San Diego's 2013 third-round pick Keenan Allen caught nine passes for 101 yards and the only touchdown in the Chargers’ 19-9 win over the Colts on Monday night. Chargers head coach Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and QB Philip Rivers put their young receiver in position to succeed in different ways.
The most notable was they lined him up in the slot, which created favorable matchups and put him in excellent position to work the middle of the field. Moving him inside, in addition to putting him in motion, made it harder for Indianapolis to re-route and upset his rhythm with Rivers. This is important because Allen, like other bigger receivers, takes too much time to regain his momentum and reach his top-end speed when he gets slowed down releasing off the line.
To his credit, Allen made the most of his chances whether he lined up on the inside or the outside, and his size played a role in two critical plays that started with him aligned on the outside. At 6 feet, 211 pounds, Allen beat 5-foot-11, 204-pound cornerback Vontae Davis on his touchdown catch. Yes, Davis expected help from safety Delano Howell, but a closer look shows that Davis tried to impede Allen by boxing him out. Allen proved too strong and fought through the contact without slowing down much. On a key fourth quarter catch that resulted in a first down, 6-foot, 190-pound cornerback Greg Toler got his hands on Allen, but Allen used his arm length and upper body strength to win the hand fight and create separation.
I spoke about bigger receivers such as Allen and the impact they can have in an earlier blog. So finding corners than match up makes sense. Seattle’s pass defense is one of the best in the league, with starting corners 6-foot-3 Richard Sherman and 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner playing big roles. Both are capable of muscling receivers out of routes and competing for 50-50 balls. These bigger corners are also capable of matching up with the new breed of athletic tight ends lining up in the slot, such as New England cornerback Aqib Talib matching up with New Orleans TE Jimmy Graham.
Here’s a look at two draft-eligible corners with the frame and length to challenge bigger targets in the NFL.
Florida's Loucheiz Purifoy is the third-ranked corner on our board, and at 6 feet, 190 pounds he’s lean, which makes him vulnerable to getting pushed around. However, the true junior has the length and fluidity to develop into an excellent press corner if he grows into that frame. His length and instincts also increase his overall range. He covers more ground than smaller corners with similar speed, which is above average, and it doesn’t just show up in coverage. He’s a big hitter who closes well when he blitzes off the edge, and he’s shown the ability to block kicks on special teams.
Considering he has one career interception, one area of concern is his ability to make plays in coverage. Yet there is reason to be optimistic. He made a nice read on his pick-six against Arkansas this year, plus he has experience returning kicks. Florida has also lined him up on offense, which shows the Gators are confident enough in his ball skills to use him in those roles.
At 6 feet, 200 pounds, Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State has already shown he can be a ball hawk at the next level, as he intercepted five passes in 2011 and has picked off two this year. His first-quarter interception against West Virginia is a great example of what he brings to the table. He lines up in press coverage, gets his head around in time to locate the ball after he turns to run with the receiver and finishes the play by high-pointing the ball. There’s also a lot to like about his toughness and physicality.
The downside to Gilbert’s aggressiveness is he can gamble and get caught out of position trying to make a play. He’s particularly vulnerable to double moves when he plays off the line. Plus he’s not quite as fluid as Purifoy, and he could have a tougher time matching up with quicker receivers in the NFL.
RB Danny Woodhead, who had five catches for 47 yards, was another player that Indianapolis struggled to match up with. He torched the Colts linebackers as a route runner and to a lesser degree gave them problems when he got the ball in space.
Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier is a draft-eligible outside linebacker with above-average cover skills and the natural ability to match up with quicker backs. He’s fluid for the position, and he shows good balance transitioning in and out of breaks. There is room for improvement when it comes to his open-field tackling, as he can do a better job of playing under control. The good news is he has the athletic ability, range and length to improve in this area.
At 6-foot-2, 222 pounds, Shazier’s smaller frame is a concern, but it’s worth pointing out that it raises more questions about his ability to stay healthy than it does about his ability to defend the run. While he can get engulfed when blockers get into his frame, he can win with quickness, and he’s strong enough to press blockers when he doesn’t beat them to the spot. He even flashes the ability to sink his hips and jar blockers in tight spaces.