This Alabama prospect can help Washington slow down Odell Beckham Jr.
The importance of divisional games cannot be overstated. Sweeping both games from a rival can be the difference between a bye week through the wildcard round and being out of the playoffs altogether.
The NFL has evolved into such a matchup-heavy league that it’s critical for teams to identify, evaluate and fix unfavorable matchups in the offseason — and one way to do so is the NFL draft.
Every day this week I will highlight one current NFL player that has recently dominated a divisional opponent, and pair him with the college prospect best-equipped to shut him down. Today’s focus will be on Odell Beckham Jr. — one of the league’s premier offensive playmakers — and how Washington can use the NFL draft to slow his play.
The NFL problem: Odell Beckham Jr., WR New York Giants
The NFL draft’s solution: Cyrus Jones, CB Alabama
Odell Beckham Jr. has laid waste to nearly every opponent since entering the NFL in 2014, but perhaps no team has suffered more at his hand than Washington. In three games against the Redskins, Beckham has racked up 18 catches for 364 yards receiving with five touchdowns and a +10.0 overall grade. His explosive cutting ability not only has helped him separate from Washington defensive backs but also made him an elusive target in the open field, as he’s also chalked up 93 yards after the catch and forced four missed tackles in those three games.
Bashaud Breeland — Washington’s only positively graded defensive back with more than 40 coverage snaps in 2015 (+10.2 overall) — has had mixed results against Beckham (10 receptions given up on 19 targets for 147 yards and one touchdown, with just one pass breakup), but has been unable to match-up on him exclusively do to Beckham’s ability to play all three receiver positions. In the week 12 2015 matchup alone, Beckham caught passes against Breeland, Will Blackmon, Will Compton, Quinton Dunbar, DeAngelo Hall and Perry Riley. Some of this is certainly due to a mix of zone coverages, but this does not appear to be the blueprint to stop Beckham.
In Week 15 of this past season, Beckham struggled through easily his worst game as a professional (-1.7 receiving). While he was able to get loose on Cortland Finnegan for a 40-yard gain, Josh Norman matched up against him all over the field for most of the game, holding him to just four catches on seven targets for 30 yards and a touchdown (and just two yards gained after catches).
He was visibly frustrated with Norman’s physical play, as too often he was coaxed into wrestling and shoving matches during and after plays. In the first quarter he dropped what should have been a 52-yard touchdown (against Norman), and took four penalties throughout the game, three of them for unnecessary roughness. The final penalty resulted in a one-game suspension, a must-win game in Minnesota that ended in a route for the Vikings, and effectively ended the Giants’ division title and playoff chances.
New York head coach Tom Coughlin talked after the game about Beckham’s out-of-control play, essentially stating his star receiver had given future opponents the blueprint to neutralizing him. The Giants certainly hope Beckham has learned from the experience, but teams like Washington would be wise to make note of Carolina’s approach and do their best to duplicate the game plan.
At just under 5-foot-10 and 200 lbs., Alabama’s Cyrus Jones is not a big cornerback by NFL standards, but plays bigger than his listed measurable due to his strength and physical style of play. Pairing this with his ability to change directions naturally without giving up ground (which is backed by his 6.71 seconds 3-cone time, a combine-best for CBs) allows him to consistently control and redirect targets who can’t overwhelm him with size, targets like the 5-foot-11, 198 lbs. Beckham.
This GIF perfectly illustrates the physicality and savvy of Jones, our eighth-highest graded CB in the draft class (+12.6 overall). He punches the inside shoulder at the line of scrimmage and uses the sideline to his advantage, pinning his man to the boundary and shrinking the quarterback’s throwing window. With the ball in the air, he plays off the receiver’s eyes, perfectly timing his strike to not only legally break up the pass, but also force his man out of bounds to assure no catch is made (by NFL standards).
While the majority of Alabama’s slot responsibilities fell to freshman Minkah Fitzpatrick, Jones has the athletic tools to match-up inside against smaller, shiftier receivers. This means he has the potential to match Beckham regardless of alignment, allowing Breeland to stay outside where he is most comfortable and linebackers like Riley to not end up in grossly unfavorable match-ups.
Because of his lack of elite size, Jones is likely to still be on the board into the third round. This sets up perfectly for Washington, as it can use its more premium picks in the first and second rounds to upgrade the lines and still get excellent production at a critical need in the 3rd.
This being said, expecting Jones to shut down Beckham immediately is of course unrealistic, not to mention unfair to the Alabama prospect. However, he would be a clear athletic upgrade over every player in the Washington secondary (even Breeland), and if he can bring the same toughness and physicality against Beckham that he did against last year’s SEC talent, the Redskins will have a significantly better chance of holding in check their division’s most dangerous offensive weapon.