2016 NFL Draft: Versatile Defensive Backs NFL Teams Should Covet
Leonardo DiCaprio knows just how valuable it is to be versatile—it's nice of the Academy to finally agree—and NFL scouts and players alike would be a body of lies for not agreeing the same is true in their profession.
Since the league's inception, the wolves of NFL front offices are increasingly drawn to defenders who can shutter a receiver if put on an island at corner, patrol the skies on the back end like an aviator or even play catch me if you can as a return specialist.
What's eating at modern NFL defenses is the increased need for dynamic athletes who can have a titanic impact at multiple positions, with the smarts behind the iron mask to read plays and react quickly and the unchained athleticism to gang up on receivers and ball-carriers alike.
Some have long had NFL stardom in their blood, while others are diamonds in the rough. These five departed college stars could lay the next set of bricks on the revolutionary road that is being a back-seven defender in the NFL.
Artie Burns, Miami (FL)
NFL coaches love to get their hands on raw but talented athletes who can be molded and developed into whatever they need at the next level. Miami's Artie Burns brings that kind of athleticism and versatility to the table, both on defense and special teams.
Burns has track-star speed, but his skill set doesn't stop there, as Rob Rang of CBS Sports pointed out:
Don't let Burns' track background fool you, he's a legitimate NFL prospect with the upside to warrant early-round consideration and clear determination to succeed. He's at his best in press man coverage, using his length, aggression and speed to harass wideouts on the perimeter and has the ball skills to punish quarterbacks who challenge him.
Burns led the ACC with six interceptions in 2015 despite playing in a rotation at cornerback. He has the range and fluidity to be successful at corner or drop back to safety, and his track speed should allow him to have an immediate impact as a return specialist at the next level.
Sean Davis, Maryland
If there's one turtle in this year's NFL draft who opposing receivers and ball-carriers should fear, it's Sean Davis.
Davis is a downhill missile who tracks the play effectively and delivers a punishing blow when he arrives at the ball. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein outlined some of his strengths and thinks he's a better fit on the back end:
Davis battled through adversity and bounced back with ball production, tackles and forced fumbles. Davis has the ability to cover, but his strengths would best be utilized at safety where he has fewer man responsibilities and can be deployed near the line of scrimmage a little more often. Davis is an eventual starter at safety and a big backup at cornerback.
Davis' skill set and physical style of play make him better suited for the safety spot, but his experience and short memory could serve him well at corner. No matter what a team needs Davis to do, it can bet he'll leave plenty of sore opponents in his wake.
Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
Florida State's Jalen Ramsey is not only one of the most versatile players in this year's draft, but he's arguably the best overall prospect, period. He moved to corner for the Seminoles last year, and while he looked less natural there than at safety, his rare combination of instincts and athleticism still made him a dynamic playmaker.
Bleacher Report's Ryan McCrystal thinks Ramsey is easily deserving of a top-five pick, citing a team's ability to lock him up on a cheap rookie deal, as well as his versatility and athletic ability:
The money and versatility are two major factors in making Ramsey a potential top-five selection, but obviously his raw talent is what really sets him apart.
Ramsey went to the NFL Scouting Combine needing to prove he had the athleticism to play cornerback, and he came away proving he was in an elite class as an athlete, more than capable of playing any position in the secondary.
Mississippi tackle Laremy Tunsil and UCLA's Myles Jack are among this year's best, most athletic prospects, but Ramsey could easily make the case to be ranked ahead of both of them. He would be an instant starter and upgrade at either safety or corner for every team that is picking in the top five, and he should make an immediate impact no matter where he lines up.
Miles Killebrew, Southern Utah
With the success Deone Bucannon had in his hybrid safety/linebacker role for the Arizona Cardinals in 2014, more NFL teams are looking for a physical, versatile player in this year's draft to fit that kind of role. Southern Utah's Miles Killebrew brings the frame, physicality and coachability to do just that at the next level.
For his part, Killebrew told me at this year's Senior Bowl he's willing to line up anywhere and play any position, if that's what the team needs.
"I don't want a coach to be able to cross off anything on his list when it comes to things I can do," Killebrew said. "I want them to know I'll contribute in absolutely any way I can. I don't even want them to cross left tackle off the list. If that's what you need, I'm going to do everything I can to be the best I can at it."
At 6'2", 217 pounds, Killebrew has a chiseled frame and packs a punch as a hitter. He's still learning to be more fluid in coverage, which could lead to NFL teams wanting to try him out in the box as a linebacker, but he's a coachable player who spent tons of time talking with his position coach at the Senior Bowl and trying to soak up all he could. That eagerness to learn new responsibilities will serve him well at the next level, no matter how a team chooses to deploy him.
Jalen Mills, LSU
Like former teammate Jalen Collins last year, LSU's Jalen Mills enters the 2016 draft with a well-rounded skill set that will allow him to line up all over the secondary at the next level.
NFL.com's Lance Zierlein pointed out that Mills' playmaking ability isn't just limited to lining up outside or on the back end, either:
Four-year starter from deep, talented conference. Has slot cover ability. Hips are loose and he's able to open and mirror receivers from press. Uses crisp, controlled footwork out of his transitions. Locates the deep pass and can turn to make plays on the ball. Very aware from zone and handles his responsibilities without many busts. Good blitzer from the slot.
Mills still has plenty of rough edges to smooth out, but he's a fluid cover man with the size (6'0", 191 lbs) and instincts to play safety and can also hang at the line of scrimmage with bigger, more physical receivers. NFL teams will love his ability to move around and impact the game from many different spots, which should lead to him coming off the board early on Day 2.
All quotes and observations obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.