Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Day One Starters with Room to Grow
The second tier of cornerbacks are the guys you’d be comfortable starting on your roster, provided they’re not expected to carry the load themselves, but expect #1 cornerback reps in the future. This is where your Darius Slay, your Xavier Rhodes, your Kyle Fullers end up. There are going to be some growing pains, but with proper coaching you can hope to end up with top-tier starters for years to come. Most years, this is where your first round corners land.
Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest
I had heard Johnson’s name mentioned several times throughout the draft process, much like Eric Rowe, but didn’t get to his tape until much later in the process. To say that I was impressed would be an understatement, as he immediately leapfrogged my draft crush as the #2 corner in this class. Johnson has all the measurables you want in a starting cornerback in the NFL, but he brings the tape to support his starting ability from day one.
The biggest trait that stood out to me with Kevin Johnson was how much of a scheme fit he would be in Teryl Austin’s defense. Though a plus athlete, he isn’t Darius Slay, but that doesn’t prevent him from coming up and hitting a guy with elite closing speed and strong tackling. Johnson is a gambler who is confident in his abilities, so he’s going to give up the occasional big play as a rookie. He’ll get his, however, as he doesn’t play around with taking the football away from quarterbacks that test him.
Eric Rowe, Utah
I’ve talked about Rowe at length in a previous mock draft, so I won’t go into great detail here. Like Darius Slay in 2013, Rowe is likely to have some serious growing pains in his first NFL season. I think he would benefit from a starting role early, however, to drill into his head that he will have to win with more than just athleticism. Long term? The outlook is extremely bright for Rowe, who has the tools to become the best corner out of the 2015 NFL draft if he has a coaching staff that’s patient.
Byron Jones, Connecticut
Despite being a measurables guy in general, I don’t shoot guys up my big board based on measurables alone unless we’re talking about late round developmental types. So even though Jones scored a 10.00 RAS Grade, the highest of any cornerback in the past decade, I hadn’t moved him an inch on my draft board until hunting down game film of him.
I was rewarded in this instance, for Byron Jones is more than just an all world athlete. There are some technical flaws in his game that will have to be worked out, and I have no doubts there are going to be some instances where his instincts get him in trouble as a rookie. That doesn’t change the fact that Jones plays like a veteran. He has the highest upside in this draft class, and whoever calls his name in the 2015 NFL draft will find a corner with all the tools and an understanding of how to use most of them.
Where can Lions draft them?
There’s a possibility any or all of these guys are still available when the Lions make their first pick at 23rd overall. When the team’s next pick comes up, all three will be gone. It’s first round on these guys or miss out.
Next: Tier 3, Still Some Winners