The Las Vegas Raiders could use some reinforcements in their secondary and UTSA cornerback Tariq Woolen would be a great mid-round option to fill that void. He’s long, can run and has plenty of traits that can be developed to become a starting corner, making him an intriguing prospect in this year’s NFL Draft class.
CB | UTSA | 6’4 1/8” and 205 lbs | Fort Worth, TX | May 2nd, 1999 (22.9)
Coming out of high school, Tariq Woolen had offers from bigger schools like Baylor and Houston but chose to go to UTSA as a three-star recruit and the 142nd-ranked wide receiver in the country for the 2017 class, per 247 Sports. He redshirted as a freshman and tallied 24 catches for 263 yards and one touchdown the following two seasons combined before switching sides of the ball.
Primarily playing as a wide corner in the Roadrunners’ defense that used a lot of cover three and four, he racked up 63 total tackles, two interceptions and 10 pass breakups in 22 games. The Fort Worth native also allowed a 58.1 percent completion percentage, 632 yards and six touchdowns in coverage.
- Excellent size for an NFL corner with 33 5/8” arms
- When playing press, he plays the game within the game by mixing up his pre-snap alignment to avoid tipping the coverage to the quarterback and wide receiver, and he has quick feet to move post-snap and get a leverage advantage
- He’s solid at using his long arms with a one-arm jam to get a hand on the receiver at the line of scrimmage and play bump and run coverage
- Near the goal line, he plays more aggressively at the line of scrimmage and showed the awareness to avoid getting picked
- Uses his hands in the five-yard window to force re-routes against wideouts when playing underneath in zone coverage
- When playing off and/or in cover three, he uses leverage steps to maintain his positioning post-snap and keeps the receiver inside of him to prevent the receiver from getting to his blind spot
- He has plenty of speed to run with wide receivers down the field and avoid getting beat deep, and he can match bursts/second gears to cover posts and corners. Clocked at 4.26 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
- Solid peripheral vision in zone coverage to recognize and defend against deep routes
- Effectively communicates switches when pattern matching
- Impressive acceleration to click and close, reaching the pass-catcher shortly after the ball does
- Very good at playing the hands and ripping the ball out at the catch point, especially with his back to the quarterback
- He has impressive timing to get PBUs from any positioning, back to or facing the quarterback
- Not afraid to mix it ups against the run and he has the strength to take on and push around blocks from smaller receivers
- Uses good pad level and is physical when tackling
Areas of Improvement:
- Needs to be more aggressive with his jam and he telegraphs it, wide receivers with good releases and use of hands will be able to swat his hands away
- Quick to open his hips when playing press and receivers attack his leverage, and his hips are a little stiff to turn and open in the other direction quickly. He struggles against foot fire and jab step releases because of this and it leads to him getting crossed up against slants.
- His lack of experience at the position shows up in his route recognition and overall mental alertness, he’s late to recognize curls and back-shoulder throws and falls asleep on scramble drills, allowing the receiver to get open
- If he doesn’t get hands on the wideout, he has shaky change of direction skills — often takes several steps to make the cut and is a little slow in and out of transitions — making it tough to cover 90-degree or more routes, especially with his questionable route recognition
- Struggles to hold up against physicality at the top of the route from bigger wide receivers and tight ends
- Doesn’t read and anticipate throws from the quarterback well when playing zone coverage, another area where experience plays a factor
- His eye discipline in zone is also sub-par, he’ll get caught staring in the backfield too long
- Like to take the cheese on the short routes when playing the underneath areas in cover two
- When tackling, he has a habit of diving and lunging and missed 20 tackles (25.6 percent of opportunities) which diminishes his ability to click and close
- He’s a gambler when going for the ball while facing the quarterback, he’ll try to undercut routes and make a play on the ball but has questionable hand-eye coordination and hands. He will drop interceptions despite his wide receiver background.
- Versus screens and outside runs, he has a habit of ducking inside the block and not maintaining his outside contain responsibility, opening up rushing lanes
- He will get pushed around by medium to bigger receivers and doesn’t get much extension to help shed their blocks
- Arm injury (missed 4 games)
NFL Mock Draft Database consensus big board rank: 82nd, 3rd round
Between the best season in UTSA’s history, a standout performance at the Senior Bowl and some jaw-dropping numbers at the NFL Combine — 42” vertical in addition to the figures above — Woolen has gone from an unknown to a notable prospect since the summer. He’s done everything right over the last seven months and has earned that third-round projection.
Schematically, he’ll have some work to do in either a zone or man coverage-heavy system, but a lot of his issues can be fixed with more experience as he’s only played two full seasons at cornerback. That being said, I think the former Roadrunner would be best playing a lot of man-to-man early on in his career to keep things simple — or at least simpler — at first. As time goes on and his instincts improve, he has plenty of qualities to suggest he’d be fine in either system down the road.
What do we need to know?
How long will it take him to get the mental aspect of the position down? Building off the previous section, there are flaws in Woolen’s tape where his experience as a defensive back showed up. That’s not to say he isn’t smart and isn’t capable of picking up an NFL defense, but it is a concern that he’ll be starting behind the eight-ball compared to other rookies who have played the position for more than two full seasons. The traits are there, it’s just about getting him more reps which teams may or may not have time for.
Fit with the Raiders:
Las Vegas does have two starting outside corners in Trayvon Mullen and Rock Ya-Sin, and they signed Anonthy Averett as a backup option, but all three are on contract years. So, Woolen could be a great pick for the future, especially since he’s a bit of a project right now. The Raiders could be a great situation for him since he doesn’t have to play right away and can have a year to do some learning.
However, with the Raiders not picking until the third round and needing a starting offensive lineman, the stars might not be aligning. It’d be tough to justify taking a developmental player at a position of lesser need and passing on a proven commodity that can improve one of the team’s biggest weaknesses with the team’s first selection of the draft. It will be interesting to see how the board falls, but I have a feeling this scenario could impact the organization's decision-making.
Tariq Woolen is going to be tough to beat deep with his 4.26 speed and he plays the hands well here to force an incompletion pic.twitter.com/ORaWHNTkTI— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 29, 2022
Tariq Woolen, not afraid to mix it up in the run game pic.twitter.com/cSvNOtYXSH— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 29, 2022
UTEP used Woolen in a variety of roles and here you can see an example of his speed coming into play as a blitzer off the edge to make this a tougher throw for the QB and an incompletion pic.twitter.com/uz3JxWNdxX— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 29, 2022
Another ex of Woolen’s (LCB) speed to cover the deep ball and ability to play the hands to force an incompletion pic.twitter.com/a7VbsWFQBN— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 29, 2022
I feel like I’m just making a highlight reel of Tariq Woolen (RCB) playing the hands on Go routes pic.twitter.com/FcaDPsNssR— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 29, 2022
Tariq Woolen (RCB) gets physical at the LOS, sees the pick coming, avoids it, & gets reattached to take this slant away pic.twitter.com/rziawaYTKH— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 29, 2022