2016 NFL Draft Preview: Five Intriguing Cornerbacks

The next article in our series leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft

The most popular position linked to the Kansas City Chiefs for the No. 28 overall pick in the upcoming draft—at least in terms of the mock drafts—is cornerback.

It makes sense.

The Chiefs lost a starter this offseason in veteran Sean Smith, who signed with the Oakland Raiders early in free agency after starting for the past three years in Kansas City.

According to general manager John Dorsey, who spoke recently about the cornerback position, the Chiefs are working through all of their options as they try to decide how they will ultimately replace Smith.

"There's a reason why we drafted (Steven) Nelson where we did," Dorsey noted. "There's a reason why we drafted Phillip Gaines where we did. I think those are two good players there. Then we have Marcus (Cooper) still on the roster here. Now he has started for us.

"That's not to say if the best available player pops up there and he happens to be a CB, then all of a sudden we have a corner there."

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Nelson was a third-round pick out of Oregon State by the Chiefs in 2015, and Gaines was also taken in the third round the year before out of Rice. Cooper was originally signed off waivers in 2013 and has started 11 games over the past three seasons.

As we sit here less than three weeks before the draft, Dorsey said they haven't ruled out adding a veteran on the outside either.

"We're still trying to see if there are any veteran corners out there that may spark our interest, so we're steadily working at this," he added, "but we also are now having a keen eye in regards to the pro days that are happening."

With Gaines beginning last season as the nickel corner and Nelson spending much of his time also working on the inside, the connection of looking for bigger, longer CBs who can play on the outside makes sense.

There are players who fit that criteria available in this draft.

Here are five intriguing cornerbacks available in the 2016 NFL Draft, and a little excerpt from CBS Sports' Dane Brugler's draft guide (which you can get right here) about each of them:

Here's a look at five of the top CB prospects in this year's NFL Draft.

Clemson's Mackensie Alexander (5 feet 10, 190 pounds)

Alexander is one of the top CBs in the upcoming draft, and many experts have connected him with the Chiefs in some of the recent mock drafts.

He was ESPN's No. 4-ranked high school prospect when he signed with Clemson back in 2013, but a groin injury kept him off the field and he redshirted that year. He was named a Freshman All-American in 2014 and was a third-team All-American in 2015.

Here's what Brugler had to say about Alexander:

"Highly physical for the position in both coverage and run support…very good high-to-low tackler downhill, throwing his body around…cocky, brash and plays with an attitude – loves to talk on the field and play mind games with receivers…applies coaching and is dedicated to honing his craft – already prepares like a pro…innately motivated and driven by his family – his fire for competition can't be extinguished…battle tested over 27 starts, usually shadowing the opponent's top receiving threat, lining up inside and outside – quarterbacks completed only 24.5 percent of passes in 2015 when targeting his receiver."

Houston's William Jackson III (6 feet, 189 pounds)

The most popular name connected to the Chiefs in the most recent mock drafts is Houston CB William Jackson III, who spent a year at Trinity Valley Junior College in 2012 before transferring and making 28 starts over the past three seasons for Houston.

Jackson led the nation and set a school record with 23 pass breakups as a senior in 2015.

He was named the Defensive MVP of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl after finishing with 10 tackles, 2 interceptions and 2 pass breakups in Houston's win over Florida State.

According to the Houston Chronicle's Aaron Wilson, the director of football operations for the Chiefs, Chris Ballard, attended the Houston Pro Day back on March 24.

It's worth noting that it was Ballard who went out to visit with Marcus Peters just days before last year's draft.

Here's what Brugler had to say about Jackson:

"He's much more comfortable in press-man when he can stay sticky to the receiver – excellent awareness with his back to the ball, controlling his speeds well to attack the catch point. While his skill-set will be coveted by some teams more than others, Jackson is the type of long, physical corner that teams like the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers look for – press-man cornerback ready for immediate action in the NFL and worthy of first round consideration."

Ohio State's Eli Apple (6 feet 1, 199 pounds)

Apple enters the draft as a two-year starter for the Buckeye defense after redshirting his first season because it was discovered that he had an iron deficiency that affected his strength and stamina.

As a redshirt freshman in 2014, Apple had 53 tackles, 3 interceptions and defended 13 passes.  

According to Pro Football Focus, Apple allowed just 44.6 percent of targets into his coverage to be caught last season.

Apple was voted the Defensive MVP of Ohio State's Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame.

Here's what Brugler had to say about Apple:

"He possesses several traits for the cornerback position that translate well to the next level with his size, length and athleticism. Apple isn't afraid to be physical and contest at the top of routes, but he's still learning what he can get away with and what will draw flags – desired length for the position, but NFL teams will be forced to live and die with his hands-on contact while he figures it out."

Miami's Artie Burns (6 feet, 193 pounds)

Burns had a breakout season for the Hurricanes as a junior in 2015, leading the ACC in interceptions with 6, including 13 passes defensed. He earned second-team All-ACC honors last season.

Off the field, Burns hasn't had it easy.

His mother passed away from a heart attack in October, while his father is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for trafficking cocaine.

Here's what Brugler had to say about Burns:

"A two-year starter for the Hurricanes, Burns played primarily at boundary cornerback at Miami, starting 23 games the last two seasons. Play speed at the cornerback position is critical for the next level and he checks that box with the lower body explosion and hip fluidity to play tight coverage in both man and zone looks. Burns has receiver-like traits to limit passing windows, but needs to better anticipate routes and cut down on the holding downfield. Although undisciplined as a tackler and with his hands in coverage, Burns has the requisite play speed, competitive toughness and budding ball awareness to develop into a starting press corner in the NFL."

Southern Mississippi's Kalan Reed (5 feet 11, 199 pounds)

Reed started three games and played in all 12 as a true freshman in 2012 before landing 10-plus starts in each of his final three seasons for the Golden Eagles.

As a senior last season, Reed had 4 interceptions and returned 2 of them for touchdowns. He also defended 19 passes, which is a school record.  

According to the coverage grades at Pro Football Focus, Reed "had the third-highest coverage grade in the class."

Gil Brandt of NFL.com said the Chiefs had a defensive backs coach at the Southern Miss Pro Day.

Here's what Brugler sad to say about Reed:

"A three-year starter at boundary corner, Reed showed improved consistency over his career and proved himself to be a legitimate NFL prospect as a senior, setting a new school record for passes defended (23) in a season – 'lynchpin of the secondary,' according to the Southern Miss coaches. He lacks ideal size, length and play strength and his overeager tendencies will lead to feast or famine plays, but he routinely finds the ball before it arrives to crowd the catch point and make a play. Reed needs to add a dash of discipline to his game, but his explosive traits and playmaking instincts convert well to the NFL level – true sleeper prospect in this class who will likely out-play his draft position."

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