For NFL fans who are beginning to look beyond the 2018 season to free agency and the draft, The MMQB will feature a series of position primers to get you up-to-date on the top college players at each spot. Today, the defensive backs.
While last year’s NFL draft was dominated by quarterbacks, 2019 is expected to reverse course, leaning heavily on the defensive side of the ball in the first round. Pass rushers, linebackers and defensive linemen should take a lion’s share of the first 32 selections, but April’s draft class should be strong in the secondary as well.
So which defensive backs should you expect to see near the top of draft boards this offseason? Here’s The MMQB’s defensive backs primer.
Greedy Williams, CB, LSU
Williams is the consensus top defensive back prospect, slated to be selected in the first ten picks. The redshirt sophomore is an elite lockdown corner, a complete prospect in every sense of the word. Williams’s 6' 3" frame separates him from recent top corner selections—Denzel Ward is listed at 5' 11'—and his impressive wingspan makes him one of the best deep-ball corners in the country. Offenses won’t dare challenging Williams on a fade or isolation route near the sidelines.
It’s not just Williams’s size that sets him apart. He changes directions with ease and doesn’t possess tight hips like other tall corners. Williams can stop on a dime and change directions, bursting from a backpedal into attack mode on slants and comeback routes. Williams is a great anticipatory corner, adept at reading a quarterback’s tendencies. His combination of brains and braun will quickly translate to the pros. LSU had a long history of impressive NFL defensive backs, and Williams is well on his way to joining the club.
Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia
The Dawgs’ lead corner should join Williams in the top half of the NFL draft’s first round. He stands at just 5' 11", but he makes up for his height with impressive length. Baker hasn’t been as dominant in 2018 as he was last season—he held now-Falcons WR Calvin Ridley to 32 yards in last year’s national title game—though a dip is statistics is in part due to SEC quarterbacks steering clear on the Thorpe Award finalist. Baker will get his toughest test of the season on against Tua Tagovailoa and Alabama in the SEC title game.
Baker is more physical than Williams, unafraid of lowering the boom over the middle. His instincts and ball skills will entice NFL scouts, putting his freakish wingspan to use. Baker is a bit handsy, and will need to work on avoiding costly pass interference penalties in the NFL. That’s a minor concern, though, and Baker’s ferocity and physicality separate him from the rest of his fellow corners.
Deionte Thompson, S, Alabama
The top safety on our list, Thompson will follow in the footsteps of former Crimson Tide safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick, Eddie Jackson, Landon Collins and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix into the NFL. Thompson fits right in with the former Alabama luminaries.
After playing limited snaps in 2017, Thompson has emerged as the Crimson Tide’s defensive leader this season, guiding the No. 3 defense in college football. He’s an absolute missile in the run game, mirroring Collins with heavy hits and a unique ability to shed blockers on the edge. Thompson is faster than Collins, too.
Thompson won’t shadow elite tight ends and running backs in single coverage, yet he still boasts impressive range from the back end. He’s a ballhawk in zone coverage and has little trouble making plays near the sideline from the opposite hash mark. Expect Thompson to be a round one pick, continuing Alabama’s safety pipeline to the NFL.
Byron Murphy, CB, Washington
The Pac-12’s top corner is a step below the top two on our list, but Murphy should still be a reliable plug-and-play option in his rookie season. The redshirt sophomore makes up for a slender frame with upper-echelon quickness and quality ball skills, using his closing speed to break up passes at the last moment. Murphy is a strong technician with solid instincts.
Murphy’s diminutive stature limits him press coverage. He’s not a strong tackler and can get exploited in space. His aggressiveness occasionally works against him, overplaying the ball and leading to big plays. The miscues are often worth it, though, when Murphy flies off the screen to create game-changing turnovers.
Trayvon Mullen, CB, Clemson
Don’t let Clemson’s havoc-wreaking front seven obscure Mullen’s impact. He’s been outstanding for the nation’s No. 4 defense this year, locking up the back end in his junior season. Mullen is a long and physical corner, excelling in press coverage. He works best near the line of scrimmage. His aggression and sound tackling will immediately translate to the NFL.
Mullen would be well served by a zone scheme. He struggles to keep his technique on deep routes, getting handsy when contesting the catch. The physical traits are tantalizing enough for a team to potentially snag Mullen in the first round, but the best bet is seeing his name come off the board on day two of the draft.
Amani Oruwariye, CB, Penn State
The redshirt senior earned first-team All-Big 10 honors in 2018, tallying three interceptions and 11 pass breakups. Oruwariye is a beefy 6' 1", 200 pounds, using his size and length to bully receivers near the line of scrimmage. His large frame doesn’t prevent quality technique. Oruwariye can change directions quickly, rotating his hips fluidly while maintaining quick strides. 2018 marked his first year as a starter, so there is a lack of experience as a lead corner. Given the right coaching, Oruwariye should evolve into a reliable corner for years to come.
Julian Love, CB, Notre Dame
Love has earned plenty of playing time in South Bend, making 33 starts in 37 career games. The junior has made significant strides since his freshman season, evolving into the Fighting Irish’s top corner. Love is a special teams ace, too, though don’t expect to see him on kick coverage in the pros.
Love’s measurables don’t jump off the board. He won’t place near the top of the 40-yard dash times, and he’s under 6' 0". But Love outplays his combine stats, proving sound both in press—where he’s a jamming specialist—and off coverage. Love has strong closing speed on balls in front of him and has strong instincts when covering receivers deep down the field. He’s susceptible to the fade and will struggle against larger receivers, possibly best suited to defend the slot at the next level. Love projects to be a high-ceiling, low-floor player in the NFL, but a quality contributor nonetheless.