Photo: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports
We’re quickly approaching Valentine’s Day and I’m sure many of you out there will be looking for a special someone to spend the day with. We have a type in mind, the perfect girl or boy. It’s natural… we all have our preferences, it could be a particular body type, personality or style that we find attractive.In the world of player evaluation, there’s no difference, we each have a subconscious inclination towards certain types of players we like, whether there is a particular trait that we become enamoured with or a style of play that encapsulates our imagination.
However, in football as in life, sometimes someone comes along who catches your eye. Someone who you wouldn’t usually go for… not your usual type… but for some reason, you just can’t get them off your mind.
In this article, I want to compare a couple of players who I have a “crush” on for the NFL Draft. One of which will be “my type” of player, the kind of player that I may have an inherit bias towards. The other, someone who doesn’t fit the mould of my archetypal player for the position, for whatever reason, but someone who I’ve grown to love their game.
The two players I’ll be looking at today are a pair of cornerbacks.
To start, Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler, a player who fits the mould of what I’m looking for in a cornerback. He’s my type of player. A long, lean boundary corner who has faced off against the best of the best in the SEC. Then a player who wouldn’t be necessarily catch my eye off the hoof, but once he’s on the field… oh boy, I can’t take my eyes off him. Amik Robertson, a 5ft 9” slot corner out of Louisiana Tech, physical, intelligent and a straight playmaker. Two very different players but two players I’m extremely high on at this point in the 2020 draft cycle.
So… Cameron Dantzler is “my type” of cornerback. What is it exactly that attracts me to his game? First and foremost, it’s his length, not be confused with height or size but his arm length, and more importantly exactly how he makes the most of length.
When I first started taking a more serious interest in the NFL, Seattle’s Legion of Boom was at the height of its powers which probably explains why I have an inclination towards longer cornerbacks. For me, length gives cornerbacks a real advantage in a number of key areas. From the added ability to break up passes and shut off passing lanes to the easier transition to a press-man coverage scheme, length just gives cornerbacks that initial leg up on the receiver they’re going up against.
This pass breakup against Kentucky, highlights why length is such a big part of Dantzler’s game. He makes early contact with the receiver and gets good jam, keeping the receiver on the outside. He’s then able to get a big left arm up into the passing window to knock the ball out of the receiver’s hands. The ball is thrown to the receiver’s outside shoulder, but Dantzler is still able to reach across his body to make the play.
Secondly, he’s an all-around athlete. I’m a huge proponent of multi-sport athletes and players who’ve had experience playing two ways earlier in their career. I think it gives players a more rounded understanding of the game as well as helping to develop transferable skill sets that will ultimately be useful in their specified position. Not only was Dantzler a High School quarterback, he was also a State Champion long jumper. The athleticism is immediately evident, he has great speed, being able to run stride for stride with receivers and he can jump out the gym. Additionally, his ball skills and the way he handles the ball so comfortably, is testament to his time spent on offense.
This interception against Tennessee is fantastic. He shows intelligence to read the quarterback’s intentions and leave his man coverage. He shows great transitional speed, then explosiveness to leap over the top of Juwan Jennings (who’s 6ft 3” by the way) and great ball skills to snag the interception.
Dantzler is scheme versatile, he’s had experience playing in both man and zone coverage as well as possessing the requisite skill sets to play both positions. In recent years, I’ve seen athletic cornerbacks with incredible physical tools often labelled as developmental prospects, I don’t doubt that Dantzler is going to be tagged with the same label, but for me he is actually more technically sound and nuanced.
Having played in different coverages, he has developed a more rounded understanding of playing the position. He’s even been used on corner blitzes. Playing in the SEC, Dantzler is facing the toughest competition possible week in week out. Take the LSU game for example, he did a better job covering Biletnikoff award winner, Jamarr Chase than any other player this season. Not only does his play on the field stand out, but he has a resume to match.
After declaring my desire for length in cornerbacks and the importance of performing against top competition on a weekly basis, you may be wondering why I’m so high on a 5ft 9” cornerback with shorter arms, not the greatest athlete and who plays in the C-USA. Well, after 30 seconds of watching Robertson you’ll know why. I stress the desire for length, not height, so the fact he’s not very tall isn’t a huge issue. And as the saying goes “It’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, it’s about the size of the fight in the dog”. Let me tell you this… Robertson is a DAWG and he’ll fight with the biggest and best of them.
Every time LA Tech played supposed “Bigger” teams, Robertson raised his game and still looked like one of the best players on the field. His confidence and self-assuredness in his own ability is exactly the mentality that I love to see from Defensive Backs. When coming up against Texas, Robertson was tasked with playing man coverage against Longhorn’s wide receivers Malcolm Epps and Collin Johnson. Both players are listed at 6ft 6” meaning Robertson is conceding 9” to both players, whilst conceding 40lbs in weight to Johnson and incredibly, 65lbs to Epps. Yet, Robertson isn’t afraid to get physical with either Receiver in fact he shuts them down for the majority of the game playing press-man coverage.
Watch here as Robertson engages early with Epps at the line of scrimmage, jamming him up and keeping outside against the side-line. He hand-fights with the large-bodied receiver, keeping himself inside Epps’ body, closing the passing lane. Robertson gets his head around quickly to the ball and the pass falls incomplete. No matter the size of the receiver, Robertson will fight them until the end, shutting down guys that logic says he shouldn’t be able to.
Robertson might be one of the best ball-hawking defensive backs in the draft class. His ball skills and instincts are so impressive. He makes plays on the ball like a receiver, he’s so comfortable at catching the ball. Throwing the ball anywhere in his vicinity is not a smart idea, his anticipation and instinctual feel of when to attack the ball and when to leave his coverage is truly elite.
In this play he leaves his coverage and goes to attack the ball in the air and makes the play like a receiver. For context it’s the 4th quarter in a one score game and Robertson comes up with the red zone interception. Big players come up with the big plays.
This final play epitomizes Robertson as a prospect for me. This time he is playing off coverage, again though we see the recognition and instincts to leave his coverage when the ball is thrown to his side of the field. The transitional quickness from cover corner to receiver if you will, is fantastic. From backpedal to half turn to change of direction and attack the ball. His football intelligence combined with his fluid movement skills is impressive.
Once again, we see his ball skills, he goes over the top of the receiver and his fellow defensive back to make the interception in traffic. Then his run after the interception, encapsulates his toughness, competitiveness and never say die attitude on the field.
Whilst Dantzler and Robertson may be very different players from a physical and stylistic point of view, they are both players I’m very excited about at this point in the draft cycle. Dantzler, a long, explosive boundary corner and Robertson, a short, physical slot corner are players that have caught my eye and should be catching the eyes of NFL teams this April.
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