It is no secret the cornerback position is one of the most valuable spots on the roster for every NFL team. Every defense in the league plays with three starters at the position, and there’s increasing importance on cornerback talent and depth.
There may not be a better overall position group in the 2020 NFL Draft than this cornerback class. It is arguably the most talented crop of CB prospects, from top to bottom, I have evaluated in the last seven years.
The exercise of NFL player comparisons can be misleading, but when done properly, they can be one of the best tools in any scouting report.
Jeffrey Okudah, Ohio State
NFL comparison: Marshon Lattimore
Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah is undoubtedly the top cornerback in this draft with his elite man coverage skill set and athleticism. Okudah’s blend of size, speed and twitch draws parallels to All-Pro Marshon Lattimore.
I know it’s cliche to compare him to a player from the same school, but I have not seen a CB this athletically gifted with proportional nuance in man coverage since I scouted Okudah’s predecessor. They not only possess similar profiles in terms of athletic ability and ball skills, but I think Okudah has the same All-Pro potential.
Trevon Diggs, Alabama
NFL comparison: Aqib Talib
Trevon Diggs shares some of the best aspects of five-time Pro Bowl CB Aqib Talib's game with his length, press man traits and aggressiveness at the catch point. The two players come from similar backgrounds as well. Talib played on both sides of the ball for Kansas coming into the 2008draft, and his playmaking ability as a former wide receiver ultimately became his calling card as a ball-hawking cornerback. Diggs was recruiting to Alabama to play WR and followed in the footsteps of his brother, Stefon.
Nick Saban saw Diggs' true potential at cornerback, similar to how the Kansas coaching staff saw Talib and his projection to the next level. Diggs and Talib have the same "alpha" mentality at the line of scrimmage (LOS) in press man coverage, and their similarities as opportunistic playmakers at the catch point are obvious.
Jeff Gladney, TCU
NFL comparison: Desmond Trufant
Jeff Gladney is the top senior CB in this loaded 2020 class, mostly because of how translatable his skill set in man coverage is to the NFL. He is a legit 4.3 athlete who plays a physical, aggressive brand of football at the LOS, catch point and in run support. Gladney is a four-year starter with consistent production against some of the most talented receivers in the country.
His physical profile and overall game reminds me of peak Desmond Trufant. Both have the speed and twitch to stay on the hip pocket of WRs at all levels of the field, but they also share the same mindset as feared playmakers.
Like Trufant in his draft class, Gladney won't be the top cornerback drafted, but he has a real shot to become the best from this elite group.
Jaylon Johnson, Utah
NFL comparison: Vontae Davis
There may not be a more improved prospect than Utah’s Jaylon Johnson. He has proven to be a natural playmaker throughout his career but inconsistencies in man coverage technique plagued him in 2018.
Johnson turned on the switch this year, and his much-improved technique is only accentuating his elite speed and change of direction skills to quickly jump on any route. Above all else, I think Johnson's physicality is what I like most about his game. His will appeal to all different schemes and reminds me of Vontae Davis in his prime. They both have a thick, rocked up frame and while Davis was known as a gambler, he asserted himself as one of the league's best cornerbacks. Johnson has proven to be the same player this year in the Pac-12 and should be in the first-round conversation.
C.J. Henderson, Florida
NFL comparison: William Jackson III
While C.J. Henderson is one of the best pure cover CBs in this entire class, his primary weakness as a run defender has been the sticking point of his draft stock. I understand the concern, but cornerbacks get paid for how they cover and play the ball — not for their production in run support. It is not something to ignore, but to say Henderson is not a top prospect would be unequivocally false.
Do you know who this happened to a couple of years ago despite excellent coverage consistency and production? William Jackson III out of Houston. Henderson wins in the same kind of ways with his combination of length, anticipation and twitch in man coverage. Like Jackson, Henderson is equally effective in off man and press man coverage. I have no doubt Henderson will be one of the top CBs drafted, despite the draft community's heavy criticism.
Shaun Wade, Ohio State
NFL comparison: Byron Jones
It has been a breakout season for redshirt-sophomore Shaun Wade. It is uncertain whether or not he will declare for the draft, but he remains one of the most talented defensive backs in the country.
Wade is an athletic marvel at the position, and one of college football's most versatile defenders. Wade is a matchup chess piece with production both inside and out, similar to Byron Jones early in his career with the Dallas Cowboys. Jones has now developed into one of the league's best cornerbacks. These two players games are similar in terms of their reliability against the run, position flexibility and nuance in both man and zone coverage.
If Wade enters the 2020 draft, he will likely be drafted in the same range where Jones was: at the end of the first round.