Greg Gabriel: Underclassmen add to deep NFL Draft at cornerback and safety

It's a good draft for NFL teams looking to bolster their secondary

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A patch of sunlight shines on Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore as he prepares for an NCAA college football game against Maryland in College Park, Md., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
A patch of sunlight shines on Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore as he prepares for an NCAA college football game against Maryland in College Park, Md., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) — Patrick Semansky

The Bears' former director of college scouting, Greg Gabriel has over 30 years of experience in NFL scouting and he'll be breaking down the top NFL prospects to watch this college season and other NFL news each week here at Pro Football Weekly. You can follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

When we have an average of close to 100 underclassmen entering the draft each year, it is bound to have a huge effect on the strengths of each draft. This year there were 95 underclassmen who declared and another eight who graduated but still had remaining eligibility. While it strengthened positions on both sides of the ball, it especially strengthened positions on defense.

The corner class is the strongest in years and most of those players are underclassmen. Players like Marshon Lattimore from Ohio State and Marlon Humphrey from Alabama could very well be top-10 selections. When you add Florida's Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson from Ohio State, Sidney Jones from Washington and Gareon Conley from Ohio State, there are six underclassmen corners that could go in the first round.

The same can be said for the safety class as three underclassman carry very high grades from NFL clubs. The three are Malik Hooker from Ohio State, Jabrill Peppers from Michigan and LSU’s Jamal Adams.

The edge pass rusher class is also very strong with the likes of Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, Auburn’s Carl Lawson, Wisconsin T.J. Watt and Missouri’s Charles Harris added to an already strong group of seniors. Garrett will compete for the number one overall selection slot and Barnett won’t be far behind.

The inside linebacker positon was also greatly strengthened with Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan, Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham and Northwestern’s Anthony Walker.

We can’t leave out the defensive tackle group as Solomon Thomas from Stanford, Caleb Brantley from Florida and Malik McDowell from Michigan State add to an already strong group of players.

While we still have a little more than three months to go before the NFL Draft, the overall class looks to be very strong. The running back class is the best in years as is the tight end class. As usual there is a strong wide receiver group. The major weakness in the class is at offensive tackle, where we don’t have the high number of first round type players as we usually do.

As of right now, the majority of the first round will come from the defensive side of the ball. While there isn’t an Andrew Luck-type of quarterback in the class, there still will be three quarterbacks taken in the opening round. Those three will be North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer.