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What Rock Ya-Sin brings to the table

Breaking down the Raiders’ new corner

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NFL: SEP 19 Rams at Colts
Rock Ya-Sin
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Las Vegas Raiders have been a hot topic of discussion after making some big moves during free agency. Bringing in players like Chandler Jones and Davante Adams gets people talking as they are a couple of NFL superstars.

However, the Raiders made another transaction that’s hasn’t gotten ignored, but the trade with the Indianapolis Colts for cornerback Rock Ya-Sin has certainly taken a back seat to the two moves above. No offense to Ya-Sin, but that’s kind of what happens when your arrival on the team is sandwiched between four first-team All-Pro and nine Pro Bowl selections.

But the questions remain, who is Ya-Sin and what will he bring to the Silver and Black?

Background

For starters, his full name is Abdurrahman ibn Ramadan Ya-Sin. In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, he was asked about the origin of his nickname and simply said: “‘Rock’ was a nickname I got growing up. One day, people started calling me Rock. It just stuck.”

Rock grew up outside of Atlanta in Decatur, Georgia, and led Dekalb County in interceptions, was a state-champion wrestler and was an honor roll student in high school. Despite those accolades, he received zero stars and wasn’t ranked by 247 Sports as a senior, and received no FBS scholarship offers.

So, Ya-Sin made his way to Clinton, South Carolina, and played at Presbyterian College, an FCS school in the Southern Conference at the time.

In just three seasons as a Blue Hose, he tied the program’s career record during their Division I era with 24 pass breakups. However, the school began to transition to a new non-scholarship conference so he transferred and never got a chance to own sole possession of the record.

Ya-Sin wound up in Philadelphia, Pa., and played his final season of college football at Temple. That move paid off as he recorded 47 total tackles, two interceptions and 12 pass breakups, which was good enough to earn a first-team All American Athletic Conference selection.

The Georgia native would go on to earn a bid to play in the Senior Bowl and be the 34th overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. He made Pro Football Focus’ All-Rookie team that year but his best season was this past one.

Reese’s Senior Bowl
Rock Ya-Sin, Senior Bowl 2019
Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

2021 Stats

Due to hip and ankle injuries and some time on the COVID-19 list, Ya-Sin played in 13 games and started eight of them for the Colts last season. He racked up 32 total tackles and had two interceptions to go along with seven PBUs, a 56.5 completion percentage and 248 receiving yards allowed. His overall PFF grade of 69.9 ranked 31st out of 129 qualifying cornerbacks and a 72.4 coverage grade was good enough for 21st.

Diving even further into the new Raider’s coverage stats is even more encouraging.

General Coverage Stats

Ya-Sin’s completion percentage allowed and yards surrendered ranked 23rd and 16th, respectively, at the position. With just 8.2 coverage snaps per target, he was one of the least tested corners in the league, ranking tied for 15th in that metric. His snaps per reception figure is even more impressive, giving up one catch for every 14.5 opportunities which was the eighth-best rate at the position.

Part of the reason for that was the three-year veteran’s seven PBUs ranked tied for 29th. To add more context, he registered about a 15 percent forced incompletion rate — the number of FIs to targets — that was tied for the 12th highest among corners.

Even on the passes where he allowed a completion, he was at least able to keep those to a minimal gain, allowing 47 yards after the catch which was the sixth-fewest.

However, somewhat surprisingly given his low YAC total, tackling was his biggest flaw statistically in coverage. Ya-Sin missed a total of eight tackles and had a 20.5 missed tackle percentage last season — tied for the 24th-most and sixth-highest rate — and five whiffs came in coverage to just two coverage stops.

Zone vs. Man coverage

Presumptively, part of the reason why Indianapolis was comfortable getting rid of a young and promising corner is he wasn’t going to be a great scheme fit with Gus Bradley as the new defensive coordinator. As Raider Nation learned last year, Bradley is a cover three, zone-heavy play-caller, and Ya-Sin is much better man-to-man.

In 2021, he earned a 67.3 coverage grade in zone from PFF, which isn’t bad but did rank 65th among corners. He allowed 14 of 19 targets to be completed — 73.7 percent — for 152 yards and those figures were tied for 85th and 33rd, respectively, at the position. Granted, he did draw the eighth-fewest targets per coverage snap in zone (10.8), but he also gave a completion once 14.6 opportunities which was the 22nd-highest rate among cornerbacks.

Man coverage, though, is where Ya-Sin made his money.

His 79.4 coverage grade in man was fifth-best at his position, while he was the top dog in completion percentage surrendered — 4 for 15, 26.7 percent. As you can probably imagine, he allowed the seventh-fewest yards man-to-man, yielding just 37 all season while being the only corner in the top 10 to register more than 100 man coverage snaps.

Ya-Sin was tested in man coverage as his targets per snap dropped to 6.8, 19th-best, but he wasn’t budging with his 25.5 snaps per reception allowed. The latter figure ranked second behind Kevin King, who played in two fewer games and took half as many reps in man coverage.

Run Defense

Defending the run was another weakness for the former Colt last season. His sub-par 53.2 PFF run-defense grade was tied for 90th among cornerbacks, and he only registered six solo tackles — tied for 86th — and one assist — tied for 89th — against the run. Also, his three missed tackles and 30 percent missed tackle rate as a run defender were tied for the 29th-most and 14th-highest, respectively.

There is one silver lining though. Ya-Sin logged four defensive stops against the run, so while he didn't make a ton of tackles, the ones he did make were impactful.

Film Clips

Now that we know the new Raider’s background and have taken a look at his stats, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, the film!

When presented with a good news-bad news scenario, I’m someone who wants to get the tough part out of the way and end on a high note, so we’ll start with a few things that Ya-Sin has to clean up.

Areas for Improvement

Our first clip is an example of where Ya-Sin struggles against the run. The Jaguars are running power to the left and it’s his job to fit to the outside and tackle the running back unless someone else breaks free and makes play first.

However, the corner sucks in a little too far inside and when the ball carrier starts to bounce, he has to hop outside to fulfill his gap responsibility. The back does a good job of seeing this and cutting up the field, which puts Ya-Sin in an awkward position to make the tackle. With his momentum going to the outside, he has to lunge and dive back to the inside, forcing him to tackle without his feet underneath him and leading to a miss.

Getting to the correct spot or run fit quickly will help solve this problem.

Another example of bad tackling that leads to first down.

Indy is playing zone and Ya-Sin does a good job of keeping Zay Jones inside and in front of him to force Carr to check it down. He even closes on Josh Jacobs to be in a position to make the tackle, but he ducks his head, tries to go for Jacobs’ feet and doesn’t use the sideline as his friend to help make the tackle.

That makes it easy for Jacobs to cut it back for a first down and it’s a big missed tackle for the corner. Bad tackling technique shows up too much on Ya-Sin’s tape, both against the run and in coverage, but what’s most troubling to me here is the lack of awareness mentioned above.

With the route taking the receiver into the boundary like that, all the corner has to do is keep the ball carrier between him and the sideline and either, make the tackle or force the ball carrier out of bounds. Instead, Ya-Sin gets over aggressive and the chains move.

Being a little overzealous is one of Ya-Sin’s biggest flaws as a tackler, and here we see another example of that.

He does a good job of staying deep in his zone and converging on the ball after the throw, putting him in a position to potentially get a third-down stop or at least limit the gain. However, he makes two crucial mistakes when going for the tackle.

First, he tried to make the big play and punch the ball out of Jalen Richard’s arms. That’s fine if he’s the second tackler on a double team, but he’s got to make the sure tackle if he’s going solo.

Then, he lunges and doesn’t bring his feet with him which makes it easier for Richard to run through Ya-Sin’s tackle and leads to Ya-Sin falling on his face. One and two are somewhat related so this shouldn’t be a difficult issue to fix, but he does need to learn when to pick and choose his spots to go for the big play.

Our next clip puts Ya-Sin in zone coverage, which we know isn’t his strong suit and this serves as an example of why.

The Colts are playing cover three and he’s responsible for the deep third. The wide receiver attacks his leverage and instead of widening to maintain his spacing, the wideout can square him up and get a two-way go. That leads to Ya-Sin biting on the inside fake and forcing him to use a speed turn, which he doesn’t do tightly and gives the receiver plenty of space to make the catch.

Not using leverage steps wasn’t very frequent on his tape, but falling for head fakes and struggling to make tight speed turns were. Staying patient on fakes could be resolved by playing more man coverage because his eyes will be locked on a man instead of split between the quarterback and receiver. But the turns need to become tighter as that will impact him in man, too.

One area of improvement in man coverage for the new Raider is he tends to overplay the inside. Here, the wideout is going to stem to the inside to create space on the out route.

Instead of staying outside leveraged and forcing the receiver to the inside, where his help is, he gets a little over-aggressive and assists to create space for the wideout toward the sideline. He does a decent job of recovering but he can’t make a tight enough turn to prevent the completion. This has also shown up a bit on his film when going against double moves.

As a whole, if I had to pick two things about Ya-Sin’s game that I’d want to see him improve at next season, it would be toning down his aggressiveness and understanding situational awareness.

Strengths

Our first positive clip has Ya-Sin playing the slot in cover one, meaning it’s man coverage with safety help in the middle and deep. He plays with outside leverage so he can force the WR into his safety help.

Laviska Shenault — the slot receiver at the bottom — runs a hook route with an adjustment to work to the outside against man coverage. The route is angled like a slant but the receiver stops like a curl.

Ya-Sin gets to Shenault’s outside hip and uses his inside hand to feel the receiver and play from a trail technique. Watch how the cornerback drops his hips right after the receiver starts to break, and he uses that inside hand to help stay in phase as the receiver turns.

That’s excellent route recognition and change of direction to play suffocating coverage.

Another cover one look from the Colts but this time they bring pressure and leave Ya-Sin on an island out wide against speedster, Jamal Agnew.

Agnew does a good job attacking Ya-Sin’s leverage at the line of scrimmage and forces the corner to move, creating space for an outside release. But Ya-Sin has fluid hips to turn and run and stay in Agnew’s hip.

Once the ball is in the air, Ya-Sin does a great job of playing the hands and raking the ball out when Agnew tries to bring it into his chest, resulting in a pass breakup for the defensive back. It’s easy to see why he tied a school record for pass breakups in just three seasons at Presbyterian.

This next one doesn’t need much analysis since it’s pretty similar to the last clip. The biggest difference here is he gets a little more physical to help stay in the receiver’s hip pocket. Ya-Sin ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at the combine, which is a solid time for a corner, so the combination of speed and physicality will allow him to maintain tight coverage on deep routes.

This is just an unreal rep from Ya-Sin.

The Raiders bunch Hunter Renfrow and DeSean Jackson together to force the Colts to give them some room at the line of scrimmage. Jackson runs a 10-yard out and it looks like he gets away with a borderline push-off at the top of the route, but Ya-Sin has the balance to stay in Jackson’s hip man-to-man.

During the scramble drill, the corner gets caught with his eyes on the quarterback a little too much and loses his man. However, he’s able to break on the pass and accelerate to go get a pass breakup. Working on those hands to turn that into a pick will be the next step!

In case you haven’t noticed a theme by now, Ya-Sin is pretty sticky in man coverage and this clip is a great example of how he can take away short routes.

He lines up in press coverage across from Bryan Edwards and tries to force Edwards wide by opening his hips slightly toward the sideline and working for inside leverage at the line of scrimmage post-snap. Edwards doesn’t take the outside path, though, and releases to the inside.

The defensive back gets his inside hand involved with a one-arm jam to help slow the receiver up, and he flips his hips to stay within arm’s length of his man. At the catch point, Ya-Sin plays the hands and can force another incompletion.