UGA’s Baker considered top cornerback in the NFL draft

Georgia's Deandre Baker, winner of the Jim Thorpe Award as top defensive back in college football, talks about his expectations entering the NFL combine and draft. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter / AJC)

Former Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker, who some have rated as the top player at his position, will likely be the first Bulldog taken in the NFL draft.

The draft is set for April 25-27 in Nashville.

“I have him as the best corner in the draft,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah told The Atlanta Journal Constitution. “I don’t have a corner in the top 10, just in my personal rankings. I think he’d be in play (for the Falcons at 14).”

Several other draft analysts have LSU cornerback Greedy Williams rated higher than Baker.

“Baker is probably the most complete corner,” Jeremiah said. “You can play him in press. You can play him in off. He’s got ball skills and instincts.”

Baker is 5-foot-11 and 193 pounds, while Williams is bigger at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds.

“I know Greedy Williams is taller and longer and all of that, but I just think Baker is a better football player,” Jeremiah said. “He’s tougher. He’s got a little grit to him.”

Baker has come a long way from being a 3-start recruit coming out of Miami.

“They missed the boat big time,” Baker said. “Oh, it motivated because I knew I was one of the tops in the nation and didn’t have a chance to show it because I didn’t do all of the camps. But now, I’m here. “

Jeremiah is a former NFL scout and has a keen eye for the cornerback position.

“When I go back and look at some corners that I’ve missed over the years, a lot of times, the missing component is that they are not gritty,” Jeremiah said. “They are not tough. You’ve got to play through the catch and be able to be physical. I think Deandre does that a little bit better.”

Williams was an All-SEC pick after the 2018 season and elected not to play in LSU’s bowl game like Baker, who didn’t play in the Sugar Bowl with the Bulldogs.

“Sometimes you can miss a tackle here or there, but he hasn’t been interested,” Jeremiah said of Williams. “Hanging onto blocks and not really making an effort at times. That’s what I have a hard time with.

“You pay them to cover. But just get them on the ground. I’m not asking you to pop pads and knock his helmet off. Just wrap him up and pull him down. That’s a pretty low bar.”

Baker doesn’t shy away from contact like Williams.

“That’s just me being tough,” Baker said. “That just comes from my upbringing in Liberty City (in) Miami. That’s just how we are, we are to bred. Just me being scared of (anything) and being fearless on the field.”

Baker has other supporters.

"I absolutely love him,” NFL Network analyst Charles Davis told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I like his physicality. He plays taller than what he’s listed. He will come up and tackle. I love that in a corner. I think he’s got good ball skills and makes plays on the ball. He’s one of my favorites.”

Baker said the toughest receiver he faced last season was Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy.

“Calvin Ridley was the best that I’ve faced in my career,” Baker said. “Riley (Ridley) is just like his brother. Just a little bit bigger and stronger. He runs great routes. Great hands.”

The Falcons are in the cornerback market after releasing Robert Alford and not extending a restricted free agent tender to Brian Poole. Those to corners combine to play more than 1,800 snaps for the Falcons last season.

Isiah Oliver is slated for replace Alford and Damontae Kazee, who played at free safety last season, will get the first shot at Poole’s old nickel back spot.

“There are some really good numbers (at the cornerback position),” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “We have some really good football players early and I think it continues through the first three rounds.”

The Falcons have scouted Baker.

“He’s is tough,” Dimitroff said. “He’s a scrappy guy, who’s not turning it down.”

Some of the other top cornerbacks in the draft include Temple’s Rock Ya-Sin (Southwest DeKalb), Washington’s Byron Murphy and Vanderbilt’s Joejuan Williams.

“Rock Ya-Sin is getting a lot of attention,” Davis said. “He’s my Josh Norman without all of the extras. Josh came from (Coastal Carolina) and he emerged on the scene at the East West game. This kid is a Presbyterian kid and he played one year on the Division I level at Temple.”

Teams wanted to know more about Ya-Sin after he held his own against South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel at the Senior Bowl.

“Him and Deebo Samuel went at it,” Davis said. “That was interesting.”

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