With the 2017 NFL season on the horizon, a number of talented guys are still playing under rookie contracts. Now is the time to make some future loot! With that in mind, NFL Network analysts Ike Taylor, Willie McGinest, LaDainian Tomlinson, David Carr and Nate Burleson scoured the positions they respectively manned during their playing days (CB, LB, RB, QB and WR) to identify youngsters poised for a breakout campaign.
Today's list: Ike Taylor's young cornerbacks to watch in 2017.
Vernon Hargreaves, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2017 projection: Five interceptions and 12-15 pass deflections.
The Bucs' young cornerback reminds me exactly of Joe Haden. They both have good feet and anticipation, and they're both smooth out of their breaks. Like Haden, Hargreaves (5-foot-10) doesn't have height on his side, but it hasn't stopped him from making big plays. Last season, he was in good position a lot, but taller receivers out-muscled him on occasion. Now, with a year under his belt, Hargreaves knows how to use leverage as a shorter corner. I suspect Tampa Bay will have a top-10 secondary in 2017, partly due to Hargreaves' maturity.
Artie Burns, Pittsburgh Steelers
2017 projection: Six interceptions and 10 pass deflections.
Burns was challenged right out of the gate with the task of facing Antonio Brown every day in practice for the last year. (Trust me: I've had to do that, and it's no cake walk.) Losing a lot of those battles will have one of two effects on you: It can make you tougher or make you fold. Talking to some of my former teammates in Pittsburgh, I'm hearing that Burns is maturing and expanding his skill set heading into Year 2.
Pittsburgh's defense ranked in the top five in the second half of the season due to the improvement of the front seven, safety Sean Davis and Burns holding it down on the island. The game slowed down for Burns at the end of his rookie campaign, and it will continue to do so.
Damontae Kazee, Atlanta Falcons
2017 projection: Three interceptions and seven pass deflections.
Kazee was on my radar long before now. I don't think the former San Diego State standout has a weakness, though some consider his 5-foot-10, 184-pound frame to be one. Kazee has ball awareness, a high football IQ and great instincts. He's going to instantly challenge for a spot as the Falcons' CB3, and I could see him cracking the starting lineup in 2017. This is a good football player, pound for pound, and his short memory will help him go far in Year 1.
P.J. Williams, New Orleans Saints
2017 projection: Three interceptions and 11 pass deflections.
This guy has been hampered by injury way too often. He was out all of 2015 with a torn hamstring and was put on injured reserve after Week 2 last season. Williams is too good to not play, and the Saints need his help in the secondary. He's a big corner (6-foot, 196 pounds) who can play bump-and-run coverage well, throwing the timing off between the quarterback and his receiver. Williams is poised for a big year because he has dedicated himself to his training this offseason in Orlando, Florida. I've trained with him this summer, and I've seen the urgency to get better physically. He understands what it means to be a professional. We're going to see him crack the Saints' starting lineup and make a splash.
Kyle Fuller, Chicago Bears
2017 projection: Four interceptions and 15 pass deflections.
The Bears' first-round pick in 2014, Fuller had a solid start in the league. He hauled in six picks in his first two seasons before missing the entire 2016 campaign with a knee injury. Now there's talk that the 25-year-old could be on the roster bubble heading into training camp. But I still believe in the guy. With a healthy return in 2017, Fuller has the goods to stand out on a rebuilding Bears squad. He has good anticipation and exceptional route reading. Not to mention, Fuller possesses great ball skills, is always up to the challenge and is the most athletic Fuller brother. Sorry, boys.