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Triple Take: Cornerbacks

The "Triple Take" continues its look at the 2024 NFL Draft with a breakdown of the cornerbacks. The Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta give their takes on the top prospects at the position.

The opinions of these Steelers Radio Network personalities do not reflect the views of the Steelers organization.

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Dale's Take …

What a position this is in this year's draft. There are big ones, small ones, fast ones. Whatever you're looking for is available in this draft. And there will be good corners available deep into this draft that can help your team out. It might not have the high-end talent of the past couple of drafts, but the corner class is deep.

Sleeper - Elijah Jones, Boston College (6-1 ½, 185 lbs.) - In many drafts, a corner with Jones' size and speed (4.44 40-yard dash) and athleticism (42 1/2-inch vertical) would easily be taken in the first two rounds. Add in his production with seven interceptions in the past two seasons, and you have a pretty solid prospect. He's a sixth-year player, so he's a little overaged, but Jones is solid.

#5 - Ennis Rakestraw, Missouri (5-11, 183 lbs.) - Tough as nails, Rakestraw isn't afraid to stick his nose in the pile as a tackler. Had one interception and 12 pass defenses in 2022, but a shoulder injury limited his production somewhat in 2023. Also had an ACL injury in 2021, so there are some medical concerns. Rakestraw ran a 4.51-second 40 at the Combine, which was just OK, but his 1.54-second 10-yard split shows his explosiveness out of the gate.

#4 - Nate Wiggins, Clemson (6-1, 173 lbs.) - A thin-framed cover man with outstanding deep speed, Wiggins ran a 4.28-second 40-yard dash at the Combine, though his 10-yard split was 1.59 seconds. He had three interceptions and 19 pass defenses the past two seasons. Wiggins is smooth and has plenty of room to continue to build his play strength. In fact, he was up over 180 pounds at his pro day. He also blocked a field goal coming off the edge in his college career.

#3 - Terrion Arnold, Alabama (6-0, 189 lbs.) - Arnold is a tough, physical corner who can play in the slot or outside and does a good job of taking the ball away, as evidenced by his 5 interceptions last season for the Crimson Tide. Arnold's 4.5-second 40 at the Combine wasn't outstanding, but it was fast enough for a twitched-up athlete with great instincts. Arnold should step right in as a solid NFL cover man.

#2 - Cooper DeJean, Iowa (6-0 ½, 203 lbs.) - DeJean has starting experience at both strong safety and cornerback and could play pretty much anywhere on the back end of the defense, including the slot. DeJean had five interceptions in 2022 and added two more in 10 games in 2023 before suffering a broken leg. He's also an excellent punt returner, offering added value. He won't work out until sometime in April, but he's an excellent prospect.

#1 - Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo (6-0, 195 lbs.) - An extreme athlete, Mitchell had six interceptions and a ridiculous 37 pass breakups the past two seasons at Toledo. Mitchell was asked to play a lot of off coverage at Toledo, but he was one of the stars of the Senior Bowl working in press man drills, then blazed through a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the Combine with excellent jumps, as well.

Matt's Take ...

There isn't a guaranteed top-10 cornerback pick in this draft in the mold of Jalen Ramsey or Sauce Gardner. However, there are about a handful of corners that should up getting drafted on the first day of the draft. The second day also has quality and quantity at this often-scarce position. This is not a bad draft to corner-needy teams.

Sleeper - Kris Abrams-Drain, Missouri (5-11, 179 lbs.) - Abrams-Drain has good enough height but is lean for an outside cornerback. That being said, he has a very good head for the game and can play in just about any defensive system with the ability to play inside or out. This is a productive football player with good ball and recognition skills. He started his career as a wide receiver and is a good overall athlete for cornerback. Abrams-Drain doesn't panic and has a composed nature to his game. While his ability to play the run at the next level is a bit concerning, Abrams-Drain should be able to contribute quickly from a coverage standpoint.

#5 - Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama (5-11 1/2, 199 lbs.) - This first thing to know about McKinstry isn't his great nickname, but rather than he started as a true freshman for Nick Saban. He has a very high football IQ with toughness and leadership traits. McKinstry is a very calm coverage player-a great compliment. He will fit in well with zone and man coverage-based teams and is equally comfortable in both. McKinstry has the size and length coveted at the next level. While he isn't a burner, McKinstry ran well at Alabama's pro day despite running with a broken bone in his foot very recently. His athletic traits are good, not great.

#4 - Nate Wiggins, Clemson (6-1, 173 lbs.) - Wiggins is very slender and isn't much of a force in the run game, but he moves as well or better than any cornerback in this draft and he has excellent height and length. Such traits are just so difficult to find in a player. He doesn't have a ton of interceptions, but Wiggins didn't allow many completions and got his hands on the ball with regularity at Clemson. This is a competitive player that might just turn into a shut down outside corner in the league.

#3 - Terrion Arnold, Alabama (6-0, 189 lbs.) - Arnold did a lot more work out of the slot in 2023, his first year as a full-time starter, and has the toughness and tenacity to flourish in that role in the NFL. This is a very agile player and fluid mover with the size you look for at cornerback, whether it is inside or out. Arnold could still use work on the finer aspect of playing cornerback, but he is coming off a terrific season for Alabama and has enough traits to help any defense while he further learns his trade.

#2 - Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo (6-0, 195 lbs.) - Although Mitchell played very few snaps of press man coverage at Toledo, he was an utterly dominant player against less-than-ideal competition in their Cover 3 scheme. He then went on to dominate the Senior Bowl and blow-up testing at the Combine, and while in Mobile, Mitchell excelled playing press. He has a great body for the position and could be the type of cover man to follow opposing number one receivers at the next level. His confidence is off the charts, and he is an excellent tackler. It is tough to pick nits in Mitchell as a prospect.

#1 - Cooper DeJean, Iowa (6-0 ½, 203 lbs.) - There is some debate if DeJean is a cornerback or a safety at the next level and because of injury he has been unable to work out up to this point in the pre-draft process. But DeJean might not only be a cornerback AND a safety, but he might also be capable of aligning and excelling anywhere in the defensive backfield. He has a rare combination of speed, burst, and size, although you do see a little stiffness in his hips. DeJean is a tough guy with very good football IQ and was well coached at Iowa. He is also a major contributor on special teams, including plus return skills. DeJean's future team can be very creative with this young man.

Mike Take …

The battery of physical tests prospects are subject to in advance of a draft matter at some positions more than others. Cornerback is a position where they matter more than any other in NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah's estimation. "If I'm a corner and I run 4.6 (in the 40-yard dash) trying to cover a guy who runs 4.3 and he takes off, I can't get there," Jeremiah maintained. "The speed matters more at this position than any other one. I've been in the (draft) room and seen players adjusted on the board off of testing at this position far more than any other position. This is where these numbers, they really, really matter with this group." So check the stopwatch and the measuring tape as well as the game tape and draft accordingly.

Sleeper - Max Melton, Rutgers (5-11, 187 lbs.) - He only played one year of cornerback in high school. But the converted wide receiver showed the scouts what they wanted to see at the NFL Scouting Combine (40 1/2 inches on the vertical leap, 11-4 on the broad jump and a 4.39 40, the eighth-best number posted by a cornerback in Indianapolis). All that was in the wake of Melton hitting 20.96 mph on the GPS at the Senior Bowl. Melton has ball skills (eight interceptions over his last three seasons at Rutgers) and bloodlines (his brother Bo is a receiver in Green Bay).

#5 - Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama (6-1, 180 lbs.) - He couldn't work out at the Combine after medical exams reportedly discovered a Jones fracture. But McKinstry was able to run and jump at Alabama's Pro Day in advance of surgery (recovery time is reportedly expected to be about a month). He covered the 40 in unofficial estimates that ranged from 4.3 to 4.7 and had a 34.5-inch vertical leap and a 10-1 broad jump, according to the Athletic. McKinstry also left no doubt regarding his confidence. "I just feel like I can do it all," he said. "Whether that's playing (outside) corner, in the slot, etc, I can move very well. I got the speed to guard whoever. Just my mentality, how consistent I am as an athlete, my consistency in my day-to-day life is just different."

#4 - Nate Wiggins, Clemson (6-1, 173 lbs.) - Another guy who had a tough Combine but another guy who can fly. Wiggins told NFL Network reporter Stacey Dales he had to shut it down early in Indianapolis because of a hip flexor/strain. But that didn't occur until after Wiggins had run a 4.29 40 that was officially adjusted to 4.28. Wiggins also told Dales he had been hoping for a 4.2. Beep-Beep. The NFL Network's height/weight/speed comparison is Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

#3 - Cooper DeJean, Iowa (6-0, 203 lbs.) - A broken leg cost DeJean the last four games of last season and he was still named a First-Team Associated Press All-American and the Big Ten's Defensive Back and Return Specialist of the Year. His subsequent lack of activity in the pre-draft lead up won't affect his first-round future, assuming he can work out for scouts as planned on April 15. A spectacular athlete and play-maker who is more football player than he is cornerback or safety.

#2 - Terrion Arnold, Alabama (6-0, 189 lbs.) - His 4.50 40 in Indy was fast enough. But a significant part of Arnold's package is intangible as well as measureable. "I wouldn't even say that it's my athleticism, but my leadership," he told Dales regarding what he perceives to be his best attribute. "Whatever team drafts me, they're getting a great player but a better person." That team will also be getting a physical tackler and a player who is athletic enough to have been recruited to play basketball at Alabama. Arnold has ball skills (five interceptions in 2023) and can play outside or in the slot.

#1 - Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo (6-0, 195 lbs.) - The only question heading into the Combine was Mitchell's speed. It wasn't a question any more after Mitchell ran a 4.38 40, the second-fastest time registered by a cornerback. He put great stuff on tape at Toledo the last two seasons, particularly in 2022 when he was challenged more than he was in 2023. And he's since had a great Senior Bowl week and a great Combine. "A mixture of Marshon Lattimore and Darius Slay is what one evaluator told me," NFL Network analyst Charles Davis reported. Added Jeremiah: "You start asking yourself, if you're a team that needs a corner and you're picking up there in the top 10, what's to keep you from taking him all the way up there? He's literally done everything you can do. The athleticism is elite, the ball skills are elite, the competitiveness. He's an impressive dude."