2021 NFL Draft | Scouting notes on defensive backs

04/19/2021
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We’re just over a week away from the 2021 NFL Draft and things are already getting interesting. For example, Justin Fields held a second pro day and now he’s the favorite to be the third pick to the San Francisco 49ers. We can have the debate for days on why the 49ers should or shouldn’t draft Mac Jones or Justin Fields but there’s no question the player with the higher ceiling is Fields. In my most recent mock draft and only second one of the season, I have Fields going to the 49ers. Odds are, that pick will stay the same between now and the draft.

Aside from that, there’s now a report indicating that the Philadelphia Eagles are looking to try to get into the top-10 again. While they had the 6th pick of the draft, they traded back with the Miami Dolphins and are now slated to select 12th overall. I’m not sure how accurate the report is but if they are looking to move up, I’d have to think it’s to go up and grab either a quarterback or to put themselves in a guaranteed position to draft a pass catcher. There’s a chance that Kyle Pitts, Ja’Marr Chase, Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle are gone by the time the Eagles are on the clock with the 12th overall pick. All of that being said, I think there’s a chance they could get up the 7th pick and swap with the Detroit Lions but ultimately, it feels like they’re destined to stay at the 12th overall spot.

Moving on from all of the draft speculation and trade scenarios, it’s time to get some quick hitters on a Monday morning scouting notebook! As you know, my 2021 NFL Draft Guide is out for FREE! While I’m happy with the 125 player profiles, there’s still a few players I didn’t get a chance to watch or grade. That’s slowly starting to change so let’s jump into some notes on a few players I’ve watched since the release of my draft guide!

Aaron Robinson from UCF has the goods

It was a few short weeks ago that I received a direct message or DM on Twitter from my colleague, Zach Hicks. He told me to watch UCF cornerback Aaron Robinson but time is a thing and I didn’t get a chance to watch Robinson. Boy do I regret not carving out some time to watch him before the guide. Earning a solid third round grade from the film I’ve studied, Robinson has an intriguing skillset that teams will covet.

I don’t think Robinson will jump to the NFL and play on the outside but there’s a role for him to be a starter as a nickel back. Especially after the UCF Pro Day, I’m sure teams are prepared for him to fall into their laps after the run of the top cornerbacks happen. He checked in at 5-11 and 186 pounds with arms measured at 30 1/4 inches. Considered undersized for the outside, he’s certainly athletic enough to play just about anywhere. He had a vertical jump of 37-inches and posted a 3-cone drill time of 6.89 seconds. Lastly, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds.

When watching him, you’ll see hip fluidity and a player that loves to throw his body around. He’s not afraid of contact. Against Tulsa alone this season, he had some of the best tackling tape of any cornerback in this class from what I’ve seen. He finished with 8 tackles in that game. There are times that you’ll see him play down in the box to either blitz or cover running backs or tight ends. Having that type of versatility aside from covering slot receivers is intriguing. When faced with bunch formations such as trips or a stack formation, he tends to play man-to-man against the point wide receiver too. Teams will love his physicality and athletic ability that I’d expect to see his name called somewhere on the second day of the draft.

Jamar Johnson from Indiana has great playmaking ability

I’m a Big Ten guy and spend far too many Saturdays watching Purdue play teams such as Michigan State or Rutgers (according to my wife). One name that I had written down this fall was Jamar Johnson from Indiana. The standout on the Hoosiers defense is their cornerback Tiawan Mullen but the best draftable prospect they have this season is their safety Jamar Johnson.

The three-star recruit from Riverview High School in Sarasota, Florida had offers to schools such as Virginia Tech and Iowa State but he ended up committing to Indiana. Playing as a true freshman, he ended up with an interception and played 10 games at safety and special teams. The following season, he became an every game starter (12 games) for the Hoosiers and had solid production with 25 tackles and two interceptions. However, this past season, it felt like everything started coming together for him. With another 8 starts added to his resume, he posted over 40 tackles, had four interceptions and four pass deflections to lead the team.

By watching his tape, it’s clear that he flashes range and the ball skills needed to be a difference maker in the back-end of a defense. He shows some versatility from playing single-high, in a dual safety look or by moving up near the box and playing closer to the line-of-scrimmage (LOS). Now his testing numbers weren’t off-the-charts with a 40-yard dash of 4.59 seconds, short-shuttle of 4.41 seconds and a 3-cone drill of 7.22 seconds. It would have been him in the middle of last years class and that would be relatively similar this year. Overall he’s instinctive with the desired range to be a starter at the next level. He’ll need to become more consistent as a tackler but he’ll get drafted in the middle of the safeties in this class with the potential to become starter or solid rotational player.

Greg Newsome II from Northwestern has desired fluidity

No question, I’m late to the party. Watching defensive back tape is incredibly difficult on the broadcast film so I waited for some of the All-22 on the Northwestern cornerback. While it’s unfortunate I couldn’t feature him in my guide, I’m still glad I’ve been able to watch Newsome prior to this years draft.

From my notes on Newsome during some live games I saw of him, I had said he was a “good athlete that was sticky in coverage.” Now that I’ve watched him more in-depth, my thoughts haven’t completely changed. Newsome has a very fluid lower body and the speed needed to react and close to the football and make a play. There aren’t any questions with his long speed as he ran the 40-yard dash at his pro day in 4.38 seconds. He should be able to run vertically in the hip pocket of receivers, as well.

Health is worth monitoring as he’s missed one game in each of his three seasons at Northwestern. He’s also only started in 18 games for his career with 21 games played so for some, he might lack experience. Far and away, the biggest concern I have with him is that he’s not very physical. He avoids contact from wide receivers and rarely shows the desired strength for the position to win on the outside consistently.

He earned a late first round grade from me so teams such as the Saints, Packers or Bills make sense as ideal landing spots. However, he’s from Chicago and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Chicago Bears did their homework on the local product for the 20th overall selection. The traits and overall coverage skills are there for Newsome so it would seem likely that he’s destined in the first round of the 2021 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.

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