Every year there are talented players who are drafted in the first round who don’t ever pan out. Why is that? Well for some it’s due to lack of effort, a misjudge of talent by the front office, or off the field issues. But often a player is labeled a bust through what may be no fault of his own. Players’ skill sets can be misused, as teams try to fit a square peg into a round hole. A great example of this is Nnamdi Asomugha who exceled in Cover 3 staying on his side of the field. He signed as a free agent and was asked to play man coverage and track the other team’s receiver across the field; his skill set didn’t match with the task at hand so he failed to succeed.
Understanding how to use a prospect and what his best fit is can be the difference between a failed draft pick and a superstar player. Last year the Cowboys drafted Ezekiel Elliott and while he is a great player, fitting him perfectly in an offensive scheme running behind a first-rate offensive line allowed him to reach his true ceiling.
This year’s corner class is loaded with talent. There are man and zone corners, press corners, and players with great ball skills. Many may be able to succeed in multiple coverage schemes, but matching a corner with a scheme can be the difference between a good and great player. You see the Patriots do this with great success year in and year out. Play to a player’s strengths and you get the best out of him, ask him to get away from his strengths and you can leave a player exposed. All the top corners in this draft have an ability to be shutdown corners, but which team drafts them will play a key role in determining which ones have the best careers.
Marshon Lattimore, CB Ohio State
Perfect Fit: Tennessee Titans
When you throw on the tape of Lattimore you see a physical press corner who uses his hands well and has elite closing speed. Lattimore is a quick twitch athlete with fluid hips, and he can get in and out of his breaks very well. If he does get beat, he has the speed and lateral quickness to recover. Lattimore shows excellent ball skills, both in making interceptions, and knocking the ball away from receivers. Lattimore can be left alone on an island and hold his own at the next level. He is also physical at the point of attack and understands his gap assignments, while attacking and form-tackling ball carriers.
The Titans run an aggressive scheme where they mix man coverage with zone coverage. They played a majority of man coverage and likely played more zone trying to hid their weaknesses in the secondary. The Titans are not gun shy and look to blitz, which becomes much easier when you have a lock down man corner on the outside. With Lattimore’s speed, he can ensure that he won’t get beat over the top. When the Titans run their coveted Cover 1 scheme they could give safety help to the other corners and take advantage of Lattimore’s ability to be left on an Island.
The Titans ranked 18th in the NFL in interceptions, and Lattimore’s ability to break on the ball and provide interceptions (he had 4 interceptions in 2016 for Ohio State) would also provide a big boost.
Teez Tabor, CB Florida
Perfect Fit: New York Jets
Tabor is an impressive athlete with an incredibly high ceiling. His technique needs improvement, but he has good speed on tape and fluid hips, with an great ability change of direction. He is most comfortable playing off the ball to keep plays in front of him, using his closing speed and anticipation to make a play on the ball. He needs to improve his tackling form and gap command, so he can be a liability in the run game. The greatest strength he brings to a team is his ball skills.
Per Pro Football Focus’ Steve Palazzolo, Tabor has “recorded either an interception or a pass breakup on 26.5 percent of his targets.” The New York Jets were dead last in pass break ups in the league last year, and second to last in interceptions. The Jets play a majority of Cover 1 and Cover 3 defenses allowing the defenders to play off the ball. Tabor would bring his ball skills and playmaking ability to a team in desperate need of it.
With his ability to play off the ball, a role in which Tabor thrives in, he would have a Marcus Peters-like impact for the Jets. The Jets’ strong run defense would make his weakness in this area less of an issue.
Sidney Jones, CB Washington
Perfect Fit: Carolina Panthers
Sidney Jones has top end speed combined with elite acceleration. He is best facing the quarterback and reading his eyes, while still being able to track his zone responsibilities in the Cover 3. Jones shows the ability to play off his man or press in zone coverage, and he does an excellent job funneling his receiver into his teammates in their zone responsibilities. Jones has excellent gap control and is an asset in stopping the run. Jones keeps everything in front of him when he plays zone, and he didn’t allow a single touchdown in 2016. He shows great timing with his blitzes and can blow up a play in the backfield.
In Carolina, the Panthers’ once elite defense missed Josh Norman in 2016. In 2015 the Panthers were second in the NFL in passes defensed with 106, and but dropped to 15th best with 85 in his absence. Jones could replace Norman as a true shutdown zone corner. The Panthers run a majority of Cover 3 and Cover 4 defense schemes, which is perfect for Jones as this is what he excels at. With the Panthers, Jones could be one of the top zone corners in the league, providing both big plays and taking away outside receivers in his zone. His addition would also strengthen both corner positions; while Bradberry had a good rookie campaign he is best suited for cornerback two duties.
The Panthers would be able to wait for Jones to recover from his injury, and he would help them try to make a playoff push in the second half of the season.
Gareon Conley, CB Ohio State
Perfect Fit: Arizona Cardinals
They say tape never lies, so if that is the case Conley is a damn good football player. He has good speed, with fluid hips and shows a great ability to change direction. He can recover when he is beat, though it’s rare that he is. He is very comfortable playing press man coverage or off man coverage and moves around playing both sides of the field and going into the slot. Conley doesn’t have the best ball skills, but what he does excel at is creating a tight window for quarterbacks to try to throw the ball into. Conley is an NFL-ready corner who can make an immediate impact by taking away a team’s second best receiver while developing into a shutdown corner with his technique and football IQ.
No team relies on man coverage more than the Cardinals, so this would provide an easy transition for Conley and his skillset. The Arizona Cardinals have one of the League’s most talented teams even if they didn’t produce a lot of wins in 2016. The Defense has elite secondary play with Patrick Peterson and Ty Mathieu, two of the best secondary players in the NFL. However, the Cardinals defense struggled was when quarterbacks targeted receivers away from Peterson, as they had no answer for any number two receivers they played this year.
Conley would step in and be able to man up versus the second option anywhere on the field while Peterson shadowed the top option.