I am just one man over here trying to get through as many college football prospects as possible. I usually am able to average about one prospect per day, for each weekday, between the Super Bowl and the draft, which puts me roughly at 55-60 players by the time draft comes.
That number of prospects generally seems like it is enough (at least my bosses think so), as the majority of draft spectators lose some interest by the time the third round comes around -- save for a few famous names from the area colleges who are not quite at the top tier of the gold. But then I must answer the question of who gets profiled and who doesn't.
Most years I grab who I perceive to be top players, but recently, I am also tailoring this to what I conclude the Cowboys' main needs are in that given year.
So, this season, as I go through the 2017 draft and march to 10-12 weeks of profiles, I continue to err on the side of defensive players. This may be incorrect thinking, but most years, you don't have to be a genius to "read the tea leaves." The Cowboys have some obvious needs and some obvious strengths.
That means that in 2017, I am spending all sorts of time on defense, with a focus on edge rushers, defensive line, linebackers, and defensive backs at the corner and the safety positions. So, in effect, I am pitching you the idea that I think the Cowboys could pretty much take any defensive position on the field in the draft and I would consider it a place that could help them. Conversely, on offense, where things are pretty well fortified -- unless they are replacing Terrence Williams' spot as the second outside WR -- I really don't see them taking offense in the first three rounds. Well, I suppose we shouldn't rule out tight end if the right guy falls into their laps. But you get the idea. For me, on the first two days of the draft (Thursday is Round 1 and Friday is Rounds 2-3, otherwise known as the two nights I work the draft on the radio and spend 100 percent of my draft prep on) the Cowboys should be thinking of ways to help their defense. And that will be reflected in my work here.
Spending days profiling centers and tackles and guards, and even quarterbacks and running backs, seems a little misguided to get people ready for the Cowboys' draft. Of course, I will try to spend a week on the top five running backs and another week on the top five quarterbacks just for historical purposes, but overall, I have already done three weeks on the defensive edge and line, and now this will be my second of three weeks on defensive backs. I think I will do 7-8 weeks and 35-40 profiles on defensive players, and then we will roll through the offense in a much more abbreviated fashion later as time permits. Likely 3-4 weeks on offense this year for a total of about 20 prospect profiles.
I hope that makes sense, that on my final "big board rankings," it will be with the Cowboys in mind and it will be really heavy on the defense. That works, though, because the 2017 draft is really heavy on defense as well in the top 50-100 players. Very heavy in DBs and D-linemen. Not so heavy in O-linemen and QBs. So, anyway, I thought you might appreciate the method to my madness.
And now, Week 5: USC's Adoree Jackson, Michigan's Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers, Alabama's Marlon Humphrey, and Clemson's Cordrea Tankersley.
ADOREE JACKSON - CB - USC
5'10 - 186 - 4.42 40 - 36" vertical
Last 2 Year Stats: 27 games, 6 interceptions, 19 passes broken up, 90 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, forced fumble, 2 Kickoff returns for TD, 4 Punt returns for TD.
Jackson is an incredibly talented game-breaker coming off a tremendous season and the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Award.
POSITIVES: Jackson has all of the gifts and measurables that you would want - not only in a cornerback - but in a game breaker who needs to touch the ball. USC would use him on kick and punt returns as well as looking for ways to get him the ball on their offense. But, at his core, he is a very strong corner who has all of the instincts and ball skills you would desire. He has fantastic mobility and hips and wants to play in press coverage with a physical edge. He closes on the ball and turns into a receiver if it is close to him. He wants to jam at the snap and then turn and stay in the pocket of his man. There is very little concern about him growing into the position over time.
CONCERNS: It is fair to also point out that with his tremendous tools comes a bit of an unrefined technique and even more disconcerting appearance to fall for most of the "double moves" and deception tricks that opponents will play on a ball hawk who they think is guessing too much. He will make some mistakes as a young pro as teams use his abilities against him (Janoris Jenkins type traits). Beyond that, if you watched his performance in Washington, you saw John Ross go at him all night and catch all sorts of balls versus Jackson, but you also saw Jackson pick off 2 passes including the upset-clincher. He will tackle, but he has some limitations with his size.
Overall, I must say that I am very impressed by what Jackson can be and now that he is a full-time football player, the sky seems to be the limit.
JABRILL PEPPERS - S - MICHIGAN
5'11 - 213 - 4.47 40 - 35.5" vertical
Last 2 years stats: 24 games - 20.5 tackles for loss, 116 tackles, 3.5 sacks - 10 Passes Broken Up - 1 Interception - Punt Return TD
Peppers is one of the more interesting prospects in the land as a do-it-all player, but people struggle with figuring out his perfect fit.
POSITIVES: He has uncommon physicality for a man his size and plays the game like a complete alpha male. He wants the game in his hands and he wants to destroy plays. Jim Harbaugh believed in his value as a hybrid joker who will play in the box and affect the game with blitzes and a knack for getting to the ball. Also, he would look for ways to get him the ball in special teams and on offense because he has some fantastic elusiveness. He appears to be perfect for where football is headed where you move safeties to linebacker and allow them to bring 4.5 wheels to the box if they have a linebacker's mentality when it comes to hitting and fighting against blocks. He sure looks like the type of player you would love to have on your team.
CONCERNS: It is important to point out that very smart draft people struggle with finding his home on a defense. I am not one of them because I would let him play that same strong safety/linebacker hybrid, but others wonder if he fits anywhere at the next level and maybe even a full time offensive player. He gets a reputation for "free-lancing" as well and I will confess that I am not sure how strong he will be in man-coverage situations and he also will guess too much in the secondary. I think his use as a deep safety will need depend on his instincts improving back there. He has speed, but you cannot "guess" back there. You have to play it honest.
Peppers is a guy I believe in as a 1st rounder. I would bet heavily on his future and I am willing to "bang the table" if a team needs a difference maker that reminds me of Troy Polumalu and just a hint of Charles Woodson. He can do so many good things on defense that I would get past the few things he cannot do.
CORDREA TANKERSLEY - CB - CLEMSON
6'1 - 199 - 4.40 40 - 32.5" vertical
Last 2 years stats: 30 games - 9 interceptions - 9.5 tackles for loss - 100 tackles - 20 passes broken up - sack.
Tankersley is yet another very accomplished and talented top corner in this draft with ideal size and speed.
POSITIVES: His best positives are pretty easy to see. In this day and age of looking for corners that do not appear to be outclassed by the wide receivers with Dez Bryant type skills, Tankersley has wonderful combination of a tall frame, wonderful speed and quickness, and then the ball skills to compete and even come away with the ball. He is long and confident and untested much of the time where he played a lot of Press-bail and zones. He closes on the ball well when it is in his area and will go get the ball for you. He will simply not get overtaken by a big receiver and therefore will play outside - often with his back to the sideline - and hold down the flanks for you.
CONCERNS: You have to use Tankersley properly and in the right scheme, because he does not appear to quite have the hips to go inside and to deal with underneath routes with quicker receivers. He will recover and close down a play, but guys can and do shake him in short spaces. He also is not going to be called a top tackler. Not that he won't tackle, but his interest level seems to come and go (which is not that uncommon amongst top college corners, of course). Also, like many on this list, he will eat the cheese on double moves at times.
Overall, Tankersley can do many of the things that teams want when they are seeking a potential #1 corner on the outside. In a league where every team seems to have a track star over 6'2 at WR, guys like Tankersley are in short supply. 6' corners who can run 4.4 are rare birds.
MARLON HUMPHERY - CB - ALABAMA
6'0 - 197 - 4.41 40 - No vertical measured at Combine
Last 2 years stats: 29 games - 5 interceptions - 6.5 Tackles For Loss - 81 tackles - 13 passes broken up - 3 forced fumbles.
Humphrey, the son of his 1st round pick father, has the wonderful combination of track star and big, physical corner.
POSITIVES: He is a very big and aggressive corner with the ability to play all of the coverages and do so with a physical edge that borders on going over the line on occasion when he hits with intent. He is fiery, but also has the confidence to play on his front foot and running downhill when a player is trying to get the edge and will attempt to blow that up. He can mirror guys as well as almost anyone in this class and also seems built for the big receivers in this league while also literally having the traits that allowed him to excel in the 110 meter hurdles. He sprints with ease and still can get to the ball and turn the ball over for his defense. This seems to be yet another 1st round corner with the ability to make a real difference at the next level.
CONCERNS: Despite having tremendous speed, he does get beat on verticals because of technique and perhaps even complacency from time to time. Watching him go head to head with Clemson's Mike Williams in the national title game suggested that as talented as big WRs are, you will not win every battle against them. All a guy like Humphrey can do is try to break even. He also has difficulty in working his way through traffic, but he is talented and engaged.
Humphrey is a very exciting prospect who shows how loaded this position is in this draft.
JOURDAN LEWIS - CB - MICHIGAN
5'10 - 188 - 4.54 40 - 34.5" vertical
Last 2 years stats: 23 games, 4 interceptions, 7 TFLs, 77 tackles, 31 Passes Broken Up, Forced Fumble
Lewis is an incredibly accomplished corner who is a prototypical "did it all" at the major college level who is intending to prove it all over again at the next level.
POSITIVES: It should be noted that nobody does defense quite like Jim Harbaugh and with that was some creative scheming with both Peppers and Lewis that allowed these guys to showcase their skills in ways that show off their versatility and skill components that many other DBs don't get to offer because their college coaches don't use them so liberally. Lewis played every where and would compete at high levels. He has great hips and footwork that allow him to compensate for less than amazing speed and size. He gets his hands on guys and while he flirts with penalties, he manages to cover guys quite well, including the slot. They blitz him and let him return kicks, too. He is a real football player who understands the game quite well.
CONCERNS: The issues are what the Combine brings to light. In a group of corners who have ideal size and measurables, Lewis does not have either. He is one of the smaller corners in this group and he is also one of the slower corners at the top of the draft. He is not a real physical option and he will not have the long speed. That said, he should be a fine slot corner. The questions will be how he is used. You will have to decide if you will ignore his college tape and focus on the combine stats, or if you are willing to trust the tape and label him a fine prospect who understands how to play the game.
For me, Lewis is a very interesting player. You absolutely recognize how useful he is, but in a group of corners who check more boxes, figuring out where his value is appropriate will be the major question.
I think this week and last week show us how many DBs are available in Rounds 1-2. Next week, we will keep going with more defensive prospects:
NEXT WEEK: Wisconsin's T.J. Watt, Youngstown State's Derek Rivers, Florida's Jarrad Davis, Alabama's Reuben Foster, and Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham.