2020 NFL Draft | Markus Bailey: The overlooked chess piece


Multiple players in the 2020 NFL Draft have had to overcome something to get to this stage of their career. Each hurdle is different and every story is written with a different beginning, middle and end. For Markus Bailey, his story starts in Columbus, Ohio. We all know about how football runs deep in Columbus because of the constant success of the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Being from central Ohio, it was no secret that Bailey wanted that scholarship offer. Would he have taken that scholarship?

“I’m not really sure,” Bailey said. “I wanted it being from Central Ohio but it didn’t come.”

Ranked as a three-star recruit coming out of Hilliard Davidson High School in Hilliard, Ohio, there were plenty of scholarships on the table for Bailey like Boston College, Duke, Northwestern and, of course, Purdue.

By choosing Purdue, he knew he could contribute immediately but also that the academics that the school provided were also important. Bailey is just as smart off-the-field as he is on it. In 2019, he was a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy, which is for the nation’s top football scholar-athlete.

On the field, he’s one of the more versatile defensive players in the 2020 NFL Draft. Despite suffering a torn ACL in his left knee in 2015 and then a torn ACL in 2019, he’s fully healthy and is ready to prove that he’s the most overlooked chess piece on defense in the draft.

Reading the guard and flashing some range 

As I discussed with him, Bailey wore multiple hats on game day. He prepares himself the best he can and that’s by doing one job at a time. As the roles change for him on the field, he always takes a step back and focuses on what he has to do for that play. By leaving it all on the field, he knows that he’ll always be in position to make the play.

On the play above, Bailey is aligned in a “10” (in the A-gap between the guard and center) and he quickly diagnoses this play the moment the ball is snapped. As he reads the exchange in the backfield, he knows the play is going to his right, so he’s going to do his best to be in position to make the tackle on the outside or force the play back inside where he can get help from the defensive line and the linebacker opposite of him. By reading the guard, he’s able to sniff this play out completely and show the range that he possesses.

Playing in the box

It’s hard to gauge exactly what Bailey would have provided in 2019 with only playing two games. However, I think we would have seen similar results from 2018, if not, better. According to Pro Football Focus from 2018, he had 56 total stops against the run. He earned an overall grade of 83.0 and had an 8.3% run stop percentage.

Watching him above, he’s aligned in a “10” again. This time, he’s not flashing range or what he can do in space. Instead, he shows good explosiveness out of his stance and reads the backfield perfectly as he shuffles upfield to help make the tackle in the backfield. His base is square through the entire rep and does a good job breaking down before he helps bring the running back down.

Force defender and defeating the bubble screen 

Going into the 2019 season, Bailey was the top-ranked coverage linebacker returning to the Big Ten. According to PFF, he had a coverage grade of 84.5 for the 2018 season. Even though he only had one interception and three pass deflections, he’s been able to succeed when he drops into coverage.

In fact, during the 2016 season, he had four interceptions and six pass deflections. But here, we’re not focused on his ability in coverage, we want to see what he does against the bubble screen. We often talk about his versatility and you’ll often see him aligned in the slot. His roles change as he’ll drop into coverage or become a force defender to help stop the bubble screen.

On the play above, you can see that Bailey is aligned out on the hash. Despite having the slot receiver to cover, he notices the orbit motion coming his way and he knows that the bubble screen is coming. He responds by engaging on the slot receiver, fighting off the block and meets the running back at the sideline after making sure that there’s no open field for the ball carrier to access.

This isn’t the first time that he’s done this either. On the tweet above, he doesn’t make the tackle but I give you an audio breakdown of how Bailey is a key part to the wide receiver not being able to get up the sideline. Whether he’s the force defender or in the box, there’s plenty to like with Bailey.

Final thoughts 

Every player for the 2020 NFL Draft has a different story and eventually their stories will write their own endings. For Bailey, his story won’t end on a practice field in Purdue. The page is about to be turned and a new chapter is ready to be written.

So far through the draft process, he’s had meetings with over 10 teams and at the NFL Scouting Combine he had a formal meeting with the Baltimore Ravens. Meanwhile, he recently had a FaceTime meeting with the New England Patriots that went in-depth on the X’s and O’s on both sides of the ball.

There will certainly be some concerns on Bailey with two torn ACL’s and a hip injury after the 2018 season but he’s medically cleared and has a had great rehab process with Brett Fischer in Phoenix, Arizona. Fischer helped Myles Jack rehab his knee during the 2016 NFL Draft.

Bailey’s tape checks out with his ability in space. He flashes solid range, has a high football IQ, great effort and provides plenty of versatility. On film, he earned a Day 2 grade on my board but due to the injury concerns, he moved down to early Day 3. Plenty of teams are going to chomp at the bit to roll the dice on the talented Boilermaker. Be sure to keep tabs on this overlooked chess piece during the 2020 NFL Draft.

National Scout for Cover 1. Host of Cover 1 | The NFL Draft Podcast. NFL Draft Enthusiast. X's and O's. Heard on ESPN Radio, FOX Sports Radio and CBS Sports Radio.