2017 NFL Draft: Pac-12 defensive backs highlight rounds two and three

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CB Kevin King (Washington): 33rd overall pick, Green Bay Packers

Thursday night wasn't easy for King. Many projected him as a a first-round pick, so he arrived at the festivities with his parents and soaked in all of the draft's early glamour. 

But King wasn't picked. He returned to the hotel emptyhanded, in the unique postion of having to return to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for Friday's second round: 

King didn't have to wait long. Green Bay nabbed him with the very first pick of the evening. The Packers badly need help in the secondary. Their pass defense was the league's worst in 2016, allowing 8.1 yards per attempt. 

Tall cornerbacks have been all the rage in the NFL ever since Richard Sherman ascended to stardom with the Seattle Seahawks. At 6-foot-3, King is even taller than Sherman -- and he’s significantly more polished coming out of college. King was one of many anchors in Washington’s elite secondary last year; teammates Budda Baker and Sidney Jones were also selected in the second round. 

[Related content: 2017 NFL Draft: Six Pac-12 players taken in first round ]


DB Budda Baker (Washington): 36th overall pick, Arizona Cardinals

Baker is a firecracker, and he’ll be paired with Tyrann Mathieu — a defensive back with a similarly explosive skill set — in the Arizona secondary. Potential positional versatility is a plus here: Although Baker played safety in college at 5-foot-10, there’s a chance the Cardinals can employ him as a nickel back or even as the corner opposite star Patrick Peterson. 

Baker certainly packs the physicality to succeed in whatever capacity he's used. He laid big-time wood in run support throughout his career in Washington, and also flashed excellent athleticism in open field pass coverage. Baker's acrobatic tip-interception in the Pac-12 championship game was a piece of artwork worthy of consideration for display in the Louvre.

Arizona's secondary was already good. It can morph to elite status with this addition. And at the very least, the Cardinals have added someone who can juggle lemons:


DB Marcus Williams (Utah): No. 42 overall pick, New Orleans Saints

The Friday rush on Pac-12 defensive backs continues. Williams is a ball-hawking interception machine. He's picked off 10 passes over the past two seasons, anchoring Utah's secondary with a 6-foot-1, 200-plus pound presence.

The fit here is natural: New Orleans badly needs help with its pass defense. The Saints bled 4,380 yards through the air last year, the most in the NFL. They also allowed the highest opposing QBR of any team in the league. Williams, with his physical presence, ball skills, and consistent motor, is a steady bet to help the situation in the Big Easy. 


CB Sidney Jones (Washington): 43rd overall pick, Philadelphia Eagles

Jones might've gone in the first round if he hadn't torn his Achilles at Washington's pro day, but Friday's trend continues with the selection of yet another -- the fourth -- Pac-12 defensive back. With Jones tabbed, Washington's trio of headlining studs in the secondary is now off the board. 

Jones also produces interceptions at a steady rate. He picked off nine passes over three seasons in Seattle. Now, he'll ship his impressive ball skills to the East Coast with a special draft memory in tow: Thousands of fans in Philadelphia roared when the hometown Eageles picked Jones. 


CB Chidobe Awuzie (Colorado): No. 60 overall pick, Dallas Cowboys

Colorado's secondary was one of the country's best in 2016, allowing only 5.4 yards per pass attempt through the regular season -- a figure that tied Michigan and Ohio State for the national lead. Awuzie was a huge part of the Buffs' defensive surge: Along with fellow corner Ahkello Witherspoon and safety Tedric Thompson, he helped form a fearsome secondary in Boulder.

Awuzie is fast, active, and hungry for the football. His nickname is 'Cheeto,' making a good pairing with the Cowboys' other draft pick, Taco Charlton. Head coach Jason Garrett is happy about that:


JuJu Smith-Schuster (USC): No. 62 overall pick, Pittsburgh Steelers

Finally, a non-defensive back is selected from the Pac-12 in the second round. After five DBs went off the board to begin Friday, Smith-Schuster became the first offensive player from the league to go. Although his 2016 numbers weren't as monstrous as his 2015 ones (89 catches, 1,454 yards), Smith-Schuster remained a bona fide weapon of speed and strengh to the pass game. 

It's safe to assume that Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be able to utilize his new weapon effectively. And once Smith-Schuster gets the football in the open field, his famous stiff-arm can make an appearance in the NFL:


CB Ahkello Witherspoon (Colorado): 66th overall pick, San Francisco 49ers

Here comes yet another Pac-12 defensive back, the sixth picked on Friday. Witherspoon, who has been compared to All-Pro Richard Sherman because of his 6-foot-3 height, broke up a nation-best 13 passes in 2016. He’s the first Pac-12 player to be selected in the third round.

The 49ers focused on fixing their atrocious run defense by picking Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster on Thursday; Witherspoon’s selection marks a shift of focus to the secondary. Witherspoon was excellent — yet occasionally overshadowed — by Awuzie as part of an awesome Colorado defensive backfield. But there’s elite length and excellent athleticism here to go with it, making Witherspoon a shiny pick for the early part of round three. 

Advanced stats tell the story:


CB Fabian Moreau (UCLA): 81st overall pick, Washington Redskins

Moreau missed most of 2015 with injury, but he stormed back with a productive 2016 to make a solid pre-draft case. Moreau was one of the most impressive corners at the NFL Combine, ranking first in the broad jump, second in the 40-yard dash (4.35), and fifth with a vertical jump of 38.5 inches. The NFL measurables are here.

Unfortunately, injuries have also been present. A torn pectoral muscle this offseason followed the Lisfranc injury that sidelined Moreau in 2015. Those two maladies may have pushed a player with elite measurables down in the draft's pecking order. Regardless, Moreau will have a chance to help a Washington pass defense that ranked in the bottom half of the NFL last year.


QB Davis Webb (California): No. 87 overall pick, New York Giants

Perhaps it’s fitting that Webb is headed to a cold-weather market where hockey is popular: That was actually his first sport — before football. 

Webb’s stock rose throughout the draft process, and it’s easy to understand why: His passion for mental preparation floored NFL executives. STRIVR, a virtual reality training software company that sells its product to the football world, said that Webb was logged into its system more than any other quarterback — college or pro — last season. As a coach’s son, Webb’s football education started early in life, when he diagrammed plays on flashcards. 

And while Webb will likely become a coach himself after his playing days are done, don’t underestimate his immense physical gifts: He’s 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, and can take a beating given that hockey background. Could the Giants groom Webb to eventually replace Eli Manning? 


DL Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA): No. 88 overall pick, Oakland Raiders

Vanderdoes won't light up the stat sheet all too often, but that's not his job. He's a 6-foot-4, 305-pound block gobbler who already has a burger named after him in his Northern California hometown. Vanderdoes commanded double teams while healthy at UCLA, opening rushing for teammates like Takkarist McKinley -- who exploded in 2016 and enjoyed first-round NFL Draft glory as a result. 

Vanderdoes also would have likely gone near the top of the draft if not for an ACL injury that completely derailed his 2015 campaign. But he managed to nurse back toward full strength this past season, and that bodes well for an Oakland rushing defense that ranked all the way down at no. 25  in the NFL last year. 

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