Every position comes with its own inherent draft risks. Cornerback, and in particular the 2015 cornerback class, is no exception.
Within the top-10 at that position alone, there is a player who was kicked off his college team, another with a recent arrest on his record, multiple prospects who battled (or are battling) through injuries, a former basketball point guard and at least two guys who could wind up at another position.
A sure thing? It doesn't exist. However, these are the best bets at CB this year:
1. Trae Waynes, Michigan State: Waynes's former Michigan State teammate, Darqueze Dennard, talked ahead of last year's draft about the difficulties college cornerbacks face in transitioning to the more rigid NFL rules. Dennard, like Waynes, thrived at MSU by playing an extremely physical style—one somewhat frowned upon by the NFL, which does not allow near the level of clutching and grabbing that the NCAA permits.
A Round 1 pick of the Bengals, Dennard spent most of 2014 watching from the sidelines. That's the main concern surrounding Waynes, too: that his ability to lock down receivers will rely, at least initially, too much on techniques deemed illegal.
The counter-argument? Waynes might be better than Dennard. He's longer (6'0" and 31-inch arms to Dennard's 5'11", 30 1/4-inch measurements) and faster (4.31-second 40 to 4.51). He also made sure the Spartans did not miss Dennard this past season, sliding to the boundary CB spot and earning third-team All-America honors. Waynes challenges downfield and steps up with force against the run. His game is built for a man-to-man scheme.
Draft projection: Top-15 pick
2. Marcus Peters, Washington: "Marcus Peters is probably the most dominating defensive back we've had in a while," said former Washington DT Danny Shelton. "[The best] since Desmond Trufant."
Granted, that's not a long span—Trufant was a Round 1 pick just two years ago. The point about Peters's skill level stands nonetheless. At a well-built 6'0" and 198 pounds, and with 31 1/2-inch arms, Peters fits the prototype of a modern NFL cornerback. He uses that size to push around receivers at the line, then backs his aggressive style by showing a knack for making plays on the ball.
The glaring red flag, of course, is that he was dismissed from Washington's team last season.
Draft projection: Mid- to late-first round
3. P.J. Williams, Florida State: Williams claimed his spot in our SI64 rankings prior to being popped for a DUI, so take his third-place finish here with a grain of salt. But also don't allow Williams's recent misstep to overshadow his talent completely—most NFL teams will not. The 6'0" Williams challenges offenses out of man coverage, with the versatility to play outside, in the slot or even to handle a potential move to safety.
Draft projection: Mid-second round
4. Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest: What's not to like? Sure, Johnson may not be quite as strong as an NFL team would hope—he can be driven out of run plays and will lose a one-on-one coverage battle here and there—but the complete package makes up for that issue. Johnson is silky smooth in coverage, displaying the wherewithal to handle any coverage look. He stays square to the line, finds the ball and drives downhill on it when given the opportunity. If Johnson is not handling a heavy snap count by October, it will be a surprise.
Draft projection:Mid- to late-first round
5. Jalen Collins, LSU: Will Collins play cornerback or safety in the NFL? Either way, he'll get on to the field. Bet on him sticking at CB for starters because he has the requisite skills and size to develop into a dominant player there. Collins (6'1", 203) forces receivers out of their desired routes, especially when he can drive them to the boundary. His awareness level is high, too, both against the run and pass.
Turning from a project into a consistent star is the next step for Collins. LSU penciled him into the starting lineup early in 2013, only to pull him after two games. Collins regained a first-team job last season, but he'll enter the NFL early with a mere 10 starts to his credit.
Draft projection: Early second round
[daily_cut.nfl] 6. Ronald Darby, Florida State: Darby became one of those cornerbacks that QBs would rather avoid than test—according to Florida State, just 27 passes were thrown his way last season, resulting in a meager 33% completion rate. P.J. Williams's cohort in a loaded secondary, Darby showed his own lock-down capabilities. He's able to flip his hips and turn his body rapidly, so as to mirror receivers in coverage. And his 4.38 speed helps him recover should he let someone past him. Darby may never dominate as a full-time press corner, but he can be a starter on a team that likes to vary its coverages.
Draft projection: Mid-second round
7. Byron Jones, UConn: Jones's combine broad jump of 147 inches looked like one of those clips of an astronaut walking on the moon, where gravity just barely grabs enough hold to bring him back down. Jones also posted a 44.5-inch vertical and blazing times in drills like the three-cone and short shuttle. Ever since, the mantra on him has been: "He's more than just an athlete." It's true, although shoulder surgery shortened his 2014 season, perhaps driving down his initial draft stock. The UConn star constantly winds up around the football, in large part because of his out-of-this-world physical gifts.
Draft projection: Late-first round to mid-second round
8. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon: The knee injury he suffered just prior to Oregon's Rose Bowl appearance knocked Ekpre-Olomu out of the conversation for a bit. Smart NFL teams won't forget about him; the upside when he gets back to full health is too great to ignore. Ekpre-Olomu is on the small side at 5'9", but he might have the best footwork of any cornerback in this class. He might be limited to a slot role, at least early in his career after he receives full medical clearance.
Draft projection: Late-second round to early third round
9. Quinten Rollins, Miami (Ohio): The draft is all about the future. As in, which players will be great down the road, not just as plug-and-play rookie options. The allure of untapped potential is perhaps Rollins's biggest selling point. He played four years of basketball at Miami, shifted over to football for his final season of eligibility ... and won MAC Defensive Player of the Year. The basketball background shows off in how he moves at corner. It will take some time for Rollins to become a well-rounded NFL CB. He might be worth the wait.
Draft projection: Third round
10. Alex Carter, Stanford: There has not been nearly as much buzz around Carter, but he might surpass several of the other top-10 cornerbacks come draft time. He's that solid a prospect—not flashy or overwhelmingly athletic, but solid. More to the point, Carter already has shown he is willing and able to step up against the run, playing with a physical edge that translates to his pass defense. While the ex-Cardinal may not be an immediate CB1 in the NFL, he can serve as a steady contributor out of the blocks.
Draft projection: Third round