NFL Draft: How to grade the CB position

Click here to read my five keys for grading the safety position.

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…

Dre Kirkpatrick 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.

Follow me on Twitter: @MattBowen41

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