After hosting six defensive backs among their 29 official predraft visits and using their first three selections this year on three other players who had visited the team, it was predictable that the Buffalo Bills would use their fourth-round selection (No. 109 overall) on Duke's Ross Cockrell, one of the aforementioned defensive backs who visited the team.
Cockrell was one of the draft’s best available players heading into Day 3. By selecting him, the Bills came away with a cornerback who can provide immediate depth and quickly step into the lineup if necessary.
Although he was largely overlooked by draft prognosticators leading up to this year’s selection meeting, Cockrell would have been well worth another team’s top-100 selection.
A 6’0", 191-pound cornerback who posted a 4.56-second 40-yard dash time at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, per NFL.com, Cockrell’s physical traits won’t wow anyone. But those same physical traits are more than adequate for the position, and he builds upon them with clean all-around technique.
Cockrell’s ball skills are one of the first things that stand out on tape. He tracks the ball well in the air, competes to get his hands on passes and has good hands to catch the ball. As a result of those traits, Cockrell had 12 interceptions during his four-year career at Duke.
While many cornerbacks run fast, Cockrell also plays fast. With a smooth backpedal, fluid hips and clean footwork, Cockrell is able to consistently play close to his top speed in coverage, whereas less technically sound cornerbacks lose something from their speed due to poor technique.
In order to develop Cockrell properly, one of the most important steps for the Bills coaching staff will be to work with him in the weight room in order to add strength.
Though he showed that he could hold his own against big wideouts like first-round picks Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin during his collegiate career, he can get pushed around at times by bigger opponents. He has a thin frame, and his overall game lacks physicality. He is also an inconsistent tackler.
Nonetheless, the Duke product has the skill set to line up both outside and inside, though his best fit likely comes as a slot cornerback.
If the Bills secondary stays healthy, the team will not need Cockrell to play much on defense as a rookie. Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin and Nickell Robey formed a strong starting cornerback trio, while the Bills also added veteran defensive back Corey Graham in free agency this year.
The likely reason the Bills made adding cornerback depth a priority this year, however, was because the players they had at the position weren’t always healthy last season. When the Bills had to turn to options such as since-released Justin Rogers or Aaron Williams, whom they moved from strong safety back to cornerback, it hurt their entire secondary.
Thanks to his polished skill set, Cockrell can take on playing time quickly if needed.
If injuries don’t strike the secondary, expect the Bills to bring Cockrell along slowly, much like they did with safeties Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks, who were fourth- and fifth-round picks, respectively, in last year’s draft. Cockrell has special teams experience and should immediately become a core piece of Buffalo’s punt and kickoff coverage units.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report.
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