Skip to main content

O'HARA'S 2019 DRAFT PREVIEW: Defensive backs

Of all the young players hoping to begin their NFL careers this year, few have a better sounding board or role model to follow than free safety Nasir Adderley of Delaware.

If the name is familiar to Michiganders, it should be. Nasir's cousin, Herb, played running back for Michigan State. He became a Hall of Fame cornerback when he was drafted in the first round in 1961 by the Green Bay Packers, a fierce and yearly Thanksgiving Day rival of the Detroit Lions in those days.

Herb played 12 seasons with the Packers and Cowboys and won three Super Bowls. He also was a member of the Packers' 1961 and '62 NFL champions before the first Super Bowl.

It's a different era and different style of football than his cousin played in the NFL from 1961-72, but Nasir has found him to be a good resource for advice – as would any of the defensive backs in this year's draft class.

"It's been great," Nasir said in his Combine media interview. "I talk to him all the time. It was a blessing to have him in my corner."

Herb Adderley, who turns 80 in June, had 48 career interceptions. He is tied for 42nd on the all-time list.

View photos of Bucky Brooks' Top 10 defensive back draft prospects.

There is a mixed bag of cornerbacks and safeties in what is regarded by most as an ordinary class of defensive backs.

Strong safety Johnathan Abram of Mississippi State is a hitter whose old-school style might appeal to Herb Adderley's instincts. He could be the first defensive back drafted, regardless of position.

His role models are current players.

"I pretty much try to emulate my game after a few guys – like Earl (Thomas)," he said in his Combine media interview. "He's always around the ball. That's how I try to play. I'm always around.

"I try to be a thumper as well – coming out here and hitting like Kam Chancellor as well."

Following is a breakdown of the top defensive back draft candidates, with one to watch and others, along with the Lions' position breakdown, draft priority and key stat:

Defensive back draft rating: Not a strong position.

Lions defensive back breakdown: Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay and safety Quandre Diggs are returning starters. Two others, cornerback Nevin Lawson and safety Glover Quin, have departed. Tracy Walker, Jamal Agnew, Mike Ford, Teez Tabor and Dee Virgin are back after adding depth last year. Justin Coleman and Andrew Adams are among those added in free agency.

Lions draft priority: Key additions already made in free agency – plus the expected development of 2018 third-round draft pick Tracy Walker.

Key Lions' stat – 7: The seven interceptions were tied for second fewest in the league. It represented a decline of 12 from the 2017 total of 19, which tied for third most in the league.

Top 8 defensive backs, with cornerbacks and safeties combined:

(Note: Workout results are from Combine or Pro Day.)

1. CB Byron Murphy, Washington: 5-11, 190.

Profile: Two-year player after a 2016 redshirt, missed six games in 2017 with a foot injury. Ball skills showed as two-way Phoenix high player -- 88 receptions, 21 TDs, seven picks -- carried over to college: 20 games, seven picks, 27 passes defensed. Combine 40 time of 4.55 not blazing.

2. SS Johnathan Abram, Mississippi State: 5-11, 205.

Profile: Four-year player in three stops: Georgia 2015, Mississippi State 2017-18 after J.C. season. Big-time hitter at all three stops. Combine 40 time of 4.45 showed dual skills to defend the run and cover in the slot. Last two years had 14 tackles for loss, five sacks, 12 passes defensed.

3. CB Rock Ya-Sin, Temple: 6-0, 192.

Profile: High school football player, wrestler in Georgia, played three years at Presbyterian -- posting 22 pass breakups -- before transferring to Temple in 2018 as grad student. Had 14 passes defensed in 12 games for Temple. Awarded single-digit uniform (6) signifying toughness. Posted 4.50 Combine 40.

4. CB Greedy Williams, LSU: 6-2, 185.

Profile: A 2016 redshirt, gave LSU fans what they were waiting for in 2017: Six interceptions, 17 passes defensed as third player since 2008 to lead SEC in both categories. Size, long arms and 4.37 Combine 40 time make for ideal left cornerback. Tackling an issue. Thorpe finalist in 2018.

5. CB Deandre Baker, Georgia: 5-11, 193.

Profile: Not many holes in his game, which is why he earned 2018 Thorpe. Four-year player, full-time starter (27 of 28 games played) in 2017-18. Seven career picks, 31 passes defensed with 12 in each of last two seasons. Solid Combine workout: 4.52 40, 14 reps in bench. Could be drafted higher than expected.

View photos of NFL prospect Deandre Baker.

6. FS Nasir Adderley, Delaware: 6-0, 206.

Profile: Has the genes to succeed from his Hall of Fame cousin, Herb. A four-year player, 2018 season was Nasir's best: Four picks, seven pass breakups. Posted 4.54 Pro Day 40, 39-inch vertical, 19 reps in bench.

7. CB Justin Layne, Michigan State: 6-2, 192.

Profile: Strong Combine workout: 4.50 40, 11-2 broad jump and agility drills showed athleticism. Three-year player, switched to CB in 2016 after one game at receiver. Last two years, 25 passes defensed with three career picks. Size, long arms, athleticism make good cornerback prospect.

8. SS Taylor Rapp, Washington: 6-0, 208.

Profile: Teamed with cornerback Byron Murphy to give Washington ball-hawking secondary. Three-year player filled up stats sheet: 40 games, seven picks, seven sacks, 14 passes defensed, 10 tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries. Reported 4.77 Pro Day 40 time was disappointing but showed good agility at Combine.

One to watch: CB Sean Bunting, Central Michigan: 6-0, 195.

Profile: Bunting has climbed the rungs on his football career in the state of Michigan – first at Chippewa Valley in Clinton Township, and then four years at Central Michigan University where he developed into a pro prospect.

The next step to keep the progression intact would be to play for the Detroit Lions, but the reality is that Bunting will play for whichever team drafts him. He is likely to be a mid-round pick.

"As far as Detroit goes, that's my hometown, and I'll always be repping Detroit, no matter what," Bunting said in his Combine media interview.

"Any team I go to would be a blessing. I'm just ready for each challenge that it brings me."

Bunting was a 2015 redshirt and three-year player under former Chips head coach John Bonamego, who returned to the Lions this year as special teams coordinator.

As a full-time starter his last two seasons, Bunting had seven interceptions and 17 passes defensed the last two seasons combined. He closed out the 2017 season with five interceptions in the last four games, and he had a pick against Michigan State in 2018.

Had a solid Combine workout: 4.42 40, 14 reps in the bench press and a vertical jump of 41.5 inches.


Cornerbacks: Julian Love, Notre Dame; Trayvon Mullen, Clemson: Joejuan Williams, Vanderbilt; Lonnie Johnson, Kentucky; David Long, Michigan; Jamel Dean, Auburn; Isaiah Johnson, Houston; Amani Oruwariye, Penn State; Jordan Brown, South Dakota State; Kendall Sheffield, Ohio State; Ka'Dar Hollman, Toledo.

Safeties: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida; Deionte Thompson, Alabama; Darnell Savage, Maryland: Juan Thornhill, Virginia; Amani Hooker, Iowa; Marquise Blair, Utah; Jaquan Johnson, Miami (Fla.).

Related Content