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NFL Draft 2020: A look at this year’s cornerback class & options for Cowboys

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Let’s take a peek at the cornerback class in this year’s draft.

NCAA Football: Florida at Miami Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

[In this NFL Draft series, we will spotlight several positions of interest for the Dallas Cowboys. Scouring the landscape of draft gurus, we will put together mini scouting reports and weigh the pros and cons of many available prospects to find the right fit for the Dallas Cowboys come April 2020.]

Previously, we took a look at the safeties and we’re going to stick with the defensive backs by focusing on the cornerbacks today.

The Cowboys have a decision to make with their Pro Bowl cornerback Byron Jones and whether to pay market value for his services. With an entirely new staff in place, we can’t be sure what the feeling is regarding Jones’ value. There’s an argument made by many that Byron Jones is an elite cornerback but his lack of ball production cannot be ignored. Anthony Brown will also be a free agent this offseason and Jourdan Lewis might have made him expendable. Former second-rounder Chidobe Awuzie is always in position to make plays but just hasn’t made enough plays to be an impact defender.

It’s very possible that the Cowboys become big players in the draft at the cornerback position so let’s get to work.

First, the following chart will give you a snapshot of some of the most worthy candidates in this year’s draft and their current projections (subject to change):

CORNERBACK SCHOOL CBS RANK PROJ. RD TCKL TFL SCK FF PD INT
JEFF OKUDAH OHIO STATE 3 1 83 1 0 1 18 3
KRISTIAN FULTON LSU 16 1 56 2 0 1 20 2
CJ HENDERSON FLORIDA 22 1 93 8 4 2 20 6
TREVON DIGGS ALABAMA 25 1-2 68 0.5 0 2 17 4
BRYCE HALL VIRGINIA 30 1-2 154 9.5 4 3 38 5
A.J. TERRELL CLEMSON 38 1-2 101 3.5 0.5 2 13 6
DAMON ARNETTE OHIO STATE 52 2-3 140 4 0 2 22 5
JEFF GLADNEY TCU 53 2-3 146 6 1.5 1 37 5
CAMERON DANTZLER MISS. STATE 62 3 108 6.5 1.5 1 20 5
JAYLON JOHNSON UTAH 75 3 102 3 1 0 21 7
ESSANG BASSEY WAKE FOREST 91 3-4 227 12.5 1 1 45 5
LAMAR JACKSON NEBRASKA 102 4 123 7.5 2 3 22 5

Now that we have an idea of the pool, let’s dive deeper into a few of these prospects to weigh their strengths and weaknesses.

KRISTIAN FULTON, LSU

15 GP, 38 TCKL, 1 TFL, 14 PBU’s, 1 INT (2019)

If the Cowboys choose to go with a cornerback in round one, Fulton is their best bet, providing he’s still around. Outside of Jeff Okudah, who the Cowboys likely won’t sniff without a big trade, Fulton is the most NFL-ready and is coming from a well-coached DB school. Fulton’s combination of speed, athleticism, footwork, and awareness make him an elite prospect. He was routinely asked to play on an island at LSU and he delivered without much struggle. Teams will need to do their homework on his conduct as he was once suspended for tampering with a NCAA drug test. Fulton also needs bulk up a bit and fix some timing errors he makes on occasion. Aside from a few minor technique issues, Kristian Fulton is a complete prospect.

KRISTIAN FULTON
SR-LSU 6'0 200 LBS PROJ RD: 1
Strengths Weaknesses
A+ athleticism, fluid, great mirror-match ability, quick feet, elite change of direction, speed, can play on island, locates & tracks ball well, very controlled defender Checkered past, thin-frame & questionable play strength, ball production low, often late in red zone, tendency to panic & get handsy, early peeker, needs discipline

CJ HENDERSON, FLORIDA

9 GP, 33 TCKL, 3 TFL, 1 SACK, 11 PBUs (2019)

Henderson is already a favorite of some Cowboys writers at The Athletic and he could hear his name called on opening night. His production this season was really good for a guy that only played in nine games. Though he didn’t register a pick this year, he had six interceptions in his collegiate career, which is on par with the top corners in the class. Henderson’s agility is second to none and his coverage ability is top-notch as is his awareness for the game. What makes him special is his relentless effort to win his matchups down after down. Henderson was tested by NFL-caliber receiving talents and regularly shut them down. It is concerning that he sometimes seems to be disinterested in making the tackle but the playmaking ability is there, he just needs a little more coaching in a few areas.

C.J. HENDERSON
JR-FLORIDA 6'1 202 LBS PROJ RD: 1
Strengths Weaknesses
Top-notch agility, good reaction & athleticism in coverage, elite closing quickness, sneaky blitzer, was often tested & took top WR's away quite regularly, impressive blended skill set to win matchups Poor tackler, seems disinterested in tackling at times, needs to finish his man, tendency to play too wide, relies too much on athleticism, needs to work on technique

TREVON DIGGS, ALABAMA

12 GP, 37 TCKL, 0.5 TFL, 8 PBUs, 3 INTs, 1 PICK-6 (2019)

Diggs looks to have an NFL-ready skill set as he is very balanced across the board in terms of size, length, and key measurables. He received great coaching throughout his collegiate career and can cover well vertically and across the formation. Able to attack the football, he’s a ball-hunter. Diggs isn’t the best of tacklers. He also has a bad habit to be a little over-aggressive but both of these issues can be repaired. All in all, Diggs deserves to be among the best prospects in his class and will be able to start early in the NFL.

TREVON DIGGS
SR-ALA 6'2 207 LBS PROJ RD: 1-2
Strengths Weaknesses
Amazing length, NFL-ready tools in place, re-routes receivers, can carry anyone vertically, solid in both zone & man assignments, attacks the football & plucks it with the grace of a receiver, excellent technique Over-aggressiveness gets him in trouble both with officials & blown coverage, needs to work on anticipation, disappointing tackler, will be restricted in matchups

BRYCE HALL, VIRGINIA

6 GP, 20 TCKL, 3 TFL, 4 PBUs (2019)

Bryce Hall only played six games in 2019 but his stock is rising as scouts go back to his tape. He just might become a favorite target for the Cowboys too because he’s a dream for coaches. Hall’s length and stature make him intimidating for his opponents at first glance. It’s truly impressive to watch him cover downfield as well because he seems so comfortable doing it. He’s still coming into his own, learning how to maximize his gifts but he’s got size, speed, great hands. Those are all traits that make DB coaches want to work with you.

BRYCE HALL
SR-VIRGINIA 6'1 204 LBS PROJ RD: 1-2
Strengths Weaknesses
Superb downfield coverage, loves contact & displaces ball w/o getting flagged, amazing ability to re-route his man, WRs can't handle length & physicality, strong hands, almost WR-like at catch point, long speed Step below top-flight CB in flexibility, can take bad angles & struggle to recover, not particularly experienced in press, has hard time flipping hips & resetting on occasion

A.J. TERRELL, CLEMSON

14 GP, 34 TCKL, 0.5 TFL, 0.5 SACK, 3 PBUs, 2 INT (2019)

Teams will be impressed by Terrell’s effortless movement and easy transitioning with his feet. He’s very fluid and can change direction easily, which makes him a great prospect for press coverage in the NFL. One knock on him is that he needs more bulk to handle physical receivers in the NFL, he could also use some refinement in technique work.

AJ TERRELL
JR-CLEMSON 6'1 190 LBS PROJ RD: 2
Strengths Weaknesses
Natural press corner, fluid change of direction, flexible hips, no false steps, sticks foot & drives off line, leaves razor-thin space between himself & WR, disruptive w/o being grabby, attacks catch point, ball skills Thin frame makes it tough to cover physical WRs, struggles to get off blocks, eyes wonder too much in zone, not sufficient defending underneath, flees from stance too easily w/ speedy WRs

JEFF GLADNEY, TCU

12 GP, 31 TCKL, 1.5 TFL, 0.5 SACK, 14 PBUs, 1 INT (2019)

Gladney is a well-balanced cornerback prospect with versatility to cover outside and inside if need be. He’s definitely a bit more refined than most in his technique and has great closing speed. He won’t need nearly as much work as some others on tackling, he’s more than efficient there. However, he doesn’t have the length that most NFL teams desire and will need to learn to not get so grabby downfield or he’ll draw the ire of officials.

JEFF GLADNEY
SR-TCU 6'0 183 LBS PROJ RD: 2-3
Strengths Weaknesses
Good tackling efficiency, very good in press-man, ball skills evident because of elite closing quickness, great mirroring technique, versatile to play perimeter or inside, he's a finisher Struggles to re-route receivers in cover-2, too many PBU's, not enough INT's, a little grabby downfield, concerns about lack of length for the NFL

CAMERON DANTZLER, MISSISSIPPI STATE

9 GP, 40 TCKL, 2 TFL, 0.5 SACK, 8 PBU’s, 2 INT, 1 FF (2019)

Cameron Dantzler has a lot to work with and is one of the better athletes in the cornerback class. He’s got the tangibles in terms of size and build for the position at the next level. Dantzler showed his value in college as a guy with versatility to cover many types of receivers. He shows great patience and ability to adapt to his assignments with the fluidity to travel in-step vertically. He does have a lot of work ahead on keeping his pad-level correct and needs to bulk up a bit too.

CAMERON DANTZLER
JR-MISS ST. 6'2 185 LBS PROJ RD: 3
Strengths Weaknesses
Fantastic athleticism, length is good enough to save him from technique errors, can travel with all types of receivers, hips are fluid, has decent ball skills, patient & never panics, can be an elite zone corner in NFL Pad-level needs improvement, gets grabby late in coverage, needs to work on balance, struggles at the top of routes, slight-frame, lacks bulk

ESSANG BASSEY, WAKE FOREST

13 GP, 60 TCKL, 2.5 TFL, 11 PBU’s, 1 INT (2019)

Bassey is going to be overlooked due to his size limitations but he’s one scrappy corner that is likely to fit in as a slot corner in the NFL in time. He has explosive athleticism and a second gear of speed that many lack. For a small guy, he sure racks up the tackles, and he really fights to get hands on the ball. At the next level, he’s really only got one true home as a slot-guy but he’s going to make a team very happy they took a chance on him.

ESSANG BASSEY
SR-WAKE FOR. 5'9 191 LBS PROJ RD: 3-4
Strengths Weaknesses
Super-productive, elite awareness to click & close on breaking routes, has building blocks to excel in NFL as a nickel CB, great technical defender, top-notch footwork, instincts are very good, smooth pedal Lack of size shows on tape, not very physical, makes noticeable business decisions, will get washed in run support, may be limited to slot-only player