CFF Overview: CB - Short in Stature
Richard Sherman, among others, has spearheaded the NFL’s latest copycat trend; a chase for taller, longer cornerbacks. While once smaller, quicker players were in vogue at the position, now length, physicality and the ability to match up to big NFL wide outs is the desired prototype.
There are plenty of those players in the draft, but it seems to have left the smaller cornerbacks marginalized, rendered an afterthought once all the big corners have been taken.
There is still plenty of talent among a group that has been maching up against guys significantly bigger than they are for some time. Let’s take a look at five undersized players that could show up their taller counterparts.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
Both Oregon cornerbacks feature on this list and while CFF grading and tape study actually shows Hill to be arguably the better player, it is his teammate Ifo Ekpre-Olomu who is seen as the better prospect. He definitely had a down season in 2014, but you get glimpses of the kind of player Ifo can be every now and then. Perhaps his best attribute is the way he challenges for the ball, trying to get his hands in and dislodge rather than simply give the pass up for complete and make the tackle. He routinely tries to make the catch as awkward as possible even on routes that typically see the corner just going for the hit.
Signature Stat: Did not allow a reception longer than 42 yards all season.
Troy Hill, Oregon
Like his teammate Ekpre-Olomu, Troy Hill plays bigger than his size and is extremely adept at switching from playing the ball to playing the receiver when he reads he no longer has a play on it. This is an important trait for a corberback standing 5-foot-10 going up against receivers as tall as 6-foot-5. Even ignoring length you are giving away up to seven inches just in height at the catch point.
Hill made several plays on passes where he knew he couldn’t challenge at the high point but swatted well at the receiver’s arms and prevented the catch that way. He notched 11 pass breakups on the season and was only beaten for 11.2 yards per reception. One of the most underrated players in the draft, character concerns could see him buried near the bottom of the draft, but his potential is sky high, unlike his stature.
Signature Stat: Allowed 45.3% of passes thrown his way to be caught.
Steven Nelson, Oregon State
Oregon State’s Steven Nelson is exactly the type of player that gets overlooked because he doesn’t stand 6-foot-1 or he doesn’t run a 4.3 flat forty time. What he does do, however, is play cornerback to a very high level, as evidenced by his impressive 2014 campaign for the Beavers.
Nelson is an incredibly scrappy player who makes up for any shortcoming in measurables by making life as difficult as possible for opposing receivers and quarterbacks alike. He was thrown at 92 times in 2014, far more than most of the top corner prospects and only 13 shy of the most in the FBS, but he allowed only 51.1% of them to be caught and those targets yielded an NFL passer rating for quarterbacks of just 64.4.
Signature Stat: Was the only CB in FBS to start the full season who failed to miss a tackle.
Quandre Diggs, Texas
When I was working through tape study of various prospects I hadn’t actually gone near the cornerbacks before Quandre Diggs had already flashed on multiple occasions from watching tape of other prospects. Whether it was watching Longhorns DL Malcom Brown or West Virginia WR Kevin White, Diggs was standing out in the background making plays and demanding a deeper look on tape.
If you are going to be an undersized corner it helps to have fantastic instincts to make up for it. That’s exactly what Diggs seems to have, showing a great ability to peel off routes and make plays on other receivers. For a guy his size he also looked a very sure tackler, missing only five tackles on the year.
Signature Stat: Was beaten for an average of just 9.9 yards per reception in 2014.
Senquez Golson, Mississippi
There might be no more interesting corner in the draft than Senquez Golson from Ole Miss. Standing just 5-foot-9 and 176 pounds, there is nobody of shorter stature than he, but his play this season was fantastic. Everybody knows about the 10 interceptions to lead the FBS, but he also led in coverage grade at CFF, some way clear of any other cornerback. He showed a great ability to play the ball in the air but was routinely playing extremely far off the line for the Rebels, making projection to an NFL defense tricky.
Golson looks to be a perfectly viable athlete at the next level and has the instincts to be an impressive player in coverage. How he does in an NFL defense is going to be extremely exciting to watch, and he could be a steal in this draft.
Signature Stat: Targets into his coverage this year yielded an NFL passer rating for quarterbacks of just 44.9
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