I've already covered the top 5 quarterbacks in this year's draft (part 1 and part 2) and now Draftwatch turns the tables to focus on the players needed to stop elite passers; cornerbacks. Chicago simply does not have enough talent at cornerback. Their top cover man last year was Tracy Porter. Between the effects of age and injury he is not a top-tier option any more. The Bears have a host of young players in the CB ranks who have shown promise, but need to continue to both grow their skillsets and apply them with consistency. In today's pass-happy NFL Chicago needs cornerback talent like their local fans need winter coats; the more the better.
Quincy Wilson, Cornerback, University of Florida
Quincy Wilson is a homegrown Florida talent. He grew up in Ft. Lauderdale and didn't go far when he made the jump to NCAA football. When I say "grew up", I mean it. Despite being only a true college junior he is 6'1" and 213 pounds. That kind of size coupled with the ability to move like Wilson does will always attract pro scouts who are desperate for players who can counter larger receivers in the NFL. Wilson played in plenty of big games during his tenure in Gainesville and faced some of the top receivers in the nation. That means there is plenty of good tape to look at, so let's get to it.
Quincy Wilson is the football equivalent of an air superiority fighter. His purpose is to deny the other team aerial supremacy on the field and he is damned good at it. He uses his length, size and strength to deny his opponents receptions. Quincy has terrific jam at the line in press man coverage and is capable of totally erasing smaller receivers with this tactic alone. If WR's do get into their routes his quick feet and fluid transitions means he will be with them every step of the way. If by chance a pass does get tossed his direction, Wilson shows a terrific break on the ball and is aggressive at the catch point to contest the reception.
Against in-state rival Florida State, Quincy ran step for step with Kermit Whitfield who is an acknowledged speedster and one of the fastest receivers in this draft. The ability to mirror some of the fastest receivers in the NFL is within the scope of Wilson's ability. He is not flawless in pass coverage and can be beaten in the short zone by the comeback route. Despite that, his coverage skills are at or very near the top of this class.
For as dominating as he is against the pass you would expect Wilson to be a solid defender on the edge versus running plays. After all he is solidly built, strong and physical in his jam against receivers. However, when it comes to the run Wilson is a liability. I had reservations about his ability to contribute as a run defender after viewing the first two tapes (Missouri and Florida State) but then I got to the Alabama gane and my concerns magnified into disbelief.
For lack of a better term Quincy got mashed against Alabama. After he showed some timidity and hesitation going after ball carriers the coaches at Alabama noticed it and started to exploit it. They ran right at him and he missed a couple more tackles. The blood was clearly in the water by that point and the Crimson Tide just turned the knife harder. Late in the game they started running isolation sweeps to Wilson's side and leaving him unblocked against the running back. Quincy was powerless to stop it, and Alabama rolled over Florida.
Wilson does not look like he enjoys contact against the run. In fact most of the time he looks like he is trying to avoid it. When he does venture in he hesitates and let's the runner dictate the angle and contact point. This leads to missed tackles and those lead to long gains. Some people will say it is not a corner's job to stop the run but I disagree, and it is a red flag for me. CB's who don't support the run often struggle in the much more physical world of the NFL. The last player with elite cover skills and an aversion to contact playing the run that I lobbied against? Justin Gilbert. I'm not saying Wilson will be Gilbert, but Quincy has an uphill climb if he wants to round out his game and become a top NFL corner in this area.
Wilson has the terrific ability to keep his eyes in the backfield and run with his receiver at the same time. He doesn't always do it but he can. This lets him get an excellent break on the ball and leads to highlight interceptions like the one he ran back vs. Missouri. That play clearly showed his vision, anticipation and crazy burst in a nutshell. He can locate the ball in the air and that assists him in contesting catches on time without drawing undue penalties.
Against the run his awareness is not great. Either he doesn't understand the run game or he wasn't asked to prioritize opposing it in Florida's defensive scheme. He'll run alongside and hope someone else makes the tackle but only contribute if there are no other options.
An NFL team's defensive philosophy will go a long way in determining where Wilson ends up on their draft board. He has impressive size and cover skills that are show-stoppingly good. His ability to shut a receiver down is top shelf. When balanced with his inability (or unwillingness) to stick his nose in and do dirty work against the run, many teams will lower their grade on him.
Marshon Lattimore, Cornerback, Ohio State
Marshon's rise to the top of the college cornerback ranks is as impressive as it is surprising. Ohio State recruits as well as any program in the nation and their ability to reload in a single season is ridiculous. The Buckeyes put three out of four players in their defensive secondary in the NFL last year (Eli Apple [CB], Vonn Bell [S] and Tyvis Powell [S]) and simply refilled without missing a beat. This year another three will get drafted (Lattimore, Gareon Conley [CB] and Malik Hooker [S]) and likely in the first round and a half or less. That's remarkable.
Lattimore is an excellent coverage defender. He has excellent fluidity in his turns and his footwork is obviously well-coached. His deep speed allows him to go step-for-step down the sideline and he is able to get his head around to locate the ball. Many top-rated college corners cannot do this, so Marshon's ability to do so stands out. He couples that vision with timing which allows him to break up passes as they arrive. The best corners have of gift of swiping at a WR's hands or delivering a hit just as the ball arrives to disrupt the reception, without being a half a tick early and drawing a flag. Lattimore has that gift in spades. Many times it was obvious that Marshon's suffocating coverage led to a big sack for OSU. He often forces opposing QB's to look at the WR he's covering and then look away quickly without delivering a throw.
His jam at the line is not terrific and sometimes he does carry it too far downfield with aggression that will draw a flag. He mugged Amara Darboh badly that way when OSU played Michigan. Mostly he relies on his excellent change of direction skills to mirror receivers downfield rather than a powerful jam, but he'll need to develop a better punch off the line at the next level.
PFF had Marshon rated as the top college CB in the nation versus the slant route but he got burned by it a few times in the tapes I watched. He certainly understands the timing needed to defeat the slant (as he only just missed breaking up a couple of them with recovery speed and well-timed dive) but his positioning to defeat an inside route could be better . As these two pieces of information contradict each other I'll be intrigued to see which turns out to be more true: is Lattimore a slant killer or a slant victim? I'd bet on the former as this young player continues to develop.
When it comes to taking on the run and tackling well, Marshon could not be more different from Quincy Wilson. Lattimore looks like he relishes delivering a shot to opposing runners and on top of that he's pretty good at it. He'll stick his nose in the pile when he gets close. In the open field he is equally adept at hitting and wrapping up. Against Clemson he had a beautiful run read off the corner against Deshaun Watson at the goal line and dropped him for no gain. Given Watson's athleticism that is a real credit to Lattimore's skills as a defender.
Marshon also has a gift for breaking off his coverage to attack another receiver or runner who was not his initial responsibility. Combine that vision with his speed and willingness to throw his 6', 190-pound frame around and some highlight stops ensue.
Lattimore can get hung up on WR blocks on the outside of the formation for too long. He'll need his pro position coach to teach him some tricks to disengage a bit more quickly. That in turn will allow him to hold better pursuit angles and make even more plays than he already does.
Lattimore has excellent spatial awareness and understanding of what is happening on any given play. He broke up swing passes or destroyed RB screens for a loss several times in the games I watched. His mental processing speed is remarkable for a redshirt sophomore and will only get better with time. That fact alone will have many pro coaches placing Marshon at the top of their CB rankings in the upcoming draft.
He has different tools than Wilson does but gets results that are very similar versus balls thrown his direction. If passes do come his way he usually defeats them. If you get lazy with timing or ball placement against Lattimore the chances are better than even that he will pick it off and run it back the other direction.
So Ohio State and Florida are turning out top-quality defensive backs... what's new? More importantly,The Bears need quality corners but which college DB-factory has the best options in this draft; Florida or Ohio State? which of these two would you rather see patrolling passing routes for the Bears next year?