Ohio State could have three first-round draft choices. All three are from the secondary.
Cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Malik Hooker rank as the best prospects at their positions and are likely top-10 choices. Cornerback Gareon Conley could go late in the first round despite having more experience than either of his more highly rated teammates.
“If anybody overlooks Gareon, they’re going to regret it,” Lattimore said. “He’s a great player. I learned from him. I don’t know why he’s being overlooked, but whoever gets him is going to get a great player.”
The Dallas Cowboys used all but two of their national visits on defensive players. Conley, UCLA’s Fabian Moreau, Colorado’s Chidobe Awuzie, Washington’s Kevin King, Florida’s Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson, Clemson’s Cordrea Tankersley and USC’s Adoreé Jackson were among the cornerbacks who visited The Star.
Conley, who ran a 4.44 at the NFL combine, isn’t as fast as Lattimore (4.36) or as athletic. But he has his strengths, according to CBS Sports draft analyst Dane Brugler: “…natural ball skills with the hand-eye coordination to finish the interceptions that he should — averaged 16.3 yards per interception in 2016, including a touchdown (4/61/1)…well-schooled in press and off man coverages with experience moving inside to cover the slot…displays the downhill burst and chops to be a factor in run support…graduated with a degree in sports industry (Dec. 2016)…voted a team captain in 2016 and started every game for the Buckeyes the past two seasons.”
Conley, who made six interceptions with 21 pass breakups in his two seasons, put it more simply.
“I’m a competitor,” Conley said. “I play hard; I’m coachable; I’m humble and confident.”
Ohio State has had a cornerback selected each of the past three drafts, with Eli Apple going 10th overall to the New York Giants last year, Doran Grant in the fourth round to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015 and Bradley Roby 31st overall to the Denver Broncos in 2014. Lattimore will go in the first round next week, and Conley could follow soon after.
“I feel like just the culture and program itself, just the way things were run there like practices,” Conley said. “Everything you do, you’ve got to give your maximum effort, and I feel like there’s a high standard. There’s no medium, average or low standard. There’s such a high standard that you’ve got to compete with people that are just as good as you so you’ve got to outwork them.”
The position is the strongest in this draft. It has star power and depth well into Day 3. Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore likely is the highest-rated cornerback on everyone’s draft board. After that, it becomes dealer’s choice with plenty of talented cornerbacks ready to be selected.
The Cowboys will have a new look in the secondary after losing Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne in free agency. Carr never lived up to the five-year, $50.1 million deal he signed in 2012, and Claiborne couldn’t stay on the field after the Cowboys made him the sixth overall pick in 2012. But they combined for 23 starts, 92 tackles, two interceptions and 15 pass breakups last season. The Cowboys signed Nolan Carroll in free agency to pair with returnees Orlando Scandrick and Anthony Brown. Pro Football Focus ranked Carroll 92nd among cornerbacks last season, with Carr 51st and Claiborne 12th. Quarterbacks targeted Carroll 87 times and completed 52 passes for 712 yards and four touchdowns against him. The Cowboys will upgrade the position in the draft, possibly using a first-round choice on a cornerback.
Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State, 6-0, 193, 4.36. A one-year starter, he had four interceptions and 13 pass breakups last season.
Marlon Humphrey, Alabama, 6-0, 197, 4.41. He had five interceptions and 18 pass breakups in his two seasons as a starter.
Tre’Davious White, LSU, 5-11, 192, 4.47. A four-year starter, he played 49 games with six interceptions and 40 pass breakups.
Gareon Conley, Ohio State, 6-0, 195, 4.44. A two-year starter, he made six interceptions and 21 pass breakups in his career.
Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado, 6-0, 202, 4.43, A four-year starter, he forced more fumbles (5) than he made interceptions (3).
Sidney Jones, Washington, 6-0, 186, 4.47. He was projected as a first-round pick until tearing his Achilles during his Pro Day, which will force him to miss the 2017 season.
Top Texas ties
Howard Wilson, Houston, 6-1, 184, 4.57. The DeSoto product, projected as a third- or fourth-rounder, made 24 pass breakups and nine interceptions as a two-year starter.
Brendan Langley, Lamar, 6-0, 201, 4.43. The Georgia transfer projects as a fourth- or fifth-rounder after making seven interceptions and 28 pass breakups in his college career.
Brian Allen, Utah, 6-3, 215, 4.43. The LaMarque product, projected as a fifth- or sixth-rounder, moved to defense in 2014 so he is raw.
Ashton Lampkin, Oklahoma State, 6-0, 189, 4.52. The Fort Worth Dunbar product, projected as a late-round pick, made 17 pass breakups and five interceptions.
Source: Heights, weights and 40-yard-dash times were compiled from CBS Sports analyst Dane Brugler.
82nd NFL Draft
Museum of Art, Philadelphia
Selections: Round 1, 7 p.m. April 27; Rounds 2-3, 6 p.m. April 28; and Rounds 4-7, 11 a.m. April 29.
TV: ESPN/ESPN2 and NFL Network.
1. Cleveland Browns
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. Chicago Bears
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams)
6. New York Jets
7. Los Angeles Chargers
8. Carolina Panthers
9. Cincinnati Bengals
10. Buffalo Bills
11. New Orleans Saints
12. Cleveland Browns (from Philadelphia Eagles)
13. Arizona Cardinals
14. Philadelphia Eagles (from Minnesota Vikings)
15. Indianapolis Colts
16. Baltimore Ravens
17. Washington Redskins
18. Tennessee Titans
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
20. Denver Broncos
21. Detroit Lions
22. Miami Dolphins
23 New York Giants
24. Oakland Raiders
25. Houston Texans
26. Seattle Seahawks
27. Kansas City Chiefs
28. Dallas Cowboys
29. Green Bay Packers
30. Pittsburgh Steelers
31. Atlanta Falcons
32. New Orleans Saints (from New England Patriots)