Finding Jaguars: A Baker’s Dozen of Prospective Cornerbacks Await

If there is one unit in which the Jacksonville Jaguars are relatively flush, it's the cornerback unit. But one can never be too careful or have to many playmakers. So we look ahead to the 2021 NFL Draft to find 13 prospective corners that could await the Jaguars.
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The Jacksonville Jaguars spent much of the past calendar year setting the foundation and shoring up the corner unit. Arguably no unit has seen more change in that time. After losing Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye, corner was the first position the previous regime addressed in the 2020 NFL Draft, taking Florida corner CJ Henderson at No. 9 overall in the first round. In fact, with the franchise record 12 picks in last year's draft, four were corners: Henderson, Luq Barcoo, Josiah Scott, and Chris Claybrooks. Furthermore, due to injuries, all four saw significant playing time with Henderson, Claybrooks, and Barcoo all starting at various times.

But a young unit—no matter how potentially talented—still needs a leader, so that’s what the Jaguars addressed in free agency. Their biggest get off the market was former Seattle Seahawk, Shaquill Griffin. The former third-round pick out of UCF spent the past four years learning under some of the game’s best in route to accumulating 248 tackles, 48 passes defensed (tied for the 10th most in the NFL between 2017-20), and six interceptions in his 57 games for the Hawks (53 starts).

Although the unit is seemingly set for the foreseeable future, championship teams always make sure to have depth where needed. With this in mind, here are 14 corners who make sense for the Jaguars during each day of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Day One 

Picks: No. 1, No. 25 (via Los Angeles Rams)

Patrick Surtain will most likely be gone by the time the Jaguars second pick in the first round comes up, so he isn’t included in this list.

Jaycee Horn-South Carolina: The South Carolina DB has shot up the draft boards after a show-stopping Pro Day. But really all anyone had to do was watch his film. He started 29 of the 30 games he played in as a Gamecock, racking up a career 101 tackles, seven for loss, three sacks 23 pass break-ups, two forced fumbles and two interceptions. The NFL legacy is tailor-made to step on the field right away, with the build and sticky man coverage skills to be an immediate impact. However, he still has enough of a learning curve to climb in the pro-game—like cleaning up some technique—that if he fell in the Jaguars' lap, he’d be fine to learn for a couple of years, but still capable of filling in as a starter if needed.

Greg Newsome-Northwestern: Newsome has impeccable technique and allowed just a 31.6% completion rate and 7.8 yards per catch in 2020, per Pro Football Focus. His tape is good…there’s just so little to watch. Injuries shortened his first two seasons and COVID-19 shortened his junior season, meaning he’s preparing to enter the NFL having only played in 21 games in college. He can be a step off at times but makes up for it as a willing tackler.

Day Two 

Picks: No. 33, No. 45 (via Minnesota Vikings), No. 65

Asante Samuel Jr.-Florida State: Another NFL cornerback legacy (this year’s draft is full of them), Samuel led FSU and/or the ACC in each of his three years in one major cornerback category or another (led Seminoles as a freshman with nine pass breakups; led ACC in 2019 with 14 pass breakups; led FSU as a junior with three interceptions). He’ll have to clean up some penalties, but his physicality is a positive more often than not. A solid Day Two pick for depth and possible starting ability if needed.

Tay Gowan-Central Florida: Gowan took a winding path to the NFL Draft, starting at Miami (Ohio) then attending Butler Community College before heading to UCF in 2019. During that 2019 season, Gowan nine of 12 games, recording 31 tackles (one for loss), two interceptions and eight pass breakups. After coming ill with COIVD-19 in the offseason, however, Gowan opted out of the 2020 season. As such, he has only one season as a starter on a FBS team. His ball skills are what jump out on tape (eight interceptions, 12 pass break-ups) and he could benefit from a couple of years on special teams while adjusting.

Eric Stokes-Georgia: The most tantalizing part of Eric Stokes as a prospect is his speed. A former track champion, he can match any receiver step for step. He can play outside or inside, with the latter being where the Jaguars would likely need him most. But he needs to work on his physicality in the run game, something that teams will likely test early on. The second-team All-SEC selection though brings 22 pass break-ups and four interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) in three years of playing time to the table.

Ifeatu Melifonwu-Syracuse: The Cuse product is big and strong, with a physicality that makes him a tough matchup for receivers. He can at times rely on that, however, sacrificing technique. Injuries shortened his first two seasons and COVID-19 shortened his 2020 year, meaning there hasn’t been consistent tape on Melifonwu. His raw attributes though make scouts drool over the possibilities. If he’s still available late in Day 2, Melifonwu could be a great value pick.

Tyson Campbell-Georgia: Another product of Patrick Surtain (the former DB was Campbell’s high school position coach), Campbell led Georgia his final season with five pass breakups, in addition to his 29 tackles, 2.5 for loss, and one interception. He played three years at Georgia, with 30 starts total. He missed parts of 2019 with a turf toe, but he’s proven himself capable and durable in college football’s toughest conference. He can use time to polish up his technique but has a high ceiling that makes him a nice grab in Day Two.

Kelvin Joseph-Kentucky: Joseph is everything a team could want in a corner; ball hawk skills, tenacious hands, and just enough cockiness and edge to make him a pest for receivers. The positives can also be the problem though. Originally an LSU defender, he was suspended for the bowl game as a freshman for a violation of team rules, transferred to Kentucky, and after sitting out 2019 per NCAA rules, started at corner in 2020 and accumulated questionable penalties. But he has everything needed to be special. He allows few completions, can fill in on run support, and brings a readiness to his game.

Day Three

Picks: No. 106, No. 130 (via Los Angeles Rams), No. 145, No. 170 (via Cleveland Browns), No. 249 (via Tennessee Titans).

It's unlikely Aaron Robinson of UCF will still be available by the time the Jaguars pick on Day Three; therefore he is not included on this list.

Shaun Wade-Ohio State: The Jacksonville native is exactly the kind of prospect the past regime would draft; someone with ties to the area and a high floor but a project to find his ceiling. He was named a first-team Associated Press All-American and the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year in 2020 thanks to 35 tackles, two interceptions, one returned for a score, four pass breakups in eight games, seven starts. He’s played as both nickel and safety but has seen ups and downs. He’s a name for the DB board, albeit one farther down the list.

D.J. Daniel-Georgia: Daniel hasn’t played a ton at the FBS level, spending his first two years at Georgia Military College. But he was named Georgia’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year following his strong 2019 showing (42 tackles, two for loss, eight pass breakups). Injuries kept his 2020 season inconsistent. Now the question becomes do coaches value more his stickiness on the receiver, or his inability (thus far) to watch the quarterback and/or ball?

Ambry Thomas-Michigan: Thomas opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, but was dynamic his first three years. In the 2019 season alone, he finished with 38 tackles, three for loss, three interceptions, four pass breakups and two fumble recoveries in 13 starts. And this was after losing 30 pounds over the summer due to a colitis. Thomas also has experience as a receiver and special teams returner, something he contributed with at Michigan, and what can help set him apart when it comes time to establish value of players.

Rodarius Williams-Oklahoma State: Williams, whose brother is “Greedy” Williams out LSU who now plays for the Cleveland Browns, isn’t necessarily a testament to NFL ingrained skills. But he has a willingness to play nasty, staying in the receiver's face. He could become a special teamer who fills in when needed, much like Chris Claybrooks did as a rookie in 2020. What makes Williams incredibly valuable is his durability. He set an Oklahoma State record for 48 consecutive starts.

Trill Williams-Syracuse: A potential nickel, Williams is a big body on the line of scrimmage with the coverage skills that make him a good plug-and-play option inside. He doesn’t have the mirror skills to follow receivers downfield however—at least not yet—and would need to be primarily a situational player.