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2020 NFL Scouting Combine Preview: Defensive Backs

(Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The 2020 NFL Scouting Combine is underway. As I have for the past decade-plus, I am in Indianapolis, Ind., for the festivities.

This is the biggest job interview these players will ever have in their lifetime. It’s a rigorous process where they work out for teams, get interviewed by almost every franchise and they undergo medical checks by interested teams.

The Combine is often called the “Underwear Olympics” by some in the media; many poke fun at the process. That’s a foolish outlook from the more ignorant minds.

While it’s not a huge part of a player’s grade – I say roughly one percent – the Combine does reveal a lot about a player coming into the league. Scouts and general managers can see how players respond to workouts, how they’ve prepared for this process, and how intelligent they are during interviews and work on the whiteboard. Film is the largest part of a player’s grade, but the Combine is not to be overlooked.

Here is my 2020 Combine preview for defensive backs.

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Keep Dreaming

There is no way the Broncos would be in a position to get Ohio State cornerback Jeffrey Okudah – unless they want to move up more than 10 spots in the first round. He’s one of the best players in this class and could be a top-three pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Okudah is another player in a long line of Buckeyes cornerbacks who can be stars at the pro level. NFL teams compare his skill set to that of Cardinals superstar cornerback Patrick Peterson. Like Peterson, Okudah is big, physical, fast and smart. He can cover with the best of them and has the length and burst to recover quickly if a receiver gets the jump on him. Okudah also has no problem taking on running backs as a tackler.

Teams are drooling over the chance to get Okudah in the draft. One could make an argument that he’s the second- or third-best player in this draft class behind only Chase Young.

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Tackling Fuel Needed

Some teams won’t care as much about a player needing to work on his tackling ability. Some teams, like the Broncos under Vic Fangio, are going to see lack of natural tackling ability as a deal-breaker. Two players who should go off the board in the first or early second round are Kristian Fulton from LSU and C.J. Henderson from Florida.

Fulton only allowed a 40 percent completion rate on passes thrown his way since 2018 and has no problem covering. However, he’s what some scouts call allergic to tackling. I’ve watched a lot of Fulton and won’t go that far, but I do see some mechanical flaws when he is going in for a tackle. That could perhaps be cleaned up with pro coaching, but a lot of tackling is “want to” and teams will have to determine if that desire to be a good tackler is there.

Henderson has what scouts call mirror-and-match footwork when trailing a receiver down the field. He does need to work on his hip transition when a receiver gets by him, and Henderson – like Fulton – could use improved technique when clicking-and-closing to the ball-carrier in front of him. Both of these players are talented but they might be off the Broncos radar since they are not the greatest tacklers.

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Second-Round Fits

If players like Fulton or Henderson are not fits for the Broncos, then which cornerbacks are – especially those available in the first couple of rounds? There are a couple of names you need to be familiar with.

Jeff Gladney from TCU is not the biggest corner, measuring in at 183 pounds, but he plays larger than his size and has a tenacious streak within his game. He has great anticipation and ball skills on incoming passes. Gladney knows how to be sticky in coverage and basically gets in the back pocket of receivers he’s tasked with covering. His ball-hawking mentality helps him greatly in coverage, but Gladney is also a player you can send on a blitz if needed. He can get to the quarterback quickly and he’s looking not only to get pressure or get a sack but also to detach the ball from a passer’s grasp.

Noah Igbinoghene out of Auburn is a former receiver who converted to the defensive side of the ball. He’s got speed for days and a physical mindset that most speedy corners don’t possess. Igbinoghene has a low center of gravity and this helps him when changing direction to get to the play. He does a good job of maintaining his line of travel while moving to the best spot to make a play as a tackler.

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Maybe Not a Safety?

There are a few safeties that will be favorites in this draft class. The Broncos aren’t in the safety market as they already have Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson, but there are some fun players in this draft class to keep an eye on.

There is one player who is listed as a safety but could be on the Broncos radar because some in the scouting community think he can be an option at inside linebacker.

That prospect is Kyle Dugger, the Division II prospect from Lenoir-Rhyne University. He’s 6-foot-1 and a whopping 220 pounds. Dugger can make plays in coverage and has no problem bringing a man to the ground.

Like a linebacker, Dugger arrives at the ball with natural violence and he proved that he could play near the line of scrimmage during his college career. Dugger is explosive when changing direction and has no problem when tasked with covering tight ends – something the Broncos could really use.

He uses his eyes like a cornerback and understands where the ball is going to go as the play unfolds in front of him. Dugger plays with great anticipation and he has an intimidating presence when on the field.

We should see Dugger go off the board in the second or third round of the draft. The Broncos need to be interested in this young man because of the need for a coverage linebacker. Dugger is versatile enough to play multiple spots on defense and that sounds like a perfect fit for Fangio’s defense.