Cornerback is one of the Las Vegas Raiders’ top needs heading into the NFL Draft and Missippi State’s Martin Emerson could fill that void as a potential mid-round pick. Emerson is sound in zone coverage and is a smart player with good route recognition to help when playing man.
CB | Mississippi St | 6’1 5/8” and 201 lbs | Pensacola, FL | September 27th, 2000 (21.5)
Martin Emerson came to Mississippi State as a three-star recruit and the 67th-ranked safety in the country for the 2019 class, per 247 Sports. As a true freshman, he mixed in the defensive back rotation and made a handful of starts, before becoming a full-time cornerback and locking down a starting spot as a sophomore and junior. In three college seasons, he accumulated 152 total tackles, one interception and 15 pass breakups while allowing a 56.2 percent completion percentage and 842 yards when targeted.
- Good size for an NFL corner with excellent arm length — 33.5”
- Pretty quick to sniff out screens and flat routes in man coverage, he uses his pre-snap indicators to recognize what’s coming and adjust himself to be in a position to take away lanes on the perimeter or make the tackle shortly after the catch
- Solid at using his hands against speed receivers to slow them down a bit
- Has good agility to make tight speed turns if he gets turned around in man coverage
- Impressive route recognition where he can run the route with the wide receiver
- He plays zone coverage back to front and doesn’t take the cheese as an underneath defender
- Disciplined with his eyes in zone coverage to key the quarterback and use his peripheral vision to see threats coming into his area
- Solid at anticipating throws from the quarterback, he moves and drives on the ball shortly after the quarterback’s release
- Executes switches and communicates with no problems when pattern matching, his route recognition helps here too as he can anticipate what’s coming from the offense
- While it might take him an extra half-second to transition, he has good acceleration when clicking and closing to make contact right after the catch and limit YAC
- Recognizes opportunities to ROBOT and help teammates in coverage, especially on deep routes to potentially save touchdowns
- He’s not afraid to stick his nose in and get involved on runs to his side
- Uses his hands well and has the strength to get extension and shed blocks against medium sized receivers
- In pursuit, he takes good angles to keep the ball carrier on his inside shoulder and displays a high effort level to fight from snap to whistle. He made several touchdown or big play saving tackles in the open field at Miss St.
- While he does like to dive at feet as a tackler, he brings his hands through and is pretty good at making shoe-string tackles
Areas of Improvement:
- When playing press coverage, he’s quick to open his hips and isn’t fluid enough to spin and recover at the line of scrimmage if the wide receiver releases to the opposite side of his turn
- Also has a habit of biting on jab steps either at the line of scrimmage or during the stem phase of the route
- Even when playing off, he doesn’t seem to trust his speed and is pretty quick to bail against faster receivers. He ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at the combine which isn’t terrible, but he’ll likely struggle against NFL burners, either getting beat deep or playing too deep and opening up the short to intermediate routes.
- Needs to do a better job of working for outside leverage during the stem phase of the route, wideouts will be able to get to his blind spot, especially ones with good acceleration off the line of scrimmage
- He has shaky change of direction skills when covering 90-degree or more routes, his base is too narrow/feet too close together when transitioning and needs to sink his hips more to get in and out of the cuts faster. He’ll get run by against receivers who can snap off curls and comebacks, and he struggles to cover whip routes because of this.
- His timing and hand/eye coordination are questionable to get pass breakups, 12 of the 15 PBUs he had in college came in one year (2020)
- Doesn’t have good hands to get interceptions, only had one in college which came in the second game of his college career
- He takes run blocks on square instead of getting on an edge and will try to dive inside and make the play instead of holding his outside run fit responsibility
- Struggles to hold his ground against tight ends and bigger wide receivers when playing in the box
- He will get hurdled occasionally with how much he dives at the ball carrier’s feet when tackling
NFL Mock Draft Database consensus big board rank: 3rd round, 71st overall
The combine did a number on Emerson’s draft stock as he only ran the 40 and recorded an underwhelming time for the position. He slid 21 spots on NMDD’s board from February 28th to March 4th, however, a more encouraging pro day has allowed him to make up some ground. The third round is about where I’d slate him too, so that seems to be his sweet spot.
Updated numbers from scouts on-hand:— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 22, 2022
4.14 20 yard shuttle
6.89 3 cone
17 reps bench
Schematically, I think the former Bulldog would be best in a zone-heavy scheme as he’s an extremely intelligent and instinctive player who has very few flaws when playing zone coverage. That would also help alleviate some of his speed concerns that a man-to-man system might expose as well as reduce the significance of his struggles at the line of scrimmage.
What do we need to know?
Are his ball skills up to NFL standards? Gauging Emerson’s ball skills was the hardest part of evaluating him for me. There were instances on film where his timing was off and I’m confident that he doesn’t have good hands, but defensive backs don’t just luck into a PBU per game as he did in 2020. Then again, that year does seem to be the outlier as he had 10 fewer in 2021 while receiving a comparable amount of targets, 59 to 49.
Fit with the Raiders:
With several cornerbacks on contract years, including this year’s projected starters Trayvon Mullen and Rock Ya-Sin, the position is certainly on the table with the 86th pick of the draft. Unless he gets snatched up earlier in the third round, there’s a good chance Emerson makes his way to the desert. He’d be a solid depth piece in year one and could emerge into a starting role by year two, replacing either Mullen or Ya-Sin.
New defensive coordinator Patrick Graham used zone coverage at about a 65 percent clip last season, so the Mississippi St product would be a good fit schematically if that trend continues. My only concern is that Ya-Sin and Anthony Averett, the top two corners the new regime has brought in this offseason, are better in man coverage which could signal a slight philosophical change in Graham’s play calling. Then again, it’s not like Emerson is a complete liability man-to-man, and he wouldn’t have to start right away, so the Raiders would still be a good destination for him.
3rd & long so Martin Emerson knows he has room to work over the top of the pick, then converges on the ball & while the tackle could be better, he at least ties the WR up & keeps the offense out of FG range pic.twitter.com/0sg15AxJ2Y— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 9, 2022
This isn’t a highlight reel play by any means, but I like how Martin Emerson comes off his man & keeps the ball carrier on his inside shoulder then makes a sure tackle to save a TD. He saved a couple TDs this game w/ effort & open field tackling pic.twitter.com/nSDe9CUkxS— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 9, 2022
I’d like to see Martin Emerson stay on his feet to tackle more often, but dude is the master at shoe string tackles pic.twitter.com/WIXYuwxywR— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 9, 2022
Another play that isn’t going to make the highlight tape but Martin Emerson does a great job of passing off #1, picking up #2 & then rallying to the flat to save his teammate’s ass, you can tell he’s a smart player pic.twitter.com/AifxpRGcaD— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 9, 2022
Teach tape material on how to play the corner & rally to the flat in Cover 2 by Martin Emerson pic.twitter.com/3nUzfO0Eom— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 9, 2022
Another beautiful read from Martin Emerson with some impressive click & close to get a 3rd down stop pic.twitter.com/bXPPGq5enJ— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) April 9, 2022