Part 8, DB: Could Tariq Woolen change the cornerback game?
There's never been someone this fast, this big. Hear what scouts 'round the NFL have to say on Woolen, "Sauce" Gardner, Kyle Hamilton, Derek Stingley and all of the top DBs inside.
This is the 38th year in which Bob McGinn has written an NFL draft series. Previously, it appeared in the Green Bay Press-Gazette (1985-’91), the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (1992-’17), BobMcGinnFootball.com (2018-’19) and The Athletic (2020-’21) … Until 2014, personnel people often were quoted by name. The series reluctantly adopted an all-anonymous format in 2015 at the request of most scouts … The 12-minute, 50-question Wonderlic test was not administered at the NFL scouting combine this year, perhaps for the first time. Therefore, players generally took the test at spring timing days in 2021 or at pro days in the last two months. The average NFL score is about 19.
Today: Defensive backs.
For now, at least, Tariq Woolen of Texas San Antonio is a project. Of that there can be little disagreement.
Now comes the hard part for evaluators because they know, three years from now, it’s possible he will have become the NFL prototype at the cornerback position.
The size is there, the speed is there, the athleticism is there in numbers never before seen in a defensive back. No cornerback standing 6 feet 4 inches, as does Woolen, running 40 yards in 4.26 seconds, as did Woolen, and leaping 42 inches in the vertical jump, as did Woolen, has come before him.
UTSA, which didn’t christen its football program until 2011, has had two players drafted in its first decade. No general manager or scouting director planned to visit the Roadrunners last fall after Woolen received a reject spring grade from the BLESTO combine scout and the lowest possible spring grade before being rejected from the National Football Scouting rep.
At some point during the season, personnel people did make the journey to see the player nicknamed “Riq the Freak.”
“I told him I came all the way out to UTSA because you are the most unusual prospect in the country,” said an NFL personnel man. “Woolen is the ultimate length and speed prospect in this entire draft.”
My combine/pro day archives date to 1986. If Woolen goes in the first two rounds, which is certainly possible, he would become the first 6-4 corner drafted there in that span.
Last year, the Cowboys used a compensatory pick (No. 99) to take a third-round flier on cornerback Nahshon Wright (6-4, 183, 4.48) of Oregon State. He played special teams and 91 snaps on defense, but there’s little evidence yet that he can play.
At the same time, there have been only three 6-3 ½ (heights were rounded off to the nearest half inch) cornerbacks taken in the first three rounds since 1986.
In 2009, Utah’s Sean Smith (6-3 ½, 209, 4.50) went to the Dolphins in the second. Although Smith never made a Pro Bowl, he was rated as a top-10 corner by Pro Football Weekly entering the 2015 and ’16 seasons.
In 2019, Vanderbilt’s Joejuan Williams (6-3 ½, 207, 4.60) went to the Patriots in the second. He has started one game in three seasons.
In 2021, Minnesota’s Benjamin St-Juste (6-3 ½, 202, 4.58) went to Washington in the third. As a rookie, he started three of nine games.
When NFL scouts get together, they constantly compare players. Scouts always can come up with a comparable. With Woolen, there was mostly crickets.
“Don’t have one,” an AFC personnel director said regarding Woolen. “I’m not kidding. I don’t have one for you.”
The one player that was mentioned most was Brandon Browner (6-3 ½, 221, 4.64), who appeared at the combine in 2005 representing Oregon State but wasn’t drafted. After being cut by the Broncos in 2006, he was a CFL all-star in three of four seasons north of the border before signing with the Seahawks. A starter for three years on the “Legion of Boom” defense, he had 12 interceptions and 57 passes defensed in five NFL seasons.
Another scout came up with Lenny Walls (6-4, 192, 4.69), a free agent in 2002 from Boston College who started 16 games for the Broncos in 2003 and lasted five seasons.
In 2017, the Packers drafted Washington’s Kevin King (6-3, 198, 4.46) atop the second round. The only other corner that tall in the team’s previous 30 years was Michael Hawthorne (6-3, 196, 4.54) in 2003-’04.
Back when cornerbacks could mug receivers, size was critical. Witness the dimensions of Hall of Famers Dick “Night Train” Lane (6-2, 210), Jimmy Johnson (6-2, 187) and Mel Blount (6-3, 205) decades ago.
When the five-yard bump zone went into effect and receivers became smaller and faster, so did corners. In 1986, just one of the top 15 corners stood even 6-0. In 1995, Notre Dame’s Bobby Taylor (6-3, 208, 4.51) looked like a creature from Mars as the only one of the top 20 corners reaching the 6-0 barrier.
This year, seven of the top 10 corners are at least 6-0 as teams continue to seek bigger, faster players to cover bigger, faster receivers.
Enter Woolen, a wide receiver in high school and a wide receiver (24 receptions, 263 yards, 11.0-yard average, one touchdown) until late in his third year at UTSA. He reluctantly agreed, but now acknowledges he wouldn’t have been in this position without the change.
“No, sir, being in the NFL was just a dream at the time,” Woolen said at the combine. “I always had NFL in my dreams, but when you start to slowly come to reality, I really fell in love playing the position.”
Besides freak, the other operative word for Woolen among scouts is raw. Also often heard was “low floor, high ceiling,” meaning there’s star potential and bust potential.
“He’s not anywhere near ready,” an NFC evaluator said. “You’ve got to train him so much. At 6-4, you’re going to have transition issues. He’s not a second-round player. You’d have to justify taking him that high. You’d look funny taking a guy in the second and he’s your fourth corner. Not a good look.”
The Woolen story presumably will play out Friday night in rounds two and three. As many as 10 defensive backs might be selected before he becomes a factor.
A panel of 18 personnel people agreed to rank the cornerbacks and safeties on a 1-2-3-4-5 basis, with a first-place vote worth 5 points, a second-place vote worth 4 points and so on.
At corner, the vote was Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner (79 points, 10 firsts), Derek Stingley (68, six), Trent McDuffie (43), Kaiir Elam (29, two), Andrew Booth (19), Kyler Gordon (14), Roger McCreary (eight), Woolen (five), Kalon Barnes (three) and Alontae Taylor (two).
At safety, the vote was Kyle Hamilton (81, 14 firsts), Lewis Cine (66, three), Dax Hill (45), Jaquan Brisker (35), Jalen Pitre (21, one), Nick Cross (11), JT Woods (five), Bryan Cook (two), Kerby Joseph (two), Tycen Anderson (one) and Tariq Carpenter (one).
RANKING THE DEFENSIVE BACKS
1. AHMAD “SAUCE” GARDNER, Cincinnati (6-2 ½, 193, 4.46, 1): Described by one scout as a faster, more athletic Richard Sherman (6-2 ½, 194, 4.53). “He does have the long arms (33 ½ inches),” one scout said. ‘He’s somewhat narrow-framed. He’s definitely fast enough. Is he a bona-fide, top-10, No. 1 corner like a Champ Bailey? I don’t feel that. He’s a little stiff. All these tall guys definitely have that. This guy’s better than Kevin King because he’s a little more twitchy but he’s still going to have some of that hesitation or gathering in transition. He’s a willing tackler. He does enough. He’s a good player, but he hasn’t had to cover a lot of brand-name players. At least there’s video evidence that at one point Stingley could do it (in practice against LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase).” Third-year junior, three-year starter. “Plays hard, good player,” said a second scout. “He has a little air about him, which is fine. No question, he’ll tackle. He’s not a killer but he’ll tackle. He tackles well for a corner.” Finished with 99 tackles, nine interceptions and 27 passes broken up (PBUs). “Physically, he’s what you’re looking for as a press corner,” a third scout said. “He can play off, too. His closing burst isn’t very good because he’s such a tall, high-cut kid. He can’t plant and drive on the ball.” Scored 17 on the Wonderlic. From Detroit.
2. DEREK STINGLEY, Louisiana State (6-0, 188, 4.45, 1): The top-rated CB in the recruiting class of 2019, he started 15 games as a freshman and performed like a superstar. “If he could have come out then he’d have been the first corner taken,” one scout said. “His freshman tape was that good. This kid is uber-talented but there’s something missing with him. He has a chance to be a perennial Pro Bowler or getting into the league and getting caught up in the league and just be a guy. He can do it all. The next year (2020) he got the injuries, and he hasn’t played near that well since. The effort and intent wasn’t there. I don’t know if his dad got to him. His dad was talking about him not playing this year (2021). If he gets his head on right he can do whatever he wants to do. I think people are scared.” Missed three games in 2020 with a leg injury and the last nine games of 2021 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn Lisfranc ligament in his left foot. “He’s got an overpowering father who thinks he knows it all,” a second scout said. “He’s got to get away from his daddy. He needs to get out of Baton Rouge is what he needs to do. He was born in Baton Rouge, went to high school in Baton Rouge, even went to college in Baton Rouge. My gut tells me he’s smart enough to do that to be really good. He’s soft-spoken. I don’t know how assertive he is.” Ran a solid 40 at pro day. “He has the most potential,” a third scout said. “He has a little boom or bust in him. Physically, he’s the most gifted other than Gardner.” Finished with 73 tackles, six picks (all in ’19) and 26 PBUs. Wonderlic of 22. “Those that saw him in 2019 saw him as a top-5 pick,” a fourth scout said. “Those that only watched him sort of flounder around in certain games and coming off a Lisfranc had severe reservations. He missed tackles. He was a little bit nonchalant. If you hit on him you’ve got a long-term answer at the position, and it’s hard to find those guys.”
3. TRENT McDUFFIE, Washington (5-10 ½, 193, 4.48, 1): Third-year junior. “He’s late one, early two,” one scout said. “I think he can play outside. Solid player. To say he’ll be a starter depends where he goes. Has good balance; you don’t see him on the ground. He has a knack for understanding routes.” Short arms (29 3/4), small hands (8 ¾). “He was clearly the more instinctive player, the better player, the more polished corner outside (than teammate Kyler Gordon),” a second scout said. “He’s a solid No. 2 corner. He’s going to be overdrafted just because people have to reach on corners. He’s a steady eddie. Very polished. A-plus young man. He’s got a good feel in zone and can do some press work. He’s going to come up a little short against those NBA power forwards outside. Desmond Trufant came out of there (in 2013). This guy wasn’t maybe quite as fast or as explosive but maybe a little better player. He’d be a good fall-back option between 20 and 30 if you didn’t get one of the top guys. You know what you’re getting, but is he a shut-down island corner? Maybe not.” Finished with 94 tackles, two picks and 10 PBUs as a three-year starter. Wonderlic of 19. From Westminster, Calif.
4. KAIIR ELAM, Florida (6-1 ½, 192, 4.42, 1-2): His father, Abram, started 71 games at safety and corner for four NFL teams from 2006-’12. His uncle, Matt, was the Ravens’ pick at No. 32 in 2013 as a safety before injuries shortened his career. “Not in the first round,” one scout said. “I just don’t think he’s a playmaker. I did his damn dad and he wasn’t worth a shit.” Third-year junior started 27 of 35 games. “Real good to exceptional athlete,” said a second scout. “I think he’s more talented than Gardner. He’s got all the skills. But very, very marginal against the run. Nonexistent.” Finished with 79 tackles, six picks and 26 PBUs. “He can run support but he’s less to be desired in the run game,” said a second scout. “He don’t want nothing to do with it. He’s one of those guys that says. ‘Y’all go do that. I’ve gotta tackle? All right, let me jump on the ground.’” Plays with a lot of damn confidence and swag. Excellent feel, jumps routes, bump skills are good. He’s got all the talent. It’s where his mind is.” Wonderlic of 17. “The thing with him is technique,” said a third scout. “He can get grabby at the top of routes. There’s some penalty stuff. I didn’t get him as a soft run defender. It was nothing more or less than any other corner.” From Riviera Beach, Fla.
5. ANDREW BOOTH, Clemson (6-0, 196, no 40, 1-2): Third-year junior, 1 1/2-year starter. “He is like a Washington, Buffalo Bills type of guy, in that defense,” said one scout. “Off zone corner. Just enough man (cover). Not great. Better off in zone. Second round.” Unable to work out after undergoing double hernia surgery in April. Has had a host of injuries, including surgery to repair a patellar tendon tear in 2020. “I can’t get a feel on the guy,” said a second scout. “Looks like he has speed and movement but I never saw the guy make plays. I certainly would not draft that position without a (40) time. I don’t know what the guy is.” Finished with 70 tackles, five picks and 14 PBUs. “He’s a really good Cover 2 corner,” said a third scout. “It wouldn’t shock me if a zone-heavy team had him high on their board.” Wonderlic of 14. “Medically, you just have to be comfortable that he’s going to hold up for you,” a fourth scout said. “He’s got size and speed and character and all that.” From Dacula, Ga. “Tough in run support,” a fifth scout said. “Has instincts, sudden movement, flexible movement, can mirror guys. Plays press jam easy. He’s good.”
6. KYLER GORDON, Washington (5-11 ½, 198, 4.58, 2): Redshirted in 2018 and was beaten out by McDuffie in early ’19. Played off the bench in ’20 before starting in ’21. “Played a good amount inside,” one scout said. “People probably see him as a No. 3 safety-No. 3 corner combo. There were times he flashed burst. People were saying he was going to do all these freaky things at the combine and then he ran 4.58. I question his speed as an outside corner, not necessarily the slot. He needs refinement, especially outside.” He did excel in the agility runs at the combine with a 3.98 short shuttle and a position-leading 6.67 3-cone. Also led all corners in the bench press with 20 reps. “Played the slot and I never saw the guy do much,” said a second scout. “He didn’t run well and I don’t think he’s that physical (to be a safety). I don’t understand why the guy came out.” Finished with 98 tackles, two picks and 14 PBUs. “He’s just a good, solid, all-around player,” a third scout said. “Those Washington guys, other than Budda Baker, they have not knocked it out of the park. Sidney Jones really was a bust.” Wonderlic of 24 was the best among the top nine corners. “He’s a really good player but I just don’t think he can run,” a fourth scout said. “It’s kind of a contradiction at that position. He’s got enough toughness, ball skills and versatility to overcome some of that.” From Mukilteo, Wash. “Doesn’t look like a natural athlete,” a fifth scout said. “Gets beat all the time. Can’t run. They kind of moved him around but he’s just not a very good player.”
7. ROGER McCREARY, Auburn (5-11 ½, 191, 4.52, 2): Here was a typical scout comment: “He’s a good football player but he’s got really short arms (28 7/8, tying Houston’s Marcus Jones for the shortest among the corners).” Played four years, starting the final two. “He can play,” said a second scout. “He just has very, very short arms. But he’s sticky, twitchy and tough. He’s fast enough. He reminds me a lot of the kid at Buffalo, Tre White. Doesn’t have that length (32 1/8) but he’s that type of player.” His vertical jump (31 ½) and broad jump (9-8) were both the worst among the top 20 corners. “I know he didn’t (run well) but that guy can run,” a third scout said. “You see him running with the kid from Alabama (Jameson Williams), and that guy can fly. He can play inside and outside. Had a good Senior Bowl. Maybe he gets in the first.” Finished with 135 tackles, six picks and 38 PBUs. “They played mostly press with him and he’s really good at that,” a fourth scout said. “Knows how to play the game. Off stuff is a little bit of a struggle for him. He’s not that kind of athlete with the off twitch. He has some ball arrival issues and finishing on the ball. He’s an ideal slot guy.” Wonderlic of 16. From Mobile, Ala.
8. TARIQ WOOLEN, Texas-San Antonio (6-4, 210, 4.26, 2-3): Led corners in the 40, vertical jump (42) and arm length (33 5/8). “Such an intriguing guy,” one scout said. “He’s a rare, unique height-weight-speed guy. Maybe back when Seattle was playing Cover 3 in the Legion of Boom he would have fit into that defense. Brandon Browner had size but this guy is so much faster than Brandon Browner was.” Played just two years of CB after always having been a WR. “He’s stiff but he is big, long, fast, willing,” a second scout said. “If you make him play off he’s going to look really bad. If you get him up there to press and use his length and speed, he has a chance to be a good player.” Wonderlic of 10. “We talked to him a couple different times,” a third scout said. “I didn’t have real concerns with him. I don’t know that he’ll be the sharpest football mind that you come across. Is he too tall? I don’t know. He’s got really incredible measurables. He did OK at the Senior Bowl. Whether he’s quick enough to mirror the receivers in the NFL or not would be the question.” A two-year starter outside, he finished with 62 tackles, two picks and 11 PBUs. “They termed him as a sweet kid, which is not great for defense,” said a fourth scout. “He just is very naïve. He doesn’t realize what really could be in front of him … Now he’s a guy that has to gather at the top, but it’s one step. He could be 90% wrong on a route and make up for it in the last 10%. Most of the tall corners, if you can clear them, they can’t catch up so it’s imperative they get their hands on you. If this guy misses with his hands he literally can catch up with any receiver in the league with that kind of speed … He really doesn’t know how to tackle but he will throw himself in there to an extent.” From Fort Worth. “He’s a straight-up workout warrior,” a fifth scout said. “He’s a show pony. He can run fast but he can’t play football very well.”
9. MARTIN EMERSON, Mississippi State (6-1 ½, 203, 4.53, 2-3): Third-year junior. “He’s a starter,” one scout said. “Like his physicality, athleticism, awareness.” Three-year starter with minimal ball production, finishing with 154 tackles, one pick and 16 PBUs. “I’ve seen guys with his skill set go late one,” said a second scout. “I hope he’s there in the third (but) good corners all go in the second. He has enough size and ball skills to compensate for that (the 40). He’s more ready to play Day 1 than Woolen.” Largest hands at the position (10 1/8). “I was really impressed with him,” a third scout said. “He didn’t make big plays but was good against the run. When a guy makes a cut against him there is no wasted motion. He just plants and closes.” From Pensacola, Fla. “People love these tall corners,” a fourth scout said. “He fits the profile with his height and arm length (33 ½). He’s right on the edge of it (passable speed). He’s more polished than Woolen.”
10. CORDALE FLOTT, Louisiana State (6-0 ½, 178, 4.52, 3): Third-year junior, two-year starter. “DB ‘U’ and all that, I bet he goes third round,” one scout said. “He can play nickel and he can run. He’s coming out as an underdeveloped junior. One of the drawbacks is he’s got 7 5/8-inch hands (actually, 8). He was 178 at the workout, which is heavy for him.” Scored 38 on the Wonderlic, tying Louisiana S Percy Butler for the highest score among cornerbacks and safeties. “He’s skinny as a rail but the guy has talent,” a second scout said. “He can run. He’s tough. He’s got some swagger. We’d like to see if we can get this guy bigger. Supposedly that’s a thing at LSU; all their corners are light. Is he a starter right now? No, but he has the traits.” Finished with 99 tackles, one pick and 12 PBUs. “I love him but he’s only 170,” said a third scout. “He’s gonna get broke up. Just a good football player. Instinctive, aggressive, tough.” From Saraland, Ala.
OTHERS: Marcus Jones, Houston; Coby Bryant, Cincinnati; Tariq Castro-Fields, Penn State; Cam Taylor-Britt, Nebraska; Zyon McCollum, Sam Houston State; Damarri Mathis, Pittsburgh; Alontae Taylor, Tennessee; Jalyn Armour-Davis, Alabama; Akayleb Evans, Missouri; Kalon Barnes, Baylor; Joshua Williams, Fayetteville State; Darion Kendrick, Georgia; Damarion Williams, Houston; Isaac Taylor-Stuart, Southern California; Cobie Durant, South Carolina State; Josh Jobe, Alabama; Vincent Gray, Michigan; Jaylen Watson, Washington State; Chase Lucas, Arizona State; Jack Jones, Arizona State.
1. KYLE HAMILTON, Notre Dame (6-4, 217, 4.67, 1): Jumbo-sized safety, easily the biggest in the draft. “I probably would have said he was the No. 1 player in the draft before he ran,” said one scout. “I still think he’s a unique player. He doesn’t play that (slow 40 time) on film. You (could) argue he plays like a 4.5. Part of it is he’s always a step ahead.” Ran slow at the combine and even slower in South Bend. “That guy played a lot faster than that,” said a second scout. “The two interceptions I saw in the Florida State game were incredible. The range he had on the back end. He’s physical.” Third-year junior, two-year starter. “He runs 4.7,” said another scout. “What do you do? He’s 4.7. He’s a good ballhawk. Good tough kid. But he’s no linebacker. If there’s a bust it might be him.” Finished with 139 tackles (7 1/2 for loss), eight picks, no sacks and no forced fumbles. “It doesn’t matter what he runs — he’s got game speed,” a third scout said. “He made an interception against Florida State that three people in America can make. The ability to swoop down and cover somebody or run down the seam or range to the middle of the field, he’s got all that. People said Sean Taylor. He’s not as physically explosive as Sean Taylor but I thought he was a better tackler. He’s not as physical as Kam Chancellor but he’s a better athlete. This guy’s a better athlete than Steve Atwater. Those were all intimidating forces. He’s not that.” Wonderlic of 28. His arm length (33) tied for the best at the position. “I don’t think he can play in the middle of the field,” a fourth scout said. “I question his ability to tackle from there. He’s more of that Buffalo nickel-dime linebacker in the box … When you talk to this kid you love him. He has what you want from a mental standpoint. He’s the type of kid you would want to build a defense around because he’s got great character. There’s not much bust in him. His floor is very high but I don’t know how high his ceiling’s going to be.” From Atlanta.
2. LEWIS CINE, Georgia (6-2, 202, 4.36, 1-2): Third-year junior, two-year starter. “Love him,” one scout said. “He’s a run-and-hit, mean kid. He will try to get into your soul. Plays with such great effort. He’s a ball-playing Jesse … He’s a different kid. I don’t know how well he’s going to fit in every locker room. He’s very high on himself. I think the kid’s smart enough to (accept coaching).” One of the hardest hitters in the draft. “He knocked out (Kyle) Pitts at Florida in 2020,” another scout said. “It was like a post (route). Pitts missed a game with a concussion (and nasal surgery). Not a real big kid but he’s wiry and can run.” Born in Haiti. Moved to Florida at age 4. Played three years in high school at Everett, Mass., and another in Cedar Hill, Texas, where an assistant coach at the school was Deion Sanders. “Was discovered by Deion,” said a third scout. “They say he’s kind of quirky, and he is. In his interview, he’s a little bit of an odd personality. I wouldn’t necessarily be scared of that. His straight-line speed showed up in coverage. I thought he could play down. He doesn’t have a ton of experience in the middle of the field but he can do it.” Played free safety, finished with 145 tackles (3 ½ for loss), two picks, 16 PBUs and no forced fumbles. Wonderlic of 16. Was suspended twice for fighting. “He’s not a first,” said a fourth scout. “Not a great man cover guy. But he will knock the living shit out of you.”
3. DAXTON HILL, Michigan (6-0, 191, 4.40, 1-2): Played 71.9% of his snaps in the slot as the nickel in 2021 after lining up more as a safety in 2020. “My favorite player, collectively through the whole process, was Daxton Hill,” said one scout. “It’s more from a competitive football standpoint, what he’s all about. The toughness. He has such versatility, and the right mindset to go with it.” Blazed a fast 40; led the position in the short shuttle (4.06) and the 3-cone (6.57). “Very, very talented,” another scout said. “He can easily go out there and play corner. Doesn’t have really good ball skills. Can’t find the ball. I don’t think he’ll be a real intercept guy. He is a willing tackler and he can really run. He can play nickel or either safety. He doesn’t play particularly hard all the time. There’s something about the kid that’s a little bit off. He’s a really nice kid. Just something about him that scares me.” An extreme introvert with a Wonderlic of 11. “He’s really not a safety because he’s not smart enough to play safety,” said a third scout. “He’s only going to be a nickel slot defender.” Finished with 151 tackles (7 ½ for loss), one-half sack, four picks, no forced fumbles and 20 PBUs. “He loses a step when he has to turn and run (in coverage),” a fourth scout said. “He will get his hands on the wide receivers. He’s got adequate foot quickness but poor footwork on plant and drive with marginal burst to close on wide receivers.” From Tulsa, Okla.
4. JAQUAN BRISKER, Penn State (6-2, 209, 4.48, 2): Played two seasons at a junior college before starting two of three seasons in Happy Valley. “Second-round range,” one scout said. “Battled through injuries throughout the season. He’d get dinged up, sit out for a couple series and then come back. Athletic, good speed and instincts. Played hard and pretty physical. Made two key plays late in the Wisconsin game. He’ll start. Only concern is, is he injury-prone?” Compared by two personnel people to Adrian Amos, another ex-Penn State strong safety. “Very similar,” one scout said. “Brisker probably has more knockback than Amos … Tough, can run, can bend. He has everything. He fits in many schemes. He can blitz, set edges. He’s a wanting tackler.” Finished with 153 tackles (10 for loss), five picks, no forced fumbles and 19 PBUs. Wonderlic of 14. “I see absolutely nothing in this guy,” a third scout said. “Average size, no desire, not productive, not aggressive.” From Pittsburgh.
5. JALEN PITRE, Baylor (5-11, 195, 4.46, 2): Played LB for three years under coach Matt Rhule before moving to a hybrid nickel-safety-LB role for two years under coach Dave Aranda. “Just a smart, tough, do-everything-pretty-good guy,” one scout said. “Nothing great. He can’t play corner. Great kid.” Started 32 of 52 games. “Started as a freshman,” a second scout said. “Plays a lot of linebacker but has good pedal and runs with backs and tight ends. Very athletic in his hip turn in coverage. A lot of people are going to taller slots that can run the seam and try to get matchups. He could (handle) that. I can’t say he’s going to be great against Cole Beasley … He will knock your socks off. Always around the ball. Captain and great leader.” Finished with 196 tackles (37 ½ for loss), 7 ½ sacks, five picks, four forced fumbles and 15 PBUs. “I thought of the Buffalo guys, (Jordan) Poyer and Micah Hyde,” a third scout said. “Quandre Diggs is another one. He’s kind of built the same way and plays the same kind of position.” Wonderlic of 29. “He’s an anomaly for me,” said a fourth scout. “He is a really good forward-moving player but I don’t think he has the skill set to play safety or the athleticism to play corner. He can’t play in the back end like Micah Hyde. Nope, that ain’t happening.” Compared by another scout to Tyrann Mathieu. “When you talk to him it’s like a coach on the field,” said a fifth scout. “He’s going to be the quarterback of the defense.” From Stafford, Texas.
6. NICK CROSS, Maryland (6-0, 215, 4.39, 2-3): Moved into the lineup as a freshman in 2019 after Darnell Savage went No. 21 in the draft. “He’s a better version of the guy (Savage) the Packers drafted,” said one scout. “He’s raw. He hasn’t played that long. He’s an exceptional kid and an amazing athlete. This guy’s going to keep getting better and better.” Third-year junior with 21 starts in 29 games. “Instincts are off,” said a second scout. “He keeps his eyes on the quarterback sometimes and loses the receiver. He’s not a box-type safety because he’s not overly physical. He might be a press corner. Marginal against the run. Marginal in just about everything. He has to stress in his backpedal. He may be just a straight-line speed guy.” Finished with 134 tackles (5 ½ for loss), four sacks, six picks, three forced fumbles and 18 PBUs. “He is a smooth, easy, beautiful athlete but he doesn’t have explosive twitch,” said a third scout. “He may be able to play nickel corner, too; then you have a guy like C.J. Henderson.” Wonderlic of 33. “Doesn’t trigger fast, doesn’t play with much energy,” a fourth scout said. “In coverage, he’s a liability. Just a slow-moving guy. He blew out the combine but this guy’s not a good player. They played Cross deep, kind of kept him out of the way. He doesn’t come downhill and hit. You don’t see speed on tape. At all.” From Bowie, Md.
7. JT WOODS, Baylor (6-2, 194, 4.38, 2-3): Played alongside Pitre from 2018-’21. “You’re talking about a guy that’s a modern safety that covers a lot of ground and has ball skills,” said one scout. “I’d take him over Hamilton. I got him as my No. 2 safety. He’s tall and long, and he can run. He’s also got a ton of range covering and filling the alleys. Excellent ball skills. His tackling is a little off. Kind of a high tackler, will bounce off stuff, doesn’t break down well.” Led the safeties in the vertical jump (39 ½). Nicknamed “The Heartbreak Kid” because of all the big plays he pulled off against opposing quarterbacks. Finished with 157 tackles (seven for loss), nine picks, no forced fumbles and 14 PBUs. “He’s fast — straight line,” a second scout said. “Got some ball skills, but you wouldn’t know it looking at how he caught the ball at the combine. You don’t love him as a tackler. Not a violent dude. You don’t like the body type. You don’t want those 190-pound safeties. You want those guys to be built because they’ve got to hit tight ends and running backs, and take on linemen sometimes downfield. I think he’s a pure free safety. Can’t play in the box.” Wonderlic of 28. From San Antonio.
8. KERBY JOSEPH, Illinois (6-1, 203, no 40, 3): Hardly played at all in 2018, started two of 12 games in ’19 and spent the first half of ’20 playing WR. Started as a senior and had a takeaway in seven of 12 games. “He’s a late riser and will shock everybody,” one scout said. “He is so explosive. The defense at Illinois was terrible. They didn’t use him correctly. He can get off the spot. He is a tough f-----. He may sneak his way into late two.” Long arms (33), a 38 ½-inch vertical jump and 16 on the Wonderlic. Never ran the 40. “Maybe that means something, maybe not,” said a second scout. “But most likely it does. If he runs slow that will drop him, and if he doesn’t run that will drop him. I’d estimate 4.6 flat. He’s shown some really good ability to track the ball.” Finished with 115 tackles (two for loss), five picks, no forced fumbles and 11 PBUs. “He was one of my favorite guys to watch all fall,” said a third scout. “He’s smooth. Long, athletic, good size. Starter. At worst, you’re getting a real solid No. 3 and special-teams type. It’s a concern that he didn’t run.” From Orlando.
9. BRYAN COOK, Cincinnati (6-0 ½, 208, no 40, 3-4): Left high school weighing 165 pounds before he started at CB for FCS Howard in 2017-’18. Sat out all but the bowl game for the Bearcats in ’19 because of transfer rules. Backed up in ’20 and started 14 games at strong safety in ’21. “If you ask him not to cover but to hit people and set edges, he can do that at a very high level,” one scout said. “The kid plays hard. He has some stiffness so I don’t know if you want him in the middle of the field. More of a box safety. Really tough. Gets after it. Limited, can’t cover.” Unable to work out since undergoing shoulder surgery in January. “Top character guy,” said a second scout. “He’s a little better in zone than man. Really smart and instinctive. I believe he will make it based solely on who he is. He’s like low 4.4 speed.” Finished with 216 tackles (11 for loss), seven picks (five at Howard), two forced fumbles and 30 PBUs. From Cincinnati.
10. TYCEN ANDERSON, Toledo (6-2, 207, 4.37, 3-4): Toledo is his hometown. A CB in high school, he started 27 of 55 games over five years generally at safety but also with some reps at nickel. “He’s going higher than (JT) Woods,” said one scout. “But I don’t see it. He doesn’t have enough explosive quickness.” Fabulous 40, long arms (33) and Wonderlic of 18. “He moves very, very well but I don’t think he can play corner,” a second scout said. “He is 4.3 but he doesn’t hunt. Doesn’t play hard.” Finished with 237 tackles (nine for loss), two picks (none since September 2018), one forced fumble and 21 PBUs. “He does have some cover skills,” said a third scout. “He doesn’t take the ball away. He really looks the part. But I think he’s soft. The lack of physicality really bothered me. If he went in the third it wouldn’t surprise me based on what he ran.”
OTHERS: Percy Butler, Louisiana; Tariq Carpenter, Georgia Tech; Delarrin Turner-Yell, Oklahoma; Quentin Lake, UCLA; Dane Belton, Iowa; Yusuf Corker, Kentucky; Markquese Bell, Florida A&M; Verone McKinley, Oregon; Yeh Thomas, Georgia Tech; Smoke Monday, Auburn; Qwynnterrio Cole, Louisville; Bubba Bolden, Miami; Brad Hawkins, Michigan; Leon O’Neal, Texas A&M.
Coby Bryant, CB, Cincinnati: Returned for a fifth (pandemic) season in 2021 and helped lead the Bearcats to the CFP semifinals. Bryant (6-1 1/2, 193, 4.51) was a four-year starter finishing with 10 picks and 45 passes broken up. Coach Luke Fickell said this was his all-time favorite player. If he can’t start at CB, he would have a shot at safety.
Derion Kendrick, CB, Georgia: Two-year starter at Clemson before being kicked off the team after the 2020 season for accountability issues. Was arrested last spring on gun and marijuana charges but the case was dropped after his participation in a pre-trial intervention program. At Georgia in 2021, Kendrick (6-0, 205) started 15 games for the national champs and intercepted four passes. Ran an awful 4.78 at pro day and didn’t look fluid in drills. A year ago, one scout gave him a second-round grade. He might not get drafted now.
SCOUT TO REMEMBER
Jess Thompson: As a scout for the BLESTO combine, the Oilers and the Jets, Thompson wrote reports on thousands of players that often included the adjectives “hostile, mobile and agile.” After a long career as a football and boxing coach in high school and college, he served a four-year stint with the CFL Calgary Stampeders. There, he was known as “the assistant coach in charge of brutality.” A heart attack forced him to give up coaching so he turned to scouting. In January 1975, two days before the draft was held in New York City, Thompson suffered a fatal heart attack during the Jets’ predraft meetings. He was 67.
QUOTE TO NOTE
NFL personnel man: “It’s always been said to me that you can sign off on a guy with a lack of intelligence more with a corner than with a safety. Safety is one of the main positions where you’ve got to get with a guy on the (grease) board.”