In this NFL Draft class, there is an embarrassment of riches at the cornerback position. There are easily five different guys who could state the case for being the best cornerback in the class, and probably 10 or even more players who deserve to go in the first two rounds.
So it really comes down to a "pick your flavor" type of situation at the position. There are excellent run defending cornerbacks like Desmond King and Marlon Humphrey and there are guys whose ball skills stand out like Sidney Jones and Adoree' Jackson. There of course are the more physical players like Quincy Wilson or all around defenders like Teez Tabor, but there is another type of cornerback that is certainly valuable: the pure cover corner.
For these types of players, they may not be A+ playmakers or great run defenders, but they are technically sound and gifted athletes who can always be in the right position in cover.
Meet Marshon Lattimore.
Lattimore was a first time starter for the Buckeyes this season as a redshirt sophomore, and formed an outstanding duo in the Buckeye backfield with Gareon Conley. The 20-year-old cornerback recorded four interceptions and nine pass breakups and rarely got beat down the field this year.
When watching Lattimore it's pretty easy to see how good of an athlete he is. His ability to transition out of his back pedal without losing speed, and then closing on the football when it is in the air, is remarkable.
This is Lattimore's only "coverage interception," where the other three this year came from bad passes and lucky bounces. This is a great example of Lattimore's speed, however. His ability to follow the receiver across the field and close to position himself for the interception shows a great second gear.
Here is a better look.
By the time the ball leaves the quarterback's hands, Lattimore closes the gap between him and the receiver so it looks more like Mayfield is throwing to him. This is great awareness by Lattimore as well.
Lattimore is largely used as a man and press-man cover cornerback and is rarely found in zone. This will raise questions about his transition to playing in schemes that employ more zone coverage looks, but him constantly winning with his athletic ability should give NFL teams encouragement.
Lattimore is an impressive athlete and it is hard not to see why a lot of big draft media guys love him, but there are still questions about his transition to the league.
This is a hard play to judge because technically Lattimore wins the rep with the pass breakup in the end, but his not-so-subtle hand usage through the route will likely get called in the NFL for pass interference. Lattimore has a habit of using these types of jabs in coverage and he will get away with a little bit of that in the league. However, he cannot become too reliant on that aspect of his game or he will end up becoming a turnover machine.
I do like that he is able to get his head around to make a play on the ball, but often Lattimore is playing the receivers eyes than looking for the ball. This could absolutely be a coaching call at OSU, but it does create a larger learning curve getting to the NFL.
It is difficult for players to "out-athlete" their opponents in the NFL. Most of NFL wide receivers are among the best athletes in the world, so Lattimore being so fast will not help him as much to dominate as it does in college football.
Lattimore's general disinterest with run defense is also a tad of a concern. I am not the biggest stickler for mediocre run defense from cornerbacks, but in a class so full of talent at the cornerback position, it is important to nitpick.
I get that other players are flowing to the ball, but Lattimore lackadaisically jogging in the direction of the ball carrier is a microcosm of his run defense. Too often does he just let himself get blocked on the perimeter by receivers and leaves a lot yardage on the field for running backs to pick up.
Now, he *can* tackle. I have seen him do it before.
While this is a blitz, Lattimore does a great job finding the ball carrier and taking him down at first contact. So he *can* tackle, it just comes down to effort for him.
Lattimore's impressive athletic ability and pure cover skills are not so different from Dominique Rodgers Cromartie. Dominique Rodgers Cromartie ran a sub-4.3 40 coming out of college and has made his career out of just being an outstanding athlete. While he has certainly gotten better as a tackler and run defender, he seems to care a bit more about saving his energy for covering that coming up against the run.
I do like Lattimore for what he is and can see the infatuation with him. He may test better than any cornerback in this class and still is a very young prospect. For the Eagles, he is a bit of a project to consider him a sure fire first round player. Lattimore's proclivity for press man coverage creates a steeper learning curve in an Eagles defense that does not use press very much. However, overall, it is hard to see Lattimore getting out of the first round. While there are definitely better cornerbacks this year, it would be hard for teams to let such a gifted athlete get out of day one of the draft.