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NFL Draft: Drinking the Kool-Aid McKinstry

Alabama CB has the ball skills to make anyone a believer

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 31 Allstate Sugar Bowl
Kool-Aid McKinstry
Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Alabama’s Kool-Aid McKinstry is more than just a great name, he’s one of the top cornerbacks in this year’s NFL Draft class heading into the season. Every team who needs a difference-maker in their secondary should have him on their radar, including the Las Vegas Raiders.

McKinstry’s ball skills are what stand out the most about his game as he led the country in pass breakups last year with 16, per Pro Football Focus, and was tied for second with 18 forced incompletions. While those numbers pop off the page, diving into the Alabama product’s tape can give you an even greater appreciation for how he plays the ball in the air.

We’ll see a couple of McKinstry’s strengths on display in this first clip.

He lines up on the line of scrimmage near the goal line and is sacrificing a lot of size to the 6’4” and 242-pound tight end. For reference, McKinstry is listed at 6’1” and 195 pounds, but he still gets in the tight end’s face in press coverage and is quick to get his hands up for the jam.

He has enough strength to slow down the tight end a bit, which is impressive considering he’s giving up about 50 pounds. Being physical also helps McKinstry stay in phase against and contest this goal-line fade. Finally, he gets his hands involved at the catch point and rips the ball out to force Texas to settle for a field goal.

As we just saw, one way that McKinstry was able to rack up so many PBUs last season is he’s excellent at playing the receiver’s hands or ripping the ball out at the catch point.

In the play above, he lines up in press-man coverage on third and long. LSU has their outside receiver run a drag route and the corner gives up some ground and plays from a trial position because he knows he has the athletic ability to close and doesn’t want to get beat past the sticks.

Once the quarterback starts to scramble and the receiver gets close to the marker, McKinstry kicks it into second gear and starts to close the gap/tighten up his coverage. He gives enough room to bait the throw and then plays the hands perfectly once the pass gets there to rake the ball out at the catch point once again.

Here, we’ll see another big third-down stop near the goal line but in a slightly different situation.

It looks like Alabama is running a zone-match variation of Cover 3 which is kind of a hybrid between zone and man coverage. The middle linebacker—No. 10—is going to be manned up with the running back out of the backfield while McKinstry drops in his zone/area. The back works across the formation and Texas uses one of their slot receivers to pick No. 10, meaning the backer is going to need some help.

McKinstry reads this and sees the back—who happens to be Bijan Robinson, the No. 8 pick in this year’s draft—open on the flat so he starts to break on the route. The corner is able to close and drops his pads on the tackle to prevent Robinson from even getting close to the first down marker. That’s an impressive rep against some quality competition.

Something that can make press corners even more effective is if they can prove to be a threat as a blitzer, and this play shows how McKinstry can add that element to a defense.

With the Longhorn’s receiver in a cut split, McKinstry is close enough to the formation that he can blitz and affect the play. So, the Tide send him loose and the running back is late to pick him up in the protection scheme and only able to get a shoulder check on the corner.

McKinstry stays on balance and looks pretty much unimpeded by the contact. Then his speed starts to take over as he closes on the quarterback and nearly gets a sack. Again, this is another layer to his game that defensive coordinators will love.

We’ll end with some run support which isn’t necessarily one of the Alabama product’s strengths, but he can make plays like the one above.

With Texas in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) and the two receivers lined up on the wide side of the field, McKinstry lines up in the box and is essentially going to be a linebacker on this play. The offense runs a pin-and-pull concept to his side, hoping to get a puller/offensive lineman blocking the defensive back for a favorable matchup.

However, McKinstry reads the play immediately after the snap and uses his speed to beat the lineman to the spot. To cap the play off, he shows some impressive athleticism by breaking down and changing directions to at least get a piece of the running back and get involved in the tackle for loss.

Obviously, this isn’t a bone-crushing hit that will show up on SportsCenter, but McKinstry does an excellent job of knowing how he’s built and using his skill set to force the running back inside and into the teeth of the defense.