Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 46: Clemson CB A.J. Terrell

Leading up to the 2020 NFL draft, which starts April 23, Yahoo Sports will count down our top 100 overall prospects. We’ll count them down in groups of five and 10 at a time, followed by in-depth reports on our top 50 players. We reserve the right to make changes to players’ grades and evaluations based on injury updates, pro-day workouts or late-arriving information from NFL teams.

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-8180-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz

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46. Clemson CB A.J. Terrell

6-foot-1, 195 pounds 

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.92

TL;DR scouting report: One poor game (on a huge stage) shouldn’t undercut this long, fluid man-cover corner’s chances to be a good pro

The skinny: Born Aundell Terrell Jr., A.J. was a 5-star Rivals recruit and one of the top-20 high school recruits in the country in 2017. He signed with Clemson over the dozens of schools that offered him. Terrell enrolled in school early and saw extensive playing time as a freshman that year, logging 15 tackles (one for loss), an interception and six pass breakups in 237 snaps over his 14 games.

In 2018, Terrell started 15 games and was named third-team All-ACC, with 53 tackles (two for losses), seven pass breakups, a team-high three interceptions and one forced fumble in 805 snaps. One of those three interceptions came in the national championship victory over No. 1 Alabama, when Terrell ran back a pick of Tua Tagovailoa for a 44-yard TD. He then was named first-team All-ACC selection in 2019, with 39 tackles, seven pass breakups and two interceptions in 15 starts (785 snaps).

Terrell, who turns 22 years old in September, declared early for the 2020 NFL draft. He tested in the 40-yard dash (4.42 seconds), bench press (15 reps), vertical jump (34.5 inches) and broad jump (129 inches), skipping the remaining testing drills at the NFL scouting combine. Terrell also benefited from Clemson’s pro day, running the 40 (times of 4.37 and 4.41, plus an excellent 20-yard split of 2.47, which was faster than teammate Isaiah Simmons), short shuttle (4.27), 3-cone drill (7.09) and jumping 34.5 inches (high) and 129 inches (broad).

Clemson CB A.J. Terrell is an ascending prospect in the 2020 NFL draft. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Upside: Really strong measurements for the position — has the height, length and physical traits every NFL team seeks in a corner. Moves extremely well for his size — often asked to match up with speed receivers, typically sticking with them step for step. Fluid and pretty operator, with good technique. Can run and jump to make plays in the air and downfield. Operates with enough strength for press-coverage duties.

Transitions in coverage are a thing of beauty — flips his hips with ease and doesn’t lose momentum. Rarely see him take false steps within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Efficient backpedal and can close in a hurry. Even when unable to match quicker receivers’ footwork, can make up ground with quick reactions and long strides. Press-man experience a plus. Long arms to strike receivers at the line and maintain balance. Uses body to shield his opponent when carrying downfield.

Good ball skills — times up passes well and hauls them in naturally. Looks for playmaking opportunities but not a gambler. Knows when to play the ball and times up locating passes naturally. Uses sideline as extra defender well and can get away with savvy downfield contact.

Looks like a film-study beneficiary. Snapped on routes before receivers declared their intentions. Appeared to understand route concepts and get step ahead. Showed good zone instincts when asked — kept eyes on QB while looking through his man. Anticipation and confidence improved with each season. Work ethic was praised by staff. 

Plays primarily outside but possesses the ability to slide when needed. Took snaps on both sides of field almost equally. Showed potential as a blitzer in small doses (see Texas A&M game). Has extensive special-teams experience. Relatively clean medical history — no missed games in three seasons. Big-game experience in high-pressure environments, with eight combined postseason games (conference title, CFB playoffs) past three years.

Downside: Had a nightmare game — perhaps the worst of his football life — in last season’s national-title game. Got undressed by LSU’s Jamar Chase, a possible top-10 pick in 2021. Chase burned him for four catches (on seven targets) for 137 yards, including two 50-plus-yard passes and two touchdowns.

Some burn marks downfield — allowed long passes against UNC, Louisville, Virginia, Ohio State and LSU last season, as well as in 2018 title game vs. Bama. Will lose phase with vertical threats if he can reroute at the line. Makeup speed is spotty at times. Roasted on a few double moves. Will time up jumps on 50-50 balls but fail to make plays on the ball. 

Here’s an example of Terrell losing phase with Chase downfield after he stuck with him for 30-plus yards, yielding a 52-yard first-quarter TD:

A.J. Terrell lost track of his man early against LSU.

Thin lower half that requires development. Frame could use more muscle and mass in general. Strength doesn’t always translate as well as needed. Toughness not really questioned but could add a little more grit to his game. More of a drag-down tackler than a hitter.

Missed tackles were an issue that popped up in the two playoff games. Assignments were kept mostly static outside a few wrinkles — blitzer vs. A&M, slot work vs. Clemson — and might not have the right skill set to play the slot extensively. 

Best-suited destination: We believe Terrell has a chance to start as a rookie, but he likely will be even more prepared by Year 2. This ascending player should have mass appeal with his size, athletic ability and coverage diversity, and his complete battery of workouts this offseason and big-game experience also should make him a highly appreciated prospect.

Did you know: A.J. became a father last June 9 when his son, Aundell Terrell III, was born. Terrell said becoming a dad before last season changed him.

“It actually motivated me in all types of ways,” Terrell said last August. “I feel like I have a lot of responsibility now. Not saying that I didn’t before, but now it’s just given me an extra boost of energy to go out there and do what I do best.”

They said it: “He really understands the game.”

—  Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney on Terrell

Player comp: Terrell compares favorably to the Chicago Bears’ Kyle Fuller, a player who took  a few years to reach his ceiling, in our eyes. That appears to be the template for Terrell.

Expected draft range: Mid first round to mid second

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