2018 Draft: Pre-Combine, Top 10 Cornerbacks

My thoughts on the Raiders’ team needs, ranked, can be found below:

Oakland’s secondary was historically awful during stretches of 2017. You don’t play that bad, for that long, and point the finger at just one person. Yes, this is the cornerback piece and yes, the cornerback-play was especially bad, but there are several factors at work here:

Reggie Nelson is getting older.

David Amerson never lived up to his new money, and has already been cut.

Sean Smith, who I imagine already has one foot out the door, found himself in a back-up role for a majority of the season before oddly “coming on strong” in the end. He’s an obvious cut candidate.

Karl Joseph appeared healthy, but may have been out of position in the box? I think we need to see him in Nelson’s spot before writing him off completely. I still have faith in Joseph’s impact, although the early returns haven’t been there.

Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu, the first and second round selections in 2017 respectively, never saw meaningful snaps due to injuries.

I don’t have cornerback as the top need like I did last year, but if you’re penciling in another one early, you’re certainly not wrong.

Sean Smith and David Amerson should’ve been replaced last year. Y’all know how I felt about that. With Gareon Conley (hopefully) at 100% entering the season, it makes complete sense to throw another early-round selection at the spot opposite the former-Buckeye.

While there are legitimate questions about Reggie McKenzie’s ability to evaluate the cornerback position, Oakland doesn’t have much of a choice but to keep investing (early and/or often).

This 2018 class won’t grade out like 2017, but there are still some names to circle and decent depth throughout:

1) Isaiah Oliver, Colorado

Another highly-touted, ultra-athletic defensive back from Colorado? They low-key had some player’s stockedpiled out in Boulder, huh?

Oliver’s a size/speed specimen. He’ll be a high pick, and may go higher than many think off his build alone; Combine should solidify all that. Oh, also has #bloodlines, according to Lance Zierlein – checking boxes.

2) Denzel Ward, Ohio State

Ohio State will have another first-round cornerback this year, but he’s not quite the same level of talent as either of last year’s Day 1 picks. Still, the athleticism is obvious and his hips/feet might be some of the best that this group has to offer. He’s just really fluid, and that’ll translate. Expecting big things in Indianapolis.

3) Jaire Alexander, Louisville

Biggest question mark for Jaire Alexander is probably his overall health, having missed chunks of time recently with various injuries.

Additionally, a “smaller” corner by the league’s standards, but you love the way he carries himself on the field. Has that “swagger” you want all your defensive backs to have. Despite the size, brings toughness every snap; aggressive and in-your-face. Makes plenty of plays on the ball, but also gives up (what feels like) just as many big plays. Reminds me of Asante Samuel in that regard.

4) Carlton Davis, Auburn

Another size/speed/length player. The flashes are there; he’s a press wizard. There are some lapses, so my only knock, as I continue to work through games, is just general consistency. At his peak, he might be the best cornerback in this class.

5) Mike Hughes, Central Florida

Initially enrolled at North Carolina, where he saw limited playing time in 2015. Went the JUCO route in 2016 (after moving on from the Tar Heels post-suspension), before getting the call from Scott Frost in 2017.

He touched down at Central Florida and his impact was immediate. Wish he was a little more seasoned at this point, but it’s hard to leave him out of the top five just given what we’ve seen on the field more recently, and projecting what his ceiling could look like. Another tough, physical player.

He can do this, too:


6) Quenton Meeks, Stanford

It’s probably cliché (and may seem narrative-driven, given his alma mater), but the Stanford corner’s football intellect is apparent. Team’s obviously covet that, and that’s before really even getting to his tape on the field where he’s fluid in both press-man, and can play a bit in zone.

He’s long, physical, and a player who I think will put up the prerequisite numbers at the Combine. Stanford lists him at 6’2″, 195, so I’ll be interested to see where he checks-in at once in Indianapolis.

7) M.J. Stewart, North Carolina

Another “gritty” corner, a la Mike Hughes. This class definitely has some toughness about it. I mocked him to Oakland in the third round (will he be there come April?), and talked a bit about him here.

8) Joshua Jackson, Iowa

No one can take away his 2017 season. He was the premiere ball-hawk in the country. I do think the questions about his long-term ability are real, however.

While the ball-skills are there, and the instincts that led to those turnovers provide a good base, I’m just not sure how sticky he is. I’ve seen him struggle at the line at times, and I worry about what NFL wide receivers (route-runners) will do to him. I think he’ll go “high” based on his 2017 production, but I wouldn’t feel good about him seeing the field early.

9) Holton Hill, Texas

Tape was coming together for Hill, but we had to revisit the maturity questions again in 2017. I won’t claim to know anything other than what’s been reported, but hard to argue with Lance Zierlein and other’s who all expect his draft stock to take a hit. Talent says Day 2, but the off-field has him slipping further. Combine and the interview process will be critical, as such. School website lists him at 6’3″, 200, so you know teams will be intrigued and do their homework given his measurables alone.

10) Kameron Kelly, San Diego State

More of a projection here, but with the proper coaching (and a good bit of patience), I like Kelly’s prospects.

Converted safety who moved to cornerback full-time. Obviously the versatility is a plus but again, he’s a bit raw in many aspects. Size stands out, making the permanent move to corner all that more attractive. Played wideout in high school, per Zeirlein’s report.

Catch me on Twitter: @StillRyanFive