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2016 NFL Draft: Finding Playmaking Cornerbacks In This Year's Draft Class

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Given the current state of the position on their roster, the Cowboys will almost certainly draft a cornerback this year, and perhaps multiple corners. Since this is a deep and varied CB class, it begs the question: who might be good candidates to be these much-needed additions?

Jalen Ramsey will be one of the top guys on the Cowboys draft board.
Jalen Ramsey will be one of the top guys on the Cowboys draft board.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

When you look at the stat sheet for a cornerback, what is it that you want to see?

If you're the Cowboys, you'll probably want a guy with a proven history of creating turnovers, either as a ballhawk getting interceptions or as a hard hitter forcing fumbles. You'd also want a guy regularly making plays on the ball, so you'd be looking for pass breakups on the stat sheet. You'd like your guy to be physical and not afraid to go after a runner, so you're going to want to see a decent number of tackles on his stat sheet. And you'd like your guy to have the quickness to get after the quarterback if asked to while also possessing the ability to tackle soundly if a running back gets the ball on a draw play, so you're looking for the occasional TFL, sack, or QB hurry on the stat sheet, even if your guy is never going to be mistaken for a pass rusher.

If you put all of that together, and have a guy that ticks all the boxes, odds are you have yourself a playmaking cornerback.

Over the last few years, we've used a metric called Production Ratio to assess which defensive line draft prospects could be potential playmakers in the NFL (most recently for the 2016 Defensive Tackles and the 2016 Defensive Ends) and used a similar metric called Production Points for off-the-line defenders (see the 2016 Linebackers). The metric is actually pretty straightforward, as it looks at the available defensive stats and weights them with a point system as follows:

Production Points scoring system
Stat Points
Tackle 1
Tackle For Loss 3
QB Hurries 3
Pass Breakup 3
Sack 6
Forced Fumble
6
Interception 9

The metric is pretty simple; after tallying all the points for a given player, one simply divides the total by the number of college games played. A proviso: I'm only going to include the numbers from each player's last two college seasons. Thus four-year starters, JUCO transfers and late bloomers all share a relatively level playing field.

A couple of important notes: First, fumble recoveries are not included, as those are about as random a stat as there is. Also not included are defensive scores, as they are largely dependent on field position and have a large degree of randomness as well. Second, there is a significant amount of double-counting within these college stats. Officially, a sack for example also counts as a tackle for loss as well as a regular tackle. In the tables further down, I'll list the full college stats of each player, but I'll eliminate the double counting from the Production Points metric.

To kick things off, and to get a feel for the metric, let's look at the Production Points for the top corners (as measured by Approximate Value) from the 2011-2014 draft classes.


NFL College Production Production
Points
Round (Pick) Player Team POS Approx. Val. Tkl TFL QBH SACK PBU FF INT Games
Class of 2014
4 (102) Bashaud Breeland WAS CB 12 89 7.5 1 3 13 2 4 23 8.8
1 (14) Kyle Fuller CHI CB 11 76 5.0 1 - - 15 2 4 23 7.9
1 (25) Jason Verrett SD CB 10 102 8.5 1 1 30 1 8 24 12.2
Class of 2013
1 (22) Desmond Trufant
ATL
CB
19
100 5
0 1.5
22
3
3
25 9.0
3 (69)
Tyrann Matthieu
ARI CB
16 133 16 4 6.0 16 11 4 26 13.3
Class of 2012
2 (39) Janoris Jenkins
STL
CB
25
82
8.5
1
1.0
14
1
5
26 7.6
5 (143) Josh Norman CAR CB 23 118 5.0 1 - -
21 3 3 23 10.4
1 (10) Stephon Gilmore BUF
CB
19
125
9.0
5
4.0
9
2
7
27
10.1
Class of 2011
5 (154) Richard Sherman
SEA
CB
66
112 1.0
- -
- -
17 2
6
26 8.9
1 (5) Patrick Peterson AZ
CB
63
94
1.5 1
- -
19 0
6
26 8.1

As measured by Approximate Value, the ten players above are the top cornerbacks in their respective draft classes. Going by their Production Points and the data we've gathered over the years, it seems that a score of around 8.5 is average, a score above 10.0 suggests very high college productivity, thus possibly foreshadowing future NFL success, and anything above 12.0 is exceptional.

The Cowboys have drafted a corner in each of the last four years. In case you are wondering, these are their Production Points:

2012: Morris Caliborne (9.0)
2013: B.W. Webb (6.7)
2014: Terrance Mitchell (7.5)
2015: Byron Jones: (8.9)

Let's compare those numbers to this year's draft class. The next table features 33 corners, all with a draftable grade according to the CBSSports big board and sorted by their rank on the same board from February 12. The table is sortable so you can see who ranks where for each category (just click on the blue column headers):

Production Points for Cornerbacks in 2016 NFL Draft
Rank Player School HT
WT Proj. Rd TKL
TFL QBH
SACK
PBU
INT
FF
Games PP/G
3 Jalen Ramsey Florida State 6-1 202 1 132 13.0 2 4.0 22 2 3 27 10.3
14 Vernon Hargreaves III* Florida 5-11 199 1 83 3.0 0 0.0 17 7 1 25 8.4
11 Mackensie Alexander* Clemson 5-10 195 1 44 4.0 0 0.0 11 0 0 27 3.1
32 Eli Apple* Ohio State 6-1 200 1-2 86 7.5 0 0.0 18 4 1 28 7.0
63 William Jackson III Houston 6-1 195 2 80 3.0 0 0.0 33 7 1 26 9.8
45 Kendall Fuller* Virginia Tech 6-0 197 2 61 5.5 0 3.0 16 2 1 16 9.6
56 Jalen Mills LSU 6-0 194 2 92 4.0 2 1.0 8 1 0 20 7.1
77 Will Redmond Mississippi State 5-11 186 2-3 76 3.0 3 0.0 6 5 0 19 8.1
69 Artie Burns* Miami (Fla.) 6-0 193 2-3 76 2.5 1 2.0 11 6 0 26 6.8
89 Sean Davis Maryland 6-1 201 3 203 9.5 0 2.0 11 3 6 25 13.0
99 Zack Sanchez* Oklahoma 5-11 180 3 88 4.5 1 0.5 15 13 0 24 11.0
87 Xavien Howard* Baylor 6-1 200 3 93 5.5 2 1.5 23 9 0 26 10.2
95 Harlan Miller SE Louisiana 6-0 182 3 70 6.0 0 0.0 19 7 0 22 9.2
118 Maurice Canady Virginia 6-1 191 3-4 76 4.5 0 0.0 18 3 2 24 7.4
132 Deiondre' Hall Northern Iowa 6-2 192 4 155 9.0 0 0.0 10 11 3 28 11.4
122 D.J. White Georgia Tech 5-11 189 4 107 2.5 1 0.0 16 6 2 25 9.2
129 Eric Murray Minnesota 5-11 198 4 135 6.0 0 1.0 14 2 3 26 8.8
136 Cyrus Jones Alabama 5-10 196 4 81 6.0 0 0.0 20 5 4 29 7.7
141 Kevin Peterson Oklahoma State 5-11 173 4-5 101 6.0 0 0.0 17 3 0 25 7.6
154 Rashard Robinson* LSU 6-2 182 4-5 33 1.5 0 0.0 4 1 0 20 2.9
161 Jonathan Jones Auburn 5-9 178 5 105 2.5 0 0.0 25 7 2 26 10.0
159 Morgan Burns Kansas State 5-11 195 5 93 4.0 0 1.0 17 4 1 24 8.2
166 James Bradberry Samford 6-1 209 5 51 3.0 1 0.0 14 4 0 24 5.8
178 Briean Boddy-Calhoun Minnesota 5-9 189 5-6 99 3.5 0 0.5 15 9 2 24 10.2
185 Tavon Young Temple 5-9 180 5-6 64 5.0 0 1.0 16 4 0 26 6.2
192 Kevon Seymour Southern California 6-0 185 5-6 73 2.0 0 0.0 13 2 0 24 5.6
202 Donte Deayon Boise State 5-9 155 6 84 5.0 0 1.0 16 10 2 22 11.2
206 Daryl Worley* West Virginia 6-1 198 6 101 6.5 1 0.0 16 9 2 23 11.2
233 Cre'von LeBlanc Florida Atlantic 5-10 192 6-7 114 1.5 0 0.0 17 6 0 24 9.3
224 KeiVarae Russell* Notre Dame 5-11 196 6-7 111 5.0 1 1.0 12 3 2 24 8.4
248 LeShaun Sims Southern Utah 6-0 201 7 121 2.5 0 0.0 19 2 1 24 8.6
253 Bennett Okotcha Texas-San Antonio 6-0 195 7 70 0.0 0 0.0 19 5 1 24 7.4
239 Juston Burris NC State 6-0 213 7 67 4.0 1 0.0 12 2 1 26 5.3

A few thoughts after digesting all this information:

Beware of looking at stats in isolation. Every team is hoping to draft the next Richard Sherman or Josh Norman on the third day of the draft. If any team, including the Seahawks and Panthers, knew how to do that with any type of regularity, they'd do it every year. But they're not, so they have no clue how get the next Sherman or Norman. Nobody does.

If you sort the table above by Production Points, you'll see a few late-round prospects with very high Production Points, and you might be inclined to think that they'll be better corners in the NFL than some of the higher-ranked prospects. But that's very unlikely.

What Production Points don't show (like any other volume stat) is the potential of a player. And that's where tape study comes in: how good is the player's technique, does he play with intelligence, can he diagnose plays quickly, how loose are his hips, what does his foot work look like etc. Production Points don't include the results of that tape study, but the table above includes a proxy for that: the player rankings on the CBS big board.

The table also includes the name of the college a player is from, thus giving us the opportunity to go looking for the scout's trifecta: a big-conference resume (suggesting premium competition), a top-100 ranking (suggesting good tape), and double-digit production.

The Scout's Trifecta:

Nine players in the table above have 10 or more Production Points. All but one (Deiondré Hall from Northern Iowa) are from FBS colleges. Four of those players are ranked in the top 100, suggesting good tape. That completes the Trifecta, but we'll add one more Cowboys-specific indicator: the Cowboys like their CB archetype to be 6'0"+ with long arms. And that leaves us with three prospects that should find themselves high on the Cowboys board for the draft.

3 - Jalen Ramsey, CB/S, Florida State, 6-1, 202 - 10.3 points
87 - Xavien Howard, Baylor, 6-1, 200 - 10.2 points
89 - Sean Davis, CB/S, Maryland, 6-1, 201, 13.0 points

All three prospects fit the hybrid corner/safety prospect the Cowboys had success with when they drafted Byron Jones. All three give the Cowboys a coveted "plus" corner and are remarkably similar in terms of size and weight.

We can now successively relax the trifecta criteria to include more prospects.

  • Deiondré Hall may not have gone to one of the big-name schools but ticks all the other boxes and was the 2015 Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Year after forcing nine turnovers in his senior season (six interceptions, three forced fumbles).
  • Daryl Worley (not the country music guy) posted nine interceptions and 16 pass breakups in the last two seasons in the Big 12. He has the size, the ball skills, and the big-school pedigree, but has some off-field red flags: he was arrested and pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor assault charge, was briefly suspend by his team for it in 2014, and missed the 2015 Bowl game for academic reasons.
  • Houston's William Jackson (9.8 PPts) and Virginia Tech's Kendall Fuller (9.6 PPts) miss double-digit Production points by the slimmest of margins, but otherwise meet all the trifecta criteria and are tall guys at 6-1 and 6-0 respectively.
  • We have two more small-school prospects (Cre'von Leblanc and LeShaun Sims) with above average Production Points and above average height to consider, perhaps one of them might be worth using one of the comp picks in the sixth round on, but they are long shots.

Below average production:

The 33 prospects examined here have an average Production Points value of 8.4. There are a number of plus-sized, highly ranked prospects left below that cut-off point, and all of them might be viable candidates, but teams need to understand why they delivered below-average production for two years in college. There may be perfectly valid reasons for that, a specific scheme, the quality of opponents, the other players on the team etc.

One could even argue that their low scores suggest that they weren't targeted much or that their schemes didn't ask them to tackle or play near the line. All possible, but in the end, they simply weren't very productive. And if ever there was a team in need of productive defensive backs, it's the Cowboys.

Of course, nobody today is complaining about Richard Sherman's or Patrick Peterson's college production score, so there's that too.

Production Points are just one of many ways of looking at the data we have for each prospect. It is not the be-all and end-all of statistical analysis. In fact, I'd be the first to argue that it isn't even a stat at all, but merely a stat comprehension tool. But the metric does give you something to think about as you evaluate these players and their potential, and it may be one building block in identifying who this year's playmakers will be - and who won't. In a few weeks, the NFL Combine will provide us with even more metrics, giving us an even bigger data base from which to assess players.