PewterReport.com analyzes the top players in the 2021 NFL Draft with its’ position previews. Jon Ledyard previews the cornerback position with a comprehensive look at what the Bucs have and what they need in the secondary, while also providing a detailed list of this year’s top cornerbacks. In addition, Scott Reynolds offers up the team needs and the annual PewterReport.com Bucs’ Best Bets – the most likely cornerback for the Bucs to select in Rounds 1-3, and in Rounds 4-7.
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What The Bucs Have At Cornerback
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The Bucs’ top four cornerbacks for the 2021 season appear to be set, on paper at least. Carlton Davis III will enter a contract year looking to build on a breakout 2020 campaign. Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean will try to find consistency in their play after impressing down the stretch.
Bucs CBs Carlton Davis III and Ross Cockrell – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Veteran Ross Cockrell, who was a clutch in-season signing for the Bucs last year, returns on a two-year deal to man the No. 4 cornerback role. Practice-squader Herb Miller had a cup of coffee on the active roster last season, intercepting a pass against Detroit.
What The Bucs Need At Cornerback
The Bucs don’t really need a corner for the 2021 season, but there are a lot of question marks beyond this year. Davis will be a free agent looking for a big pay day next offseason. And we’re still wondering what Murphy-Bunting and Dean are going to become in the NFL.
It’s a very good draft for cornerbacks, a position of vital importance in today’s NFL. The Bucs might want to come away with one of the many quality cornerbacks in the first two rounds of the draft would be a priority. Georgia’s Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell would be great fits early on.
Slowly but surely Horn has drawn comparisons to Jalen Ramsey, which I certainly understand from watching his tape. Horn might not be the elite playmaker Ramsey is, but he’s certainly as aggressive in press-man coverage. We probably won’t see a cornerback as physical and as good as Horn from a press alignment for a long time. It’s important that Horn is slotted into the right scheme, but in a press-man heavy defense, he could be a star in the NFL.
Surtain is probably one of the safer prospects in the draft, as there really isn’t anything he does poorly based on his college tape. He’s technical, smart, physical, can play in any scheme and has tons of experience after starting from his freshman year. Few college cornerbacks will ever be more battle-tested either, as Surtain has consistently squared off with the best receivers in college football for three straight years.
Perhaps the only downside with Surtain is that for a cornerback with his size, smarts, athleticism, speed, work ethic and pedigree as a 3-year starter at Alabama, you would have expected a lot more splash plays and big moments on tape. Surtain reminds me a lot of the Dolphins’ Byron Jones. Both guys will have very good careers, but might never be considered top-tier players at their position. It would be a shock to see Surtain turn out to be a disappointment, however.
Northwestern CB Greg Newsome II – Photo by: USA Today
The way I see it, there are three concerns with Newsome: he really only played at a first round level during his six games in 2020, he’s had nagging injury concerns during all three of his college seasons and he can get a little grabby down the field at times. But Newsome might be the most scheme versatile cornerback in the class, with the length, transitions and speed to play in press man, and the instincts and burst to play in zone. Newsome is a willing tackler and a tough competitor despite his wiry frame. He’d be a great pick for the Bucs if he somehow lasts to No. 32.
Even if Farley didn’t have back injury concerns entering the draft, there would still be wrinkles in his game to iron out. Farley is technically behind where the top three cornerbacks in the class are, but he’s athletically comparable with all of them, at least based on his tape. We never got to see Farley work out because his back prevented him from doing so after sitting out the 2020 season.
Still, Farley is big, long, fast and has flashed game-changing ball skills during his breakout 2019 season. If he can get more opportunities in a press man scheme, I think that may be better for Farley than Virginia Tech’s zone heavy defense was in college. If he falls to Tampa Bay and the injuries aren’t a concern, it would be hard to argue with the pick.
The best thing about Stokes game is his acceleration, size and speed, which come in very handy when defending vertical balls. His ability to box receivers to the boundary and stay in phase down the field will prevent big play attempts in the passing game and discourage a lot of 50-50 balls. When those contested catch situations do arise, Stokes does a good job of playing through the hands and finishing reps, even if his ball production isn’t overly impressive. The redshirt junior’s four interceptions this year, the first four picks of his career, were more luck than skill.
Georgia CB Eric Stokes – Photo courtesy of Georgia
What Stokes struggles with is anything that tests his change-of-direction or ability to stop-start. Receivers who took him vertical only to break off into a post pattern or comeback left Stokes reeling to recover his balance and stay in phase. The separation he gave up was startling at times. If he can remain more under control and begin to sense when patterns will break, Stokes lack of fluidity will be less noticeable in press man. Corners his size that can run like he does will always get drafted high, but Stokes will have to become more polished to overcome his struggles to mirror quicker route runners.
What Stokes lacks in the ability to throttle down, change directions and turn with receivers, Campbell has in droves. His tape is filled with reps showing his impressive anticipation and feel for when routes will break, and ability to mirror receivers as they alter course. Campbell has outstanding speed and acceleration as well, which puts him in good position on vertical routes, although that didn’t discourage throws his way as much as it did for Stokes.
That’s where Campbell really struggles. When the ball is in the air, he has consistently failed to deliver at Georgia. He gave up a pair of touchdowns against Florida despite great positioning, even putting his arm in the catching window on the second throw. Sometimes there really is no defense for a great throw and catch, but Campbell needs to show more confidence at finding the ball and making plays. He surrenders too many contested grabs for a cornerback with his measurables. Devonta Smith is 166 pounds and consistently finished against Campbell at the catch point. Can’t happen, and penalties could mount if Campbell starts to panic down the field.
Where Campbell has a clear edge over Stokes is in his run defense and tackling. Both corners will tackle, but Campbell hits and takes on blockers with an attitude, while Stokes would rather let others do the dirty work in the run game. There is a lot to like about Campbell, and we’ve seen corners with worrisome ball skills (Carlton Davis, Marlon Humphrey) get much better in the NFL. The junior just turned 21 and has 4.36 and 32-inch arms. Stokes and Campbell being on the Bucs radar with their length, speed and upside. They’ve drafted a lot of SEC DBs under Jason Licht, and the measurables for these two match up with Tampa Bay’s prototype.
7. Florida State CB Asante Samuel Jr. – Junior – 5-10, 180, 4.38
It’s easy to like Samuel Jr., as he has no real flaws other than his size and strength, and can play in any defensive scheme. He’s smart, competitive, athletic and makes plays on the ball despite his size. That should lock Samuel into a top 3 cornerback spot on a team for the rest of his career, with the ability to play inside or outside. Physically, there will be concerns about him in a press-man scheme despite his experience in the role. I think Samuel probably is what he is, a good player that may not have the ceiling to be great in the NFL. He’s probably a second or early third round pick, but it would be unlikely to see him end up on the Bucs with their preference for bigger corners.
It’s a draft full of big cornerbacks, but even amidst this group Melifonwu stands out. He’s a physical specimen who can run 4.4 and jumped 42 inches at his pro day. That’ll generate a lot of interest from NFL teams, especially when your best two games of the year come against Trevor Lawrence and Sam Howell. Melifonwu locked up UNC WR Dyami Brown this past season, and was a consistent presence with ten pass breakups and a pick.
Where Melifonwu may lose some suitors is due to the scheme at Syracuse, where he wasn’t asked to play in press as often as you’d assume for a 205-pound corner with over 32-inch arms. Melifonwu fared fine when he was pressing, but Syracuse played a lot of zone, and Melifonwu was most impressive reading-and-reacting to the 3-5 step game from receivers in an off coverage alignment. He’s a solid tackler and plenty physical coming downhill, which makes him an easy fit on the outside for a zone defense at the next level. If the Bucs are looking seriously at CB, Melifonwu should be on their radar at No. 64.
Robinson is a unique evaluation, as he has decent size and good athleticism for the position, yet played almost entirely in the slot at Central Florida. He’s frustratingly inconsistent with his technique and discipline in coverage, but his aggressive play style makes him a standout when he can read-and-react in off coverage. Robinson will mix it up in the box and is one of the better run-defending/tackling cornerbacks in the class, making him an ideal fit for the slot in the NFL.
Off-field character, work ethic and coachability concerns exist with Joseph per The Athletic’s Dane Brugler’s draft guide, but there is no denying his talent if those things can be fixed. Declaring as a redshirt sophomore, Joseph transferred after being suspended for the Fiesta Bowl during his freshman year at LSU in 2018, sitting out the 2019 season due to transfer rules before bursting back onto the scene in 2020. Joseph’s play varies greatly from game-to-game and even snap-to-snap, but if a team believes in their ability to develop him, they could take a massive risk on his raw talent.
Molden is one of the draft’s more enjoyable watches on tape, as his instincts and mental processing are some of the best in the class. Five interceptions and 19 pass breakups over the past two seasons (17 games) are strong indicators that Molden has the outlier traits to stick in the NFL despite poor testing and minimal physical traits. Still, 5-9 1/2, 192 pounds with 29 1/2-inch arms is a tough sell for a cornerback who ran a 4.60 pro day 40.
Fortunately for Molden he’s already well-versed as a slot corner, spending his entire Washington career there. He’ll likely spend his entire career there after his slow 40 times. Several people have mocked Molden to Tampa Bay in recent weeks, but outside of the fact that he’s from Washington and has reputable football character, the fit would make little sense given Licht’s recent prototypes at the position.
Adebo’s whole game is feast or famine, and it has been for years now. His eight interceptions and high-point plays on the ball really pop on tape, but unfortunately so does the consistent stream of big plays allowed over the 2019 and 2018 seasons. Adebo could have boosted his stock with a great 2020 season, but COVID concerns pushed him to opt out. Few cornerbacks offer a wider range of outcomes on a given play, as Adebo’s focus and attention to detail seem to be all over the map. His pro day workout was fantastic and NFL teams love ball skills, so someone will take a shot in the top 100 despite the seesaw film.
Best Of The Rest
13. Central Arkansas CB Robert Rochell – RS Senior – 6-0, 193, 4.39