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Published: July 19, 2017 at 12:20 p.m.
Updated: July 19, 2017 at 06:12 p.m.

Top 10 college football cornerbacks to watch in 2017

» Top players to watch at each position

Editor's note: NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein will reveal the top CFB players to watch in 2017 at each position, continuing today with cornerbacks.

NFL scouts are always looking to the CFB ranks to find next-level talent. While we won't speculate about where these potential future NFL stars will go in the draft one day, it's not too soon to take a peek at their game tape and start to stack them as the top players to watch.

Of course, there is still plenty of work to be done in evaluating each player during and after this season. Of the cornerbacks I've studied, here are the top 10 to watch.

10 Photos Total

  • Facyson has terrific size and length. He will be an attractive option for Cover 2 defenses looking for cornerbacks with the arm length to disrupt from zone as well as the ability to come up and handle run support duties when called on. While Facyson does have double-digit passes defensed to his credit in each of the last two seasons, he has yet to grab an interception in his three years thus far. 10

    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    10. Brandon Facyson, Virginia Tech

    Facyson has terrific size and length. He will be an attractive option for Cover 2 defenses looking for cornerbacks with the arm length to disrupt from zone as well as the ability to come up and handle run support duties when called on. While Facyson does have double-digit passes defensed to his credit in each of the last two seasons, he has yet to grab an interception in his three years thus far.

  • Alexander and teammate Brandon Facyson are both big cornerbacks who will attract attention thanks to their size, but Alexander is the more fluid athlete and strikes me as having the higher upside if he can improve in man coverage. 9

    James Lang/USA TODAY Sports

    9. Adonis Alexander, Virginia Tech

    Alexander and teammate Brandon Facyson are both big cornerbacks who will attract attention thanks to their size, but Alexander is the more fluid athlete and strikes me as having the higher upside if he can improve in man coverage.

  • Like the Sooners' defense in general, Thomas struggled with consistency last season. He showed a lack of concentration during scramble situations that allowed his man to sneak past him. His tape raised questions about his recovery quickness and athleticism. What is readily apparent, however, is the quality of his ball skills. Thomas uses every inch of his arm length when it comes to defending the pass. His timing and hand-eye coordination consistently allows him to make well-targeted attacks on the catch, which is why his ball production is always solid. His size is good and his ball skills are great, but he has to prove that he can maintain his coverage to solidify his draft stock. 8

    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    8. Jordan Thomas, Oklahoma

    Like the Sooners' defense in general, Thomas struggled with consistency last season. He showed a lack of concentration during scramble situations that allowed his man to sneak past him. His tape raised questions about his recovery quickness and athleticism. What is readily apparent, however, is the quality of his ball skills. Thomas uses every inch of his arm length when it comes to defending the pass. His timing and hand-eye coordination consistently allows him to make well-targeted attacks on the catch, which is why his ball production is always solid. His size is good and his ball skills are great, but he has to prove that he can maintain his coverage to solidify his draft stock.

  • I felt like I was studying San Francisco 49ers third-round pick Ahkello Witherspoon all over again when I was watching Harris. Like Witherspoon, Harris has a tall, long frame that isn't necessarily gangly. He's a very good athlete. He's built like the new breed of longer corners coming up to challenge the size of NFL wide receivers. He has explosive burst out of his transitions that can close out receivers and keep him near the ball. His feet never get heavy on the grass and he has 28 passes defensed, including 7 INTs, over the last two seasons. Unfortunately, his lack of physicality and commitment as a tackler is also similar to Witherspoon's and he must address that at some point. Improved toughness could cause his stock to jump. 7

    UND Athletics/Tyler Ingham

    7. Deion Harris, North Dakota

    I felt like I was studying San Francisco 49ers third-round pick Ahkello Witherspoon all over again when I was watching Harris. Like Witherspoon, Harris has a tall, long frame that isn't necessarily gangly. He's a very good athlete. He's built like the new breed of longer corners coming up to challenge the size of NFL wide receivers. He has explosive burst out of his transitions that can close out receivers and keep him near the ball. His feet never get heavy on the grass and he has 28 passes defensed, including 7 INTs, over the last two seasons. Unfortunately, his lack of physicality and commitment as a tackler is also similar to Witherspoon's and he must address that at some point. Improved toughness could cause his stock to jump.

  • Stewart's traits and playing style remind me a little bit of Alabama's Minkah Fitzpatrick, who might have corner or safety draft value. Like Fitzpatrick, Stewart is a roughneck who is ready to come up and strike with aggression whenever his number is called. He also possesses decent athleticism and man-cover skills despite playing in a thicker frame. Stewart has played outside, from the slot and he's even rolled up to safety against certain offensive sets. I'm curious to see if NFL scouts believe he has the speed to handle full-time duties outside. 6

    Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports

    6. M.J. Stewart, North Carolina

    Stewart's traits and playing style remind me a little bit of Alabama's Minkah Fitzpatrick, who might have corner or safety draft value. Like Fitzpatrick, Stewart is a roughneck who is ready to come up and strike with aggression whenever his number is called. He also possesses decent athleticism and man-cover skills despite playing in a thicker frame. Stewart has played outside, from the slot and he's even rolled up to safety against certain offensive sets. I'm curious to see if NFL scouts believe he has the speed to handle full-time duties outside.

  • Ward is a quality cover corner who shows the footwork to mirror and match from a backpedal without getting grabby. He's able to stay in front of wide receivers longer from press to slow the timing of their routes and he plays with good knee bend throughout the rep. Ward's acceleration and overall long speed appear to be good and he has the quick hands to make sudden plays on the ball. Ward feels small in coverage at times and he could use an upgrade in play strength. He will need to improve his technique as a tackler this season. 5

    Joseph Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports

    5. Denzel Ward, Ohio State

    Ward is a quality cover corner who shows the footwork to mirror and match from a backpedal without getting grabby. He's able to stay in front of wide receivers longer from press to slow the timing of their routes and he plays with good knee bend throughout the rep. Ward's acceleration and overall long speed appear to be good and he has the quick hands to make sudden plays on the ball. Ward feels small in coverage at times and he could use an upgrade in play strength. He will need to improve his technique as a tackler this season.

  • Marshall brings great size with a grown-up frame to the field. He uses his size and build to pound on receivers from press coverage and he will strike through receivers with good force when looking to disrupt the catch. Marshall reads his keys quickly and is ready to respond in coverage. His size and overall aggression as a tackler could lead teams to consider him as a safety down the line. 4

    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    4. Iman Marshall, USC

    Marshall brings great size with a grown-up frame to the field. He uses his size and build to pound on receivers from press coverage and he will strike through receivers with good force when looking to disrupt the catch. Marshall reads his keys quickly and is ready to respond in coverage. His size and overall aggression as a tackler could lead teams to consider him as a safety down the line.

  • Alexander's footwork and short-area burst to the ball are the first things that stand out about him. He has decent size, and he does a nice job of working his angles to make plays on the ball rather than allowing bigger receivers to post him up. Alexander plays with plus awareness and instincts in off-coverage, which helps lead him to playmaking opportunities. He needs to do a better job of finding the football when his back is to the ball and he can improve the consistency of his tackling. 3

    Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press

    3. Jaire Alexander, Louisville

    Alexander's footwork and short-area burst to the ball are the first things that stand out about him. He has decent size, and he does a nice job of working his angles to make plays on the ball rather than allowing bigger receivers to post him up. Alexander plays with plus awareness and instincts in off-coverage, which helps lead him to playmaking opportunities. He needs to do a better job of finding the football when his back is to the ball and he can improve the consistency of his tackling.

  • Long-limbed cover cornerback who understands how to utilize his length to press and drape receivers down the field. McFadden excels from a trail position as his size and long arms create a challenging wall for quarterbacks to make touch throws over. McFadden doesn't tend to overcommit to early fakes by wide receivers out of their release, and he has the hip smoothness to flip and sprint quickly. McFadden's ball skills are outstanding (eight interceptions in 2016). His ability to track throws and position himself to win the 50/50 balls is top-notch, so the interceptions should keep coming in. The one area that concerns me is his early acceleration and recovery speed once he's beaten. 2

    Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports

    2. Tarvarus McFadden, Florida State

    Long-limbed cover cornerback who understands how to utilize his length to press and drape receivers down the field. McFadden excels from a trail position as his size and long arms create a challenging wall for quarterbacks to make touch throws over. McFadden doesn't tend to overcommit to early fakes by wide receivers out of their release, and he has the hip smoothness to flip and sprint quickly. McFadden's ball skills are outstanding (eight interceptions in 2016). His ability to track throws and position himself to win the 50/50 balls is top-notch, so the interceptions should keep coming in. The one area that concerns me is his early acceleration and recovery speed once he's beaten.

  • Alabama has no problem cranking out NFL talent, and Averett is another player who has the traits and talent to become a quality NFL starter. A former championship sprinter and long jumper in high school, Averett is an explosive athlete with good long speed. His man-cover footwork and stickiness reminds me of what I saw when I studied 2017 first-round pick Tre'Davious White. The two players are built similarly. Averett plays with excellent reactive athleticism. He's as twitchy and smooth as you want in man coverage. Averett has closing burst that should help him rack up ball production, but he needs to improve on his numbers in that area. He will do his part as a tackler, but he's not overly physical. 1

    Perry Knotts/NFL

    1. Anthony Averett, Alabama

    Alabama has no problem cranking out NFL talent, and Averett is another player who has the traits and talent to become a quality NFL starter. A former championship sprinter and long jumper in high school, Averett is an explosive athlete with good long speed. His man-cover footwork and stickiness reminds me of what I saw when I studied 2017 first-round pick Tre'Davious White. The two players are built similarly. Averett plays with excellent reactive athleticism. He's as twitchy and smooth as you want in man coverage. Averett has closing burst that should help him rack up ball production, but he needs to improve on his numbers in that area. He will do his part as a tackler, but he's not overly physical.