The Big 12 hasn't exactly been an NFL factory for cornerbacks with, only two selected across the last two NFL Drafts combined.
Now looking ahead to 2019, the position is becoming even deeper within the conference, with multiple potential draft picks. Let's examine the best five entering the season.
1. Kris Boyd, Texas (6,0 195)
Kris Boyd is the premiere cornerback prospect in the Big 12, and when all it's said and done he may be the top one in the whole country. Boyd fits the mold of the long, smooth athlete at the position who can stick to receiver’s hips vertically. Boyd does an excellent job staying locked on to the wide receiver's queues, and locating while leaning in to disrupt the catchpoint on vertical sets. He has consistent jams that slow down a wide receiver’s release moves or routes, and the click and close ability to react from off-man coverage. Boyd is a feisty, downhill player in run support who sheds blocks like a strong safety, and uses his smooth athleticism to be dynamic in his change of direction.
Boyd could stand to add some strength into his upper body, which will allow the accuracy of his jams to cause more disruption for bigger-bodied receivers. Boyd has excellent ball skills, but shaky hands and can suffer from the occasional drop of potential interceptions.
With Boyd’s all-around, refined game, he looks like a lock to go in the top 100 picks of the NFL Draft. He possesses nearly every desirable trait for an NFL cornerback, and there are only few areas where he can make improvements to his on-field game.
2. Brian Peavy, Iowa State (5'9, 194)
While Kris Boyd fits the mold of a starting outside cornerback in the NFL, the rest of the talent in the Big 12 looks relegated to slot duties. That notion shouldn’t take away from their ability, as a player like Brian Peavy projects perfectly as an overhang cornerback. Peavy has excellent short-area quickness, and is quick to react to the ball in the air and disrupt the catchpoint with his plus ball skills. Despite being on the shorter side, Peavy has solid length and a knack for playing the pocket. Additionally, Peavy is as aggressive of a run support cornerback as you will find, with the ability to stick ball carriers. Peavy is relentless in his pursuit, and will shock and shed weaker wide receivers.
Peavy’s weaknesses seemingly will be masked with a move to the slot. He will too often jump shorter routes or be over-aggressive in run support, getting beat over the top. Peavy’s eye-discipline and occasionally questionable decision making gets him in trouble, but with a potentially more defined role that plays to his strengths and scheme versatility, Peavy could thrive at the next level.
3. Duke Shelley, Kansas State (5'9, 180)
Similar to Peavy, Shelley projects mainly to slot duties at the next level. Shelley has seamless change of direction and click and close ability, coupled with the proper technique and patience to remain square to the line of scrimmage as long as possible. Shelley is sticky in man coverage and has the long speed to match quicker receivers vertically. His field awareness and competitiveness make him active in run support, and he does a great job maintaining his edge when placed in that position.
Shelley is undersized, and can occasionally get himself off-balanced while pressing near the line of scrimmage. Despite being fleet of foot, Shelley can be deceived by subtle moves from the wide receiver, and allow more nuanced route runners to beat him inside. Despite his high motor, he does a poor job of wrapping ball carriers and can struggle to bring down ball carriers in space.
With his man coverage skills and capability to play multiple coverages, along with his lack of size, Shelley projects as a nickel corner at the next level. With that projection, his draft stock will take a hit as he he has nearly no experience in that position. However, his traits could get him drafted in the mid-to-late rounds as the role of the nickel corner continues to evolve.
4. Justus Parker, Texas Tech (6'0, 205)
Justus Parker plays a hybrid defensive back position for the Red Raiders defense, in a role reminiscent of Minkah Fitzpatrick’s. With this role will come a gray-area on Parker’s natural position, but I believe that he projects best as an overhang corner with his ability as a pass and run defender. Parker has the necessary closing speed to cover slot receivers, but with the strength and ball skills to matchup with “Move” tight ends. Parker is a solid tackler in all areas of the field, and can be brought close to the line of scrimmage in run support.
Parker is slightly inexperienced and needs to prove he can match receivers vertically to be a bona-fide cornerback prospect. While he’s competitive, he can get in trouble and off-balance with inaccurate jams. Lastly, if a move to safety is in his future, further proving that he can play over the top will be a necessity.
Parker is a well-rounded playmaker and Swiss army knife of a college defensive back, but that versatility may actually work against him as a prospect as his future role will be undetermined. He could return to Lubbock after this season, but his combination of athleticism and strength could surely entice NFL teams come draft season.
5. Parnell Motley, Oklahoma (5'11, 175)
Parnell Motley will be draft-eligible for the first time this upcoming season, but the fiery cornerback from Oklahoma may produce enough positive tape to make the leap to the NFL. Motley is a ball-magnet, who has the right combination of closing speed, ball skills, and competitiveness to be a disruptive force at the catch point. Motley is another aggressive run support cornerback, and is physical despite his smaller frame. In space, he closes ground and makes solo tackles no matter how shifty the runner.
Motley can get himself in trouble with his aggressiveness and lack of pure strength, as he can find himself too off-balance and allowing stronger receivers to fight through his jams. Added strength will be a necessity if he is to hold up at the next level, and additional experience may be exactly what Motley needs before entering the draft.