2021 NFL Draft Top 15 CB Rankings - Texans Thoughts

The 2021 NFL Draft Cornerback class is a strong one. You have potential stars at the top, value in rounds 2 and 3, and high level depth/scheme dependent starters until round 5. It's a particularly good class for NFL defenses that love height, speed and length - which seems to be becoming the norm.

Ranking these CBs can be extremely difficult because what I look for in a CB will vary so much from other evaluators and especially different NFL coaches. CB is an extremely scheme and situation specific position, so my rankings are highly based on what I value in CBs: fluid movement skills, good arm length and efficient technique.

As always, you can find each prospects full scouting report by clicking the link embedded in their name - gaining information on measureables, athletic testing, stats, strengths, weaknesses and scheme fit/role. Don't agree with my rankings? Hit me up on Twitter @Texans_Thoughts to share your opinion! Alright, let's begin.

My top CB ranking goes to none other than Jaycee Horn - this position is one of the more widely debated in the Draft community, however I don't think the argument is even that close. Horn v Surtain II is built up to be a heated debate, however Jaycee is better in essentially every single category.

They have nearly identical measureables, although Surtain is an inch taller, Jaycee has longer arms which is more valuable. Jaycee one-upped Surtain at his pro day, and boasted athletic testing in the top percentile of CBs since these tests began. J

aycee has impressive production vs a gauntlet of talented pass catchers including Kyle Pitts and DeVonta Smith. He is the ultimate weapon in the secondary, boasting versatility at CB similar to Jalen Ramsey.

You want him to cover a team's X WR and bully him at the LOS, Jaycee can do that. You want him to cover a team's Z WR, be patient vs a release and stay in phase vertically or horizontally, Jaycee can do that. You want him to cover a team's Y WR in the slot, defending two-way go position and flipping his hips with shifty athletes, Jaycee can do that. Hell, you want him to cover Kyle Pitts as an in-line TE, with Jaycee essentially playing LB, HE CAN DO THAT TOO!


Jaycee can do all of these things on the field at a high level because of how he pairs his elite athleticism with refined technique. His hands are weapons in press, throwing haymakers from the release to the catch point.

His feet are graceful, synchronized with his hands and able to mirror anyone in his path. You can ask him to play any technique, any alignment, any coverage, and the inner competitor in Jaycee will takeover. That, is the ultimate factor for why he is my CB1 - the dog mentality that makes guys like Jalen Ramsey and Richard Sherman so terrifying to play against. He places fear in WRs souls and gets into your head with trash talk that he backs up 10 times out of 10. He has gifts and a mentality that you just can't teach.

Now, the main complaint with Jaycee is that he is "grabby" and while there are occurrences of this being true, the NFL is a physical game. Jalen Ramsey appears "grabby" at times, DeAndre Hopkins is able to draw some defensive pass interferences versus him, but that doesn't stop Ramsey from being the best CB in the NFL.

Refs let CBs get away with more than we think, and maybe Jaycee is at a 10 with his "grabbiness" but he doesn't need to turn it down to a 2, an 8 would suffice. You can teach Jaycee to be slightly less grabby, but you can't teach Surtain or any of the other CBs in this class his dog mentality. You can't give them 4.3 speed with 33" arms and a 41.5" vert.

Jaycee has legitimate All-Pro potential as a press-CB who can play in most schemes and follow any offensive weapon in the NFL around the field. He is credited with turning around the culture at South Carolina and being a great leader. If you want a franchise cornerstone on defense, Jaycee is your man.

If you got through my long-winded love for Jaycee, don't worry, the rest of these rankings won't be nearly as "ranty". Now, my adoration for Jaycee doesn't mean I think Surtain is a bad CB, he holds a "Top 16 Pick" grade for me after all.

The main difference in their respective rankings is how many hats they can wear. As previously mentioned, Jaycee can do it all, covering WRs of all shapes and sizes. Conversely, Surtain can have the same level of elite coverage, but only versus a certain archetype.

His height, length and speed allow Surtain to be a weapon of mass destruction vs the DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans and Kenny Golladays of the world. Bigger, longer, WRs who win with physicality and dominate the catch point will not have their usual level of success vs Surtain. He is a specimen in press-coverage, utilizing his 32" arms to the best of their ability.


The question then becomes what happens versus WRs like Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson and even his teammate DeVonta Smith? Shiftier WRs will give Surtain some issues because he plays high in his stance. He can get away with this in college, but the NFL is a different beast.

Due to the limited selection of WRs he can dominate, I simply can't have him above the unicorn that is Jaycee Horn, but let me reiterate this one last time, it does not mean I think Surtain will be a bad CB.

Okay so I lied, that explanation was nearly as long as Jaycee's, I just love talking ball and have too much to say, get used to it. At number 3, Greg Newsome is one of my favorite players to watch in this class. He provides an exceptional combination of size, length and athleticism. He has some of the most fluid hips in this class; pairing that with smooth feet and great instincts makes him one of the most scheme versatile CBs this year.

Press man, off man, press zone, off zone, match principles, bail, trail, stack, read-step, back pedal, side shuffle, it doesn't matter, Newsome has shown he can do it all. He is even a willing and technically sound tackler, who comes downhill agressively, throttles down and squares up to put the ball-carrier in the dirt. The only concern with him is durability, but Newsome is an easy first round talent for me and can be a Pro Bowl talent.

Joseph is one of the most talented players in this entire class. His playmaking ability from the CB spot is a sight to see. He is a ball-hawk in zone coverage, easily reading the QBs eyes as well as the routes on the field, and appearing out of nowhere to snag the INT.

Joseph is also sticky in press-man coverage, and similarly to Jaycee Horn, he takes on any challenge with a passion. After giving up an early TD to Kyle Pitts, Joseph became much more physical and focused - locking him up for the rest of the game.

Joseph earned the 2nd highest film grade for CBs this year, but his off field issues will likely hold him out of the first round. Reportedly there are serious maturity issues, and after seeing how former first-round pick Isaiah Wilson fizzled out so quickly, it should be a reminder that not every prospect has the mindset to succeed in the NFL. I hope Joseph is not at the level of Wilson's concerns, because he has serious Pro Bowl and even All-Pro potential.

Farley rounds out what is one of the better Top-5 CB groups in a while. Each have great size, speed and length, and Farley is no exception. He has some of the fastest closing speed I've ever seen and excels in off-coverage. His flashes of being able to read WRs routes seconds before they happen is mind-blowing. His ball skills are E.L.I.T.E. evidenced by his 6 INTs and 19 PBUs in just two seasons.

However, his 2020 opt-out and serious injury concerns are a fairly big red flag for me. I would be hesitant in the back end of the first round, but depending on the board, Farley would still be worth the pick.

Next up is a Cornerback that bucks the modern trend and the pattern we've seen from the first five guys on this list. Asante is not six-foot-plus, he does not have pterodactyl-like arms, he didn't run a sub-4.4 40 - despite all that, he is an uber-talented CB with the ability to make a great impact early in his career.

Asante is your cliche "undersized", "quicker-than-fast", "high-level technician" at the position. He has an explosive T Step that allows him to click and close in off-coverage with the best of them. This is where he's at his best, backpedalling downfield, keeping his eyes on the QB and using his high-level instincts to anticipate route combinations. When Asante gets beat his efficient footwork comes into play, utilizing the smoothest Speed Turn I've ever seen.

He won't even be an option for certain teams, but those who prioritize fluidity, instincts and tackling, will love Asante Samuel Jr., probably in the early/mid second round.

One of my favorite players in this class, I've been on the Ifeatu hype train for a while now. He has his vast similarities to his brother, Obi Melifonwu - both are freak athletes who tested in the top percentiles at their position. You see this translate on tape for Ifeatu, as his speed allows him to keep up with the best college has to offer (stride for stride with Dyami Brown all day). Ifeatu also possesses the coveted 32" arms which aid him in jamming WRs but also at the catch point, where his wingspan makes it incredibly difficult for opposing offenses.

But don't get it twisted, Ifeatu doesn't have the bust-potential that Obi has already shown. Where Obi lacked in instincts and technique, Ifeatu is much better. He played a variety of zone-coverages for Syracuse and looked comfortable in every situation. He has good footwork for someone his size and breaks on the ball with serious speed, as long as he stays low in his stance.

Ifeatu is one of my dream picks for the Houston Texans at #67, he fits what we need in a CB to a tee - physicality, length, zone prowess and hard-nosed tackling ability. Ifeatu can have a high-level impact in a Tampa 2 defense and has a great chance to be a Day-1 starter. We've met with him at the Senior Bowl, a place GM Nick Caserio loves to find draft picks, so if he's on the board in the 3rd, I would expect Ifeatu to be the pick!

Stokes is one of the more polarizing CBs for me to evaluate this year. He holds a film grade of 81/100 which would rank as CB15, so, why is he so high at CB8? Potential. Stokes provides all the athletic gifts you could dream up for a CB1 in the NFL. At 6'0, with 32" arms, a 4.29 40 yard dash and the explosive+agility testing to give scouts wet dreams. He provides a lot of tools that you simply can't teach. For that potential alone, he should be taken in the 2nd round.

However there are a ton of reasons why his film gives me concern. The technique is just not there at all, and while he didn't get punished a lot at Georgia, he did leave his man open a ton, and NFL offenses won't let that slide. Stokes needs to improve his footwork at the stem of routes, regularly looking clunky and giving up too much separation. Again, he has a ton of tools, but so do a lot of CBs in this class, CB8 seems like a solid spot for Stokes as teams need to be aware of his immense boom-or-bust potential.

Robinson is another really interesting CB for me because he is a jack of all trades, master of none. He plays with a physical mentality and never backs down from a matchup - that's what he'll be in the NFL, a matchup weapon. Primarily playing in the nickel for UCF, Robinson showed prowess in man coverage, particularly playing trail technique, and in zone he showed the instincts and communication to seamlessly pass off WRs to his teammates.

Why I say he's a matchup weapon is because he won't be able to keep up with every type of WR at the next level. He doesn't have the smoothest hips or most explosive feet to change direction and keep up with the shifty slot WRs in the NFL. He can play on the outside as well, but doesn't have the ideal arm length (30") to consistently win at the catch point.


While his position ambiguity could scare some teams off, other teams that already have CBs with position flexibility will love him. I view Robinson as a guy like Troy Hill, formerly of the Rams. Brandon Staley loved to move Jalen Ramsey all over the field, and it helped exponentially to have another CB with that flexibility, in Hill. As more teams move to matchup-based CBs, having the Aaron Robinsons of the world will become a premium.

Adebo is one of the most interesting studies in this CB class. He burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2018, displaying his absurd physical gifts and pairing it with elite ball skills/production, 4 INTs and 17 PBUs in his first year is insane! However, Paulson had a lackluster 2019, that didn't live up to his hype - then opted out of the 2020 season, leaving a feeling of dissatisfaction for scouts.

Looking at his freshman tape, Adebo won off of pure talent, his technique was lacking, but it makes sense for a freshman CB. Playing with better pad level will allow him to change direction better and improve his coverage in zone and man. He is a bit of an unknown, but the potential is incredibly hard to pass up on, within the first three rounds.

One of my biggest sleepers this year, Griffin is a super talented CB. He possesses some of the most fluid movement skills in this entire class - smooth hips and efficient footwork allow him to keep up with the best route runners in the country. He uses his 32" arms constantly, throwing off the WRs route and constantly being in their hip pocket. He's so sticky in coverage that QBs can't even throw his way.

Concerns with Griffin come from his frail-frame, injury history and poor 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. But for someone who is projected in the 4th or 5th round in most mocks, Griffin will be a steal.

Lower on my list than most people have him, Tyson Campbell's evaluation was a rollercoaster for me. He possesses great physical attributes that project him well to a press-heavy defense and potential CB1. On tape, he had some better reps than Eric Stokes - showcasing his physicality on every play, Campbell makes you earn every blade of grass. Many people like to compare him to Carlton Davis coming out of college, and we've seen how he can become successful with development.

However, I think Campbell's ceiling is lower than Davis. Yes, he tested with great speed (4.37) but that didn't translate to his game-speed, as he got beat deep more than you'd like. In addition, Campbell's lack of ball skills really make me question his future success. He really struggles to turn his head to find the ball, and even when playing through the WRs hands, didn't have much success. That can be taught and improved upon, but is no simple task. Add in the fact that he is a very scheme dependent CB who will likely need safety help overtop and it's just hard for me to take him in the first three rounds.

Now, for a team like the Texans, Campbell can be a perfect fit. Playing the flat zone in a Tampa 2 defense, Campbell can use his physicality and arm length to his advantage at the LOS, while not having to cover downfield. It would be a good marriage of skills and scheme requirements.

Writing about Tre Brown really makes me realize how deep this CB class is. At CB13, Brown has serious potential and I love his game. He plays with an extremely physical nature from the snap to the whistle. He will make his presence felt and loves to get into the chest of WRs, throwing off the timing and rhythm of their routes.

Brown is sticky in man coverage and I wouldn't be surprised if he played boundary and nickel CB throughout his career. He displays a nose for the football and had 3 INTs in his senior season. He showed out at the Senior Bowl and was many analysts top CB. He has easy starter potential in a man-heavy defense.

St. Juste has some of the best potential in this class as he is yet another massive CB with long arms. At 6'3 and 32" arms, some think he could be best at safety. While that is a discussion for another day, press-zone heavy teams will love what he offers. He squeezes WRs down the sideline with ease and can erase them from plays entirely. I also love how he tackles, not letting his size and physicality go to waste.

In the early 4th round, you're getting someone who can start fairly early in his career and takeaway the bigger, longer, more physical WRs in the NFL.

Rounding out my rankings is a player who is a mixture of the last two CBs, Brown and St. Juste. Thomas has the sticky, physical man coverage traits that Brown possesses, with the long arms and tackling ability that St. Juste shows.

So, why is he lower than both? Modest ball skills/production and opting out of the 2020 season will give some teams reason for concern/pause. He also doesn't have the smoothest hips and was regularly allowing inside breaking routes in 2019. In the 5th round though, you're looking at a potential starter, or at the very least a high end CB3 on the outside.

Just missed the cut: Elijah Molden, Robert Rochell, Israel Mukuamu

Concluding Thoughts

I really like this CB class from top to bottom. There is someone for every system/scheme in the league, but CB fit and projection is a tough task. It is the most difficult position to transition to from college to the NFL. The landing spot for each of these players will play a huge role in their success.

As a Texans fan, CB is definitely a position we should be looking to address this year. While I always preach drafting for "best player available", that could very well be the case for a CB in the 3rd, 4th, or 5th rounds. Look out for Ifeatu Melifonwu, Benjamin St. Juste and Israel Mukuamu respectively.