Many scouts are calling this the best group of defensive backs available in a number of years.
The only real question is whether cornerback or safety is the deep position group in the draft.
The safeties seem to have more top-end talent. There’s a chance there could be just two corners selected in the first round. There’s also a pretty good chance as many as 14 will be off the board by the end of the second.
The Bengals seem to be set as safety, with both Shawn Williams and George Iloka signing extensions last offseason and backup Derron Smith showing flashes last year in his second season.
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There are some questions at cornerback, even with four former first-round picks on the roster. Disciplinary decision still hangs over Adam Jones for his Jan. 3 arrest, and the Bengals have yet to see 2016 first-round pick William Jackson play after he suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle in camp last year.
There’s also some questions concerning 2014 first-round pick Darqueze Dennard, who has struggled to stay healthy since coming into the league.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther loves guys who can cover and rush and says he can fill in the rest, so the Bengals could look to add another corner.
This is the final part of our draft series previewing each position group.
Jamal Adams, LSU
Expected to be a top-five, possibly top-three pick, Adams is a first-team All-American and son of former NFL running back George Adams, who won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants.
He plays like a person who has been around football all of his life, and while his physical skills are impressive, one thing scouts always seem to praise is the leadership ability he possesses.
As great as the 6-foot, 214-pound Adams is against the run, he still needs some work in coverage, and on staying disciplined against play-action.
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Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State
Hamstring injuries hindered Lattimore at Ohio State, eventually requiring surgery, but he stayed healthy in 2016 and earned first team All-Big Ten honors.
Most scouts agree that the 6-foot, 193-pound Lattimore will not only be the top cornerback drafted, he’ll develop into one of the top cornerbacks in the league in a short amount of time.
The biggest knock against him is he’s only had one year as a starter due to the hamstring injuries, but that’s not going to scare any teams away from the speed and athleticism he possesses.
Malik Hooker, Ohio State
Another OSU player with injury issues, Hooker had labrum and hernia surgery following his outstanding redshirt sophomore season in which he ranked second in the country with seven interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns.
The 6-1, 206-pound Hooker was a basketball standout in high school before going out for the football team as a junior. Scouts love his game speed, ball skills and reflexes
He’s inexperienced after just one season of action in college. But considering that netted him first team All-American accolades, the raw nature of his game might be viewed by some NFL coaching staffs as a positive rather than a knock.
›› MORE: Bengals to hold local player workout
Jabril Peppers, Michigan
Arguably the most versatile player in the draft, the 5-11, 213-pound Peppers took snaps at 15 different positions on offense, defense and special teams at Michigan.
In addition to earning first team All-American honors, he was the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year, Linebacker of the Year and Return Specialist of the Year.
The biggest question facing Peppers in the NFL is where he will play, as many scouts see him as a tweener who is too small to play in the box and too unpolished to be effective in coverage. But some team will be eager to try to solve the problem, spending a first-round pick to prove it.
Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
A first-place finisher in the 110- and 400-meter hurdles at the World Youth Track and Field Trials and a state champion in high school, Humphrey has more going for him than just speed.
As talented as the 6-foot, 197-pound Humphrey is in coverage, scouts love the edge and physicality he displays in the run game.
His ball skills and footwork need to improve, but there’s no reason to believe they won’t.
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