Preseason 2016 NFL Draft Watch: Defensive Backs
The defensive back entering the season with the most draft hype is probably Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, and the praise is warranted. It is difficult to find a player whose game is as complete as Ramsey’s. He spent time at safety after spending a year at corner, but safety is probably the best fit for him.
His experience as a corner is evident as his coverage and ball skills are phenomenal. Although he is not the type of player to come sprinting down from the secondary and burst through the line to make a tackle for loss, he is a good blitzer and would not be considered a liability against the run.
Two years ago, Virginia Tech corner-back Kyle Fuller was a first round pick of the Chicago Bears. In 2015, his younger brother Kendall looks to do the same. Like the elder Fuller, Kendall shows the raw fluidity that should make him good in man-to-man coverage. He's also more comfortable in zone than his older brother, and his ball skills look pretty good for the position. Not to mention he does a surprisingly good job against the run, despite not being a bigger corner.
LSU’s Tre’Davious White is another corner with first round ability. White was honored with the #18 Jersey, traditionally given to the player who exemplifies leadership on and off the field. As a player, White looks to continue in the long line of cover corners to come out of “DBU.” In man-to-man coverage, White is extremely agile and shows great recovery if beaten initially. One area of his game that needs to improve is his ability against the run, although he is a solid tackler.
Along with Ramsey, another play-making safety is Kentucky’s AJ Stamps. Stamps is a very, very aggressive player which can lead to some big hits, but also some big misses. Still, the positive plays usually outweigh the negative ones. In coverage, Stamps has great awareness and excellent ball skills when he can see the play develop in front of him. In the run game, he can lay out some big hits but is prone to missing the ball carrier at times when he aims to make a big hit over the sure tackle.
Another name to look out for is Vonn Bell S, Ohio State.
Mid Round and Sleeper
Many see Florida’s Vernon Hargraves as a first round pick, and there is good reason to. He is extremely physical and is probably one of the best run-defending corners in this class. Hargraves also has good hips and looks like he has some strong tools to be a good cover corner. However, some parts of his game, like his back pedal, and some of his ball skills prevent him from being considered a potential first-round pick.
Another defensive back who is on the cusp of being a top tier talent is Duke’s Jeremy Cash. The Blue Devils safety excels near the line of scrimmage and when dealing with ball carriers. He makes some very good plays in the run game and can force the occasional fumble. In coverage, Cash looks okay, but he can be a real weapon if used near the line of scrimmage.
Mississippi State’s Taveze Calhoun excels in zone coverage. His football instincts are great, he has solid ball skills, and he is also a good run defender. Calhoun is not the kind of loose, quick-twitch athlete that will be elite in man-to-man coverage, and he lacks the long speed to make up for mistakes if a receiver gets past him initially.
West Virginia safety Karl Joseph had the opportunity to come out for the 2014 draft as he was already considered one of the top prospects at the position last year. Joseph is a versatile player who can play in the box and be a quality run defender. In pass coverage, he has good range and does a good job at closing in on passes to either disrupt the pass or stop the receiver from gaining additional yardage.
Other players to watch include: Jalen Mills’ S, LSU; Rashard Robinson CB, LSU; Leon McQuay S, USC; Zack Sanchez CB, Oklahoma; William Jackson CB, Houston; Orion Stewart S, Baylor.
Best of the Rest
Calhoun’s teammate at Mississippi State, Will Redmond, may not be as highly regarded but still looks to have a bright NFL future. Redmond is an extremely raw player with great hip fluidity, but he lacks many of the technical skills for the position.
Perhaps one of the more intriguing prospects in this group of defensive backs is Louisville safety Josh Harvey-Clemons. The Cardinal defender is listed at 6’5 230 pounds, as a safety, after playing a hybrid role at his previous school, Georgia. Clemons has a leg up on his other safeties in terms of pure size and ability against the run but might be a tick behind everyone else as far as pass coverage. Like Shaq Thompson from a year ago, NFL teams will have to put careful thought in how Clemons, at his size, will be deployed at the next level.
Other names to look out for include: Avery Sebastian S, Notre Dame; Tyvis Powell S, Ohio State; Sua Cravens S, USC; Tracy Howard CB, Miami; Eli Apple CB, Ohio State; Kevon Seymour CB, USC; Tony Conner S, Ole Miss; Max Redfied S, Notre Dame; Trevon Stewart S, Houston.