Richner: 2016 Top DBs

Last Updated: 5/1/2016 1:00 PM ET
This year's crop of defensive back shows is filled with a number of players who are bigger, and have more size than your traditional crop of corners. The wave of bigger, more physical corners is just starting to come through the college ranks and into the NFL.

The top rated defensive back is former Florida State Seminole Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey is the prototypical corner who has the size to cover bigger wideouts. Ramsey also has the ability to play the safety position, making him that much more valuable to teams in the top half of the first round.

With teams looking for bigger cornerbacks with long arms, this will inevitably cause some corners who are bit smaller and don't check off all the measurables boxes to fall down the rankings and draft boards. A couple of defensive backs that don't check off all the measurables boxes but can play lights-out defense are Mike Hilton (Mississippi), Cyrus Jones (Alabama) and Cre'von LeBlanc (Florida Atlantic). All three of these players are under six feet tall, yet all of them were multi-year starters, who consistently performed at a high level and were able to shut down opponent's top offensive targets.

With the NFL becoming more and more a passing league, NFL defenses played their nickel defense (an extra defensive back) over 60% of the snaps last season. More and more teams will look to find ways to increase their depth in the secondary. Don't be surprised to see a number of late round or undrafted cornerback prospect end up making the opening roster in the NFL. The New England Patriots proved with the addition of Super Bowl hero, Malcolm Butler, that even if you go undrafted you can still make an immediate and major impact in the NFL.

The defensive back rankings below have been calculated using a statistical formula that measures each players catch rate, yards per reception allowed, touchdown receptions allowed, committed penalties, first downs allowed, and impact plays.

For the defensive backs, I have created an impact plays formula that takes into consideration INT, PB, FF, TFL, sacks, times targeted, yards given up and the opponent's success rate. This is always one of the more difficult positions to quantify based on the fact that if a player is a shutdown corner, his opponent will more than likely avoid him. Below are the top five cornerbacks in this year's draft class.

1) Jalen Ramsey (CB, Florida State):

Every year at the NFL Combine, one prospect shines brighter than anyone else. In some cases, these elite athletes who outperform everyone at the Combine go on to have a successful NFL career. There have been a few players who became the talk of the town at the Combine, but have failed to make much of an impact in the NFL. It remains to be seen which group Jalen Ramsey is going to be in. His performance and production in college suggest that he is an elite corner and safety. Rarely do players make the transition to the NFL as elite prospects at two positions.

Ramsey has all the makings of a special caliber prospect. Measuring in at 6'1” and 209 pounds, he has the size to match up against bigger wide receivers and tight ends. He was a shutdown defensive back during his career at Florida State. According to Pro Football Focus, Ramsey allowed just one touchdown playing cornerback last season.

Ramsey isn't afraid to be physical with opponents at the line of scrimmage. All too often, players coming from college prefer to play off the line of scrimmage and give a five or ten yard cushion to opposing wide receivers. Ramsey can press a guy off his route and redirect him to anywhere he wants on the field. He has the speed to run in the hip pocket with just about anyone.

In 41 career games, Ramsey had 150.5 tackles, 15 TFL, five sacks, 23 pass breakups, four forced fumbles, three interceptions, and one blocked kicked. He amassed a total of 67 impact plays per game, an average of 1.6 impact plays per game.

As with bigger defensive backs, Ramsey has struggled to cover small, quick wide receivers. Ramsey probably won't be asked to slide inside and cover the slot wide receivers too often in the NFL.

The versatility to play either corner or safety make Ramsey one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft. A capable run defender, he should have no problems coming down into the box and plugging a running lane.

Ramsey will most likely be a top five selection, with an outside shot of becoming the first overall selection in this year's draft. Regardless of his future position, Ramsey ranks as one of the top overall prospects in this draft class.

2) William Jackson III (DB, Houston):

The first thing that comes to mind when someone talks about Houston Cougars football is their high powered offense. They finished the regular season with the 20th ranked offense in FBS. On the defensive side, they also had one of the top rated defensive back prospects in college football in William Jackson III.

At 6'0” and 189 pounds, Jackson is supremely talented in getting his long arms in between opposing wide receivers' bodies and the ball and knocking it loose. He had a total of five interceptions and 23 pass breakups this season, giving him a total of 28 pass defended, tops amongst FBS players last season.

Against Temple last season, Jackson was targeted a total of 16 times, allowing six receptions for 77 yards. He finished with seven pass deflections in the game, one away from the NCAA record.

According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson has allowed 46 receptions this past season, a 48.8 percent catch rate. He doesn't shy away from contact, but looks to get up on the line of scrimmage and press his man. Few corners in college excel at this technique, but Jackson is the rare type of defensive back who does.

In 39 career games, Jackson had 99.5 tackles, 40 pass breakups, three TFL, two forced fumbles, eight interceptions, and three interceptions returned for a touchdown. He amassed a total of 73 impact plays, an average of 1.9 impact plays per game.

When watching his tape, it becomes clear that Jackson does a good job of staying right in the hip pocket of the wide receiver. He rarely gets beat over the top and will take away an opponent's short throws.

Down in the red zone, Jackson is able to shut down an opponent's back shoulder fade and slant routes by using his strengths and athletic ability to knock the ball loose or throw the receiver off his route. He will go up and attack the ball in the air and won't wait for it to come to him. Instead, he tries to high-point the ball like a receiver.

NFL teams covet a defensive back with Jackson's size, speed, and power combination. He has been skyrocketing up draft boards so don't be surprised if you hear his name called within the first fifteen picks.

3) Vernon Hargreaves III (CB, Florida):

Hargraves struck fear into opposing offensive coaches. There were times when opponents didn't line up a wide receiver on his side of the field. He is a top defensive back prospect and has been an elite performer since he was anointed a starter as a true freshman.

At 5'10” and 204 pounds, Hargreaves has all the physical tools to be an elite defensive back in the NFL. Few college defenses ask their cornerbacks to play one-on-one on the outside with no safety help over the top. Hargraves was left on an island, yet he didn't show any fear of giving up a big play. Instead, he tirelessly jammed his opponent and ran with them down the field.

It is impressive to watch Hargreaves' ability to maintain his concentration throughout the game despite limited action to his side of the field. Receivers had a difficult time beating his press as he was redirecting routes and disrupting the timing of the quarterback.

In 37 career games, Hargreaves had a total of 100.5 tackles, 28 pass breakups, three TFL, one forced fumble and 10 interceptions. He amassed a total of 64 impact plays, an average of 1.7 impact plays per game.

Hargreaves was clearly the best corner in college football in 2014; he allowed just one touchdown and only 222 yards all season long according to Pro Football Focus. In 2015, his production dropped considerably. He allowed more deep passes last season than in his first couple of seasons. He gambled on making the big play and this cost him, allowing a few key receptions throughout the season.

The one area that scouts will be concerned about is Hargreaves' abilities as a tackler. This past season he had four missed tackles against Tennessee, which resulted in three first downs. On his first missed tackle, he dove at the ball carrier's legs. He needs to learn to look up and wrap up the ball carrier versus just diving at the ground. A couple of missed tackles were the result of trying to strip the ball away versus tackling the ball carrier to the ground. I'm not sure he has the strength to wrestle the ball away from a running back going full speed who outweighs him by thirty or forty pounds.

Hargreaves can play in both man and zone coverages, but with his lack of size it might be harder for him to go against the bigger, more physical wideouts in one-on-one situations. He might be more suited to play in a zone defensive scheme. Hargreaves could be a late first or early second round selection.

4) Kendall Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech):

Kendall Fuller will be the fourth Fuller brother to make it into the NFL. The Virginia Tech defense is known for producing defensive backs who excel in zone schemes. Fuller has been a three year starter for the Hokies, but in 2015 he suffered a torn meniscus and missed most of the season.

At 5'11” and 187 pounds, Fuller has a long, lean body type and is more conditioned to sit back and read the quarterback's eyes than to make a play on the ball. When the time is right, he springs into action and can make a play on the ball. In 2014, 15 percent of the intended passes towards Fuller resulted in a pass deflection or interception.

In 29 career games played, Fuller recorded 96 tackles, eight TFL, 3.5 sacks, 27 pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and eight interceptions. He amassed a total of 68.5 impact plays, an average of 2.4 impact plays per game. He has the highest impact plays per game average of any defensive back in this year's draft class.

Fuller likes to take his chances at making the big momentum turning plays, which can lead to giving up some big plays for his opponent. He allowed an average of 14.7 yards per catch over the past two seasons.

Fuller lacks the top end speed to stay with elite runners, which is why he is more suited to play in a zone scheme in the NFL. The lack of upper body strength makes him a liability in the running game. In 2014 and 2015, Fuller was routinely blocked out of his containment and allowed a few big runs to his side of the field.

In the right system in the NFL, Fuller could be a dynamic playmaker, but he will need to be surrounded by quality safeties who can help him recover when he gives up the deep ball. He probably won't develop into a shutdown corner, but a capable number two defensive back who has the potential of being a long term starter in the NFL. Fuller is most likely a second round prospect.

5) Mike Hilton (CB, Mississippi):

Though he lacks the size and stature of a Jalen Ramsey, Mike Hilton is one of the most versatile, do-it-all type of defensive backs in this year's draft. He finished second team All-SEC last season, which is voted on by the coaches last season. He enjoys playing close to the line of scrimmage, putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks and shutting down an opponent's running game. He played safety, corner, and roving linebacker during his college career.

Hilton wasn't invited to the NFL Combine or to the Senior Bowl despite being a Jim Thorpe semifinalist and one of the nation's top defensive backs last season. At 5'9” and 186 pounds, he isn't the biggest or most imposing defensive back, but what he lacks in size he more than makes up for with talent and playmaking skills.

In 49 career games, Hilton recorded 191 tackles, 25.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 26 pass breakups, four forced fumbles, and six interceptions. He amassed a total of 85 impact plays, an average of 1.7 impact plays per game. He leads all draft-eligible defensive backs in career tackles for loss.

Hilton has displayed the speed and quickness to slide inside and play the nickel-corner position. With more and more NFL offenses going to three and four wide receiver base sets, the need for a shutdown nickel corner is becoming more apparent.

Playing him close to the line of scrimmage will also utilize Hilton's ability to be a factor in stopping the run. Hilton is a sure handed tackler who does an excellent job of wrapping up and minimizing yards after contact.

Hilton is a natural playmaker who looks to capitalize on a quarterback's mistake. He will also allow a higher rate of reception than your typical elite corner. Last season, Hilton allowed a 62 percent catch rate. While this is a terribly high number, he only gave up 6.8 yards per catch.

Hilton's size will deter some teams from considering him as a draft pick. More teams are trying to emulate the long, physical corner play of the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals. In doing so, players like Hilton will likely fall down a couple of draft boards. He will most likely be a fifth or sixth round selection, but he could be an instant playmaker for one lucky NFL franchise.

Ranking Player School Draftable Round Impact Plays Avg. Impact Plays/Game
1 Jalen Ramsey Florida State 1 67 1.6
2 William Jackson III Houston 1 73 1.9
3 Vernon Hargreaves III Florida 1 64 1.7
4 Kendall Fuller Virginia Tech 1-2 68.5 2.4
5 Mike Hilton Mississippi 2 85 1.7
6 Cyrus Jones Alabama 2 66.5 1.7
7 Mackensie Alexander Clemson 2 15 0.6
8 Will Redmond Mississippi State 2-3 28.5 1.1
9 Mike Jordan Missouri Western State 3 105.5 2.2
10 Daryl Worley West Virginia 3 66.5 2.0
11 Ryan Smith North Carolina Central 3 65 1.4
12 Jonathan Jones Auburn 3-4 57.5 1.3
13 Zack Sanchez Oklahoma 3-4 81.5 2.2
14 Eli Apple Ohio State 4 40.5 1.4
15 Cre'von LeBlanc Florida Atlantic 4 44 1.0
16 Briean Boddy-Calhoun Minnesota 4 59 1.5
17 Harlan Miller Southeastern La. 5 81 1.7
18 Maurice Canady Virginia 5 64.5 1.5
19 Artie Burns Miami (Florida) 5 46 1.2
20 Frankie Williams Purdue 6 69 1.4
21 Xavien Howard Baylor 6 63 1.6
22 Donte Deayon Boise State 7 91 2.3
23 Jimmy Pruitt San Jose State 7 76.5 1.6
24 Taveze Calhoun Mississippi State 7 60 1.2
25 Cleveland Wallace III San Jose State 7 38 1.1
26 KeiVarae Russell Notre Dame 7 43.5 1.2
27 James Bradberry Samford FA 59.5 1.3
28 D.J. White Georgia Tech FA 60.5 1.3
29 Juston Burris North Carolina State FA 57 1.1
30 Ken Crawley Colorado FA 49 1.0
31 Deiondre' Hall Northern Iowa FA 92 1.8
32 Tavon Young Temple FA 58.5 1.2
33 J.J. Whittaker San Diego State FA 56.5 1.4
34 Bennett Okotcha UTSA FA 44 1.3
35 LeShaun Sims Southern Utah FA 56 1.2
36 DeAndre Elliott Colorado State FA 55 1.2
37 De'Vante Harris Texas A&M FA 49.5 1.1
38 Anthony Brown Purdue FA 48 1.0
39 Eric Murray Minnesota FA 53 1.0
40 Kevin Peterson Oklahoma State FA 47 1.0
41 Lloyd Carrington Arizona State FA 39 0.8
42 Kevon Seymour USC FA 32 0.7
43 Brandon Williams Texas A&M FA 8 0.6
44 Rashard Robinson LSU FA 8.5 0.4