Finding players in the NFL Draft is a lot like dating. General managers and coaches evaluate and meet with prospects to determine which ones are worth partnering with for several years to come. In other words, the league’s decision-makers are trying to determine which players fit their “type”.
The Las Vegas Raiders are expected to take a cornerback early in this year’s draft which begs the question; What is Patrick Graham’s type at the position?
To find an answer, I went back and took a look at the PFF grades for corners who played for the Miami Dolphins in 2019, New York Giants in 2020 and 2021, and the Raiders last season as those are the four teams Graham has served as the defensive coordinator for. Below is a list of the top five performers.
- James Bradberry 2020 (79.8 grade)
- Adoree’ Jackson 2021 (74.9)
- Rock Ya-Sin 2022 (65.7)
- Amik Robertson 2022 (64.1)
- Bradberry 2021 (62.8)
The first and most obvious takeaway from the list above is Bradberry shows up twice on the list. A big reason for that is he has great ball skills, logging 13 pass breakups and four interceptions in 2021 and 14 and three in 2020. That is also a pretty consistent theme as Robertson, who was a spot starter last year, had six PBUs and two picks while Ya-Sin had five PBUs in just 11 games. Also, Jackson defended five passes and had an interception in 13 games two years ago.
So, this confirms what we already knew about Graham, he covets corners who can make plays on the ball.
One takeaway that is interesting about these for players is they all fit into slightly different size profiles. Robertson is the smallest of the bunch at 5’8 3/8” and 187 pounds, while Jackson is 5’10” and 186 pounds, Ya-sin is 5’11 3/4” and 192 pounds, and Bradberry rounds the group out at 6’ 3/4” and 211 pounds. Their arm lengths follow the same trend, ranging from 30.25 inches to 33.375.
Size clearly isn’t a big factor for Graham, which coincides with one of Josh McDaniels’ draft trends as McDaniels has never drafted a cornerback who is taller than six feet. In other words, the Raiders’ draft board is wide open when it comes to height, weight and arm length for cornerbacks.
Two tests at the combine designed to measure a player’s explosiveness are the vertical and broad jumps, and there appears to be a linkage between those measurables and success in Graham’s system.
Bradberry and Jackson had identical verticals at 36 inches and were pretty close to each other in the broad jump at 10’5” and 10’2”, respectively. Ya-Sin had both of those guys beat in the vertical jump at 39.5 inches but fell a little short in the broad at 10 feet even. Unfortunately, Roberston was injured during his combine so he doesn’t factor into this equation.
The ability to rally to the ball after the catch is also a key factor to success in Graham’s system, which is highlighted by a player’s 10-yard split time. Bradberry and Jackson both have really impressive 10-yard splits, clocking in at 1.53 and 1.52 seconds, respectively.
In 2020, Bradberry only recorded six defensive stops* in coverage but he also had 12 missed tackles, meaning he was getting to the right spot and just didn’t make the play. He cut down the misses the following year to seven and bumped the stops up to eight, while Jackson notched 19 stops and three whiffs. Those stops were enough to tie for the fifth-most at the position while he played in at least three fewer games than anyone in the top five.
Ya-Sin is a bit of an outlier in this regard. His 1.6-second 10-yard split received a below-average RAS Score, but he did still manage to pick up six stops and had five missed tackles last season. Again, we don’t know Robertson’s time, however, he was also consistently in a position to make impact tackles with 11 stops and eight misses a year ago.
[*PFF defines a “defensive stop” as a tackle that prevents the offense from obtaining 45 percent of the line to gain on first down, 60 percent on second down, or a tackle that prevents a third or fourth down conversion.]
So, now that we know size doesn’t matter to have success as a cornerback in Graham’s scheme, but explosiveness, ball skills and the ability to rally do, what players in this year’s draft class meet those requirements? Below is a list of 10 names and their metrics for some of the top corners in this draft class, listed in order of their ranking on NFL Mock Draft Database’s consensus big board.
- Christian Gonzalez, Oregon: 6 PBUs , 4 INTs, 41.5” vertical, 11’01 broad, 1.54-second 10-yard split
- Devon Witherspoon, Illinois: 14 PBUs, 3 INTs, DNP vertical, DNP broad, 1.55-second 10-yard split
- Joey Porter Jr., Penn State: 9 PBUs, 0 INTs, 35” vertical, 10’9” broad, 1.52-second 10-yard split
- Deonte Banks, Maryland: 8 PBUs, 1 INT, 42” vertical, 11’04” broad, 1.45-second 10-yard split
- Kelee Ringo, Georgia: 5 PBUs, 2 INTs, 33.5” vertical, 10’02” broad, 1.49-second 10-yard split
- Cam Smith, South Carolina: 6 PBUs, 1 INT, 38” vertical, 11’02” broad, 1.49-second 10-yard split
- Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi St: 7 PBUs, 6 INTs, 37.5” vertical, 10’04” broad, 1.49-second 10-yard split
- Clark Phillips, Utah: 4 PBUs, 6 INTs, 33” vertical, DNP broad, 1.52-second 10-yard split
- Julius Brents, Kansas State: 3 PBUs, 4 INTs, 41.5” vertical, 11’6” broad, 1.5-second 10-yard split
- DJ Turner, Michigan: 7 PBUs, 1 INT, 38.5” vertical, 10’11” broad, 1.42-second 10-yard split
[PBU and INT numbers are from the 2022 season.]
Of the “big three”, Gonzalez, Witherspoon and Porter Jr., Gonzalez seems to be the most well-rounded and thus the best fit for success with Graham. Though, not knowing Witherspoon’s jumps does throw a loop into things. It is interesting that these three were some of the slowest guys in the 10-yard split, so maybe the Raiders can afford to pass on a first-round corner.
While Phillips has the ball production, his underwhelming vertical and lack of a broad jump might cross him off of Las Vegas’ list. A similar statement could be said about Ringo, who many feel has a brighter future as a safety anyway.
The mid-round names Raider fans should pay the most attention to are Forbes, Brents and Turner. All three tested exceptionally well, meet the requirements listed above and are currently projected to be Day 2 picks.
Now, we just have to wait and see what happens in the last week of April!