If you were still unsure just how important defensive backs have become in today’s pass-happy NFL, the 2016 draft should provide some pretty compelling evidence.
Thursday’s first round saw seven defensive backs selected; tied with defensive linemen and offensive linemen as the most popular position group. In Friday’s second and third rounds, as many as 16 defensive backs were chosen (there’s one hybrid linebacker-type in the group), 10 of them by teams who made the playoffs this past season.
The Day 2 group of defensive backs was led by Baylor cornerback Xavien Howard, and featured Clemson teammates Mackensie Alexander and T.J. Green. The maybe-maybe-not DB of the bunch was USC’s Su’a Cravens, who was announced as a linebacker during the draft but played some safety in college and could eventually line up at safety in the pros.
Traditional powers like Ohio State and Alabama were also represented, along with smaller schools like Samford and Middle Tennessee State. With defensive backs in high demand, teams are definitely doing their homework to find the best on the college level.
The entire list of Day 2 defensive backs:
38. Miami Dolphins — Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor
The Dolphins are thin enough at cornerback that Howard could find himself starting as a rookie. He has the ideal measurables (6-feet, 200 pounds) but needs to polish his game to be a good pro.
53. Washington — Su’a Cravens, LB/S, USC
Cravens wore No. 21 in college to honor the late, great safety Sean Taylor. Cravens probably won’t get to wear that number with Washington, as they haven’t re-issued it since Taylor’s death. Cravens also probably won’t get No. 21 because the team is expected to make him an outside linebacker.
54. Minnesota Vikings — Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
Arguably the best cover corner in college football, Alexander had low interception and pass-breakup numbers simply because quarterbacks rarely threw to the receivers he blanketed.
57. Indianapolis Colts — T.J. Green, S/CB, Clemson
Big enough for safety (6-2, 209) but fast enough for a corner (4.34 seconds in the 40-yard dash), Green might not start right away but will provide depth for Indy’s veteran secondary.
58. Pittsburgh Steelers — Sean Davis, S/CB, Maryland
After taking Miami CB Artie Burns in the first round, the Steelers continue to rebuild their struggling secondary with Davis, a big hitter who is already being projected as Pittsburgh’s starting strong safety.
60. New England Patriots — Cyrus Jones, CB, Alabama
Possibly a better kick returner than defensive back, Jones took four punts back for touchdowns as a senior while averaging 12.6 yards per return.
61. New Orleans Saints — Vonn Bell, S, Ohio State
Some had Bell ranked as the best safety in the draft. The Saints may have gotten a steal here. They appeared to have been aware of that, too, seeing as they traded up 17 spots to get Bell.
62. Carolina Panthers — James Bradberry, CB, Samford
Everybody was expecting the Panthers to take a corner after they’d lost Josh Norman in free agency. Bradberry apparently wasn’t expecting that corner to be him, as he admitted that he was busy fixing a toilet when Carolina called to tell him he was their pick.
64. Tennessee Titans — Kevin Byard, S, Middle Tennessee State
You won’t find anybody more excited to play for the lowly Titans than Byard. The Georgia native became a huge fan of the team while playing his college ball about 30 minutes away at MTSU, and he says he bought a Titans cap before the draft in hopes that the team would pick him.
68. San Francisco 49ers — Will Redmond, CB, Mississippi State
Redmond was suspended by the NCAA for all of his freshman season and five games of his sophomore season. He was a backup as a junior, and finally cracked the starting lineup as a senior … only to suffer a torn ACL in October, ending his college career after just seven starts. Redmond has a bunch of talent and potential, however, and the 49ers have said they expect him to be healthy enough to play in 2016.
71. New York Giants — Darian Thompson, S, Boise State
Thompson passed Utah alum Eric Weddle as the Mountain West conference’s all-time interception leader, collecting 19 picks in his college career.
74. Kansas City Chiefs — KeiVarae Russell, CB, Notre Dame
After missing the entire 2014 season while under investigation for academic cheating, Russell was cleared and returned to Notre Dame this past season like he’d never been gone.
77. Carolina Panthers — Daryl Worley, CB, West Virginia
Another big corner (6-1, 204) for the defending NFC champs. Worley might have scared off some teams with his involvement in a 2014 nightclub incident in which he was charged with battery against a woman. He pleaded no-contest to a lesser charge and his record has since been expunged.
84. Washington — Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The youngest of four Fuller brothers to play at Virginia Tech, Kendall now joins Kyle (Bears CB) and Corey (Lions WR) in the NFL. The oldest brother, Vincent, played safety for the Lions and Titans from 2005-2011.
92. Arizona Cardinals — Brandon Williams, CB, Texas A&M
A highly-recruited high school running back who initially went to Oklahoma before transferring to A&M, Williams was converted to cornerback just last season — the first time he’d ever played defense in his football life.
98. Denver Broncos — Justin Simmons, S, Boston College
The last pick of the third round, Simmons is this year’s Byron Jones (UConn/Cowboys), a scouting combine superstar who shot up draft boards despite a not-so-epic college resume. Simmons wasn’t a hot commodity following BC’s horrible 2015 season, but at the combine he posted the best vertical leap among safeties (40 inches) and shined in the shuttle agility drills.
The NFL continued its recent tradition of having current and former players announce most of the Day 2 draft picks. The highlight of the night from that angle — no, not Delanie Walker‘s jacket — was Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus announcing the Bears’ second-round pick in front of a raucous Chicago crowd.
Retired defensive backs who made cameos on the draft stage Friday night were Steve Atwater (Broncos), Gill Byrd (Chargers), Hall of Famer Willie Brown (Raiders), Chris Gamble (Panthers), Quentin Jammer (Chargers) and Ronde Barber (Buccaneers). Current Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr announced one of Dallas’ picks.
Troy Vincent, a former All-Pro cornerback who is now the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, played the role of draft MC for part of the night.