More so now than in the past, it seems young defensive backs are coming into the NFL and making a huge impact. Jalen Ramsey and Kevin Byard were two who immediately come to mind, but others like William Jackson and Adrian Amos had huge impacts in their second or third seasons as well. The defensive backs I mention will all be going into their second or third NFL seasons. Some have had some NFL success, but others are looking to build from flashes they’ve shown early on.
Chidobe Awuzie, Cowboys: At 6’0″ 202 pounds and low 4.4 speed, Awuzie is built like an ideal NFL cornerback. Despite playing just nine games as a rookie, the early returns were very promising. Awuzie was willing to get involved in defending the run but was very impressive in coverage. His 0.69 yards allowed per coverage snap ranked among the top ten of all qualifying cornerbacks last season. There’s a good chance Awuzie emerges as one of the top young talents at the cornerback position by the end of this season.
Xavien Howard, Dolphins: Howard might not have been extremely consistent in 2017, but he had multiple games where his ceiling as a player was on display. One of which was against the Patriots where he didn’t allow a completion despite being targeted six times. That game was part of a four game stretch where Howard allowed three completions on 19 targets. Playing one of the league’s most valuable positions, the Dolphins would love nothing more than for Howard to fully emerge as their top cornerback in his third season.
Adoree’ Jackson, Titans: A dynamic player with the ball in his hands, Jackson was often matched up against the opponents premier receiver during his rookie campaign. While he did have moments where he struggled, there were positives to be taken away. In coverage Jackson allowed less than a yard per coverage snap and plenty of reports have indicated he has shown flashes of brilliance through camp. With the Titans in “win now” mode, Jackson emerging as a true lock-down corner would be huge for their chances.
Adrian Colbert, 49ers: A fun parts of a teams rebuild process is finding the mid to late round draft gems that become core players for the franchise. In Colbert, the 49ers might have struck gold in the seventh round. Despite playing in just nine games, Colbert was a player teams avoided in coverage. In a division where each team figures to lean on the passing game, Colbert has the chance to show that the half season sample was a sign of things to come.
Marcus Williams, Saints: Despite being on the wrong end of the “Minneapolis Miracle”, Williams had a very successful rookie season. He proved to be a focal point of the Saints’ youth movement on defense particularly in coverage. Per Pro Football Focus, in the regular season opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of less than 20 when targeting Williams. Despite all that, Williams didn’t receive accolades such as the Pro Bowl. Reports from training camp were very positive, and in 2018 Williams will finally be recognized for his play, and not the one that got away.