In a loaded secondary class, one that NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock proclaimed Monday as "maybe the best DB class in 10 years," NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah listed Adoree' Jackson as the top prospect to watch Monday at the NFL Scouting Combine.
The cornerback did not disappoint with all eyes on him in Indy, displaying his otherworldly athleticism with a 4.42 40-yard dash. It was a little surprising, though, that the two-time Pac-12 long jump champion only managed to post a 36" vertical jump and 10'2" broad jump.
NFL Network's Deion Sanders said Jackson looked "smooth" during the three-cone drill, and the USC product exhibited strong fluidity throughout the drills with his ability to change direction without stopping and starting.
There were questions, however, with how Jackson performed against speedy wideouts the past two seasons, particularly Washington's John Ross and Notre Dame's Will Fuller getting the best him with their releases off the line of scrimmage.
"He's such a confident corner that some of that technique that you're talking about is much more in terms of he might guess at times. When he guesses, and someone's running a 4.33, they're gonna get you in that type of situation," NFL Network's Charles Davis said. "My comp for him when I watched him early: Adam Jones when he came out of West Virginia for his ability to do everything at corner as well as return kicks."
Jackson was a two-sport star at USC, opting for track in the spring to pursue his Olympic aspirations over football practice while at school. Now that he's fully focused on his NFL career, it can be a big advantage for his growth as a football player.
"He's gonna get a chance to football year around for the first time, I think you'll see dramatic improvements in his technique. There are no questions about his athletic ability. His toughness, his instincts, his ball skills-- fantastic," Jeremiah said. He can clean some stuff up with being a full-time football player."
Besides his athleticism, Jackson's versatility is another strength to his game. He lined up as a running back and receiver with USC, racking up 593 yards and five touchdowns on 45 offensive touches. He had four combined kick and punt return touchdowns, despite teams often attempting to kick the ball away from him. Jackson is simply a threat to score any time he touches the ball.
World-class athlete w/exceptional playmaking ability. Plus, he's the most dynamic return man in the class. https://t.co/KHifh5mN81â Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) March 6, 2017
"He beats you as a wide receiver, he beats you as a punt returner and he found his way to get his hands on the football as a corner," Mayock said. "He's special. That's why I think Day 1 he's going to be a punt returner. It'll be interesting to see if a team does try and give him a little Adoree' Jackson package on offense."
Make no mistake, whichever team drafts Jackson will be getting an electrifying football player who can make an impact in multiple areas.
Stuntin' Like Their Daddies
Something that LSU safety Jamal Adams and Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey have in common? They both have fathers who were selected in the first round as running backs of the NFL Draft.
George Adams was taken No. 19 by the Giants in 1985, while the Broncos selected Bobby Humphrey as a first-round supplemental draft pick in 1989. Now their sons hope to follow in those footsteps, as several analysts have both defensive backs projected in the first round.
Yet, despite playing different positions, the apple may not fall that far from the tree in both cases.
"I see bits of their games in their kids," Davis said. "Jamal Adams, he attacks, just like George Adams attacked the way he ran the football. And for Marlon Humphrey, lots of vision, understands the game, gets to the right spots all the time, that was Bobby Humphrey."
While Adams was disappointed with his 4.56 time in the 40-yard dash, there are multiple reasons why Mayock has him listed as the No. 2 safety in his positional rankings.
"He kinda matches up physically a little bit with Eric Berry. I thought he looked fluid in the drills," Mayock said. "He's a really good football player. This is a physical safety. You want to talk about sticking your face in the fan, he can do it every time. Tremendous closing speed. Makes it look easy with the movement skills.
"The numbers from a height, weight, arm length perspective are very similar (to Berry). I think he's a gifted kid. A lot of people think he's a top-10 pick. One thing I know is he's a first-round pick and a Day 1 starter."
Humphrey is the No. 3 corner in Mayock's rankings, but the Alabama corner still has one important aspect of his game that could raise questions among NFL teams.
"I love everything about the kid, and apparently he's incredibly professional and dedicated talking to people I know that know him. All that stuff checks off," Mayock said. "The issue is ball skills. A, find it and then B, finishing it. That's the only issue with Humphrey."
Jeremiah addressed the same concern as well: "My question on Humphrey though is playing the ball down the field. I know he's got the size, but locate, find the football and make the plays. You watch Clemson, he got beat up a little bit in that one and Ole Miss as well. He's got the raw tools, but you've got to find and locate the football and make a play."
Keeping Up With The Jones
The University of Washington's secondary was one of college football's strongest this past campaign. The Huskies' top cover man, Sidney Jones, is Mayock's top-rated cornerback. In fact, when asked why Jones is No. 1 on his CB board, Mayock likened him to another former Washington cornerback who ended up being taken in the first round.
"It's interesting because Washington plays a similar style to the Seattle Seahawks. They play a lot of that Cover 3, bail Cover 1 stuff. This kid was ideally suited for it," Mayock said. "Great ball skills. Most people like (Marshon) Lattimore better. I think he's got the instincts of a Marcus Peters. Not gonna run as fast as Lattimore, but 4.48 at 6-foot-plus is plenty.
"I think he's a playmaker. I think he's got one of those instincts, like when Marcus Peters came out, he just has an instinct and nose for the ball. ... I think sometimes we get too caught up in height, weight, speed, and not enough about playmaking."
Jones accumulated nine interceptions and 27 passes broken up in his collegiate career, despite quarterbacks frequently choosing not to throw the ball in his direction.
Another thing teams will love besides his exemplary play on the field, is that Jones takes his preparation for games just as seriously.
"We watch a lot of tape," Jones said on NFL Now Live regarding his pre-game tendencies with Washington teammate and safety Budda Baker. "Our routine, we basically had the same class schedule, so after class we'll go in the defensive back room and watch film for a good amount of time, about an hour. Usually after that, if our coach is free and he was in his office, we would go up to his office and watch film with him together. After that, we'd go home by ourselves and watch film on our iPads."
Obi (Round) One?
Whatever they're feeding the defensive backs in Storrs, it's working.
UConn's Obi Melifonwu may have helped his stock more than anyone Monday in Indianapolis, posting freakish numbers in the drills.
While his 4.4 40-yard dash and 44" vertical jump were impressive, he wowed the combine crowd with a gravity-defying 11'9" broad jump. Per NFL Research, his broad jump was the second-best mark since 2003, only being bested by former UConn teammate and fellow workout warrior Byron Jones' 12'3" in 2015.
Byron Jones (@Byron31Jump) March 6, 2017
Jones was an under-the-radar prospect until he blew up the combine, and his unbelievable performance helped him rise to the first round after the Cowboys took him at No. 27.
Former UConn coach Bob Diaco hyped up Jones to Mayock before he burst onto the scene, and did the same a couple years later with Melifonwu.
"This year, (Diaco) said Obi Melifonwu is as talented physically as any safety I've ever coached, and of course that includes All-Pro Harrison Smith," Mayock revealed.
Besides his remarkable athleticism, his potential versatility all along the secondary could cause a team to bite on him on Day 1 of the draft.
"The single-high safety teams, the Seattle, Atlanta, San Francisco guys, can look at him as a corner," Mayock said. "Part of the league is going to look at him as a free safety with great range. Other teams are gonna look at him and say, 'He's a strong safety that can cover tight ends.' That kid just fits a need in every scheme in the league."
Ohio State could have not one, not two, but three defensive backs picked in the first round. Not too shabby, Urban Meyer.
The highest-rated Buckeye at the drills Monday was Marshon Lattimore, who is Mayock's No. 2 cornerback. But should the fact that Lattimore started only one season in Columbus bother prospective franchises?
"At every position, that bothers me a little bit," Mayock said. "This kid's pretty clean, though. Everything he does on tape screams, 'I'm a top-10 pick.'"
Lattimore's athleticism shined, as he was clocked at 4.36 in the 40 to go along with 38.5" and 11'0" in the vertical and broad jumps respectively. The cornerback, however, didn't end his day on the best note.
Wasn't a hamstring injury, it's my hip flexor. I'm good y'all lolâ Marshon Lattimore (@shonrp2) March 6, 2017
Lattimore texted NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport that he "will be ready for Pro Day & do all of my position work there."
Fellow one-year starter, safety Malik Hooker, missed the combine due to undergoing core muscle and labrum (shoulder) surgeries, but he's still projected to hear his name called early because of his magnificent ball skills.
"On the field, this kid has the best range since maybe Earl Thomas," Mayock said. "When that ball's in the air, Hooker thinks it's his. That's the attitude I love."
One NFL analyst thought his game also compared to one of the greatest athletes ever... in a different sport.
"My football comparison is a cross between Ed Reed and Earl Thomas. But I'm going to throw a wild one at you guys: I see him, I see Willie Mays. I put him there because of that range," Davis said. "But the true NFL comp is what you've been talking about. Greg Schiano said Ed Reed. (Mayock) talked about his range as Earl Thomas. I think that's a very natural comparison."
While Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley hasn't been projected to go in the first round in many mock drafts so far, he helped his case quite a bit in Indy. Jeremiah tweeted that "Conley looks like a top-15 today."
» Not only does this draft have a lot of top-end talent in the secondary, there's also tremendous size and depth.
Per Mayock, in the 2003 draft class, there were seven cornerbacks who were over 6-feet tall. This year? Twenty-one (out of 36) corners fit the profile.
"This corner class is so darn deep," Mayock said. "I talked to a couple of coaches who are like, 'Hey, we're gonna get in the fourth round, and we're gonna be drafting guys that are typically second- and third-rounders."
Below are a few examples.
» "I don't think we're talking about him enough," Mayock said regarding UCLA corner Fabian Moreau.
"He ran 4.35 in the 40. How about 38" vert, 11'4" broad. His game tape is really good. And then you get out here in the drill section, and he was just smooth. Everything's under control. He catches the football. I think Fabian Moreau is gonna be a tremendous value for some team."
» Let's circle back quickly to the Washington secondary.
"There's a few guys that I love every year on tape. Budda Baker is one of them," Mayock said. "I didn't even know who he was when I first was watching his tape. He just makes every play at the University of Washington.
"He's quick and fast. I don't think he's got very good ball skills, that's his only downside. Teams are gonna knock him a little bit for being 5-foot-9.5, I'm not. I think he's a nickel, and I think he's gonna be a very special nickel. He can be a core special teams player, and he's gonna be fun to watch."
» Completing the underrated Pac-12 trifecta is Colorado's Chidobe Awuzie, who Mayock declared was "one of my favorites" and that he's an immediate starter as a nickel corner.
"He's a little tight hipped, but he's explosive and tough, and he runs better than people thought," Mayock said.
"I got a chance to visit with him last week," Jeremiah added. "We talked about his game and what he did well. He said, 'What do I need to improve on? What are your questions?' I said, 'I'm just a little concerned about your deep speed, that's about it.' And his leg started twitching underneath the table and he got a little bit upset with that. He said, 'What do you think I'm going to run?' I said, 'I wrote down in my tape room probably 4.5.' And he just shook his head and said, 'I'm not running a 4.5.'"
Awuzie stayed true to his word, posting a 4.44 time.
» Damontae Kazee was another under-the-radar name that intrigued the analysts.
"I think he's got the best hands of anyone out there," Mayock asserted regarding the San Diego State product.
"You can play him inside, you can play him outside," Jeremiah said. "And if you like production, that's your dude."
» One cornerback who may not have helped his stock Monday was Jalen "Teez" Tabor, who stated he was the best overall player in the draft.
"That's gonna hurt Tabor a little bit," Mayock said after Tabor's first 40. "The concern was his best football is an off-coverage, throw-in-the-cornerback-zone-type stuff. What would he really run in a footrace? Didn't see 4.63 coming."
Fortunately for Tabor, there was another former University of Florida corner who had a happy ending after a disappointing combine."I remember several years ago we came out here and Joe Haden had a bad day," Mayock said. "To this day, he gives me a hug every time I see him and thanks me because I ran into him just by happenstance after he ran a 4.7 or whatever he ran. I said 'Dude, you'll clean up at your pro day and you're gonna be fine.' Really good football player. And he did."