The 2020 cornerback class is absolutely loaded. The position group, as a whole, is deeper than it has been in quite some time. With that being said, the sheer amount of talent in this crop of CBs has led some prospects to fly under the radar more than they should. One of those players is TCU senior Jeff Gladney.
Gladney is vastly underrated in the draft community, but I think he is the best senior cornerback prospect in the country.
At 6-foot-0, 185 pounds, Gladney is a four-year starter and one of the fastest players in college football. He reportedly ran a 4.34 40-yard dash time and bench pressed 400 pounds last offseason. The scary thing is watching his athleticism consistently translate to production on the field. Gladney allowed the lowest passer rating in the Big 12 in 2018 with 13 pass breakups, and then followed that with 14 more deflections this year — tied for fifth in the FBS.
The most translatable trait for a next-level CB is play speed in man coverage. It involves a combination of twitch and change of direction skills, as well as the ability to quickly key, diagnose and react to the wide receiver’s route breaks. If you watch Gladney’s tape, you can see that he is as talented as any cornerback in the nation doing this. One of the quickest ways to separate prospects in the draft evaluation process is to see how they fare in off-man coverage. This can expose poor eye discipline, false feet hip tightness, etc. Off man forces cornerbacks to live and die on the reaction time of their eyes and feet, and it is a good barometer to see whether a prospect’s skill set will translate to man coverage production in the NFL. Gladney has natural athleticism, smooth footwork and reactionary quickness — there aren’t many CBs in this class who can stick to the wide receivers hip pocket better from a pedal.
But Gladney is just as good at the line of scrimmage in press-man coverage. There, cornerbacks win one of two ways 1) mirroring with foot quickness or 2) re-routing with timing and physicality. Gladney has consistently proven he can mirror the best in the nation with his athleticism, but what many don’t know is that he is incredibly effective with his jam in press man as well. Don’t be fooled by his thin frame, either. He will punch receivers in the mouth. Gladney’s strength in the weight room translates to a physical brand of football, and I think he has room to grow with his overall patience. But from a pure man coverage standpoint — both in off and press — Gladney is on the shortlist for having the most translatable traits in this class, and that is a big reason why he will likely be a first-round cornerback on my board.
In zone coverage, he is just as effective. Gladney is obviously a monster athlete, but I think one of his most valuable attributes is his eye discipline. A lot of young CBs are easily fooled and caught up in the backfield action. But if you watch Gladney’s tape, the ironic thing is that he is usually the one fooling the quarterback. He consistently baits quarterbacks to throw into windows that he can easily close with his gifted range and athleticism.
Next, add Gladney’s multi-faceted coverage profile to his ability to attack the ball in the air, and he is one of the most difficult cornerbacks to complete a pass on. A lot of teams have keyed away from Gladney to avoid testing his playmaking prowess. Whether it is locating with his back to the ball or clicking and closing on a route break, Gladney has ball skills for days.
His game draws many parallels to Atlanta Falcons’ cornerback Desmond Trufant with similar size, speed, twitch and ball skills in coverage. While other cornerback prospects are getting more national attention because of their team’s collective success, Gladney has a skill set that is destined for production at the next level.
I would be comfortable drafting him in the first round. After he destroys the Senior Bowl one-on-one’s, as well as the athletic testing at the NFL combine, his name as a top prospect on the boundary will pick up a ton of steam.