The "Triple Take" continues with a breakdown of the cornerbacks. In the eleventh installment of this draft prospect preview by position, the Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta give their takes on the top prospects at the cornerback position. If you want to hear the audio version of "The Triple Take" click here.
The opinions of these Steelers Radio Network personalities do not reflect the views of the Steelers organization.
Matt's Take ...
The reality is that teams now need three cornerbacks as starting players and you can never have too many quality corners. With the massive variety of receivers they face and the huge influx of great receivers that have recently entered the league, the cornerback's job is a very difficult (and often thankless) one. When scouting cornerbacks, the ability to play man-to-man coverage is king. There also happens to be a remarkable number of prospects at this position this year with NFL bloodlines coincidently.
Sleeper - Robert Rochell, Central Arkansas (5-11 1/2, 193 lbs.) - Obviously Rochell comes from a very small school. However, Rochell also has an excellent frame and long arms for the cornerback position with a lot of upside as a press man defender. Best of all, Rochell just blew up his pro day. His agility drills were excellent. As was his 40-yard dash in the very low 4.4s. But it was his 43-inch vertical and over 11-foot long jump that really grabs your attention for a developmental prospect at a key NFL position. Rochell opted out in 2020 but did have five interceptions two years ago.
#5 - Tyson Campbell, Georgia (6-1 1/2, 185 lbs.) - It is all about the traits and upside with Campbell. While he is a little lean, Campbell has a great body type for the position. Although he is long-limbed, Campbell transitions very smoothly. He is both quick and fast. He is both smooth and sudden. Campbell reportedly ran under a 4.4/40-yard dash at Georgia's recent pro day which isn't all that surprising after viewing his game film. You wish his ball production was better, but there is a ton to work with here with Campbell.
#4 - Greg Newsome, Northwestern (6-1, 190 lbs.) - Newsome is very long and a very smooth mover, but also has some suddenness in his movements and loose hips. He doesn't have a lot of interceptions but does consistently get his hands on the ball and shows an obvious ability to find the ball. He plays the game with confidence, swagger and intelligence. Newsome timed and tested very well at Northwestern's pro day, but he didn't look super-fast on tape, but only played in three games in 2020. He projects as an outside cornerback that can develop into a very solid man and zone coverage player at the next level.
#3 - Jaycee Horn, South Carolina (6-1, 205 lbs.) - Horn is long, athletic and physical. His competitive nature really shows up play after play and he brings toughness to the secondary. Horn will have to scale down how handsy he plays throughout the route at the next level, but that is a transition many cornerbacks have to make coming into the league. This guy takes the ball away and is excellent at the catch point. And he loves it.
#2 - Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech (6-2, 207 lbs.) - If Farley hadn't opted out this past year, he very well could be first on this list. He is remarkably talented. With his great length and strength, Farley's forte is playing press man coverage, but he also hasn't done a ton of it to date. He also has outstanding pure long speed and recovers very quickly. He attacks the ball in the air with a "My ball" mentality. Farley has the best traits in this cornerback class and the highest ceiling.
#1 - Patrick Surtain II, Alabama (6-1 1/2, 206 lbs.) - Surtain's father was an excellent NFL cornerback, and you can see that massive influence in the son. While he might not have elite pure speed, Surtain has everything else you want at this position and he really stands out in man-to-man coverage and has a lot of experience in press man. He has great size and is physical, but also consistently plays the game in balance, under control and with great patience. It is pretty apparent that not only is Surtain very talented and gifted, but he has been groomed to play this position exceptionally well.
Dale's Take ...
From 2015 through 2017, there were 14 cornerbacks selected in the first round of the draft. Of those, 11 are still with the teams that originally selected them. To suggest that most teams are only renting cornerbacks is not a stretch. But with the glut of talented receivers entering the league each year, you'd better have cornerbacks available to cover them all. So, teams keep taking cornerbacks early and often in the draft. This year promises to have more of the same, with solid depth at the position, led by Virginia Tech's talented Caleb Farley, but also topped off by a pair of players with NFL bloodlines.
Sleeper - Tre Brown, Oklahoma (5-10, 185 lbs.) - Brown might be undersized, but he's feisty. And after running a 4.4-second 40 at the Oklahoma pro day, he showed he has the speed to run with nearly anyone. Over the past two seasons, he had 98 tackles, an interception, 24 pass breakups and two sacks. Brown does a little bit of everything and can play inside or out.
#5 - Eric Stokes, Georgia (6-1, 185 lbs.) - A nice-sized corner who could put on a little weight, Stokes had four interceptions in 2020 and 13 pass breakups in the past two seasons. He ran a sub-4.3 40 at Georgia pro day, so he has speed to match up with anyone. He still needs to get better with some of his technique, but that speed will play well on Sundays.
#4 - Aaron Robinson, Central Florida (6-0, 189 lbs.) - Robinson initially began his career at Alabama before transferring to Central Florida. Robinson played a lot of slot cornerback at UCF, but he can play outside, as well. He has quick feel and plays with good physicality in the run game, as well.
#3 - Jaycee Horn, South Carolina (6-1, 205 lbs.) - The son of former NFL receiver Joe Horn, Jaycee Horn started out at slot corner early in his career before moving outside the past two seasons. He wasn't tested all that much in 2020, but did record a pair of interceptions. Horn's size shows up on tape as he imposes his will on receivers.
#2 - Patrick Surtain II, Alabama (6-1 1/2, 206 lbs.) - The son of longtime NFL corner of the same name, Surtain was a three-year starter at Alabama despite entering the draft as a junior. He does everything well and has been battle tested by the best players in college football. Should be a solid player at the NFL level.
#1 - Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech (6-2, 207 lbs.) - A high school quarterback who converted first to wide receiver and then to cornerback following the 2017 season, Farley has a good head for the game. He opted out in 2020, but had 16 pass defenses and 4 interception in 2019. He's an ascending player who is already pretty good and might just be scratching the surface.
Mike's Take ...
The cornerback position has become critical, along with quarterback, wide receiver, offensive tackle and edge rusher. It's all about pass, rush the passer, catch and cover more than anything else these days, which helps explain why a cornerback has gone 11th overall or higher in four of the last five drafts, including fifth overall or higher three times in that span. A year ago Ohio State's Jeff Okudah was taken third and Florida's C.J. Henderson ninth. Even the teams that have quality cornerbacks don't have enough. That's because you never have enough.
Sleeper - Shakur Brown, Michigan State (5-foot-11, 190 lbs.) - Don't take the word of a sportswriter who happens to be a Michigan State alum (Class of '84) in this instance if you question the objectivity of the assessment. Instead, take what NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah had to say about Brown to heart: "He's going to be a Day One nickel. I love what he does against the run. You watch the tape and then you watch a cutup of his ball production, he's got some crazy interceptions, man, really phenomenal ball skills. I think he's kind of a fourth round-type nickel."
#5 - Aaron Robinson, Central Florida (6-0, 189 lbs.) - Another Slot Machine. ESPN analyst Mike Tannenbaum had this to say about the Alabama transfer during Senior Bowl week: "He has really good man-to-man skills, really built well. He uses his hands at the line of scrimmage in a really effective way." ESPN analyst Todd McShea cited Robinson's ability to also play safety as another plus. "That versatility, some people call him Minkah Fitzpatrick, that kind of versatility brings a lot to his game," McShea said. Robinson attended Deerfield Beach High School in Florida, which previously launched Jerry Jeudy and Jason Pierre-Paul on their way to the NFL.
#4 - Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State (5-10, 184 lbs.) - Samuel plays a physical game despite his relatively slight frame and fights for the football upon arrival. He also has NFL bloodlines. His father, Asante Samuel, was a cornerback for 11 NFL seasons and was a two-time Super Bowl champion and a former first-team Associated Press All-Pro. And while such lineage is no guarantee in and of itself, it often provides a significant edge for those following in the footsteps of someone who's already cleared a path.
#3 - Jaycee Horn, South Carolina (6-1, 205 lbs.) - More bloodlines in play (father Joe Horn was a wide receiver for 10 NFL seasons with the Chiefs, Saints and Falcons). Horn's resume tape includes coming up to take Alabama running back Najee Harris to the ground, knocking a pass from the grasp of Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith and sticking with Jeudy into the end zone during Jeudy's days at Alabama. Horn has length and physicality, enough to redirect wide receivers on routes, punish quarterbacks when he blitzes and win 50-50 balls down the field.
#2 - Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech (6-2, 207 lbs.) - The only question is a scheduled back surgery that would reportedly force Farley to miss Virginia Tech's Pro Day (it was anticipated he'd be ready for training camp pre-procedure). Farley's tape is a tribute to his well-rounded game. He can collect interceptions through positioning while running with a receiver, by breaking on the ball with authority or by tracking it as necessary, even when a diving catch is what's ultimately required. And when he comes up to hit receivers after a catch, they go backwards.
#1 - Patrick Surtain II, Alabama (6-1 1/2, 206 lbs.) - Not to belabor the point, but Surtain's father, Patrick Surtain, played 11 NFL seasons for the Dolphins and Chiefs and is a former first-team Associated Press All-Pro. Like father, like son is a bet worth making in this instance. Surtain II is also another high-performance model rolling off the assembly line from the Alabama Factory. After Alabama's pro day, Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy tweeted Surtain "couldn't have had a better day." Jeremiah liked Ramsey's testing to that of Jalen Ramsey. Sometimes you don't have to overthink it.