By Greg Gabriel--
Editor's note: You can read Gabriel's other scouting reports on highly regarded NFL Draft prospects by clicking here.
(CBS) If your favorite team is in need of a cornerback, this is the year to get one.
In a recent conversation I had with an NFC general manager, the first words out of his mouth were "Can you believe how strong this corner class is?" He didn't mention names, but he didn't need to, as he was right on. There's not only quality talent at the corner position but depth as well.
In most drafts, 12 to 15 cornerbacks get drafted in the first three rounds. And in most of those years, some of those players are over-drafted because of the value of the position. That won't be the case this year because of the quality of the talent. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if five or six corners get drafted in the first round.
There will always be debate as to who's the best cornerback in this draft. There are three or four who will compete for the chance to be the first off the board. Those players are Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore from Ohio State, Alabama's Marlon Humphrey, Florida's Teez Tabor and Florida's Quincy Wilson. How each of these players performs at the NFL Combine and their pro days will settle the order, but for now, my cornerback is Lattimore.
A third-year sophomore, Lattimor redshirted as a true freshman, then played as a backup in 2015. He became a starter in 2016 and had a breakout year, finishing the season with 41 total tackles, four interception and nine pass breakups.
He's listed at 6-foot, 190 pounds, and I expect that he may be a little heavier than that at the Combine. He's an exceptional athlete and should run in the low 4.4s, perhaps even breaking 4.4
Lattimore's speed and athleticism stand out. He has really good flexibility and overall body control. He has loose hips, has a smooth back-pedal and transitions very quickly. At Ohio State, he was asked to play press and zone and was good with each.
Lattimore shows the ability to mirror a receiver all over the field. He's instinctive with quick reactions and is a willing run support player with good tackling ability. What I like is that he can play physical when he has to and shows both a strong jam and the ability to get off blocks. His ball skills are excellent, and he has soft hands.
In short, he makes plays.
On the down side, Lattimore missed his true freshman year with a leg injury and also missed some time as a redshirt freshman with the same injury. Being as young as he is, he still needs to fill out and get a little bigger and stronger. He has minimal experience, being just a one-year starter.
That said, Lattimore has all the tools needed to become a shutdown corner in the NFL. He will make some mistakes because of his age and lack of experience, but few have his upside. It wouldn't surprise me if he's one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL by his third year. There may be some cornerbacks in this draft who will play better as rookies, but when scouting, you have to look at the players' ceilings. It isn't just about a rookie year, it's about a career.
The Bears have a need at cornerback, and Lattimore could well be a player they will consider selecting at the No. 3 slot in the first round. Cornerback is a value position, and third overall isn't too high to select a player at that position.
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who is an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.
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