Breaking down 2021 NFL Draft’s top available cornerbacks

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Here’s another draft guide, made just for you! This week’s guide focuses on the top four corners in the 2021 NFL Draft (in order) that fans will want to keep an eye on. Just to get ahead of the curve, no, Camryn Bynum will not be discussed in this article. Breakdowns of current Cal players and their NFL futures will come at a later date. With that said, we are on our way.

1. Jaycee Horn, South Carolina

Standing at 6’0” tall and 205 lbs., Horn recently recorded a blazing 4.37 forty-yard dash and 41.5” vertical. I should start out by saying that Horn is an absolute rollercoaster to watch play football. For starters, he does not demonstrate a lot of consistent, repeatable techniques. That isn’t to say he’s inconsistent, per se, but he does switch it up a lot more than a typical corner. Given his aggressive style of play, this is not a surprise.

Horn is clearly super physical throughout the above route. His technique is nearly impeccable (*chef’s kiss*) and he dominates because of that. I’m also enamored with his toughness at the catch point. He won’t allow a wideout to get a free reception on him.

But as I noted above, he is currently far too grabby to have long-term success in the NFL. Competitiveness and aggression are something you can’t teach, though. Against Auburn this year, he followed the Tigers’ best receiver everywhere he went and dominated him all day.

Overall, Jaycee Horn has all the traits an NFL scout wants to see in a corner and then some. Toughness, ball skills and coverage ability are all there. If he limits some of the grabbiness, he’s more than capable of becoming a Pro Bowl corner.

2. Greg Newsome II, Northwestern

When I started writing this article, I had pretty much locked Patrick Surtain II into this cornerback No. 2 spot. But then a few friends of mine reached out to me and told me I needed to watch Newsome. I must say, I am so glad I did. Newsome is a prototypical corner — coming in at 6’0” and 192 lbs., the All-American also ran a 4.38 forty-yard dash and recorded a 40” vertical at Northwestern’s Pro Day.

As seen above, Newsome has really nice skills in press coverage and is exceptional at turning his head and finding the ball — an exceptionally hard skill to learn and execute.

Newsome is flat-out dominant in press coverage, and his technique is super repeatable and consistent. His hands, feet and eyes are almost perfectly linked in all of his coverage snaps.

Here he is off-coverage. Again, it is clear to see that Newsome is an absolute technician. It’s almost machine-like how consistent he is. Ironically, that machination is what “drops” him to cornerback No. 2 in my eyes. His change of direction in space leaves a little bit to be desired but he is fully capable of handling himself in the league.

The thing that stands out the most is that he is comfortable in a huge variety of techniques and he executes them to near-perfection every time. He has almost no wasted movement and it allows him to close ground very easily. If Horn’s aggressiveness makes scouts nervous, then Greg Newsome II can absolutely be considered cornerback No. 1.

3a. Patrick Surtain II, Alabama

At first, I had a tough time deciding who to put at the cornerback No. 3 spot, but Surtain is the right choice. He’s the biggest corner on this list — at 6’2” and 208 lbs., he is at the top of the line in terms of what I think an elite corner should look like.

With a 4.46 forty-yard dash and a 39” vertical, Surtain ranks as the least athletic out of the three listed so far, but he is still athletic enough to thrive on the outside in the NFL. He has exceptional cover skills on routes that go deeper than 10 yards, but the underneath play is a little concerning.

This ranking might be the most controversial one on this list, but Surtain is the most limited out of the three. The buzz surrounding Surtain for the past few months and when he came out of high school was that he was a certified shutdown corner. He absolutely can be, but he is also the most scheme-dependent corner on this list as well. Any team at which he’ll be asked to play off and stay underneath is a bad situation for him, and that limitation is what brings him down here.

Sleeper Pick/3b. Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse

Everything I said about Surtain also applies to Melifonwu. That said, I think Melifonwu has a good chance at being better in the NFL. The two of them have very similar measurables — Melifonwu measured at 6’2” and 205 lbs. The redshirt junior also recorded a 41.5” vertical and a 4.48 forty-yard dash. Melifonwu is a great athlete and is pretty fluid in space, but he is definitely the rawest prospect of the four on this list. If I were a more confident evaluator, he would be my pure cornerback No. 3 — yes, above Surtain. He does need a little bit of technical work with linking his hands and feet together but he is a phenomenal player regardless.

Guys that can play off and press that well are unicorns in the NFL. He can also play against tight ends in the slot.

Every year, there are a couple of late-round picks that I fall in love with, and Melifonwu is going to make a team very happy on Day 2. In a year or so, when everyone is looking around trying to figure out where on Earth this lockdown corner from Syracuse came from, you’ll be in the know.

Jesse Stewart covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jessedstew.