NFL Draft Preview: Lack Of Elite Talent, But DB Class Is Deep

Matt Citak
April 21, 2019 - 1:00 pm
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The NFL draft kicks off in less than a week down in Nashville, Tennessee. Leading up to the start of the first round, I have been breaking down the top prospects at each position, and whether or not the Giants or Jets may have interest.

We took on the quarterbacks and running backs to start before discussing the wide receivers and tight ends. After getting the “hog mollies” and the defensive linemen out of the way, we tackled the linebackers last week. Last but not least, let’s talk about the defensive backs.

Heading into the draft, both the Giants and Jets could add some depth to their respective secondaries.

The Giants’ secondary already has a few new faces this year. After letting Landon Collins walk out the door and into the arms of the Washington Redskins, general manager Dave Gettleman addressed the safety position by signing veteran Antoine Bethea and acquiring Jabrill Peppers as part of the Odell Beckham Jr. trade. Those two will be joining Michael Thomas and Sean Chandler. At corner, Janoris Jenkins is set to return as of now, but there is always the chance he gets dealt during the draft. Other than "Jackrabbit," Sam Beal, a 2018 supplemental draft pick who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, is now 100% healthy and ready to make his NFL debut, while one of last year’s biggest surprises, Grant Haley, will be back to handle the slot corner duties. It is easy to see why both safety and corner are positions the Giants will likely have to address at some point during the draft.

The Jets are already set at safety with Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, two young talents whom the team loves. However, cornerback is a much bigger question mark for Gang Green. Veteran Trumaine Johnson will be back after his dreadful first year in New York. The Jets also have Brian Poole, whom Mike Maccagnan signed from Atlanta earlier in the offseason. After those two, there is not much talent at cornerback currently on the roster, unless New York is comfortable rolling with Darryl Roberts, which I find it hard to believe that they are. Corner is one of the team’s biggest positions of need.

Looking at the players currently on both teams' rosters, it is clear that both the Giants and Jets will be looking to add some defensive backs in next week’s draft. The 2019 DB class is not top heavy but does run pretty deep, which should benefit both local teams.

Let’s dive right in.

Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia

If the draft were based on talent alone, Baker would have a good case for being a top-10 pick. Baker is an excellent press corner who proved time after time at Georgia that he can easily handle single-man coverage in a highly competitive conference. He did not run the fastest 40-yard dash at the combine (4.52), but showed in his four years in the SEC that he has quick feet and great pattern recognition, which helps him stay tight in his coverage. He broke up nine passes with two interceptions in 2018, and finished with nine pass breakups and three picks the year before.

Unfortunately for Baker, more goes into the draft that just talent. Reports indicated that he did not interview well at the combine, and with some having concerns about his makeup, Baker has found himself falling down draft boards lately. He also measures in at 5 feet 11 inches and 193 pounds, which worries some teams about his ability to hold up against bigger, stronger receivers. Despite all of these concerns, Baker will likely not make it out of the first round.

Deandre Baker
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Images

Baker isn’t going in the top 10, we know that. But there is a chance he goes in the top 20. The Giants need another corner, and could use one that thrives in man coverage. Baker fits that bill. While many believe Gettleman won’t spend a pick on a corner before the second round, I think there’s a chance he goes with one at No. 17. If so, Baker could be the pick.

Greedy Williams, CB, LSU

While both super talented, Williams and Baker fall on opposite ends of the cornerback spectrum. Williams is a long, athletic corner who stands in at 6-2, 185 pounds and was clocked running a 4.37 40-yard dash at the combine. He has the skill set to play in a variety of coverages but definitely projects best in a press-man scheme where he can use his size and speed to cover up receivers and stick with them downfield.

Williams was once projected to be a potential top-10 pick. However, film showed that he was not the best tackler, and he did struggle with some of the field drills at the combine, which indicates he may have poor technique. But there is no denying the stats: Williams picked off eight passes in two seasons at LSU with 19 pass breakups. He will need to fill out his frame by adding more muscle, which in turn should help him improve in run support, but Williams has the physical tools and talent to develop into a No. 1 corner.

If Gettleman decides to pass on a QB at No. 17 and instead shore up the cornerback corps, Williams would likely be near the top of the draft board. Gettleman is known for being a traits guy, and the one thing you can’t deny about Williams is that he has ideal traits for a corner. Once he adds some weight, he could be a top corner, which might be too much for the Giants to pass up.

Johnathan Abram, S, Mississippi State

The 2019 safety class has some great talents, but other than Abram at the top of the list, it’s tough to differentiate who comes next. Abram has held onto the consensus top safety ranking since the end of the college football season, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering his performance in 2018. Abram racked up 99 tackles, two interceptions and three sacks in 13 games last season, adding nine tackles for losses, five pass breakups and a forced fumble.

Abram is a physical enforcer in the middle of the field, shining in the run game with the speed and motor to play sideline to sideline. He ran an impressive 4.45 40-yard dash at the combine and plays a bit like an extra linebacker when he’s on the field. He will need to put in some work on his extended coverage skills, but is functional enough in the passing game to help cover slot receivers and tight ends. At 5-11, 205 pounds, Abram has shown enough to warrant a first-round grade.

The Jets already have their two safeties, and while Abram would be an interesting fit with the Giants, he plays the same position as Jabrill Peppers. Barring something unforeseen, Abram isn’t ending up in New York.

Byron Murphy, CB, Washington

At first glance, Murphy wouldn’t look like the ideal corner. He’s just 5-11, 190 pounds, and looking at his tape, you can see that his playing speed isn’t elite. However, what he lacks in physical tools, he more than makes up for with his ball-hawking abilities. Murphy has the awareness and instincts to seemingly always put himself in a position to make a play. This was put on full display in his two seasons at Washington, when he recorded six interceptions and 20 pass breakups.

Byron Murphy
Kelley L. Cox/USA TODAY Images

One thing that is tough to teach is great instincts and high football IQ. Murphy has both of those, and then some. Despite his size, Murphy shows great toughness and is more than willing to get very physical in his run-support duties. He doesn’t have a lot of experience, having appeared in just 20 games at Washington, but his awareness on the field should help him succeed at the next level.

Murphy would go a long way in helping shore up the Giants’ secondary, in addition to serving as long-term insurance in case Jenkins leaves when his contract is up next year. He is definitely in play at No. 17.

Deionte Thompson, S, Alabama

As I said earlier, after Abram comes off the board, the order in which the next few safeties are taken is a bit murky. Thompson is a very athletic safety who showed good ball skills and range during his time at Alabama. In 14 games this past season, his first full campaign with the Crimson Tide, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound safety recorded 78 tackles, two interceptions, six pass breakups and three forced fumbles. As you can tell, he uses his athleticism to succeed in both pass coverage and run support.

Thompson was originally projected to be a sure-thing first-round pick, but struggles in the second half of the season led to his draft stock falling. There is no denying that he has a good skill set, which will lead to a team taking him on Day 2 (and likely on the earlier side of Day 2), but he also showed poor instincts. Combine that with his slender frame, and some teams will hesitate to pull the trigger on Thompson.

Thompson will need time to develop before he can contribute regularly in the NFL. Gettleman could use the team’s second-round pick on the free safety with the plan of letting him learn behind Bethea for a year or two. This is possible, but not likely. Chances are Thompson does not end up in New York.

Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple

Ya-Sin has been one of the biggest risers of the draft. He has just one year of FBS experience, having started his career at Presbyterian before transferring to Temple for his senior year, but he played well in his one season as an Owl. He intercepted two passes with 12 pass breakups in 12 games, and after a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, he has quickly emerged as an early Day 2 prospect.

Ya-Sin has great size at 6 feet, 192 pounds. He has the strength and toughness to develop into a press-man corner and put up a solid enough performance at the combine. He is going to need some good coaching to help with his technique, but with his physical tools, he could easily become one of the top corners to come out of this draft.

Ya-Sin is likely to go in the early part of Round 2, and many mock drafts project him to go to the Giants at No. 37, which makes sense. Gettleman loves betting on traits, and Ya-Sin is great in that department. He could become a starter in a year or two after receiving some coaching and gaining some experience. The Jets would also love to add a cornerback like Ya-Sin but would have to acquire more draft capital in order to have a chance at him.

Taylor Rapp, S, Washington

When it comes to picking a safe prospect in the draft, you might not find one safer than Rapp. The 6-foot, 208-pound safety out of Washington was a versatile three-year starter in college and is widely considered one of the highest character prospects in this entire draft class. He is known for his high football IQ and his open-field tackling, and his efforts in the run game help cover up his average coverage skills.

In 13 games at Washington last season, Rapp totaled 58 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and four pass breakups. Over his three years there, the safety picked off seven passes while forcing two fumbles. Rapp profiles as a strong safety and could probably come in on Day 1 and become a starter. He needs to work on his coverage skills to truly thrive in the NFL, but his skill set makes him as safe of a pick as you’re going to find.

With so many holes in the defense, it seems unlikely that Gettleman uses one of his first three picks on a safety. Even if he does, there are better fits than Rapp for Big Blue in this safety class.

Nasir Adderley, S, Delaware

Adderley is another player who has been rising up draft boards since the end of the college football season. Despite coming from a small school (Delaware), the 6-foot, 206-pound safety helped make a name for himself with a good showing during the Senior Bowl. Teams will love his versatility, with experience playing at both safety and corner in college. Adderley collected nine interceptions over the last two seasons, while showing improvements in his tackling every year.

Despite his talents, Adderley had issues with consistency while at Delaware, which is why some believe he is better suited at corner in the NFL. He has good range downfield and showed a knack for making plays on the ball. Adderley is most likely to hear his name called during the first half of Day 2.

Giants defensive backs coach Everett Withers met with Adderley during his pro day, so clearly the Giants have some level of interest in the safety. I believe Gettleman will find Adderley’s versatility to help out in numerous positions in the secondary appealing, which could be enough to make him the pick at No. 37.

Justin Layne, CB, Michigan State

There is a whole lot to like about Layne. For starters, he has great size for a corner at 6-2, 192 pounds. Layne also has some natural ball skills, partly due to him beginning his collegiate career as a wide receiver. Despite being relatively new to the position, Layne has proven to have good technique in coverage and knows how to use his length to his advantage when disrupting passes (totaled 15 pass breakups in 2018, including 11 in his final five games).

Due to his prior experience at wide receiver, Layne does a great job of recognizing opponents’ routes and making plays on a receiver as he’s preparing to catch the ball. He will need to improve his zone coverage as well as show more effort in run support, but his size and athleticism make him quite the interesting cornerback prospect.

Layne is a bit of a developmental cornerback, but has the tools to eventually become a high-end starter in the NFL. I think that is something both the Giants and Jets would sign up for. Layne will likely be in play for the Giants at No. 37, and don’t be surprised to see the Jets try to make a move up to snag him sometime in Round 2.

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S, Florida

The final spot on this list easily could have gone to Virginia safety Juan Thornhill, but I decided to give it to Gardner-Johnson due to his great fit with the Giants (more on that later). Gardner-Johnson is another prospect who offers a tremendous amount of versatility. The Gators essentially used him as their slot corner last season, but his college tape shows so much more than that.

Gardner-Johnson has shown the ability to blitz, help in the run game, handle zone coverage and play man coverage on big receivers and tight ends. What team wouldn’t want to sign up for that? His ball skills are undeniable, as the defensive back racked up nine interceptions in his three seasons at Florida, including four in 2018. Gardner-Johnson will have to work on his reaction time and improve his footwork a bit, but it’s clear that whatever team drafts him will be acquiring a talented DB with a ton of upside.

As I mentioned before, Gardner-Johnson would be an absolutely perfect fit for James Bettcher’s defense. The Giants cherish safeties with cornerback tools, and that is exactly what Gardner-Johnson brings to the table. Bettcher would love deploying Gardner-Johnson all over the field, which might be enough for Gettleman to take the safety at No. 37 if he’s still available.

Matt Citak is a web producer for WFAN. Check him out on Twitter at @MatthewCitak.