I had the pleasure of sitting down for an exclusive interview with former All-Pro cornerback Antonio Cromartie to talk about a few of the best draft eligible corners in this upcoming class. Cromartie had an incredible NFL career that spanned 11 years with the San Diego Chargers, New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts. He totaled 31 interceptions and 117 pass deflections over his career and had four Pro Bowl appearances to go along with his All-Pro selection in 2007.
We discussed five cornerbacks for this interview in Jeff Okudah (Ohio State), CJ Henderson (Florida), Kristian Fulton (LSU), Trevon Diggs (Alabama) and Jaylon Johnson (Utah). For each one of these clips, Cromartie details what he sees with his initial reaction. We then talk about other aspects of the play. His commentary will be in italics while my comments will be in bold under each clip.
Jeff Okudah, Ohio State
AC: “So first off, you have to look at his footwork throughout the entire thing. He’s staying square and never gets his hips turned throughout the entire thing. He’s got that kick-step and he’s able to gain ground at the same time while keeping the receiver in front of him. Also, look where the receiver started. He’s on top of the numbers then ends up outside of the numbers by almost 3 yards. He is still able to stay square the entire time. The whole thing about playing that position that Okudah understands so well is that he’s staying square and making sure he can control the receiver and he didn’t even have to use his hands much until the top of the route.”
ZH: “The thing that really stands out to me is his feet here. His feet are very calm and he’s not taking too many steps or over committing. How important is that for a corner to be square and adjust the receiver but also to do that with calm and confident feet?”
AC: “Honestly it’s just about patience. Receivers are gonna dance and they can do things to try and make you jump inside or jump outside but it’s just about having patience. If you know the route combination and what is coming then it makes it a whole lot easier. When you are able to play at a high level with high confidence then it doesn’t matter who the receiver is or what he does. When you look at Jeff and what he does, when he’s in press or off, he understands what offenses are giving him and for me that is what separates him from everybody else. He is very technically sound, has a very high football IQ, and it shows week in and week out.”
ZH: “Yeah, and honestly you could say that about all the Ohio State cornerbacks and how they are taught with Damon Arnette and Shaun Wade in the slot as well. I just love his feet here and how he is able to redirect while taking so little steps.”
AC: “The feet and eyes are the most important things for a corner. The more you can do with that, the easier you can move around and control the receiver, put him where you want to put him, and go from there.”
“The only thing I would take away here is I would love for him to take another shuffle step to the inside because if he takes another shuffle step to the inside, he gets his hands on the receiver and is able to control him. So he wouldn’t be in that trail position anymore, he’d be sitting right there on the inside shoulder of the receiver. That’s the only thing I would take away from it, he made a great play on the ball coming back in and slicing the ball. He knows he has safety help over the top so he can take those chances. His poise at the top of the route is amazing. He’s so poised and relaxed at the top that he’s breaking with the receiver at the same time to be able to undercut it.
He trusts the guys around him too. When you play that corner position, you have to know where everybody is. When you know where everybody is, you learn how to play football a lot better. We always said understand your good help and your bad help. The good help is your safety that’s coming down and the bad help is a linebacker dropping to you because those guys are run reading first so you have to play tighter coverage and play on top of the route. When you look at Jeff over the season when he’s playing certain coverages, he understands that. He knows where everybody is going to be so he can play a lot more aggressively in certain coverages. He’s not a super-fast guy, he’s a 4.5 guy, he’s a guy that understands his limits and he understands what he can do and what he cannot do.”
ZH: “Absolutely. I can’t think of anything to really add to that. I guess I want to ask you with your experience which you prefer. We see Okudah get his hands on guys at the line in man to re-direct routes at times and other times he will mirror without using his hands. Do you prefer corners to use their hands at the line?”
AC: “Initially, no. I was a guy who was motor mirror. I honestly didn’t start getting my hands on guys until I was traded to New York. It was more like ‘Hey you gotta use your bigger frame so get your hands on these guys and control them with that’ so that is when I started doing that.”
ZH: “So that is when you started getting into the step-kicking and such. Did you ever do that before you got there?”
AC: “I was but playing this position is a chess game. You don’t always want to have to put your hands on a guy. You want him to think you’ll always put your hands on him and mess up his timing. It is a mental game out there and you don’t want to play checkers out there while somebody else is playing chess. You want to have that chess match every single down. What’s my next move or what’s his next move? It’s picking up on little things like what routes he runs in motions or certain alignments that makes you play things differently and to get in tuned to what is going on so you can outplay him before the play even starts.”
C.J Henderson, Florida
AC: “Honestly this is just me and I’m a hard scout, this is terrible technique. Just from the simple fact that if this guy runs a post, he’s running away from him. Look where Henderson starts. He starts on top of the numbers and ends up 2-3 yards outside the numbers. Now he makes a great play on the ball but that ball should have been picked off. You want to be able to still play technique sound and be on top of that because if this guy runs a post, he’s running away from you. Your safety is going away from you, so if you are going to open up like that, you better make a play on it every time. If I’m teaching a guy what not to do, this is something I’m telling them not to do.
He made a helluva play on the ball but I think he should have picked it off. That’s not a ball you bat down; you gotta go up and pick that ball off. The top guys that we are talking about today, that’s what I don’t see from them a lot. They don’t take the ball away from guys. Picking this ball off changes the game and gives your offense momentum in a big game. He has to play better technique because in the NFL he won’t get away with that. Everyone runs 4.3.”
ZH: “Yeah, it’s a weird play too because he retreats off the line and then backs up outside the numbers basically opening up to the inside when he doesn’t have any help there.”
AC: “He zone turns instead of man turns.”
ZH: “How would you prefer him play that route there. With no safety help over the top, you’d rather him take away the inside right?”
AC: “If I knew my inside help was coming from my down safety, I’m gonna play outside leverage because if he runs a slant or a dig or anything, that safety is going to slide right underneath it. I’m going to play head up and a little bit outside and press him inside. I don’t want to open the gate that gives him 30 yards of open run. If you do that in the NFL, coaches are gonna see that in the both and they are gonna start running routes away from you.”
“He’s just doing his job on this one. He stays square, shuffles his feet. [Ja’Marr] Chase is really not running any type of route. He’s running a route we used to call star pass which is a 4-6-3 with him running a stop route or a dig or a flat route to the bottom. Basically he makes a great play on the ball that he should make on that ball because the receiver is being lazy in his route running.”
ZH: “Henderson is a bit of a polarizing prospect because he has all the skill and athleticism you want but the technique and other aspects aren’t really there. What is your overall opinion of his game?”
AC: “Honestly, he’s the most athletic DB in the draft that I’ve seen. Athleticism is through the roof but the only con I have on him is I don’t think he knows what he’s playing half the time. I need to see better technique because you can only get away with so much with your athletic ability playing at the NFL level. You have to be technically sound and understand what guys are giving you so you know what to take away.”