2020 East/West Shrine Bowl Preview: Cornerbacks

Photo: Jonathan Jones-USA TODAY Sports

You know the draft season is officially here when the all-star game circuit gets underway, which is most notably kicked off by the East/West Shrine Bowl, one week before the Senior Bowl. Many in the scouting community consider this game to be the appetizer for Mobile, Alabama, as lesser-known players are invited to play in this event. However, there are a number of current NFL stars that once played in St. Petersburg, Florida.

All-Pro safety Justin Simmons started his draft journey four years ago at the Shrine Bowl, and before him, it was former All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman. The defensive backs that play in this game have a strong track record of productive NFL careers, but just looking at some of the all-time Shrine Bowl alumni, this game has had some of the best players ever: Brett Favre, Steve Atwater, Paul Warfield, Joe Greene and several other NFL Hall of Fame players.

This just shows that it's not about where you start, it's where you finish. A strong performance at the Shrine Bowl can fast track a prospect's path at the next level, which is why we are highlighting each positional group leading up to the event.

Today, I'm looking at the cornerbacks committed to this year's Shrine Bowl:

  • DeMarkus Acy, Missouri
  • Nevelle Clarke, UCF
  • Javaris Davis, Auburn
  • Lavert Hill, Michigan
  • Parnell Motley, Oklahoma
  • John Reid, Penn State
  • Elijah Riley, Army
  • Keith Washington II, West Virginia
  • Jace Whittaker, Arizona
  • Chris Williamson, Minnesota

Top Talent: Javaris Davis, Auburn

I'm shocked Javaris Davis did not get a Senior Bowl invite. He is undersized at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, but he is one of the best pure cover corners in this 2020 class. His speed, quickness and fluidity in man coverage allows him to consistently stay attached to a wide receiver's hip pocket, vertically and laterally. Davis is also a ball magnet with the production to match, recording two interceptions each of the last four years at Auburn. He projects best as a slot CB at the next level, and early on during the week at the Shrine Bowl, Davis will separate himself from the rest of the pack with his twitch and playmaking ability in man coverage.

Most Potential: DeMarkus Acy, Missouri

The theme with the cornerback group this year is that most of these prospects are undersized and projected nickel defenders. One of the exceptions is Missouri's DeMarkus Acy. At 6-foot-2, he passes the eye test as the prototypical NFL press-man CB. His play strength and length at the line of scrimmage makes life difficult for receivers to get a clean release; Acy also has the speed to stay on top of vertical routes, stride for stride. The problem he often runs into is his lack of hip fluidity and lateral movement skills. Acy’s game is much more suited at the line of scrimmage or in zone coverage, as opposed to off man. He is a height-weight-speed specimen with good linear athleticism and ball skills, and if drafted by the right team, he has productive starter potential.

Late Round Steal: Nevelle Clarke, UCF

Nevelle Clarke has been one of my favorite studies in this cornerback class. Of all the CBs at this year's Shrine Bowl, Clarke has the best pure ball skills. In his last two seasons at UCF, Clarke has racked up four interceptions, 24 pass deflections and one touchdown. Like Acy, Clarke is longer than most of the corners at 6-foot-1, and it shows at the catch point. He uses every bit of his length to create disruption, and I love how he baits quarterbacks in zone coverage by closing windows in a hurry with his range. He is equally effective at playing with his back to the ball and turning to locate over his shoulder. I'm not sure how fast Clarke is, but if there's one thing he does exceptionally well, it's playing the ball in the air.

Most To Prove: Elijah Riley, Army

Elijah Riley has been a playmaker for Army since his freshman year, racking up a total of seven interceptions, seven sacks and over 20 pass deflections. He's a little bigger than most of the cornerbacks here, but I still think his best role at the next level is as a nickel because of his production as a run defender and blitzer. When you turn on Riley’s tape, his physicality immediately stands out and he will be a special teams coach's dream. Riley is also one of the best zone CBs in this class. His top-notch instincts and intelligence consistently put him in playmaking positioning. Despite all of these strengths, Riley brings to the table he undoubtedly has the most to prove at the Shrine Bowl. He just doesn't have the volume of man coverage experience as the other corners in attendance, and I'm worried his limitations in space will be exposed throughout the week. Most of his plays come when he's attacking forward, as opposed to playing with his back to the ball. No cornerback in this group will have a steeper learning curve during the week of practice than Riley, but I'm not going to bet against him.

Big School Sleeper: John Reid, Penn State

Penn State’s John Reid projects perfectly as an NFL nickel defender. His blend of foot quickness and twitch in man coverage to stick with receivers in the open field and make plays on the ball immediately stands out on film. He is also a consistent and reliable open-field tackler who is assertive when he needs to be a primary run defender. His lack of length will likely prevent him from being a full-time boundary player, but his smarts and knack for making plays in both man and zone coverage will likely earn him a significant role early on in his pro career.