The top 10 cornerback rankings for the 2021 NFL Draft

Who are the best cornerbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft, and how do they compare to each other? Pro Football Network draft analyst Matt Valdovinos is here with his pre-season 2021 cornerback rankings!

The 2020 cornerback class saw six players selected in the first round, and 11 total taken in the first three rounds. While I’m not sure the 2021 class can match the pure number of players selected so high, I do think the talent as a group is overall stronger than that of 2020. Deciding between 10 players was incredibly difficult, as I watched nearly 20 cornerbacks that were all worthy of a spot on this list. However, after hours of evaluations, I’ve come up with my summer scouting 2021 cornerback rankings.

2021 NFL Draft Cornerback Rankings

10) Derion Kendrick, Clemson

A former five-star prospect, Derion Kendrick came to Clemson as a highly-touted wide receiver. However, over the spring, Clemson desperately needed an outside cornerback opposite of A.J. Terrell, and Kendrick answered the call. In his first season at cornerback, Kendrick would have an impressive season, earning a second-team All-ACC selection.

He possesses natural physical gifts measuring in at 6’0″, 190 pounds and is one of the best athletes on Clemson’s roster. Kendrick only has room to improve, as cornerback is still a new challenge for him. However, his ball skills are natural, and he poses a threat when he gets the ball in his hands.

9) Thomas Graham Jr., Oregon

Oregon has one of the top cornerback duos in college football, and arguably the best secondary in the nation, so it’s no surprise one of their cornerbacks made it onto my list. However, it’s the lesser-known Thomas Graham Jr. that I found to be the best, at least in my eyes.

Graham currently leads the NCAA in passes defended among active players, and is seventh in the nation in total interceptions with eight. Graham has strong physical tools and has a high football IQ that lets him diagnose plays like screens and RPOs rather quickly. His ceiling is somewhat limited, but I believe he can be a quality starter early in his NFL career.

8) Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State

Yes, you read that right: Asante Samuel Jr. You are old. I, unfortunately, was too young to watch Samuel Sr. in his prime, but I’m sure he’s proud of the player his son has become. Samuel Jr. possesses natural defensive back physical tools: Loose hips, the ability to stop and start on a dime, and natural ball skills.

Last season, he finished top 10 in the country in pass deflections and can lay the wood on occasion. His frame is a bit small, listed at 5’10” and under 185 pounds, so I wonder if he’ll be best suited in the slot. I also think he could be a very good single-high free safety, meaning his best tool in the NFL will be his natural versatility.

7) Marco Wilson, Florida

The younger brother of former second-round pick Quincy Wilson, Marco will be the next of the Wilson family to be selected in the NFL Draft. A natural chess piece, Wilson has shown above-average tape as both a boundary cornerback and a slot player. He may even play some safety this season, as the Gators’ cornerback room runs deep. Wilson has good size and athletic ability and is sticky in man coverage. He’s also a willing run defender. Wilson has suffered an ACL tear in his career at Florida, so his health could be something to monitor moving forward.

6) Jaycee Horn, South Carolina

Jaycee Horn is one of the top cover men in the SEC and makes up half of the best cornerback duo in the nation. He possesses excellent physical tools at 6’1″, 205 pounds, with fluid hips and good explosiveness. Horn has deflected 17 passes in two years at SC but has yet to register an interception.

Horn has been used as a blitzer, and it’s come with success, as he’s registered 3.0 sacks the last two seasons. Horn’s abilities make him scheme and position diverse, and he will likely find success regardless of the situation he’s drafted into.

5) Israel Mukuamu, South Carolina

Listed at 6’4″, 205 pounds, with impressive athletic ability, Israel Mukuamu is the second half of South Carolina’s elite cornerback duo. Mukuamu is not quite as diverse as his teammate Jaycee Horn, but I believe that in the right scheme, he will be the superior NFL player.

Mukuamu projects as a prototypical Cover-3 cornerback with his elite length, ball skills, and strong vertical athletic ability. Mukuamu struggles to stop and start on a dime, and his hips aren’t overly fluid, meaning in the wrong scheme, he’ll likely struggle, making his floor lower than that of Horn’s.

4) Elijah Molden, Washington

The next in a long line of dominant Washington defensive backs, Elijah Molden was undeniably the best pure cover cornerback in the PAC-12 last year. He’s incredibly fluid and plays with a high football IQ, making him proficient in both man and zone coverage. I do worry about Molden’s ability as an outside cornerback, due to some size and athletic concerns, but his natural ability in man coverage makes him at worst an elite chess piece in the mold of Tyrann Mathieu.

3) Patrick Surtain II, Alabama

Son of former Dolphins legend Patrick Surtain Sr., Surtain Jr. seems to be the consensus summer scouting CB1. He was able to carve out a role for himself as a true freshman at Alabama and has been a steady presence for them since. It’s obvious he’s the son of a former All-Pro, as he already plays like an established veteran.

Surtain shows strong patience and discipline while doing a good job deconstructing plays as they happen. I would like to see him be more aggressive given his natural length at 6’2″, but his ability to stop and start at that size is quite impressive. I have some concerns about his natural athletic ability, which would slightly limit his ceiling as a dominant shut-down cornerback.

2) Shaun Wade, Ohio State

Earlier this week, I compared Shaun Wade to current Indianapolis Colt Kenny Moore II, and I love that comparison. If you don’t know Moore, you should. He’s arguably the league’s top slot cornerback, and quietly one of the best run defending and pass-rushing cornerbacks in the NFL.

Wade is very similar. I believe his physical abilities best project to the nickel, and he’s an elite pass rusher from that position. I question if Wade will succeed on the boundary this coming season, or if Ohio State is better off leaving him in the slot. Regardless, as he is now, I believe Wade is currently the best cornerback in the class.

1) Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech

How is it possible that I can view Wade as the best current player, but not have him as my highest-rated corner? It’s because I believe Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley is already a great player, and still has room to grow, with truly special physical tools. Listed at 6’2″ and 207 pounds, Farley is expected to run a sub-4.4 at the NFL Combine, and his ability to stop and start is reminiscent of 2020 CB1 Jeff Okudah. If Farley can clean up some inconsistencies and add a little effort in the run game, he’ll be a top-10 player on my board come April.

The 2021 cornerback class has been one of my favorite groups to study so far. A wide array of talents, each with their own unique skill-set. I could see up to 15 players taken in the first three rounds. Whether a team is looking for their shut-down CB1, or a dominant slot guy to control the middle of the field, this class has it. Whether you’re running Cover-0 man-to-man or a heavy Cover-3, there’s someone in this class for your defense.

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