As every draft season approaches, a name always seems to creep up with a head of steam. Whether it’s a late underclassmen adding his name to the pool or a diamond in the rough, the buzz is bound to happen. With names emerging among group chatter in the all-star game settings and, hey, even Twitter, this is the pinnacle time when hot names begin to surface.
One of the players that is getting a lot of traction to date is Auburn cornerback Noah Igbinoghene. Just over a week before the declaration deadline, Igbinoghene decided to make his name part of the prospect pool. After switching sides of the ball to start at cornerback for two seasons, the former receiver believed he had enough substance to make declaring early a valid decision.
Transition is one way to describe his journey in college. Balance is another.
Igbinoghene signed with Auburn as a four-star receiver out of Trussville, Alabama. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn understood the value of the talented athlete and wanted him on the field as soon as possible.
As a freshman, he nabbed six passes for 24 yards and carried the ball once for 11 yards. It’s fair to say he was under utilized given his talent on the offensive side of the ball. However, his speed was showcased on special teams, as the true freshman returned 24 kicks for 571 yards (23.8).
Entering his sophomore season in 2018, the only thing that stayed constant was his role on special teams. With a loaded receiver room on The Plains, Malzahn eyed a spot on defense for the talented sophomore.
“We were very deep at wide receiver,” Malzahn said to reporters in the spring of 2018. “We got everybody coming back and recruited some guys. From a coach’s standpoint, he’s (Igbinoghene) a very good player and his upside is very high. We got to find a way to get him on the field.”
Before the 2018 season, the cornerback room was also filled with high-level players. Then junior cornerback Carlton Davis (2018 second round pick; Tampa Bay) locked down one side as Jamel Dean (2019 third round pick; Tampa Bay) locked down the other. But as Davis was selected earlier in the year and Dean entering the 2019 campaign with a bummed hand, Igbinoghene had every opportunity to fill a vacant role.
He took full advantage.
In the marquee opening day matchup for the 2018 season, Igbinoghene made his first start at his new position versus a Washington team led by the future all-time leading passer in school history Jake Browning. With a couple of pass breakups in the endzone, the first-year starter gave an instant sigh of relief to what could’ve been a vacant spot in the secondary.
Twelve games later, Igbinoghene pocketed the most pass breakups on the team (11), which led him to preseason all-conference status entering what would be his final season at Auburn.
“What you saw this spring was a guy who was very comfortable in what he was expected to do, as well as very comfortable in what we were asking him to do,” Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said in the summer of 2019. “He’s got a tremendous skill set, he’s got a great defensive temperament and he’s very knowledgeable — and put that with a toughness; he just has an innate toughness that is defensive.”
Undoubtedly, speed is the first thing to notice in Igbinoghene’s game. It’s more evident when returning kicks but also displayed when having to come down hill in the run game on defense or when he is threatened vertically. His projected 4.3 40-yard dash mark at the NFL Scouting Combine is apparent in his film portfolio.
His speed came as no surprise to the Auburn football staff, nor his family. His mother, Faith, ran track at Alabama and was a bronze medalist for Nigeria in the 400-meter relay in the 1996 Olympics. Festus, his father, ran track at Mississippi State and won five SEC titles in the long and triple jumps. He also took part in the triple jump for Nigeria in the 1992 Olympics.
Igbinoghene may not be to the caliber of his parents as world-class track athletes, but he made his mark in the Alabama high school ranks. He set the indoor and outdoor state records in the triple jump (best: 49′ 10 1/2) and long jump (best: 24′ 7 1/2) at the highest level of competition in Alabama. He has personal bests of a 6.98 60-meter dash and a 10.76 100-yard dash.
“I compare track to playing cornerback because while there’s still a team aspect, you’re on an island by yourself,” Igbinoghene said. “When I’m jumping, I’m the only one on the runway. There’s nobody else with me. I’m the only one who determines how far I jump. In football, other positions like wide receiver, you’ve got to depend on the quarterback getting you the ball. But corner, you’re by yourself. You’re on an island.”
Igbinoghene proves the confident mentality of trusting his instincts and technique in his body of work. Playing primarily on the boundary side of the ball in single coverage, Igbinoghene embraces the challenge. Right out of the gate in his first start, he showcased his gritty mentality by continually battling the ball at the catch point and following through to the whistle.
In his first start, Iggy had two crucial EZ pass breakups.— Christian Page (@_ChristianPage) February 27, 2020
He carried this fighting through the ball trait throughout his career. If you catch a contested pass against him, you definitely earned it. pic.twitter.com/S4qekglSCw
Outside of his elite speed and play strength (demeanor), Igbinoghene’s biggest asset is his high-end change of direction skills. He does an excellent job at redirecting his lower half to mirror the receiver. Showcasing elite body control and burst, there are not too many moves that the 200-pound corner can’t grasp.
(top of screen)— Christian Page (@_ChristianPage) February 27, 2020
It resulted in a flag, but this gives you a good indication of the recovery ability (sa quickness) that Noah Igbinoghene plays with.
vs. *maybe* the best RR in the class. pic.twitter.com/9LkOmDokJv
Despite that some of his quick redirections come from riding the receiver, the promise and athleticism is there to stay sticky throughout routes.
His redirection trend continues throughout nearly all areas of his game: short to intermediate levels of the field and vertical routes. Igbinoghene isn’t a squeaky-clean prospect as far as consistently locating the football and embracing press coverage at the right time, but his recovery ability along with his long speed is almost unmatched.
It's not always this way, but Iggy's ability to stay on par with his matchup by flipping his hips and maintaining speed all while getting his head around is beautiful to watch. https://t.co/harG6aaSvq— Christian Page (@_ChristianPage) February 27, 2020
Given his brief background as a cornerback, Igbinoghene’s technique is obviously raw in some areas. However, his physical tools and dedication to not just go through the motions, but to battle every ball, shows his promise and ascension. Sure, his footwork in press-man or off coverage doesn’t look natural and draws red flags. But knowing those issues and organically supplementing those flaws with well above average change of direction skills, there aren’t too many times he will be caught out of range of the ball. His explosive traits on film garner praise that most first-round defensive backs covet.
As most newbies would, Igbinoghene relies more so on his athleticism than coverage instincts. As more understanding of route concepts come, his anticipation and recognition will grow, which only makes him more of a threat. Igbinoghene’s physical tools and evident improvement over his college career, draws enough intrigue to be a top 50 selection.