NFL Draft News & Analysis

2021 NFL Draft: Biggest pro and con for PFF’s top DB prospects

Jan 11, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Patrick Surtain II (2) against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

PFF recently updated its 2021 NFL Draft Guide, which now includes over 300 player profiles and over 1,200 pages of in-depth analysis. The guide is available to all EDGE and ELITE subscribers, but we decided to preview the included content by sharing every top NFL draft prospect‘s biggest strength and weakness.

Today, we are diving into PFF's top defensive backs.

Biggest pro and con for PFF’s top draft prospects:
QB | RB | WR | TE | OL | DL | LB | DB

 

1. CB PATRICK SURTAIN II, ALABAMA

Biggest pro: Consistent technique

There is no more technically sound, NFL-ready cornerback in this class. His press-man skills will make him a tougher-than-expected matchup on the outside from Day 1, especially compared to most rookie cornerbacks.

Last season, no college corner was tasked with playing on an island more than Surtain, yet he still managed to generate the highest PFF grade at the position. He allowed less than 15 yards into his coverage in exactly half of his games played, and he never allowed any more than 60 in one outing. Surtain is as patient, physical and disciplined as they come.

Biggest con: Good, not elite, athleticism

Surtain lit up his pro day. These were the measurements and times he posted:

  • Height: 6-foot-2 (95th percentile)
  • Weight: 208 pounds (94th)
  • Arm: 32 1/2 inches (84th)
  • Hand: 10 inches (96th)
  • Vertical Jump: 39 inches (84th)
  • Broad Jump: 131 inches (92nd)
  • Bench: 18 reps (84th)
  • 40-yard dash: 4.42 seconds(75th)

That’s about as good a day a corner prospect at that size can have, but we must value what the prospect puts on tape over his pro-day numbers.

In Surtain's case, there were times where he got stacked downfield in a way some on this list — Caleb Farley, for example — have not. He didn’t display elite change-of-direction ability, either.

The Alabama cornerback didn’t look like a poor athlete on the field for the Crimson Tide, but he also didn’t look special. But this shouldn’t be a major concern when it comes to deciding who the first cornerback off the board should be. With the uncertainty surrounding Farley’s long-term health, it’s easily Surtain.

2. CB JAYCEE HORN, SOUTH CAROLINA

Biggest pro: Confident mentality

Horn plays bully ball. And while he is sometimes a bit too physical, it often helps him shut down his opponent.

He allowed just eight catches across seven games this past season while making nine plays on the ball. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound corner is physical at the line of scrimmage and played the third-most press coverage snaps per catch allowed in the Power 5 (23.0) since 2019. The physicality and confidence will make him a dog in the NFL right away.

Biggest con: Tackling

On top of tempering his physicality, someone will have to familiarize Horn with the NFL rules and teach him to tackle. He has missed 24 tackles on 114 attempts in his career — a missed tackle rate of 21.1% that ranks 193rd among 313 qualifying Power 5 cornerbacks since 2018.

3. S TREVON MOEHRIG, TCU

Biggest pro: Ball production

Moehrig made 28 plays on the ball over the last two years, five more than any other Power 5 safety, and he ballhawked his way to the No. 1 coverage grade among that same group over that span.

The TCU product is not an easy man to outmuscle, either. Moehrig’s strength shows in his hits and even landed him a spot on Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks List” this past season.

He didn’t bench at his pro day but has reportedly maxed out at 400 pounds, which is the equivalent of 26 reps of 225. Those 26 reps would tie for the seventh-most by a safety at the NFL Scouting Combine this century. Moehrig has also been on record squatting 640 and power cleaning 370.

Biggest con: Balance

There were moments when Moehrig struggled with his balance and had some difficulty coming back from a false step. Still, there are very few negatives to speak of in Moehrig’s scouting report. He is the clear-cut best safety in the class and should be the only player at the position taken in Round 1 in April.

4. CB GREG NEWSOME II, NORTHWESTERN

Biggest pro: Feet

Newsome's feet are easily the best in this class. They are quick and balanced in his transitions, and his ability to change course swiftly is special.

We only saw Newsome for six games in 2020, but it was pretty apparent that he was one of the most improved players in all of college football. He allowed just 93 yards and five first downs on 223 coverage snaps last year for the Wildcats, all while making eight plays on the ball. Newsome made plays from off-coverage and held up at the line of scrimmage on the few opportunities he had in press-man coverage. He can fit in any scheme in the NFL.

Biggest con: Acceleration

This isn’t a huge concern when projecting Newsome to the pro ranks, and it's not a major issue compared to other “biggest cons” on this list. As Mike Renner stated in PFF’s position rankings, Newsome has the movement skills to be an elite corner and should be off the board within the first 25 picks of the 2021 NFL Draft.

5. CB CALEB FARLEY, VIRGINIA TECH

Biggest pro: Make-up speed

Farley has some unbelievable wheels at 6-foot-2, 207-pounds. He couldn’t partake in Virginia Tech’s pro day due to injury, but his offseason training program, Bommarito Performance Systems, posted a video of him running a 4.28-second 40. While this time may not be 100% accurate, you can see just how much his speed sticks out on tape — he’s almost always the fastest of the 22 players on the field.

It’s a rarity to see a wide receiver beat him vertically for an open ball. Farley was targeted on a vertical route in single coverage 12 times in 2019, and he bodied the receiver in tight coverage on 11 of those 12 reps.

Biggest con: Outside of the injury concerns, press-man experience

There are only a few notable concerns with Farley at this point. The first is that he only played 31 snaps of press-man coverage in his breakout year in 2019 that saw him post an elite 90.5 coverage grade. Yes, Farley has all the traits needed to play press-man in the NFL at a high level, but we just haven't seen him play it on a large scale.

The biggest concern — and the sole reason he was dropped from CB1 on PFF's big board — are the injuries. He tore his ACL in 2017, struggled with back issues in 2019 and just this past month had another procedure on his back. Opting out of the 2020 season didn’t help matters, either. Farley could become a big-time steal if he slides to the tail end of Round 1, but it’s understandable why teams are skeptical of taking him over Surtain, Horn and Newsome.

6. CB ASANTE SAMUEL JR., FLORIDA STATE

Biggest pro: Read-and-react ability

Samuel was a key cog in Florida State’s secondary throughout his career, racking up ball production and displaying NFL-caliber read-react ability in each of his three years on campus. His 30 forced incompletions over that span were the second-most among all Power 5 cornerbacks. He allowed only two 15-plus-yard receptions in eight games this past year.

Biggest con: Size

If you are looking for a press-man corner on the outside, look away. Samuel held up well in press at Florida State, but his size — 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, with arms just over 30-inches — will limit his role in the NFL.

Samuel is a perfect prospect for a zone-heavy team looking for an athletic and instinctive corner. But while some teams may want him to kick inside to cover the slot, we believe he can hold up on the outside in the right system. We believe that his read-and-react ability is good enough to outweigh the size concerns. All signs point toward him from being a playmaker in the NFL.

7. S JAMAR JOHNSON, INDIANA

Biggest pro: Hips

Johnson has flown under the radar, quietly becoming one of the single biggest risers on the PFF draft board. He played all over the field for the Hoosiers and thrived in every role he played, displaying the nimble feet and the smooth hips that are required on the back end in the NFL. Johnson produced an 89.3 coverage grade in an Indiana career that featured seven interceptions and six forced incompletions.

Biggest con: Experience

His tackling issues could well flare up in the NFL, given that he has missed 22.5% of his tackle attempts over his career, but his lack of experience is perhaps the biggest con with Johnson as a prospect.

He played just shy of 800 snaps in his career and just over 400 snaps in coverage. As a comparison, Trevon Moehrig has played double that in his TCU career.

Still, the coverage ability Johnson flashed in his smaller sample is too good to ignore. He should be a second-round pick in April.

7. SCB ELIJAH MOLDEN, WASHINGTON

Biggest pro: Transitions from off-coverage

Smooth hip transitions, short-area burst, physical tackling and fantastic eyes in coverage are just some of the reasons why Molden is arguably the best slot corner PFF College has ever seen.

Of every Power 5 defensive back who has logged at least 500 snaps in the slot in the PFF College era (since 2014), no one recorded a higher slot coverage grade, more forced incompletions or more passing stops than Molden.

Biggest con: Role

Molden was a full-time slot cornerback at Washington, and he'll likely fit into the same role at the next level.

NFL teams may pass on him early in the draft because slot defenders aren't valued highly in the league. The thing is, slot cornerback is actually one of the most valuable positions on the field — the NFL just hasn't recognized it yet. Molden was the best player at the position at the college level and has the traits to be among the best at the professional level.

8. S RICHIE GRANT, UCF

Biggest pro: Processing speed

Grant wore a few different hats for UCF over his college career, but it didn’t matter if he was playing deep or down in the box — he always found ways to make plays.

His ability to see plays develop will be a major selling point for NFL teams, as will his 25 combined interceptions plus pass breakups since 2018, a top-five mark at his position. Grant also plays with great physicality in the box against the run. This past season, Grant led all FBS safeties in run-defense grade with a 90.0 mark.

Biggest con: Actual speed

Grant may not have had a terrible pro day, but in a year that has no combine, it’s far more important to value what was put on tape.

He appeared somewhat limited from a traits perspective last season, with his lack of range sticking out as a potential sticking point. Still, his read-react ability is good enough to outweigh these concerns, which is why we have him as a second-round prospect ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft.

9. S JEVON HOLLAND, OREGON

Biggest pro: Instincts

Holland played a significant role for the Ducks from the day he stepped onto the field as a true freshman back in 2018. He immediately established himself as one of the best coverage safeties in the game.

Before opting out of the 2020 season, Holland was the second-highest-graded safety in the Power 5 in 2018 and 2019. He recorded 20 combined pass breakups and interceptions in those two years, the second-most among players at his position.

Biggest con: Explosiveness

Holland is similar to Grant in that he’s an intuitive and versatile assassin in coverage but doesn’t have that athletic trump card some in this class possess. One difference between the two is that Holland won’t hold up against the run in the box.

The instincts Holland showed at such a young age for Oregon should ease any concern that is put into conversation. As Mike Renner said, he should be an immediate starter in the NFL from Day 1.

10. CB AARON ROBINSON, UCF

Biggest pro: Attacking playstyle

Robinson's physicality made him a nightmare to go up against in both the pass and run game. He showed this consistently at UCF and then matched that energy at the Senior Bowl, where he raised himself up our board.

His former teammate, Richie Grant, called him “an animal” on the field on a recent episode of the 2 for 1 Drafts podcast. This playstyle is a big reason we saw him rank inside the top 10 in the FBS over the last two years in plays made on the ball from the slot (14) and 14th among that same group in defensive stops (20).

Biggest con: Overreacting in press

He may have plied his trade in the slot, but UCF’s scheme tasked Robinson with playing a considerable amount of press coverage. He actually played 49 more press-coverage snaps than any other slot corner since 2019 and has played 120 more than the third-placed player on that list.

While his physicality at the line of scrimmage is a strength, Robinson tends to overreact in press coverage, which could lead to some ugly losses at the next level.

11. S AR’DARIUS WASHINGTON, TCU

Biggest pro: Instincts

Washington has been a productive safety in coverage alongside Moehrig over the last couple of years, thanks in large part to his instincts and change-of-direction ability. His coverage grade since 2019 trailed only Moehrig for the best among Power 5 safeties. Washington sees the game the way safeties need to to be successful in the NFL and always trusts his eyes in coverage.

Biggest con: Size

The big con on Washington is quite obvious — he stands at 5-foot-8 and weighs 178 pounds. Among safety prospects historically, those two marks sit in the first percentile. That alone is going to make some teams look away come draft time.

We, however, think that Washington’s small stature shouldn’t be a big issue. He makes up for it with his instinctive play and allowed only two 15-plus-yard receptions over the past two seasons. He rarely makes mistakes on the back end, so teams would be wise to overlook that listed height and instead focus on the coverage ability.

12. S ANDRE CISCO, SYRACUSE

Biggest pro: Playmaking

With the help of his elite range, Cisco was a big-time playmaker on the back end for the Orange. He comes in at No. 2 among FBS safeties in combined pass breakups and interceptions since 2018, and he did that with only two games played in 2020 before suffering a torn ACL. His high end is as good as any other safety in this class.

Biggest con: Freelancing

Cisco may be the most frustrating player college football has seen over the last few years. He has ridiculous playmaking ability, but he was also responsible for a ridiculous number of big plays in coverage. His reads were all over the place, and he was regularly fried on double moves.

Cisco has been responsible for 17 pass plays that resulted in a 15-plus-yard gain since 2018, tying for the ninth-most among Power 5 safeties. Again, Cisco only played two games in 2020.

The Syracuse product also allowed a Power 5-worst 2.14 yards per coverage snap in the slot since 2018 after allowing 435 yards on 203 slot-coverage snaps. The Syracuse scheme didn’t help matters, but Cisco is going to need a whole lot of coaching in the NFL.

13. CB TYSON CAMPBELL, GEORGIA

Biggest pro: Physical tools

From a physical tools perspective, Campbell has everything the NFL wants at the position. He checks the height, length, speed and change-of-direction boxes with flying colors, standing at 6-foot-1 with 32-inch arms and clocking in with a 4.37-second 40 at Georgia’s pro day.

It is also worth noting that he was a five-star recruit, a state champion track runner in high school and that he also won a couple of football state titles with Patrick Surtain II. Campbell could add more to his frame, but he looks crafted to be an NFL corner.

Biggest con: Ball production

Campbell may look the part, but he has yet to put those elite traits into action. He played like he was smaller than he is and never flashed impressive ball production. Campbell produced just a 10.5% career forced incompletion rate when playing on the outside, which is well below any other corner on this list.

 


View PFF's 2021 NFL Draft position rankings:

QB | RB | WR | TE | T | iOL | DI | EDGE | LB | CB | S

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