DA Draft Buzz April 14: Defensive Backs on the Rise

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Tony Pauline

Draft Analyst Writer

It’s going to be a draft rich with talented defensive backs, and the first round is likely to be filled with safeties and cornerbacks. Here’s the latest on two secondary prospects making their way up draft boards. 

I continue to hear that Texas A&M safety Justin Evans is rising up draft boards and has a chance to slide into the very late part of Round 1. 

Exiting the Senior Bowl I made mention that Evans could be the pick of the Dallas Cowboys late in Round 1, and that conversation has been resurrected. The team lost two safeties in free agency -- starter Barry Church and occasional starter J.J. Wilcox -- and needs help at the position.

The other franchise I'm told is considering Evans late in the first frame is the Atlanta Falcons.

Versatile veteran Kemal Ishmael was re-signed by the team this offseason, but a move from safety to linebacker looks to be in the offing for him. Evans would be an upgrade over present starter Ricardo Allen, and head coach Dan Quinn is looking to run a defense with three safeties.

Evans would also be a nice complement to Keanu Neal, last year’s first-round selection, and he offers the defense more of a rangy safety who can play sideline-to-sideline while being an asset stopping the run.  

Evans is probably the closest Quinn will come to coaching an Earl Thomas-type safety any time in the near future. I’m told Evans has visited both the Cowboys and Falcons.

If Evans gets out of the first round sources tell me he won’t get past the Tampa Bay Bucs in Round 2, as the team is very high on the safety. We had Evans going to Tampa in the second frame during our four-round mock draft earlier this week.

The other defensive back making his way up boards is Gareon Conley of Ohio State, someone I’ve gushed over for the past four months.

Conley, who’s scheduled to visit the Jacksonville Jaguars this coming Monday, has impressed scouts in a variety of ways.

His game film is outstanding, as Conley rarely put a foot wrong over the past two seasons and made big plays during important games. He’s been lauded for his work ethic and temperament, and many feel Conley is the most NFL-ready of all the top-rated cornerbacks in the draft -- an opinion I agree with.

I’ll go on record and say I wouldn’t be surprised if Conley is the first cornerback selected in the draft, a product of his surge up draft boards and teammate Marcus Lattimore being overrated.

The New Orleans Saints have shown a lot of interest in Conley as have the Tennessee Titans, who spent extensive time with him at Ohio State's pro day and later flew him in for an official visit.