CB7: Mekhi Blackmon (USC)
As the founder of the Mekhi Blackmon Hive, allow me to introduce a player I have ranked nearly 100 spots higher than the consensus Big Board. Blackmon began his collegiate career at Colorado before transferring to USC for his final season. He saved his best for last with the Trojans.
Blackmon more than doubled his career high in tackles while cutting down his missed tackle percentage is a startling 2.8 percent. For a player who gets knocked for size, Blackmon never shies away from stepping up and taking on a ball carrier with a full head of steam.
His improved tackling only scratches the surface, as Blackmon ranked third in the entire country in coverage grade (via PFF). The budding superstar intercepted three passes and broke up eight more while allowing less than half the passes thrown his way to end in a completion.
Blackmon has never met an assignment that he couldn’t handle. He thrives in one-on-one situations and isn’t afraid to let the receiver know when they get shut down. Blackmon’s competitive nature and appetite for perfection will allow him to continue ascending as he gets NFL experience under his belt.
The concerns around his size are worth mentioning because they are not unwarranted. Rather than impacting Blackmon on the field, the biggest worry is whether or not his frame can hold up for an entire season. There’s only so much he can do about this, but taking care of his body is something a coaching staff will hammer home.
Even with this valid concern, Blackmon is a better fit to stay on the outside. His coverage chops are elite, and moving him inside could lead to more injuries. Keep Blackmon on the boundary, draft him in round two, and reap the rewards.
NFL Draft Grade: Early-to-Mid Day 2
CB6: Deonte Banks (Maryland)
The fastest riser at cornerback, at least on my end, is Maryland’s, Deonte Banks. His performance at the NFL Combine raised my intrigue, and like Forbes, it caused me to go back to the tape. And boy, was it a fun watch.
Banks is a physical, freaky athlete who shuts down opposing receivers regularly. In four seasons with the Terrapins, Banks only allowed 49 percent of his targets to be completed, including a career-best 43.3 percent in 2022. His physicality shows up as a tackler too, only being charged with three missed tackles since 2019.
This physical nature also gets Banks in trouble, however. He recorded eight penalties last season, with holding and pass interference calls as the biggest culprits. If Banks struggles to play clean in college, it will only be more difficult against a higher level of competition in the NFL.
Still, the style Banks plays with is rare. He blends power and finesse but needs to learn to rein in his wild tendencies. While most mocks have Banks in the first round, he holds an early day-two grade on my board. Don’t be surprised if the NFL bets on his high-end traits and the Maryland star comes off the board in the top half of round one.
NFL Draft Grade: Early-to-Mid Day 2
CB5: Cam Smith (South Carolina)
The “other” South Carolina cornerback on the list is the better prospect of the two. Cam Smith isn’t built the same way as former teammate Jaycee Horn, but he plays with the same intensity on a snap-to-snap basis. Smith’s energy jumps off the screen and makes me want to get off my couch every time I turn on his tape.
He only allowed 51.1 percent of passes to be completed, using silky smooth movements downfield to negate gains by the receiver. Smith’s hips never lie, as he is quick to flip the field and showcases an uncanny ability to contort his body when playing the ball in the air.
His feel for the game is what makes Smith so special. The ability to read and react in zone coverage is hard to teach and the way he takes on one-on-one assignments is something to marvel at. Smith doesn’t just *think* he’s going to win every rep; he *knows* he will. The confident demeanor errs on the side of arrogance, but for a cornerback, it is exactly what you want to see.
Now, this is not to say Smith is flawless as a prospect. Although his height and weight qualify as average, I’d argue he is a smidge too skinny. The lack of body mass allows bigger receivers to take advantage off the line and downfield. Furthermore, as willing of a tackler as Smith is, he posted a disappointing 16.1 percent missed tackle rate for the Gamecocks.
The good news is Smith rarely allows receptions, and as a boundary cornerback, he won’t be asked to regularly make plays in the run game. Because of this, Smith holds a fringe day-one grade on my Big Board and profiles as an immediate starter with All-Pro potential in the right scheme.
NFL Draft Grade: Early Day 2