With the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine upon us, Bucky Brooks is ranking the top prospects at key positions. Today's focus: defensive backs.
Strengths: Versatile defender with exceptional instincts, awareness and playmaking skills. Ramsey is a dynamic hybrid defensive back capable of creating splash plays as a corner, nickel back and safety. He challenges receivers on the perimeter in press coverage, exhibiting strong hands and explosive recovery speed. Although his footwork and movement skills aren't textbook, Ramsey has enough athleticism to recover and get back into hip-pocket position. As a slot defender, he displays solid instincts and awareness matching slot receivers in zone coverage. In addition, Ramsey is an exceptional rusher off the edge with a knack for getting to the quarterback. He shows superb timing and instincts shooting gaps in pass protection, and has a great feel for getting the QB on the ground. With Ramsey also exhibiting terrific ball skills and range as a deep-middle defender, it is hard to find a more complete or versatile playmaker in the back end. In fact, I have him rated as the No. 1 overall prospect in my updated top 50 list.
Weaknesses: Despite Ramsey's length and athleticism, some scouts question his ability to play cornerback at the next level. He could struggle against shifty receivers on the perimeter, which would make it tough for him to survive on the island. Thus, Ramsey is best suited to play as a hybrid safety/nickel corner at the next level.
Strengths: Polished technician with explosive speed, athleticism and movement skills. Hargreaves is a Day 1 starter with the ability to make immediate contributions as an inside or outside corner. He is one of the few cover corners in the draft capable of executing press, off and bail techniques, which makes him an intriguing prospect for defensive coordinators looking for a CB1 on the perimeter. Hargreaves challenges receivers at every turn and his competitiveness makes him a tough defender to target in key situations. He refuses to concede easy completions to receivers when he is fully engaged in the game. Most importantly, he is an instinctive ballhawk with a knack for creating turnovers. As a solid hitter and dependable tackler, Hargreaves is a hard-nosed guy with all of the traits coaches desire in perimeter players.
Weaknesses: Hargreaves is a natural cover corner with superb movement skills, but he could be a liability on the island due to his short stature. He lacks the size to battle tall receivers on the perimeter and could be targeted in red-zone situations on jump balls.
Strengths: Gritty cover corner with outstanding instincts, awareness and movement skills. Alexander is a feisty press-man corner adept at knocking receivers around and contesting throws in his area. He combines excellent lateral quickness and shadowing skills with a strong jam to disrupt the timing of routes. Most critically, Alexander maintains hip-pocket positioning on receivers down the field, which discourages quarterbacks from attempting throws in his direction. Although Alexander is best suited to play nose-to-nose on wideouts, he also shows solid footwork executing the bail technique in zone coverage. He keeps vision on the quarterback through the receivers, and does a good job of reading or anticipating routes in his area. With more NFL teams intent on challenging the passing game with aggressive bump-and-run tactics, Alexander's athleticism and technical skills make him an attractive option in Round 1. In my latest mock draft, I have him going to the Oakland Raiders at No. 14.
Weaknesses: There is no disputing Alexander's ability to lock down receivers in man coverage, but NFL defensive coordinators also prefer ballhawks on the perimeter. Thus, Alexander's lack of turnover production (zero interceptions in two years at Clemson) and suspect ball skills will be an issue when evaluators take a long, hard look at the tape. While some will suggest opponents rarely targeted him due to his exceptional cover skills, he doesn't appear to play the ball well in the air and questionable tracking skills could make him vulnerable against jump-ball specialists on the perimeter.
Strengths: Long, rangy cover corner with prototypical physical dimensions and a high football IQ. Apple is a versatile playmaker on the perimeter capable of playing within a man or zone scheme. As a bump-and-run corner, Apple effectively utilizes his length and athleticism to blanket receivers down the field. He flashes a strong initial punch at the line and jumps into hip-pocket position early in routes. Although Apple lacks elite speed, he effectively uses cut-off angles to prevent receivers from blowing past him on vertical routes. In zone coverage, Apple showcases a quick pedal and solid transition skills. He maintains a chunky cushion on receivers, but flashes enough short-area quickness and burst to close quickly on underneath throws. Apple's exquisite reaction skills and instincts could make him a star in a zone-based system (Cover 2) that allows him to key on the quarterback from depth. Given Apple's length, versatility and toughness (solid hitter/tackler), the Ohio State standout is a solid cornerback prospect for teams in search of a potential starter.
Weaknesses: Apple is not a top-notch athlete on the perimeter. He lacks the explosive speed and movement skills to run with speed demons on the outside. Thus, it is imperative for him to play with flawless technique on the island to challenge burners on deep balls and comeback routes. He is a feisty competitor willing to challenge receivers at every turn, but he must truly master the technical game to enhance his effectiveness as a potential CB1 at the next level.
Strengths: Feisty cover corner with outstanding athleticism and movement skills. Fuller is a gritty bump-and-run corner capable of making a receiver's life miserable on the island. From his aggressive combat tactics to his explosive speed and burst, he challenges wideouts at every turn. Although he did surrender a few plays on the perimeter in the Hokies' Cover 0 scheme, Fuller's courage, aggressive temperament and athleticism will pique the interest of assertive defensive coordinators intent on finding cover corners with dynamic bump-and-run skills. As a zone corner, Fuller flashes a smooth backpedal, but is prone to stopping his feet to squat (defensive back aggressively jumps a short or intermediate route in his area). Although he makes plays on the ball utilizing the aggressive maneuver (35 passes defenses and eight interceptions at Virginia Tech), he is susceptible to falling for double moves (see: Ohio State tape) if he doesn't maintain proper eye discipline. Despite the occasional big play, Fuller's edge approach and high football IQ allow him to make far more positive plays than negative ones on the island.
Weaknesses: Fuller's aggressive tactics make him vulnerable against crafty route runners on the perimeter. He will fall for double moves and pump fakes in off coverage, which makes him a target for offensive coordinators willing to attack defensive backs with special plays. As a press corner, Fuller's aggressive nature could make him a penalty magnet, due to the emphasis on eliminating excessive contact in the NFL these days. Fuller's injury history (torn meniscus in 2015, fractured wrist in 2014) could also be a concern for teams looking for a clean prospect at the position.