S assets and overall physicality, but says he lacks hip fluidity. Had a bad enough Combine to make you wonder if something was wrong that day.
HV 4:01 – CB/SAF Jaylon Jones, Texas A&M (Junior). 6’2”, 200 lbs. with 30¾” arms and 9” hands. Turns 21 in early April. A big, physical CB and special teams ace with limitations on his pure agility and straight-line speed. Should have a good shot at building a Safety career if he can’t succeed on the outside. There have been hints of Stone Hands Syndrome, which would no doubt frustrate the fan base. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile sees a big but fluid player with premium size and length, offset by a lack of top end speed, and loose technique that “gives up instant separation at break points.” Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting report sees a stickier, Round 2 talent with enough flaws to drop down into the early 4th. JH sees his early career arc as a “pass deflection machine” who can “challenge receivers routinely as he racks up PBU’s while adding as a run defender and special teamer.”
HV 4:01 – SAF Christopher Smith II, Georgia (Senior). 5’10⅝”, 192 lbs. with 31⅛” arms and 9⅝” hands. Turns 23 in May. Minkah Lite skill set with size and athleticism, concerns that will chase him forever. Smart and savvy, he could go as early as late 2nd to the exact right team but more likely a Round 3-4 guy. Owen Straley’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends in a Round 4 grade, characterizing Smith as someone who ought to have a 10-year career but may be limited to doing so as a sub-package dime backer and spot starter at Safety and Corner, as needed. Hopefully as a special teams ace as well. This goes to Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile.
HV 4:01 – SAF/CB Jay Ward, LSU (Senior). 6’0¾”, 188 lbs. with 32½” arms and small 8¼” hands. Turns 23 in July. A hybrid Nickel DB who stands on the line between slot-CB and undersized, cover-capable Safety. A tough kid who gets high marks for football character. Plays bigger than he is, but can’t always cash the check, and could stand having better strength and tackling technique. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile offers the following summary: “Ward has good size and length for a nickel cornerback, but he lacks a little thickness as a safety. He can be counted on to do his job in run support from the slot and has adequate coverage talent… will make plays when he’s in position to do so but doesn’t have the route anticipation needed for strong on-ball production just yet.” Tom Mead’s gif-supported Depot scouting report (Round 5 grade) admires Ward’s versatility, range, attitude, and effort, but dampens the grade because Ward is far too grabby in man coverage, an inconsistent tackler (not bad, just inconsistent), and has been guilty of several dumb penalties.
HV 4:16 – CB Arquon Bush, Cincinnati (RS Senior). 5’11⅞”, 187 lbs. with 29⅞” arms and 9¼” hands. 22, turns 23 in May. Solid size and footwork but lacks both the speed and the length to survive in press coverage. Very good in off-man and zone, however, where he can be patient and then trigger downhill. Has had trouble with really fast WRs who can eat up his off-man cushion. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile ends in something like a Round 3-4 grade. A DB “with good size and above average footwork and recognition, [who] lacks top-end speed. [P]lays off-man coverage to protect himself, but it allows for far too many catches underneath.” It adds up to a solid zone corner prospect who can handle off-man too but should not be asked to play press. Note that he started his college career as a very successful Slot/Nickel CB.
HV 4:16 – SAF Chamarri Conner, Va. Tech. (Senior). 6’0”, 202 lbs. with 31⅜” arms and 9” hands. Turns 23 in July. A top 5-6% athlete whose natural gifts don’t show as much as they should on film. Has experience in both slot coverage and single high. Good toughness and physicality. 50+ games of college experience with what appears to be a solid football IQ. Okay hands, but not much in the way of stats.
HV 4:16 – CB Mekhi Garner, La. St. (RS Senior). 6’2”, 212 lbs. with 32¼” arms and big 10⅛” hands. Turned 23 in January. Killed the Combine, testing as a top 4% athlete for the position whose only question mark is long speed, which was a good enough 4.55 with a very good 10-yard split. Per Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile: “Garner is a big, long corner with a jarring press. However, he’s missing the footwork, [balance] and body control to phase and match NFL routes that force him to change direction.” Physical enough to play Safety, he tends to win most of the contested-catch situations he faces. Excellent in run support too, at least for a Corner. Will need to get better at tackling if he moves to Safety.
HV 4:16 – CB Riley Moss, Iowa (Senior) [Mtg. at Dinner, Brass at Pro Day]. 6’0⅝”, 193 lbs. with 30” arms and 9½” hands. Turned 23 in March. A genuine ball hawk who challenges receivers but doesn’t deal well with double moves in man coverage. A better fit for a zone heavy team, which isn’t what Pittsburgh now does. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile compares his skill set to Ross Cockrell. The Combine testing showed him to be a top 2%(!) athlete but without the agility drills that we’d most want to see. Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting report (Round 4 grade) also sees him fitting best in a zone heavy defense with occasional off-man duties and predicts that he will start his career as a backup CB and special-teams ace.
HV 4:16 – SAF/CB Keidron “Keibo” Smith, Kentucky via Ole Miss (RS Senior) [Mtg. before Senior Bowl]. 6’1⅝”, 203 lbs. with 32⅜” arms and 9½” hands. Turns 24 in November. Experience across the secondary, from SS through FS and as both a boundary and a slot CB. The question marks went to whether he has the pure athleticism to compete against NFL athletes, but his impressive performance at the Senior Bowl put a lot of that to rest. A first order Combine snub.
HV 5:01 – CB/SAF Jakorian Bennett, Maryland (Senior). 5’10⅝”, 188 lbs. with 31⅞” arms and 9⅛” hands. Turns 23 in August. A physical presence and willing tackler, the issues come up in limited COD, which tends to make him extra grabby. Tested as a superb top 4% athlete with 4.3 speed, which was much better than expected. Also has experience as a Nickel DB and Safety with signs of a high football IQ. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile identifies several inconsistencies in his technique, including lack of “the needed anticipation and discipline to stay connected to NFL route runners.”
HV 5:16 – CB Alex Austin, Oregon St. (RS Soph). 6’1”, 195 lbs. with 31⅞” arms and small 8½” hands. Turns 23 in May. Good size and a well-balanced skill set profile him as a fine, developmental Corner. OTOH, each of those areas is just a bit shy of what you want. So are the physical assets, which means he faces a lot of work to make any team before Year 2. Owen Straley’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends with a Round 5 grade on the expectation that Austin’s “fearless tackling” and special teams upside should help him earn a roster spot while he tries to solve his shortcomings as a position player.
HV 5:16 – CB Nic Jones, Ball St. (Senior). 6’0”, 189 lbs. with 32⅜” arms and 10” hands. Turns 22 in October. A well-rounded player with the playmaker gene, but technically raw and in need of at least one redshirt year to bring himself up to a minimum NFL standard.
HV 5:16 – SAF Kaevon Merriweather, Iowa (RS Senior) [Brass at Pro Day]. 6’0”, 205 lbs. with 31⅞” arms and 9¼” hands. Turns 24 in December. A high character, try hard player with NFL size, but a lack of pure speed and some hesitation in his decision making. Allowed only an 11% passer rating in the plays he was targeted so I guess his coverage skills hold up. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile grades him as a potential backup. That is consistent with his basically average RAS score (with no agility tests).
HV 6:16 – SAF Daniel Scott, California (RS Senior). [Mtg. at Visit] 6’0⅞”, 208 lbs. with 30¼” arms and 10” hands. Turns 25 in October. Team captain. Compiled a tremendous top 1-2% athletic profile at the Combine. As Lance Zierlein says in the NFL.com scouting profile, “his age could hurt his chances with some teams, but his athleticism and four-phase special teams background will help him with others.” Here is an interview he did with Alex Kozora during the Combine.


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