Analyzing Defensive Backs--An Extension of MHR University

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Welcome to another installment of Analyzing Prospects--An Extension of MHR University.  Today we are looking at Defensive Backs--safeties and cornerbacks--the last line of defense and critical foil to the NFL's increasingly pass-happy offenses.

Denver has been blessed with one of the best ever in Champ, and as you scan the list of  assets and qualities DBs are expected to have, you can't help but notice how highly Champ would grade out in every single area.  He is definitely one of a kind, a once-in-a-generation player at his position.  The beauty of his skills is that outside of straight-line speed, they never wane, unless ignored, and Champ has never been one to rely on his "makeup speed", or to skate by on past accomplishments.  His quickness, intelligence, feel for the position and superb physical gifts guarantee that he will always be at a high level of play, even when those around him aren't.

This should serve to remind that corners tend to be one of the hardest positions  to find.  Press DBs have to have a rare combination of strength and speed.  Zone backs, believed to be the easiest to find and utilize, need to have terrific instincts and above-average intelligence, which hardly makes them standard issue.  Man-coverage backs are the rarest of all, needing to grade highly in nearly every physical category, as well as having great instincts.  For these reasons, teams often feel compelled to take quality defensive backs when they fall to them in the draft. Coupled with the ability to provide run support, DB can be one of the most versatile positions on the field. Despite fans' lack of familiarity with them, it is always a joy to analyze good talent at the position.

 

 

Instincts

Does the player have a feel for his opponents?  Look for a player who seems to anticipate the type of route being run, or who anticipates the timing of the receiver's break.  In zone, an instinctual player protects the first-down marker, flexing his zone to force routes to break off early, or limiting the angle receivers can use to press the sideline.

Read Ability

How often is the player in the right spot to make a play?  Does he watch the QB?  A player making good reads will make presnap adjustments that allow him to be in the right spot, while allowing him to simultaneously monitor the backfield.  Watch for players who don't need to stay focused on the receiver to stay in good position. Also includes the anticipation of players in zone, when they choose to break on the ball or the route.

Feet 

This is a measure of the quickness of the feet.  Vital characteristic for man coverage corners.  Look for the feet to be mirroring what the receiver's feet do.  If the receiver plants, the DB should plant.  If the receiver speeds up, the DB should speed up.  Focusing on the feet will show how quickly the player is responding.

Hands

This measurement refers to the ability to make the catch, like a receiver.

Turn

This is a measurement of the player's hips, his ability to "flip" his hips around and change directions quickly.  This should be a fluid and smooth motion, with no loss of balance or speed.  This is a trait that can separate the best potential DBs from the merely adequate, and is essential to man-coverage corners.

Backpedal

Watch the player's balance, speed and quickness of feet when going in reverse with hips squared.  Player's arms should be in close, and not flailing around (if they are, the issue is likely one of balance).  Good feet usually lead to good backpedals, but body control is essential.  DBs who are not in total control during a backpedal cannot recover when a receiver makes a move they don't anticipate.

Leaving Backpedal

The transition from the backpedal to forward.  The player must transition forward with burst and power.  This means that to go sideways effectively, the player must square his hips quickly to the new direction, so that they are forward.  A player transitioning from a backpedal into a "side-walking" gait loses speed and the ability to change direction, so it is important that on breaking out of the backpedal, the players hips are square to the direction of pursuit. Next, look for the quickness and power with which the  player transitions.  It should be a short, explosive movement with body control.

Range

This oft-used concept describes how much ground a player covers once the ball is released.  While straight-line speed can translate to good range, quickness is more important, as it allows the player to transition in the direction of the ball.  For deep DBs, this ability will determine how well they can get in position to break up long passes to either or both sides of the field.  Sideline-to-sideline range is a rare combination of speed and quickness.

Burst

This is the player's short-area quickness. Look for it when they come out of their backpedal and when mirroring routes.  The shuttle drills at the combine are generally a good measure of this.

Closing Burst

When the ball is released, this measures the player's ability to drive towards the ball.  Another essential characteristic for a man-coverage corner.  They should have a strong plant foot that allows them to take full advantage of their quickness when closing on a cutting receiver.

Bump Ability

How physical is the player at the line of scrimmage?  He should be able to prevent the WR from getting a release without losing his balance.

Press-Coverage Ability

A combination of a player's bump skill and ability to transition into and out of the backpedal in coverage.

Zone-Coverage Ability

A combination of the player's range and instincts.  They should be able to anticipate pressure within their zone responsibilities, and have the range to cover their zone front-to-back and side-to-side.

Man-Coverage Ability

A combination of a player's instincts, burst,  catch-up speed, feet, and hips.  This difficult combination of assets should allow a player to mirror a receiver and have the anticipation and control to jump the ball or route.  A very hard combination to find in one player.

Catch-up Speed

A measure of a player's acceleration.  This is usually best quantified by straight-line speed, but exceptional quickness (feet and hips) can make the transition to acceleration much easier.

Tackling

Standard ability to wrap up and bring down a target.

Run Contain/Support

Primarily this is a measure of DESIRE to help in the run game, but the best run-support DBs have great lateral movement and can keep their legs and feet clean around the trash at the line.

Defeat Blocks

DBs primarily avoid blocks, which is a measure of their use of speed to go around blocks. But some positions like strong safety benefit from greater hand use.  Look for mini-rips, -swims, and -clubs, as well as a good hand punch to maintain separation from the blocker.

Blitzing Ability

Doe the player have much experience blitzing?  If they have, look at their production and pressure.  Do they stay on balance throughout the blitz?  Do they get their hands up in passing lanes?  Are they able to finish off the blitz, with clean hits or secure tackles?

Ball Tracking and Reaction

How well does the player keep track of the ball when it is in the air?  Can he anticipate and time his defense to avoid penalties?  Does he play the ball or the man?  A "ball hawk" refers to DBs who lay claim to the ball when it is in the air.  They never play the man, and have excellent timing and usually good hands to go along with their tracking ability.

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