3 major takeaways from the combine's DB workouts
Day 4 of the NFL combine concludes with the defensive backs — always a position where athleticism can blind evaluators during the process. It certainly helps to see quality 40 times and change of direction skills from the defensive backs, but corners still have to play with great technique and safeties are useless unless they read the play and take proper angles.
Perhaps most important, just like any position, we’d like to see players that “play fast” on tape also run fast on the track. A number of players did just that. Here are the top takeaways from the defensive back workouts:
William Jackson III is a first-round caliber player
Just as we highlighted earlier, Jackson III may be the best cornerback in the entire draft, and we felt that way before he ran a 4.37 40 at six-foot, 189 pounds. We expected him to run well as the big corner has fantastic movement skills on film, whether in a straight line or when changing direction. He posted the second-highest coverage grade in the draft class last season at +17.3, and perhaps most impressive, there is room to grow to his game. He’s inconsistent in press, from both a physicality and technique standpoint, so he hasn’t yet reached his potential. Given Jackson’s current production, combined with his size and athleticism, he may just develop into the best corner in the draft a few years down the road.
Jalen Ramsey has all of the necessary tools to be the best player in the draft
Jackson has to answer to Ramsey, however, who proved his worth as a top-five caliber pick. He ran the seventh-fastest 40 at 4.41 to go with the top vertical and broad jumps among defensive backs. This backs up what we’ve seen from Ramsey the last few years as he has the deep speed to play outside cornerback, but also the lower body explosion and length to compress the field as a short zone player. Given this all-around skillset, Ramsey could develop into the draft’s best player if he can continue to take advantage of a size/speed combination that allows for growth in man coverage. I still think his best fit is as a versatile chess piece in a diverse defensive scheme, allowing the defense to take advantage of all Ramsey has to offer.
Eli Apple also helped himself, now he just has to find the ball
With a 40 time at 4.40 at 6-1, Apple also showed the size and speed that the NFL is looking for in their press man corners. He may be the best in the class from a press standpoint, playing sticky coverage but still surrendering catches as he doesn’t always find the ball in the air and has proven susceptible to back-shoulder throws. While it may be anecdotal, this is the same issue that Buffalo Bills rookie CB Ronald Darby had coming out of Florida State last year, and he went on to improve in this area on his way to PFF Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. The inability to find the ball, along with shoddy open-field tackling, was a big reason Apple posted only the 24th-best coverage grades in the draft class, though he may excel if given an opportunity to play pure press man coverage in the right system.