By Aaron Hyden
PSDC College Football Contributor
Thanks to Richard Sherman’s boisterous ways, the cornerback position has become a more attention-getting area of football. Teams are looking for these players that can shut down entire halves of the field at their best, changing game plans of opposing offenses and forcing them to look elsewhere. It’s an important position, with high risks and high rewards, and it takes a special type of player to be successful in this day and age of ultra athletic wide receivers running like gazelles all over the field. Leading the pack in the Class of 2016 is my pick for the best overall prospect, and as close to a “sure thing” as you’re going to find this year.
1. Vernon Hargreaves, Florida – If you’re looking for the prototypical “shutdown” CB, look no further than Hargreaves. He isn’t the tallest CB (5’11”) out there, but he plays much bigger than his height would indicate because of his physicality. He has no problem jamming WRs at the line of scrimmage, and doesn’t allow them to get the best of him as they move down the field. His body control and instincts are top level, and his closing speed helps to eliminate issues when the occasional mistake is made.
His aforementioned physical style of play is an added bonus against the run or against screen passes. He enjoys contact, and isn’t afraid of shedding blocks to lay a hit on a ball carrier. The stereotype of CBs, especially the stars, is that they shy away from contact. You don’t have that issue here, making him something of a dual threat as a defender.
If you’re looking for yet another bonus, Hargreaves is one of the better leaders in the country, on and off the field. He strives to be the best, and to make everyone around him better as a result, and teammates love him for it. He garners their respect, and they play hard for him as a result. Barring an injury or some sort of major decline in skills, you’re looking at a lock for the top 10, and someone that will probably crack the top 5 in 2016.
2. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech – The first thing that jumps out at you about Fuller’s game is how aggressive he can be, but without detriment more often than not. He is confident enough in his skills to take risks on the field, and those skills allow him to wreak havoc in the passing game.
He’s had three brothers that have NFL experience, including Kyle, who was a first round pick of the Chicago Bears in 2014, but many experts say Kendall is the best of the bunch already. He comes from the Deion Sanders School of Jumping Passes, with his athletic ability and speed giving him the knack for darting in front of receivers and either picking off passes or at least being able to get in the way. He’s a game-changer type of player, and although he doesn’t possess the pure cover skills that Hargreaves has, he isn’t exactly poor in that area, either. He has great balance and footwork that allows him to stay with WRs down the field, and his natural instincts at the position help him to try and stay one step ahead at all times.
He and Hargreaves are basically the exact same size, but without Hargreaves’ physicality, some question whether or not Fuller can be a true “on an island” CB in the NFL, facing off against bigger, stronger and faster players than he’s used to. Working on a physical play style will help him tremendously this year, and will probably land him in the top half of the first round in 2016.
3. Jalen Ramsey, Florida State – He’s played cornerback, nickel and safety in his time with the Seminoles, and he has done all three successfully. Some say he projects better as a safety in the NFL, but because he’ll primarily be playing at CB for the upcoming season, that’s where he is listed here.
He is a very decorated track and field star at FSU, and that carries over well to football. If the team needed him to play up at the line of scrimmage, he did it. If they needed him to play a deeper role at safety, he did it. If they needed him to rush the passer on the outside, he did it. NFL teams looking for versatility drool at the thought of having Ramsey on their roster, thinking about the different ways he can help them out.
His only real issue is that he lacks the cover skills that the other top CBs in this class do. Too often, he depends on his world class athleticism to save him, because he’s been beaten by a WR on a route. That has worked to this point, but won’t work in the NFL. If he works on that, he’s neck-and-neck with Fuller for the second spot on this list, as well as draft stock.
Other names to watch are Tennessee’s Cameron Sutton, Notre Dame’s KeiVarae Russell and LSU’s Tre’Davious White. It’s another deep class, but extra heavy at the top, with franchise players to take in the first round.
Next up, I finish off the series by looking at the safety position. Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but… it’s another deep position, with a half dozen players contending for firstround status, and it only gets deeper if you count Jalen Ramsey there instead of at CB.