During the scouting process there are times in which a prospect’s film, measurables, skill sets, and production all seem to match up with a team’s culture. When I took the deep dive on 6’2″, 209 lb cornerback Rasul Douglas from West Virginia, all of those areas seemed to fall in line with new head coach Sean McDermott’s modus operandi. Let’s start off with his production.
Douglas did not disappoint in this area, and especially in two specific areas about which McDermott should be absolutely giddy. In recent weeks, McDermott stated:
“It’s nice to be out there and able to run, but this is not track practice, this is football,” McDermott said. “So we’ve got to be able to be physical and tackle. That’s a big part of it for us and our identity – you guys have heard me say it before and you’ll continue to hear me say it – our identity on defense will be built around our corners and their tackling ability and how much our defensive line runs to the football. Those to me are big selling points for our defense.”
Douglas was a tackling machine in 2016. He registered 70 total tackles in 13 games. Importantly, though, he managed to make tackles in key situations.
He displays the mental toughness to make the stop on 4th down. On this play, the Texas Longhorns go for it late in the game, but Douglas stops the receiver short of the 1st down. This was a fantastic display of situational awareness.
Tackling is very important, especially in a zone heavy defense, much like McDermott played in Carolina. He plays a lot of cover 3 and cover 2, so corners will always have their eyes on the ball. This means that they’re often primary or secondary force players, depending on where they line up.
But this is a passing league, and the skills that Douglas carries translate to the McDermott scheme perfectly. He almost plays like Carolina’s 2016 3rd round cornerback from WVU Daryl Worley.
First, let’s start with zone coverage. Douglas is a natural in zone. Part of the reason that Douglas was named the Big 12 defensive player of the year was due to defensive coordinator Tony Gibson’s scheme. Gibson played Douglas in cover 2 and 3 quite often, and the junior always knew where the weaknesses were. Iowa State tries attacking the cover 3 defense down the seam behind the linebacker, in front of the defensive backs, and right in the seam, which is one of the places to attack this coverage.
Douglas backpedals to his deep third, but has the awareness to plant and drive on the deep curl route. But what separates him from most corners in this draft is his ball skills. Douglas closes, and as he is approaching the receiver, he reaches around and punches the ball out for the pass defense.
Another two reasons that Douglas is a very good fit in Buffalo are his very good ‘zone eyes’ and an innate ability to bait quarterbacks.
Here is another example of it. On this play, the defense appears to blitz and drop into cover 2. Douglas slow plays the running back that is leaking out. As the two primary threats vacate, Douglas drops to the flats and recognizes the pressure barreling down on the QB. The QB moves in the pocket and tries finding his outlet, but doesn’t have a chance to check if he’s open. Douglas pounces and takes it to the house. His eight interceptions put him at the top of the FBS.
At West Virginia, Douglas pressed receivers at the line of scrimmage a ton. It’s because he is very good at disrupting receivers’ routes near the line of scrimmage with his hands and aggressive play-style. Lunging at the receiver isn’t the best technique, but knowing that it’s 4th down and the lead receiver is a 6’5″ target, the strike is effective enough to possibly throw off the timing of the route, if targeted.
Can he play man coverage? Definitely, but it’s not his strongest suit, especially if he is in off man coverage and unable to use his hands to disrupt. However, he does a good job of reading routes and taking angles to the ball.
On 3rd and 3, he again makes a big play by smoothly planting, taking a great angle to the ball, avoiding any sort of pick action, and catching it with his hands. In eight years as a defensive coordinator, McDermott’s defenses have only been outside of the top ten in takeaways two times. It’s these kinds of plays on the ball that McDermott has always loved from his defensive backs.
Douglas is aligned to the top of the screen
Time and time again, Douglas made plays on the ball. He plays the ball all the way through the catch/attempted catch, and that is something that just comes naturally. On this play, Douglas is on an island to the bottom of the screen. The Texas receiver is unable to catch the ball cleanly, and as Douglas approaches, he steals it for the interception.
His ability to restrict receivers’ routes and disrupt at the catch point is part of the reason West Virginia’s defense was ranked 25th in turnovers gained (25) and 35th in interceptions (14). This means Douglas accounted for 57% of his team’s interceptions. Opposing QBs had a rating of 45 when they targeted Douglas.
While in Carolina, McDermott got to coach one of the best defensive backs ever at stripping the ball in Charles ‘Peanut’ Tillman. Peanut perfected the punch technique to strip the ball. Douglas doesn’t have it down yet, but he has the requisite mindset. Douglas is passive on this run, but he keeps his outside leverage. As the back pulls away, Douglas gets into chase mode and swipes the ball out. This was one of two forced fumbles by WVU playmaker.
Although Douglas is a well rounded corner, he does struggle in some respects. To start, he only allowed 41 receptions, but for 619 yards, which breaks down to 15.1 yards per reception. A lot of that may have to do with being in zone coverage, but when in man coverage he doesn’t have the explosiveness to close on short drags/crossing routes. Limiting YAC at the next level will be key for Douglas; in 2016, he gave up 319 yards of YAC.
Putting him in zone coverage where he has help underneath will help him tremendously.
He is susceptible to inside releases, which happened several times this game against Allen Lazard, a big WR for Iowa State. Douglas wants to press the receiver, but Lazard has the length and technique to set Douglas up outside and swat his hands away.
Due to tightness in his hips and lack of explosiveness, he struggles against routes that have multiple breaks. That’s how WR Stacey Coley exposed him on this play.
In the game versus Iowa State, DC Gibson shadowed Lazard with Douglas as much as he could. Douglas is matched up vs. Lazard in the slot. Having him in the slot does not play to Douglas’ strengths, though. It doesn’t allow Douglas to play up tight or to use his length and hands to disrupt. Douglas gets grabby at the top of the route. There was no flag on the play, but there probably should have been.
Potential Bills Fit:
The Bills are revamping their defense in terms of talent and scheme. In fact, the scheme appears to be shifting to more zone coverage. McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will go into this draft looking very closely at this year’s historically deep crop of corners.
In McDermott’s zone defense, corners must be able to tackle, have good mental processing skills, and create turnovers. Douglas has all of these things. He played in a similar scheme and was taught similar techniques to what McDermott preaches: lots of press and press bail, and with a focus on disrupting receivers early in routes in order to throw the passing game off.
Douglas fits the prototype of two corners that were drafted and started in McDermott’s defense in 2016: James Bradberry and Daryl Worley. Compare their measurables here:
The arm length is crucial in zone defenses because tall, long corners are able to disrupt receivers’ routes, reduce passing windows, and makes plays at the catch point. He may get beat early in the route, but his straight line speed and length allow him to stay in the play.
Corners like Douglas, Bradberry, and Worley use their zone abilities and length to make plays.
In 2016, Douglas seemed to always be around the ball. Especially on crucial down and distances, he consistently shut down the offense to force 4th down with a timely tackle, pass breakup, interception or forced fumble. He baits quarterbacks into making throws that they shouldn’t and makes them pay. That playmaking trait is something that McDermott could maximize by creating trap coverages, which could lead to turnovers. This is something the Bills need to improve upon from 2016.
Overall Grade: 77.23-Round 2