It appears the SEC is once again loaded with talented defensive backs. However, don't overlook a couple of players from the Pac-12 and the Big Ten. Washington's Sidney Jones has exciting potential as a press-cover specialist and Iowa's Desmond King is the reigning Thorpe Award winner as college football's top DB.
This is not a list previewing the 2017 NFL Draft but a look at the defensive backs that are generating interest from NFL scouts and/or are expected to post big seasons for their teams. Here are 10 to watch in 2016.
1. Teez Tabor, CB, Florida
He's not on 2016 first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves' level yet, but Tabor has some of the same aggressive ball skills and instincts that the former Gator cornerback possesses. Tabor does a great job of reading routes and putting himself in position to make plays on the ball. Keep in mind that Tabor had a pass breakup or interception on 19 of the 50 targets he saw last season. Thanks to his disruptive length and twitchy reaction, Tabor limited opponents' completion percentage against him to 40 and has allowed only one touchdown catch over the last two seasons. His balls skills, length and athleticism will make him attractive to scouts, but his struggles as a tackler -- 13 missed tackles (10 in the second half of games) last season -- are concerning. Tabor's reported scuffle with a teammate was handled by head coach Jim McElwain to the tune of an opening-game suspension, but that doesn't alter my opinion of where Tabor belongs on this list.
2. Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
The son of former NFL RB and Alabama great Bobby Humphrey has plenty of long speed. He's tall (listed at 6-foot-1) and well-built with an ability to impose his will against smaller receivers. Sure, his technique needs work, but he allowed a completion rate of just 37.9 percent and finished with three interceptions last season. With Alabama's incredible defensive front, quarterbacks will struggle and Humphrey will benefit. The redshirt sophomore allowed a little more separation at times than his coaches might have liked. The average completion against him went for 20.7 yards -- he'll need to improve on that number. Humphrey isn't a finished product, but cornerbacks with his size and speed don't grow on trees.
3. Desmond King, CB, Iowa
King isn't going to be the guy to blow up the NFL Scouting Combine with incredible athletic testing numbers, but he will win the battle of the tape. He had eight interceptions last season, an impressive total. King consistently put himself in position to make plays on the ball. King is an instinctive defender who torments quarterbacks by undercutting routes when he's allowed to play press and bail coverage. His long speed will be monitored and scouts want to see him be more technique-driven this season. As a run defender, he jumps right into the fray. He's made 136 tackles over the last two years.
4. Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
After an up-and-down freshman season in the pass-happy Pac-12 in 2014, Jones settled in nicely as a sophomore to become a first-team All-Pac-12 selection. Jones is one of the most disruptive press corners in the game. He has a good solid punch. Few cornerbacks are as good at finding the ball and attacking it at the catch point than Jones. He had 12 pass breakups and four interceptions last season. While Jones is physical and able to crowd receivers down the field, he still needs to play with better footwork and discipline in his mirror-and-match game. His size (6-0, 180, per school measurements) and ball skills will be very appealing to teams who covet those traits over speed and quick-twitch athleticism.
5. Tre'Davious White, CB, LSU
While White didn't have the season that many LSU fans and college football pundits expected in 2015, he is still on my list based on his cover skills. There simply won't be a more talented mirror-and-match cornerback this season than White. White's foot quickness and change-of-direction ability are elite on the college level. He's a pure, man-cover cornerback. While the senior could line up outside on an NFL team, he might find himself as a slot corner with so much importance being shifted to the third cornerback spot. White struggled near the red zone against size at times. Texas Tech's Jakeem Grant showed us that White might be quicker than fast when he burned the LSU CB for a touchdown in the AdvoCare Texas Bowl.
6. Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson
The knock on Tankersley headed into the season is that he has only one year of starting experience and he benefited from a pass rush that included Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson. My counter to that argument would be that Tankersley showed good awareness and outstanding hands while snagging five interceptions. Opponents completed 36.3 percent of their passes against him, which is indicative of his ability to utilize his length in order to stay connected with his press-man responsibilities. Tankersley has the size (6-1, 195, according to school measurements) and length to get scouts' attention, but he needs to put another good season on the board.
7. Adoree' Jackson, CB, USC
I lauded Jackson last year for his ability as an overall talent and playmaker, including his ability as an upper-echelon return man. Fast forward a year and once again, Jackson's cornerback play might be a little less heralded than his return ability. An ability to return punts and kicks will absolutely create additional draft value for Jackson, but he doesn't have the natural feel and fluidity in coverage that others on this list possess. With just 18 passes defensed and one interception over his first two seasons, teams are waiting for more on-the-ball production from him.
8. Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan
Lewis belongs on this list, but keep in mind that with his smallish frame (listed at 5-10, 175), the senior's draft stock will likely face a firm ceiling. Lewis might be too small to play outside in the NFL, but his ball skills won't be in question after pulling off a whopping 20 passes defensed and two interceptions last season. Lewis' quick-twitch athleticism and kick-return ability could help counter worries about his size.
9. Jamal Adams, S, LSU
Alabama might set the tone in the SEC West, but there is no question that Adams has the physicality to match what the Tide brings. While Adams is a little stiffer than teams might like and can be a little limited in his coverage ability, he's an alpha dog once he steps into the box. When he gets his hands on a running back, he finishes what he starts. Adams has excellent instincts against the run and takes quality angles to the ball. Watch for the LSU junior to go from second-team All-SEC to first-team All-American this season.
10. Marcus Maye, S, Florida
Maye is a smoother athlete than LSU's Jamal Adams and it can be argued that he's a more well-rounded talent. Maye doesn't have Adams' size and needs to improve his consistency as a tackler, but he can line up as a single-high safety, on slot receivers and inside the box. With Keanu Neal finding his way into the first round last season as a former Gators safety, it's a lock that NFL teams have a good feel for Maye's talent after pouring over so much tape before the draft.