2024 NFL Draft Preview: The Solid Cornerback Class

By Scott Kacsmar

The 2024 NFL draft is about two weeks away, and it is looking clear that the first round will be dominated by offensive positions such as quarterback and wide receiver. But the cream of the crop defensively are in the secondary with a solid cornerback class that could easily produce a handful of starters from the first round this season.

Teams keep loading up at receiver and have the ability to match up in the slot and with very athletic tight ends. So, you can never have enough good corners in this league, and it’s one of the only positions that you can still justify a first-round pick on using even if you already have two good ones on your roster.

Using the prospect rankings for cornerbacks from NFL Mock Draft Database, we are going to look at the top 7 players this year who should all be top 50 picks and which teams could be the best landing spot for them.

Does this draft look like it has a corner on the level of Deion Sanders, Darrelle Revis, or Sauce Gardner? No, but most drafts don’t have that player. This is still a solid cornerback class that should make some fans happy.

1. Terrion Arnold (Alabama) – No. 11 Overall Prospect

There is hardly a consensus on which corner is the best in this year’s draft, but most have it between Alabama’s Terrion Arnold and Toledo’s Quinyon Mitchell. They should go closely together in the upper half of the first round.

With an Alabama prospect, you can usually expect them to be well coached by Nick Saban and company. But that doesn’t always translate to NFL success. While Patrick Surtain II (2021) and Marlon Humphrey (2017) have recently worked out well from Alabama, let’s not forget Dee Milliner, a big bust for the Jets in 2013. But generally speaking, first-round prospects from Alabama have been solid as of late.

You can find more athletic prospects in this year’s draft than Arnold, though he did reach 18.4 miles per hour as his top speed in the 10-yard split, the fastest among these top prospects per Next Gen Stats.

He is a willing tackler and can play the ball as he broke up 20 passes over the last two seasons while intercepting 5 passes in 2023 alone. He could defend receivers on the outside and in the slot. Marshon Lattimore is a good model for what he can become in the NFL.

Best Fit – No. 13 Las Vegas Raiders

It would not be shocking if the Atlanta Falcons used the No. 8 pick on a corner in what should be a very offensive top 10. But assuming they don’t, the No. 9 pick is Chicago, and the Bears already locked up Jaylon Johnson for the long term at corner. The Jets have Sauce Gardner. The Vikings and Broncos have other pressing needs, including a quarterback.

The No. 13 pick for the Raiders makes sense here. It sure looks like the Raiders want to build on defense for new coach Antonio Pierce, and he already has Maxx Crosby up front and the team signed Christian Wilkins to a huge deal from Miami to bolster the defensive line. Use the draft to add a big piece in the secondary as the No. 13 pick is too high for them to get a quarterback. Arnold would squeeze right in as a Week 1 starter for this defense, and it’s becoming a division where No. 1 wide receiver play is down a bit with the Chiefs searching for their long-term solution, the Broncos down to Courtland Sutton, and the Chargers lost Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.

2. Quinyon Mitchell (Toledo) – No. 12 Overall Prospect

Toledo is not exactly an NFL powerhouse, but Quinyon Mitchell is a 4-year player with plenty of production and athleticism on his resume and tape. He broke up a school-record 46 passes in his career, and he can play on special teams.

Mitchell has continued to rise in the draft process as he shined at the Senior Bowl, and he was impressive at the combine with a 4.33 second 40-yard dash. According to Next Gen Stats, Mitchell recorded the two fastest speeds by any corner during the back pedal and transition 45-degree reaction drill.

Best Fit – No. 14 New Orleans Saints  

If the Saints want a younger version of corner Marshon Lattimore, then Mitchell should be the pick as they share similar profiles:

Head coach Dennis Allen’s specialty has been defense and working in particular with defensive backs in New Orleans. It would not be a surprise to see the Saints target corner as they could go a few different ways with this No. 14 pick, and corner is a premium position. It also is one of the best values in this draft.

3. Cooper DeJean (Iowa) – No. 21 Overall Prospect

With Cooper DeJean, a team could be getting a Swiss Army Knife at defensive back as he can play corner, safety, and he might even become a great punt returner at the next level too:

DeJean is electric with the ball in his hands. Part of that great Iowa defense, he had 7 interceptions in college and returned 3 of them for touchdowns. He didn’t break up as many passes as our other top prospects (13 passes defensed in 3 years), but he is an interesting prospect with a lot of versatility to his game that should attract several teams in the bottom half of the first round.

Best Fit – No. 25 Green Bay Packers

It wouldn’t be surprising to see DeJean end up with the Jaguars (No. 17) or Dolphins (No. 21). But a popular pick that makes plenty of sense has been Green Bay with the No. 25 pick. The Packers are going with a new defensive coordinator from the college game in Jeff Hafley, and he’d love to have a versatile athlete like DeJean to help ease his transition back to the pro game as a coach this year.

The Packers still have Jaire Alexander and spent big at safety with Xavier McKinney from the Giants, but DeJean could complete this revamped secondary.

4. Nate Wiggins (Clemson) – No. 22 Overall Prospect

Nate Wiggins is a bigger corner from Clemson at nearly 6’2” who did a little bit of everything in his 3-year career. He had 21 passes defensed and has excellent speed – his 4.28 second 40-yard dash was the fastest among all 2024 corners – to go along with his height and range.

But such is reality in the scouting world, there is mixed opinion on Wiggins’ effort, especially as a run defender. Some feel he takes plays off while others think his effort and competitiveness are unmatched.

Given his physical traits, it would seem like he’d be a lock to go in the top 15 if the consensus was there that his effort was beyond reproach. Maybe even to the Colts at No. 15. But given the right coaching staff, Wiggins could be a star in the NFL.

Best Fit – No. 22 Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles hired Vic Fangio to be their new defensive coordinator, and his scheme has often utilized Cover 3 zone coverage, which is a great fit for Wiggins. The Eagles also need some upgrades at corner after a rough 2023.

Darius Slay and James Bradberry are not getting any younger, and Bradberry dramatically fell off last year, allowing a league-high 11 touchdowns in coverage. Add Wiggins to the mix and he is a No. 1 corner in training in this scheme.

5. Kool-Aid McKinstry (Alabama) – No. 25 Overall Prospect

The other Alabama corner with the cool name, Kool-Aid McKinstry is very experienced with 23 passes defensed in 42 games in college. He may lack the physical traits of some other corners in this class, but he can make up for that with smarts and consistent play. He understands the position and rarely blows coverages.

Teams will appreciate someone who is coachable and reliable. Look for Kool-Aid to go in the 20s in this draft.

Best Fit – No. 29 Detroit Lions

The Lions need major help at corner after they allowed five straight quarterbacks to light them up for 340 yards, an NFL record. Even before his legal problems led to his release in March, ex-Detroit corner Cameron Sutton was a major liability as he allowed the most yards (888) of any player in coverage last year according to Pro Football Reference.

Detroit already went the Alabama route at defensive back last year with Brian Branch, which worked out well. This would be another Alabama choice at corner, but they could start him with Branch at safety or even start him over Amik Robertson, who they picked up from Las Vegas.

Again, you can never have enough corners in this league. Detroit is already sorted on offense. Time to shore up that defensive secondary.

6. Ennis Rakestraw Jr. (Missouri) – No. 37 Overall Prospect

We are moving into the territory of corners who could go high in the second round. Ennis Rakestraw Jr. is a smaller corner (5’11”) who only had 1 interception at Missouri, but he was around the ball often with 16 passes defensed since 2022, and he had to defend a lot of quality receivers in the SEC.

But he is likely a project at corner rather than a No. 1 corner in Year 1.

Best Fit – No. 35 Arizona Cardinals

Head coach Jonathan Gannon came from the Eagles where he had strong corner play in that 2022 Super Bowl season. He did not have anything near that with the Cardinals last year, and this season his team made a move for Sean Murphy-Bunting from Tennessee. But they could still use another prospect to mold as a starting corner, and maybe Rakestraw could be that pick high in the second round.

7. Kamari Lassiter (Georgia) – No. 42 Overall Prospect

Finally, Kamari Lassiter has a great chance to be a top 50 pick as a 2-time champion from Georgia where he had 14 passes defensed and showed a lot of toughness as a willing tackler.

He won’t match up athletically with the first-round prospects in this draft, but he can be a starting corner on a team very soon given the right situation. His instincts and effort should serve him well at the next level.

Best Fit – No. 36 Washington Commanders

When Dan Quinn was in Dallas coaching the defense, his corners were freakishly good at creating turnovers, namely interceptions with Trevon Diggs and DaRon Bland. Neither player was particularly good at doing that in college, so it is something that can be schemed and coached with the right players.

Lassiter should be very coachable under Quinn, and the Commanders had a ton of mental errors and breakdowns in coverage last year that need cleaned up with a new coaching staff. Getting a fresh corner in there like Lassiter would be a wise move for this team.

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