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Deep defensive back class full of potential

When general manager Bob Quinn was asked at the Combine last week what positions are particularly strong in this year's draft, he said running back, defensive line, receiver and defensive backs.

The numbers certainly back up the latter. There were 60 defensive backs invited to the Combine this year. There are 10 cornerbacks and five safeties among the list of analyst Daniel Jeremiah's 50 best players in this draft. Some analysts think this is the best group of defensive backs ever in one draft class.

If a team needs a cornerback or safety, this looks to be a good draft to get one. Cornerbacks in the NFL are kind of like pass rushers in that teams can never have enough of them.

View photos of prospects meeting the media during Day 5 of the 2017 NFL Combine.

Detroit has a pretty good young cornerback in Darius Slay, and Nevin Lawson is an emerging talent after starting for the first time this past season, but Detroit's depth at the position was exposed a bit. When Slay missed three games with hamstring injuries, and starting nickel cornerback Quandre Diggs was lost to IR midseason, Detroit's depth was tested.

The top dozen or so cornerbacks on draft boards this year include a surplus of players with elite size, speed and experience. Press, bail, zone or man, there seems to be a cornerback for every technique fit in this draft.

Free agency, which begins later this week, will always adjust what a team needs in the draft, but Detroit will be able to snag a good defensive back at No. 21 in the first round or at picks No. 53 or 85 on Day 2.

NFL analyst Mike Mayock said there will be corners drafted in the fourth round next month that would be second-round picks in previous years, just because this class is so deep.

Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore has strong man coverage skills, and ran a sub 4.4-second 40-yard dash at the Combine. Sidney Jones is getting comparisons to former Washington teammate Marcus Peters, a two-time Pro Bowler for the Chiefs. Marlon Humphrey, who started the last two seasons at Alabama, has all the physical tools.

The Florida duo of Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson will vie to be the first corner from Florida off the board. Both could be first-round picks. USC's Adoree' Jackson is an elite athlete at the position.

"Oh, man, it's a great cornerback class. It's the class I want to be in," Tabor said Sunday. "Just because it's so many corners, you know, so many good corners.

"I wouldn't want to be in a class where there's just maybe two or three guys and I would've been the top guy easily. You know what I'm saying? This competition is really, like I said earlier, brings out the best in me."

What about the nickel? NFL defenses play in that sub package about 60 percent of the time. LSU's Tre'Davious White and Michigan's Jourdan Lewis could slot in there right away.

"A lot of teams like my versatility, I was fortunate enough to have a great coach, Corey Raymond at LSU," White said. "He let us know right off the bat we weren't going to be a guy who plays just one position. You've got to know all three positions in the defensive backfield. I thank him for that."

So do NFL teams that love versatile defensive backs. There could be teams in this draft that double up at cornerback early because their board will dictate it.

Then there's the 2017 safety class, which is also loaded. Malik Hooker (Ohio State), Jamal Adams (LSU), Budda Baker (Washington), Jabrill Peppers (Michigan) and Obi Melifonwu (Connecticut) could all come off the board in the first round. Then there's plenty of good depth after those names with early-round grades.

"This class is full of potential," Adams said. "Hopefully, full of Hall of Famers one day. But we push each other. That's what it's about. We're here at the combine to compete."

Teams will be able to retool their secondary with good young talent in this draft, if they so choose.

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