Chicago's need for quality cornerbacks is obvious and well-documented. There has been a ton of talk about getting a "bridge" quarterback in the Windy City this offseason, but that term is rarely applied to the cornerback spot. In reality that is exactly what Tracey Porter has been for the Bears for the past 2 years: a bridge cornerback. However, the clock is ticking and it is high time to cross that bridge and find a quality young corner who can be a building block in the secondary moving forward.
Sidney Jones IV, Cornerback, University of Washington
Jones started off his college career on the opposite corner of the Huskies defense from current Kansas City Pro Bowler Marcus Peters. Based on viewing Sidney's tape he picked up more than a few lessons from Marcus and carried that knowledge forward to help form one of the most dominant secondaries in college football this past season. 3 out 4 players in that unit will be in the NFL next year (Budda Baker [S] and Kevin King [CB] will also be drafted) and 2 of them (Jones and Baker) will likely be rookie starters.
Jones has a lot of qualities teams look for in a starting cornerback. He's aggressive, uses a strong punch in his jam, has very quick feet and a great understanding of routes offenses will try to use against him. His film also shows better-than-average acceleration and enough speed to stay with faster receivers well down the field. Sidney is a willing tackler who can hit with force and has knack for putting his helmet right on the ball to try and dislodge it (as he did against Colorado this year).
Jones is good about keeping his head on a swivel. His ability to locate the ball in the air earlier than many of his peers helps him contest a lot of deeper throws right at the catch point. His strengths in coverage are deeper routes straight down the field (the "9" route) and routes beyond the first down marker near the sideline (corner and out routes). It looks as though he has been well conditioned not to give anything up on these higher-consequence routes. That may be schematically based on the Huskies game plan or just where his natural ability lies. Either way it leads to the parts of Sidney's game that might need some attention moving to the pro level.
If you want to complete passes throwing towards Jones, you'll need to do it using underneath and in-breaking routes. Jones looks like a different defender against these and allows most of his completions there. He can struggle against the slant, comeback, curl and dig routes. His Apple Cup game against Washington State this year highlighted his inability to stop those routes. In the NFL, offenses (especially west coast offenses) will take small chunks of yardage off those routes as long as you let them. If Jones doesn't improve his positioning and ability to plant and drive to break those patterns up with regularity, he could have a long rookie year.
Jones shows some fire in his ability to read, react and attack screens and sweeps. He often meets ballcarriers in those situations behind the line of scrimmage. He can fail to wrap up and secure the tackle but normally he does well enough to bring the runner to the ground. He will miss a few more tackles than I'd like to see, but I can forgive that when a player is aggressive in supporting the run and snuffing out screens. Jones is also not afraid to chip in to help his teammates drag down a stubborn runner. Many of his fellow college corners avoid getting involved in that situation like the plague.
His stature (UW listed him at 6’ and 180 pounds but he looks lighter) is slight a disadvantage in bringing down larger players, but he doesn't let that stop him from being aggressive in either phase of defense. While I wouldn't call him a plus run defender he's a willing participant and certainly more help than hindrance in slowing an opponent's rushing attack.
This is an area where Jones excels. I often saw him on film calling out the opposition's play to his teammates before the snap. He obviously studies film and understands his opponent's tendencies. This trait combined with his obvious physical skills allows him to frequently jump plays in the backfield. It also helps make him an effective blitzer off the edge.
Another important indicator of his elevated awareness is his ability to come off the man he is responsible for in a play to help bring down another who is out of his area of responsibility. This awareness and willingness make him an excellent team defender and player who can function as a part of the whole, rather than playing as a lone wolf freelancing his own agenda.
Marlon Humphrey, Cornerback, University of Alabama
I think Marlon Humphrey may actually be a little bit underrated, which is a strange thing to say about a player from Alabama. However it might be that exact fact, that he plays on a defense full of stars who are almost all in consideration to be top draft picks, that ultimately lets Humphrey slip into the shadows even just a little bit. After watching his tape, I'd say it's time for that to stop. Marlon is one of the most explosive defenders in the nation and I think he'll make an excellent NFL cornerback.
Humphrey benefits from having one of the best physical skillsets I have seen in a cornerback this year. He boasts impressive size checking in at 6'1" and 198 pounds and is able to focus all that mass with tremendous natural burst. Watching him accelerate on the field you'd almost think he had the ability to warp himself from one place to another without actually running. He closes large distances so quickly on some plays that I found myself running the video back to see if it skipped a bit.
Marlon's explosion does not end with amazing acceleration. He is also an accomplished leaper giving him a very large radius to intercept balls in flight or tip them away. When you pair his athletic explosiveness with sprinter's speed you get a player who can turn the tide (pardon the pun) in the defense's favor all over the field. Against Clemson he mirrored Mike Williams all the way down the field and was literally hip-to-hip with him when the ball arrived. Williams has an excellent chance to be the first receiver off the board during this draft and it takes something special to be able to stay with him like that. Humphrey has that special ability.
One play that Marlon stops as well as any defender in the country is the WR screen. He uses his acceleration and physical style of play to simply discard the blocker as quickly as he can and then slam into the WR. Against Texas A&M he absolutely massacred that play 3 times by himself, all for losses.
The characteristic that sets Humphrey apart from most college cornerbacks is his raw aggression. While his athleticism allows him to be involved in plays, it's the attitude he arrives with that really stands out on film. He is an alpha dog and he simply loves to hit people; as hard as he can. This doesn't show up as reckless or risk. It looks much more like a tactical boxer trying to find weak spots, and then delivering crushing blows once he's located them.
One of the more underrated facets of Marlon's game is his selflessness. Not a term I often use to describe corners, but he embodies it perfectly. In the Clemson game he took on a pulling guard, solo, twice. He did it because he knew it was his role on that play to occupy that lane. On top of that he didn't just dive at the behemoth's legs; he slammed into him full force, with every ounce of punishment he could muster. He was outweighed in those collisions by over 100 pounds, he had no help and it didn't deter him one bit. Against Tennessee he went head-to-head solo with RB Jalen Hurd who is an absolute load at 240 pounds; and stopped him. Humphrey is not afraid of the dirty work or getting hit, and that makes him special as a young corner coming out of college.
Humphrey is a heady player who reads and reacts to his keys very well. He can get his head around to locate the ball but will need to continue refining that skill so he can give himself an even larger windows to make plays. His vision allows him to disengage when the play is not coming his way and his speed allows him to chase down broken plays from the other side of the field and make TD-saving stops. Although he is young and aggressive his technique is fairly well developed. When he misses on play it is not badly, or by much. If he continues his arc of development I suspect Mr. Humphrey will be a very difficult CB for pro receivers to beat in the very near future. He's almost there right now, and he is only a redshirt sophomore.
Tre'Davious White, Cornerback, Louisiana State University
Sometimes excellent senior football players get washed aside a bit in the glitz and glamour of all the talented underclassmen flooding into a draft. Such is the case with Tre'Davious White. So many talented underclassmen corners have declared early that this LSU Tiger is not getting the hype he deserves. White was poised to be high pick in the draft last year (just like all those underclassmen) before a lackluster Junior season dropped his stock and he decided to return for his senior campaign. Rising to the challenge he set for himself, he got his game back on track and reclaimed his status as a playmaker at the absolute highest level of college football.
LSU has a shining tradition of producing some of the best defensive backs in the NFL. Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson, Jalen Collins, Morris Claiborne and a host of others all got their start in Baton Rouge. White looks to continue that legacy of top-tier defensive back play. He certainly has plenty of alums to lean on if he wants to know what life in the pros is actually like.
What stood out to me the most in watching Tre'Davious was just how solid, balanced and composed he was. He's played in so many big games at LSU that he never looks like he's rattled. He rarely lunges, he plays with his feet under him and catching him out of position just does not happen that much. Many times when analysts say a player is solid it is code for "average", but that is not how I am using the term here. White is solid and consistent but at a very high level. He makes plays.
He has a great backpedal and is just a very twitched-up athlete in general. His movements are cat-quick and that allows him to mirror WR's on the outside or in the slot with equal ease. His positioning and technique are top notch. That combination allows him to get his hands on the ball... a lot. Within the first half of the Florida game he already had 3 solo pass breakups. Many of his peers don't get that many in 2 full games. He is strong against passes at the catch point and has excellent timing on his swipe to disrupt the reception.
Surprising Tre'Davious with a route is hard to do, based on his large amount of game experience. He's seen almost every route in the book and broken up most of them. This allows him to be effective against all kinds of routes all over the field. If he has a weakness it might be his long speed. He is certainly not slow but I'll be interested to see what his pure speed is like at the Combine. On film it is tough to separate how much his excellent savvy and anticipation make up and how much is just pure wheels.
White will also occasionally get his hips turned the wrong way at the top of the route stem, allowing his opponent to gain separation. It doesn't happen consistently and he usually comes back strong on the next rep, but it is still worth noting.
White is a solid wrap-up tackler and I love that about him. So many corners are just drag tacklers for shoulder shot artists that is refreshing to see a strong and disciplined wrap-up tackler at the CB spot. This limits short plays from becoming long gains and allows his teammates to effectively assist taking down larger players who are tough to put on the ground.
Tre'Davious understands the run game almost as well as he does the pass. He gets out to set the edge on run plays to force the action back inside towards his teammates. He keeps his eyes on the down markers and routinely stands up ballcarriers short of those marks. All of this adds up to a defender who is just as much of a positive asset opposing the run as he is suffocating the passing game.
Experience plays a huge role in White's overall game and it shows on film. He attacks when he knows he can and supports when he knows he has to. His ability to stay in coverage long after other defenders have typically lost their man, is a credit to his athleticism but would not be possible without his advanced awareness. If you combine that mentality with a very capable athlete and then mix in solid tackling (and the versatility to return punts); you have a total football player who is completely worthy of a high draft pick.
The good news is there are plenty of talented corners in this draft for Chicago to choose from. Players like Teez Tabor and Gareon Conley should get an honorable mention as they could have easily been featured in this top 5. So who are you most interested in the Bears drafting to play corner next season?