Mel Kiper: If You Need A Cornerback, Go Get One

The ESPN NFL Draft analyst says there will be plenty of quality cornerbacks in the early rounds.

Desmond King. (USA TODAY Sports)

Desmond King. (USA TODAY Sports)

With the 2016 NFL regular season wrapping up in the coming weeks, the focus for some teams will shift to the playoffs in January — and hopefully into February.

But for the other 20 teams who won’t make it, the focus turns toward building for the future, which begins with the 2017 NFL Draft on April 27 in Philadelphia. ESPN NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. spoke to reporters about some of the best draft eligible players and where they might end up in a few months.

The Eagles hope to fix some of their weak spots at multiple positions in this year’s draft. One of them is at cornerback, with Nolan Carroll becoming a free agent at the end of this year and Leodis McKelvin and rookie Jalen Mills not performing up to expectations.

Fortunately, Kiper says the cornerback spot is filled with a multitude of talent in the first three rounds. While the Eagles gave away a potential 2017 top-10 pick to acquire Carson Wentz, they will likely get a first-round selection in the teens from the Vikings because of the Sam Bradford trade.

“You could be looking at five first-round corners, you could be looking at four to five second-round corners, just talked about how much depth there is into the third, fourth round,” Kiper said. “There’s gonna be some good players that even drop a little further than that because of the talent at that spot. There’s some kids that might end up playing safety.

“There’s a lot of corners, so if you need one, this’ll be the year to get one.”

Kiper highlighted a couple of intriguing prospects to keep an eye out for, including Iowa’s Desmond King and USC’s Adoree’ Jackson, who has the ability to play in every phase of the game.

“With the ball skills he has and the ability to be a corner or a safety, he could go,” Kiper said. “And we have to see what his speed turns out to be. How fast is he? How explosive is he? I think that’s going to be important athletically and speed-wise if he can be a corner in the NFL. If he can, he can project inside with his tackling ability. I have a second round grade on Desmond King right now.

“With Adoree’, it’s sometimes his concentration, you think about consistency with technique and all those things. And he struggles at times in coverage and allows some things to happen in coverage that a kid with his ability really shouldn’t. But then he makes the big play and it’s all forgotten. And he’s got the ability to maybe help you out on the offensive side, the return game he’s spectacular. He’s got so much ability that coaches and the coordinators are gonna look at him and say, ‘Hey, bring him in, we can obviously work with a kid with that kind of upside.’”

If the Eagles decide to wait until later in the draft, the team could use their first-round pick on a wide receiver or a running back. Kiper mentioned USC wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster as a possibility late in the first round.

“He’s got the body control, he’s kind of a power forward that gets position. He doesn’t get a lot of separation. You’d like to see a little more burst, a little bit better explosiveness out of his break,” Kiper said.

“He’s a competitive kid, he catches the ball, he competes for the ball, and he’s got the size, he’ll be that power forward-type, number two receiver. If you have a speed guy on the other side, he would fit the bill. I don’t think he’s a one, I think he’s opposite a speed guy, a down-the-field threat. He could be a nice option in the short, intermediate areas for you.”

But Kiper was cautious on Smith-Schuster having success in the NFL. Former Trojan receivers like Nelson Agholor and Marqise Lee have had lackluster pro careers after dominating the college game in Southern California.

In the running back department, Ryan Mathews has been bitten by the injury bug, while Darren Sproles is getting up there in age at 33. Both are also signed until the end of the 2017 season. While the jury is still out on rookie Wendell Smallwood, Kiper mentioned a possible Sproles 2.0 in Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey.

Like Sproles, McCaffrey is very versatile, and Kiper believes the number of teams that will be interested in the Cardinal back will increase due to the outlook of the league.

“As a primary punt returner, he did the job,” he said. “Kick returner, he did the job. He catches the ball out of the backfield with 37 catches this past year, he had 45 as a junior. This kid averages almost nine yards a punt return, last year almost 11, 10 yards this year. [He] averages 6.3 [yards] a carry this year, 6 yards a carry last year. He gets touchdowns, he’s got a great work ethic, good body lean when he runs.

“I think it helps him. I think his major asset is his all-around talent. He’s a versatile, dual-threat multi-threat. Bloodlines are tremendous, loves the game [and] like I said, extremely hard worker. NFL loves versatile players, they love versatility, and I think he can beat you and he can help you win in a multitude of ways. So when you got a guy like that, that’s why he’s a first-round pick in my opinion.”