Previewing the 2019 NFL Combine: Studs, starters and sleepers at Cornerback

Aug 31, 2017; Bloomington, IN, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Kendall Sheffield (8) breaks up a pass intended for Indiana Hoosiers wide receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr. (1) in the first half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Rang

The 2019 NFL Scouting Combine is now less than two weeks away and is taking a daily look at the top prospects at each position to help get you up to speed quickly.

Each day, a different position will be profiled and given a grade with three individual players featured:

· A First Round Prototype

· Second Day (Future) Starter

· Third Day Sleeper

Senior Analysts Rob Rang and Ric Serritella have nearly 40 years of combined experience professionally evaluating prospects for the NFL and after a year spent visiting campuses, watching tape, attending games, all-star practices and Combine training facilities, they have not surprisingly developed some favorites in this talented 2019 draft class.

Hundreds of their scouting reports are being printed for Lindy’s NFL Draft magazine right now (RESERVE YOUR COPY HERE) with a snapshot of each position and some of their favorite players to watch available complimentary of below.


To be successful in the NFL cornerbacks must have selective amnesia, forgetting about whatever happened on the previous play and focusing on the next.

Fortunately for NFL teams looking for help at the position this year, scouts can do the same as this year's class, remarkably, stacks up well against last year's crop which featured a rookie Pro Bowler (Denzel Ward, Browns) and several others (Minkah Fitzpatrick-Dolphins, Jaire Alexander-Packers, Mike Hughes-Vikings, Tre Flowers-Seahawks) who look likely to earn that distinction soon.

Like his former Ohio State teammate Marshon Lattimore (now with the Saints) did prior to becoming the first cornerback selected in 2017, Ward enjoyed a steady rise up boards prior to the draft despite the fact that he only technically started one season with the Buckeyes. Their sweet feet, rather than starting experience or splashy production, clearly captured the imagination of the scouts in New Orleans and Cleveland.

That fact bodes well for a gifted but somewhat inexperienced crop of cornerbacks for the 2019 NFL draft – a group led by redshirt sophomores Andraez “Greedy” Williams from LSU and Washington’s Byron Murphy.

The Huskies’ Murphy projects most like Lattimore and Ward as he offers a combination of agility and straight-line speed that is simply unrivaled in this class. Scouts might be a little hesitant to draft another Washington defensive back high, however, as some Huskies have proven to have more bark than bite in the NFL in recent years, a stark contrast to the success that LSU defensive backs have enjoyed, strengthening the Tigers’ claim as “DBU.”

Teams that want to save the roll of the dice until Day Two may be intrigued by the raw athleticism shown by another Buckeye, Kendall Sheffield – who may just prove this year’s 40-yard dash king – or standouts for the nation title game combatants, like Alabama’s Saivion Smith and Trayvon Mullen from Clemson.

Fortunately, this year’s crop of cornerbacks features plenty of candidates for the more risk-adverse teams selecting later in the draft. Georgia’s Thorpe Award-winning Deandre Baker, Notre Dame’s Julian Love and Temple’s Rock Ya-Sin may not win the 40-yard dash race but they are as pro-ready as it gets, showing the instincts and competitiveness that translate to the next level.

Long-limbed cornerbacks are all the rage in today’s NFL and this class is loaded with them with Kentucky’s Lonnie Johnson, Houston’s Isaiah Johnson (no relation), Penn State’s Amani Oruwariye, Vanderbilt’s JoeJuan Williams and Central Michigan's Sean Bunting all showing the ability to play above the rim.

Grade: B+

A First Round Prototype: Byron Murphy, Washington

Murphy was reportedly given just a second round grade by the NFL Advisory Committee but he if impresses at the Combine next week as much as I think he will, I don’t believe he will make it out of the top 15 come April 25. Voted First Team All-PAC-12 by coaches and media alike, Murphy ranked among national leaders with 13 passes broken up as a redshirt sophomore in 2018, intercepting four passes, including a pick-six against Utah in the Pac-12 championship game that proved to be the only touchdown scored in the Huskies' 10-3 victory that earned them a trip to the Rose Bowl. Despite opting to enter the NFL draft with just 20 career games under his belt, Murphy showed a knack for producing big plays in big games - collecting interceptions against rival Washington State and Stanford as well as performing well in showdowns last season with Auburn and Ohio State to begin and end the year. It isn't often that a player gives up two years of eligibility - especially when they've only started one full season - but Murphy is special, showing a degree of fluidity, physicality and ball-skills that suggest Pro Bowls could be in his future.

Second Day (Future) Starter: Kendall Sheffield, Ohio State

Former Buckeye teammates Nick Bosa and Dwayne Haskins will generate throngs of media during interviews, but when the workouts begin, scouts will be just as interested in Sheffield, one of the more underrated prospects out of Ohio State in years and my pick to run the fastest 40-yard dash at the 2019 Combine. Sheffield is hardly an unknown, signing with Alabama out of high school before re-surfacing with the Buckeyes as a top-rated JUCO. Sheffield's reputation as a track star belies the fact that he's a physical and instinctive football player who immediately stood out amidst all of the talent at Ohio State. One of the areas in which Sheffield can help his cause in Indianapolis is by showing improved ball-skills, as he turned just two of his 15 career passes defensed into interceptions. While raw in many ways and just a one-year starter at the FBS level, Sheffield’s rare tools will generate plenty of excitement, earning him early Day Two consideration – if that, is, he makes it out of the top 32.

Third Day Sleeper: Sean Bunting, Central Michigan

While former Central Michigan (and Pittsburgh Steelers?) star Antonio Brown has dominated the news recently, Bunting has a chance to squeeze into the spotlight next week. While not expected to star during the athletic testing, Bunting shows at least functional NFL athleticism on tape, as well as above average size, instincts and competitiveness for the position, along with plus ball-skills. He opted to give up his final year of eligibility following the firing of CMU head coach John Bonamego. As a junior in 2018, Bunting was a First Team All-Mid-American Conference selection who registered 37 tackles, including three for loss, along with five passes defensed, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and one blocked kick. He developed quite a reputation at CMU for his knack for creating turnovers, forcing four fumbles over the past two seasons and turning 15 career passes defensed into nine interceptions.