For the last few years, the NFL has made a shift towards deploying much bigger, longer-armed cornerbacks in their defensive backfields. Due in part to the success of the Seattle Seahawks defense starting a few years ago, there has been a massive demand for these more physical corners who can smother wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. Since Richard Sherman turned into a prototype, every NFL team is looking for that type of player; be that in Aqib Talib, Josh Norman, Delvin Breaux, Marcus Peters or Jalen Ramsey, tons of NFL teams are looking for big cornerbacks to be the number one defender in their secondary.
Cornerback is a hard position, due in part to the rules that have protected NFL passing games, the massive influx of talent at wide receiver in the NFL, as well as the caliber of athletes at the position. NFL wide receivers are coming into the league with incredible speed, size and refinement, so there is obviously a need for similar athletes to counter this trend.
However, there are always exceptions. Even in the last few years, the strong play of Jason Verrett and Tyrann Mathieu as well as strong rookie performances from Vernon Hargreaves and Tavon Young show that it is not always about the size of the boat, but the motion of the ocean (I am so sorry). NFL players who don't match the size threshold (Usually above 5-11 with 32 inch arms) can possibly compensate for their shortcomings through technique, physicality and mentality.
Iowa's Desmond King is that exception.
Standing at 5'10", Desmond King is not the NFL's prototypical cornerback, but don't tell him that. Since taking the field a few years back, Desmond King has been one of the best, most productive cornerbacks in college football. The senior has 12 interceptions, 8.5 tackle for a loss, 33 passes defended, 1 forced fumble and three defensive touchdowns in his career as a Hawkeye. All of that in less than four full seasons... So I won't be the one to tell him he cannot be a successful NFL cornerback because of his size.
From a trait perspective, King offers mostly everything you want from a cornerback. He has excellent football movement, wasting very little motion during his backpedal and transitions smoothly in coverage. He is incredibly physical, both at the line of scrimmage, as a tackler and in coverage. He does an excellent job with hand placement when pressing and with the ball in the air, he positions himself well to make plays on the ball while also exhibiting strength to outmuscle defenders. His awareness in coverage actually makes him even better in zone than he is in man coverage, which says quite a lot. He has awesome "click-close", meaning his ability to quickly diagnose and make a play on the ball is outstanding.
Most impressive, however, is King's overall physicality, and it plays a big role in why he is so successful as a defender. He plays a no-finesse game that is predicated on playing stronger, more violent football than the player across from him. It doesn't matter if it is a 6'2" wide receiver or a 230-pound running back. King is bringing the same kind of fire for every play. His run defense is truly awesome for not just a cornerback, but any defender. He does a great job diagnosing run plays, fighting through blocks on the perimeter and making strong tackles.
My only worry with King is overall athletic ability. While he is not "slow", per se, he is not the incredible athlete that other smaller corners in the NFL (Verrett, Hargreaves), which could worry many considering he could just be physically maxed out. However, despite athletic deficiencies, he is *fast enough* and his technique can compensate at the next level.
NFL Comparison: A bit of a throwback, but Desmond King looks like an Antoine Winfield clone. Like Winfield, King lacks ideal size, but also similar, his outstanding physicality and football IQ allows him to play cornerback at a high level. King is an impact run defender whose physicality allows him to be a pest in coverage and create turnovers.
NFL Projection: I absolutely think he has the ability to be a number one cornerback on an NFL defense. Though he would be best deployed in an off man or heavy zone system that could mitigate his size disadvantage and maximize his ability when the play is in front of him. The Eagles employ a lot of off man concepts in their defense and god knows cornerback is a major weak spot on the team. Adding a dynamic cornerback who can create turnovers while also being dependable against the run would be a massive upgrade from the current... I don't know what to call the Eagles cornerback situation. If King is available when the Eagles pick in the first round, it would be a near no brainer to pick him.