Coming off the heels of a lackluster 2020 group of cornerbacks, the 2021 class gives us much to be excited about. The 2020 group wasn’t so bad, as it featured Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah, who was selected with the third pick by the Detroit Lions. No cornerback in the 2021 group is of the caliber of Okudah, as he is one of the better cornerback prospects to come out in the last decade. The 2020 class also featured Florida’s CJ Henderson, Auburn’s Noah Igbinoghene, and TCU’s Jeff Gladney. All-in-all, it was a solid group, but the 2021 class is far better overall. CB1 is currently a tossup battle between Ohio State’s Shaun Wade and Alabama’s Patrick Surtain Jr.

In a pass-heavy NFL featuring the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Dak Prescott, cornerback has become one of the premium positions. Look what the Miami Dolphins have done to bolster the position during the last calendar year. First, they signed Xavien Howard to a five-year extension that will pay him $76.5 million. At the time of this extension, it was the biggest contract for a cornerback in NFL history.

Just one year later, the Dolphins made another splash at the position by signing Byron Jones to a lucrative five-year deal that will pay him $82.5 million over the course of the contract. Jones’ contact with Miami surpassed that of Howard, ultimately making him the highest-paid cornerback in NFL history.

After signing two premier cornerbacks to gargantuan contracts, you’d think Miami would be done at the cornerback position, but they decided to spend a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft on Igbinoghene. The moral of the story is that a team can never have too many good cornerbacks. To offset a modern-day NFL which is designed to produced high-octane passing attacks, finding defenders that can cover is paramount.

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Who is CB1 in the 2020 NFL Draft?

Shaun Wade, Ohio State Buckeyes (6’1″, 195 pounds)

Background

It seems that Ohio State has become “DB U”,  recently producing the likes of Denzel Ward, Marshon Lattimore, and Okudah. Shaun Wade played his high school ball at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Florida. Wade, a five-star prospect and a top-25 overall high school baller, ultimately chose Ohio State.

It didn’t take Wade long to make his presence felt in Columbus. In 2018, Wade had a stellar redshirt freshman season, tallying three interceptions and seven passes defended. In 2019, Wade was exceptional yet again, racking up two interceptions, seven passes defended, two forced fumbles, and third-team All-Big Ten honors.

What makes Wade a top prospect?

Shaun Wade is extremely versatile but does his best work in the slot. He possesses tremendous instincts and football intelligence. You will rarely catch Wade out of position. In addition to his versatility, Wade’s best traits are his elite read and recognition skills and his impact in run support. Wade is an absolute enforcer against the run.

Wade could thrive in a defense that properly utilizes his jack-of-all-trades ability. He seems to find himself always in a position to make a play. One underrated quality when it comes to Wade is his ability to blitz. In the clip below, watch Wade ferociously blitz off the corner and make a play on the ball with a strip-sack.

Shaun Wade is a legit top-15 prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft. His ability to play inside and outside will be very attractive to NFL teams. He is a true tone-setter in the secondary, possessing the ability to cover, tackle, and make plays. A strong 2020 season could ascend Wade’s draft stock and make him CB1 in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Related: 2021 NFL Draft: Is Shaun Wade the next great Ohio State cornerback?

Patrick Surtain Jr., Alabama Crimson Tide (6’2″, 203 pounds)

Background

If you’re thinking to yourself that the name “Patrick Surtain” sounds familiar, well, you’re right. The father of Alabama’s Patrick Surtain Jr. was at one time a top NFL cornerback, making multiple Pro Bowls with the Miami Dolphins. Coming out of high school, Surtain Jr. was highly regarded, being ranked nationally as the number six overall player. Despite being heavily pursued by the likes of Clemson, Miami, and LSU, Surtain Jr. ultimately decided that he was going to play his collegiate ball at the University of Alabama.

In 2018, Surtain Jr. saw significant playing time at Alabama as a true freshman. He ended the season with one interception, seven passes defended, and one forced fumble. He took his play to the next level in 2019, accounting for two interceptions, eight passes defended, and three forced fumbles.

What makes Surtain Jr. a top-prospect?

When it comes to CB1 in the 2021 NFL Draft, Patrick Surtain Jr. is at the top of the list. In addition to his outstanding size, Surtain Jr. is extremely sticky and possesses elite ball skills. He has tremendous length and can match up with big, physical wide receivers. He plays predominantly on the outside but has the tools to help inside if needed.

The clip below will show Surtain Jr., a freshman at the time, displaying tremendous polish, great hands, and elite ball skills with his interception of a pass from Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond.

When the dust settles, Surtain Jr. will be a top-10 selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. He has prototypical size, unparalleled ability to locate the football, and great hands, which make him a threat to be a turnover machine at the next level.

Related: 2021 NFL Draft: Patrick Surtain has the pedigree to lead CB position

The verdict

One of the most amazing battles during the college football season will be between Shaun Wade and Patrick Surtain to be CB1 in the 2021 NFL Draft. Wade is more versatile and is far superior in run support, but when it comes to length and ball skills, the nod goes to Surtain Jr.

Ultimately, while both players are enticing prospects, I’ll give the nod to Patrick Surtain Jr.  It’s an extremely close call, but Surtain Jr. is my guy because of his god-given size and length, and due to his great hands, which will lead to eye-popping interception volume in the NFL. Winner: Patrick Surtain Jr.

2021 NFL Draft: Cornerback Rankings

Rank Player School Year
1 Patrick Surtain II Alabama JR
2 Shaun Wade Ohio State JR
3 Israel Mukuamu South Carolina JR
4 Tyson Campbell Georgia JR
5 Trey Dean III Florida JR
6 Paulson Adebo Stanford SR
7 Josh Jobe Alabama JR
8 Caleb Farley Virginia Tech JR
9 Eric Stokes Georgia JR
10 Thomas Graham Oregon SR
11 Asante Samuel Jr. Florida State JR
12 Elijah Molden Washington SR
13 Derion Kendrick Clemson JR
14 Tariq Castro-Fields Penn State SR
15 Marco Wilson Florida SR
16 Tre Brown Oklahoma SR
17 Deommodore Lenoir Oregon SR
18 Mike Hampton South Florida SR
19 Chase Lucas Arizona State SR
20 Camryn Bynum California SR