As the Buffalo Bills near the start of the 2016 regular season, cornerback Stephon Gilmore remains unsigned beyond his current fifth-year option. Signs are pointing to this being a protracted saga with media reports that the team and the player have significantly different valuations of his skill set as it correlates to the current market.
The Bills do control Gilmore’s 2017 fate after the signing of Tyrod Taylor. Gilmore’s leverage has been altered slightly knowing that the franchise tag is solely in play for him after the season. But what if Gilmore can’t be signed long-term? Kevon Seymour is an option but he’s yet to face the full competitive NFL experience. So, what about options in the college ranks?
We know three things about Rex Ryan’s corners. They tend to be 5-foot-11 as a minimum, above average in arm length and fast. Ronald Darby ran a 4.38, Gilmore ran a 4.4 flat. Going back to his Jets days, Darrelle Revis ran a 4.38, Antonio Cromartie ran a 4.47. Because Ryan puts his corners on an island, speed to carry the length of the field is a must.
The following college corners are players that I think will fit Ryan’s desires. Not necessarily the best corners in the CFB ranks but players that should fit a Ryan defense.
Cordrea Tankersley – Clemson – Sr. (6’1”, 200)
Cordrea Tankersley is a one-year starter at Clemson after playing a heavy role on special teams in his first two years. At times, the relative inexperience showed up but Tankersley got better as the year went on. He was credited with 5 interceptions, 11 pass breakups and 60 tackles for the season.
Tankersley is a long corner with an intriguing blend of athletic traits. He’s got good initial quickness and has the long speed to carry vertical routes. He has shown the ability to locate the ball early in the flight path and react to it in the air. Tankersley also shows the ability to use his hands in close quarters to secure position.
The play below is against Georgia Tech. Tankersley picks up his assignment, gets in the receivers’ hip pocket downfield while maintaining eyes on the quarterback. Once he sees the throw coming, he gets position under the intended receiver and jumps the route.
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One area Tankersley needs to work on is directing his man more effectively at the line of scrimmage. This play against North Carolina shows more of what I mean. Clemson has a heavy box with both safeties close to the LOS. With no help over the middle of the field, Tankersley can’t let Quinshad Davis get a free release across his face. Fortunately for him, the pass is tipped and he gets back in the play. From a poor start, he manages to make a wonderful play on the ball to intercept it.
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With Mackensie Alexander moving on to the NFL, Tankersley will have a year to prove that he can handle being the man. The signs are promising that he can become one of the top corners in college football and become a very likely candidate to be a first-round pick.
Des Lawrence – North Carolina – Sr. (6’1”, 185)
Des Lawrence is going into his senior year having started all the way through his sophomore and junior years. Lawrence picked up a pair of interceptions last year and 14 pass breakups. Lawrence also accounted for 38 solo tackles on the season.
In terms of raw speed, Lawrence is likely to be on the Cromartie end of the scale. He’s not a pure speedster but he’s fast enough to survive on an island. Lawrence wins by controlling releases well at the LOS and making receivers play his way. UNC use Lawrence in a lot of off-man coverages but has the skills to play press-man when asked.
The reason I picked out solo tackles in his stats is because when Lawrence takes the correct angle to the ball (which isn’t as often as I’d like), he’s a sure and thudding tackler. The pass in the play below goes to Pitt RB Qadree Ollison (Former Canisius Crusader, Alma Mater of Erik Turner), a 230-pound back. Despite the weight disparity, Lawrence wraps him up beautifully. The entire UNC secondary is full of hard-hitting and uncompromising players.
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The Pitt game is when I became enamoured with Lawrence. He had 4 pass breakups and had tight coverage on Tyler Boyd throughout the game. Boyd did get the better of him at the catch point but Lawrence was in the vicinity of the play every time they matched up. In the fourth quarter, Lawrence pulled off a pair of touchdown-saving breakups.
This shows exactly what it is that I love about his game. Lawrence rides his man vertically, sits under him and makes a magnificent play on the ball. There’s no panic, no grabbing, just patience and belief in his ability. He finds the ball early and times his breakup perfectly.
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Lawrence isn’t being talked about as a high pick yet but the NFL is moving more and more toward these long cover corners. The ACC (a conference Rex and Whaley LOVE) will be full of tough assignments for him this year and I’m banking on him passing those tests with flying colours.
Jamar Summers – UConn – Jr. (6’0”, 190)
Jamar Summers might be an unknown to a lot of people at the moment. The UConn corner was highly productive in 2015, his 8 interceptions tied for second in the nation. Just over a year ago, the Huskies put a corner in the NFL – Dallas Cowboys’ first-round pick Byron Jones. Summers looks to emulate that heading toward the 2017 draft.
As a man cover corner, Summers is aggressive. Much like the early season form of Kansas City’s Marcus Peters in his rookie year, his instincts for playmaking are incredible but it can work against him. Every now and then, the desire to make something happen can draw him in and be used against him. When he gets it right, he’s spectacular. It’s not just about aggression for Summers though. He’s got quick feet, stays low in his backpedal and he shows off his ball tracking down the field too.
This play vs BYU is one that I’ve watched over and over. The QB thinks that he’s got Mitch Mathews to the sideline and never sees Summers coming. Summers reads the route combination the whole way, jumps the route and claims the easy interception. One moment where his aggressive intent pays off big time.
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Matched up on former Bills UDFA signee Davonte Allen, Summers never loses a feel for where his man is. He manages to locate the ball at full speed and when the ball hangs up, he’s in prime position to snatch it.
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There really isn’t much keeping Summers at UConn for his senior year if their recent futility continues and his production stays at a high level. Watch out for Summers as the year progresses, he might open a few eyes as the season unfolds.
Marlon Humphrey – Alabama – RS Soph. (6’1”, 198)
Seldom do you see Nick Saban-coached players leave for the NFL this early but Marlon Humphrey might be one of the exceptions. As a redshirt freshman last year, Humphrey was sensational.
According to numbers from Pro Football Focus, Humphrey allowed 31 receptions on 62 targets last year. In coverage, he gave up 529 yards and just two touchdowns all year. In the final four games of the season, he gave up 4 catches on 14 targets for 77 yards.
If you were building the perfect cover corner, it would look like this. He’s long, he’s agile, he’s fast in short areas and over a distance. Humphrey has got the kind of speed and agility where he’s never really beaten. Humphrey has a track background and has already clocked hand times of 4.28 and 4.32 over 40 yards.
This play against Clemson is the perfect illustration of that. Artavis Scott beats him inside initially. Humphrey simply flips around in a heartbeat and Scott never presses the advantage because Humphrey doesn’t allow it. By the time the ball reaches the target, he’s all over him like a shadow. He’s got eyes for the ball only and breaks up the pass from Deshaun Watson.
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Humphrey isn’t just a finesse player. He really puts a shift in against the run. He shows an innate sense for containing the run game, can shed blocks on the perimeter and he tackles well.
If some experience can iron out a few impetuous moments from him, Marlon Humphrey will be the undisputed top corner in college football by the end of the year. He might be out of the Bills’ reach if he declares and the team doesn’t capitulate.
Stephen Culley is a contributor to the BillsWire. Stephen loves discussing the NFL Draft and College prospects. Cover 1 is honored to have him as a contributor to our site. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @StephenCulley. If you have ideas for him that you want him to Cover, be sure to send them in!
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