Matt Bowen Discusses How You Grade Various Positions.......................
I think we all have a certain respect for Matt Bowen's viewpoints because he is a former NFL'er. I've not a writer out there who does a better job as an analyst of players and offensive and defensive schemes. His column is always informative and this one on how to grade draft prospects at various positions is no exception.
NFL Draft: How to grade the CB position
Five keys to look for in your own tape study.Matt Bowen
Let’s go outside the numbers today and talk CBs. A premium position in today’s NFL vs. the spread looks we see on Sundays and a draft class that has some top tier talent: LSU’s Morris Claiborne, Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick, North Alabama’s Janoris Jenkins, Nebraska’s Alfonzo Dennard, etc. But what are you looking for when you turn on the tape and study these players?
Here are my five keys I use when grading CB prospects…
ICONAlabama's Dre Kirkpatrick is a first-round talent at the CB position.
1. Technique: I always start with technique at the CB position, because I want to target prospects that have some polish to their game. Watch their footwork, hands, plus the speed and athletic ability to open their hips and run. You want to see a clean “plat and drive” on the ball, a corner that can “mirror” the release of a WR, and maintain their initial leverage. Remember this: if they are sloppy with their technique on tape that is what you are getting in the NFL. You don't want to waste practice time trying to coach up technique to get a rookie ready to play.
2. Speed (and “recovery” speed):CB is a “stopwatch position.” You need to get a 40-time on all of these prospects; however, you must also apply that to the game tape. If you have a 4.4 guy, do you see that speed on tape? Check out how the prospect plays the top of the vertical route tree (corner, post, fade) and see if it matches up with the time he posts at the combine. It is one thing to run a 4.4 (or even sub 4.4) 40, but if you don’t see it translate to the field, this is a problem. A 4.5 guy can play like a guy who has 4.4 speed if he is solid in his technique, understands WR splits and plays through the initial release on tape. Bottom line: don’t be sold on 40-time alone with the CB position.
3. Press-coverage:I don’t see a ton of press-coverage in the college game and when I do, the technique is average—at best. Think about this: these rookies have to play press-coverage in the NFL to take away the slant and the fade on the goal line, the 3-step game in blitz-man and vs. a stack or bunch look. Do they punch with the proper hand (outside hand vs. inside release, inside hand vs. outside release), slide their feet and cut off the initial stem of the receiver? Playing from a press-look isn’t about being the toughest guy on the field. That’s high school stuff. Instead, it is about playing with the proper technique and killing the route on the release.
4. Finish the play: My main focus when watching Senior Bowl practices last month down in Mobile was seeing if the CBs wanted to compete in one-on-ones. And part of that is making the play on the football. PBU’s (passes broken up) are nice—and do end drives—but you want to draft CBs that finish the play and force turnovers. That translates to wins in the NFL and you want to find CBs that come up with INTs. Elite CBs in college often don’t see many targets throughout the season (and offenses can scheme away from them because of the wide numbers on the field), but keep an eye on their “finish” when they drive on a route.
5. Tackling: You have to tackle in the NFL and there is no such thing as a “boundary corner” on Sundays. No other way to say it, because every defense carries Cover 2 in their game plans and when a WR “cracks” or stems inside to the safety, the CB must then replace the safety in the run front. Do they wrap up or do they dive at the ball carriers legs with their heads down? Are they physical and willing to attack the line of scrimmage? Plus, can they play from an off-man position, drive on the slant, the out or the one-step “smoke” route and make the tackle in space? I played for coaches in the NFL that wouldn’t allow a CB to even step on the field if they went into a shell when the ball carrier pressed the edge of the defense. Can’t play soft in this league—so find out if these prospects want to hit.
There is some talent in this year’s safety class with 'Bama's Mark Barron, Okie State's Markelle Martin, LSU’s Brandon Taylor, Boise State’s George Iloka and Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith. However, what are you looking for when you turn on the tape to grade prospects at the position?
Today, let's look at five keys I use when breaking down the safety position leading up to the NFL Draft...
ICONNotre Dame's Harrison Smith.
1. Playmaking ability: Are they around the football and do they finish when they break on a route? You want to draft safeties that will make impact plays in the NFL and I begin to question prospects that don’t show up when the ball is in the air. Ask any NFL GM and they will tell you the same thing: they want playmakers in the secondary. That’s what you are paying for. Coaches can teach tackling technique. However, if the prospect doesn’t make any big plays, be careful how high you grade them.
2. Range: Look past the 40-times that come out of the combine. I don’t care if a prospect runs in the mid 4.5s, because that doesn’t impact his ability to break from the middle of the field and get outside of the numbers if they can read the QB in the pocket. Don’t look at top end speed as a true judge of a safety’s ability. That doesn’t add up to production if they can’t get out of the middle of the field or break off of the top of the numbers in Cover 2. The top safeties in this league can break on the throw and find the football at the point of attack—regardless of what the stop watch says.
3. Coverage skills: Gone are the days of the “in the box” safety that earns his paycheck in the run game. In today’s league, defensive coordinators want the ability to keep their base defense on the field vs. three wide receiver looks. And to do that, you need a safety that can walk down over the slot. Plus, think of the TE position and Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez, etc. These players are working the middle of the field and producing inside of the 20-yard line. Can the prospects play off-man, use their hands in a press alignment and mirror a release to maintain leverage? Good questions to ask when you grade the prospect’s skill set in man-coverage situations.
4. Football IQ: I don’t need to interview a prospect to find out if understands the game, because the tape will tell you. Can he jump routes knowing he has help to the inside or over the top? Does he play the technique of the defense called in the huddle? Will the prospect take the proper angle to the ball depending on the split, release and stem of a WR in the route scheme? Plus, where are his eyes? Studying a prospect’s ability to read his run-pass keys is crucial. You can begin to understand how well these prospects know the game by turning on the tape if you look for the right things.
5. Toughness: You can’t play soft and survive in the secondary in the NFL. In your tape study, see if the prospect will attack the “C” gap from a Cover 4 (quarters) alignment, “spill” (inside shoulder) vs. a pulling guard in the run front and deliver violent contact (plus power) when they finish off ball carriers. I want safeties that are a little nasty and aren’t afraid to come downhill on a receiver or a ball carrier. There is no reason a safety should allow a WR to block them in the open field or get swallowed up in the run front. And when they blitz, do they display a physical style of football in getting to the QB? They will have to play hurt and banged up in the NFL, so don’t forget to grade these safeties on “toughness.” It does matter.