When the Jets selected Maryland corner back Dexter McDougle on Friday night of the NFL Draft, a wide variety of fans understandably believed the pick was a slight reach on instinct. Both casual fans unaware of his name entirely and even intense draft fans who knew of his 2013 season ending shoulder injury believed, as a whole, that the Jets possibly could have found better value with the third round selection. However, now that the smoke has cleared, it is time to analyze why John Idzik and company’s risky Day Two selection might actually be their smartest pick of the draft.
Flashback to mid-September. The Maryland Terripans were coming off of a convincing win versus the Connecticut Huskies, thanks to their emerging Senior corner Dexter McDougle’s two interceptions, with one going all the way for a touchdown. Yet all was not happy in the wake of the win and a 3-0 start to the season for Maryland and head coach Randy Edsall. McDougle went to make a low tackle late in the game and suffered a rather gruesome shoulder injury. The team was informed he’d miss the remainder the season the next day.
McDougle was thriving as the Terrapins’ best corner, and was even exceeding some respectable expectations with lofty numbers and high play in the first three games of the season. Even Edsall admitted, “Dexter was playing as good as he’s played since I’ve been here.”
It’s always sad when a guy on NFL team’s radars goes down, especially in his last year of eligibility. McDougle, however, was previously under watch by scouts for his natural athleticism and length – not because he was anywhere near a complete player. Thus, it was even more sad in his case because his first three games of the season were proving more than this; he looked like a corner with very convincing tools to work with.
Last year, Houston corner back DJ Hayden was a similar case. Everybody remembers his comeback story from a life-threatening injury to suddenly rise to be a Top 15 pick in the draft. Personally, I wasn’t blown away by Hayden on tape, and it was obviously okay to be deterred by such an injury. Yet the Raiders still had enough confidence in his ability to come back and play at a high level to make him their 12th overall selection in the first round. Interesting, huh?
Kyle Fuller is another related example I’d like to touch upon. As a Junior who could have declared for the 2013 NFL Draft, Fuller was widely regarded as a third round pick at best, and more likely worse. In fact, a healthy Antone Exum was typically feared more at corner than Fuller was in Virginia Tech’s defense. Yet within a year of preparation, Fuller went from a disappointing specimen to arguably this draft class’ best corner. Certain tools and refinement was on his 2013 tape that simply wasn’t there in 2012. He attacked while trusting his instincts and anticipation instead of tentatively reacting. Even in such a leap year for Fuller, he still missed six games due to injury. Interesting how these cases are lining up, no?
If both DJ Hayden and Kyle Fuller can be Top 15 picks with limited tape available of them when they’re at their best, is McDougle going in the mid-third that unbelievable with a very similar situation on hand? Even though he only has three games to showcase of his elevated play, my answer after watching them is a no.
Only so many teams can draft corners with such confidence that they’ll take a player with so little evidence of consistency within their skillset, and the Jets can do just that with how they’ve developed corners into specific, working roles. The general gap in upside between taking a player who’s skillset has potentially settled in the third round versus a player who has a small but intriguing sample size is astronomical anyway. It’s easy to grasp why Rex would be so attracted to him and why his value ends up right around that radius of picks after seeing what he can do well. Let’s dig in.
In my opinion, Mcdougle does fit the Rex Ryan mold of a corner, but not in such a keen way that’s its visible on the surface. I think there is a common misconception among the league and its fans that because of Ryan’s brash style of coaching and defense that he needs his corners physically dominant and feisty. This simply isn’t the case consistently. Ryan and his defensive coaching staff have developed different variations of corners who posses skills that they like into specific roles.
Look no further than the Jets returning corners form last year, in fact. Dee Milliner has inconsistencies in pressing and transitioning yet found success by the end of the season, and Darrin Walls has proved to be more than just an efficient backup despite strictly being an off-man cover corner. Ironically enough, I think McDougle falls somewhere right in between the two with the inconsistencies he struggles with that have cemented him a presumed role.
Although they aren’t exactly similar, McDougle and Milliner both vary in their mirroring skills of opposing receivers, and therefore, their footwork. Milliner doesn’t press often because it throws off his transitioning speed when he has to mirror the receivers’ steps up close off the line. For the Jets’ new draftee, however, it doesn’t come down to the small things as much; I would simply say it’s a waste to use him in press. McDougle’s strengths go beyond the natural speed and fluidity that attracts viewers – it’s his intelligence that allow him to use these to his advantage. Skills like instincts, awareness, and anticipation that all good corners have only shine their brightest when the corner can lead into them with the knowledge to use them effectively.
Take this instance below as an example. McDougle sits atop of the screen in coverage. While it may be difficult to see (apologize for that), he appears to be in press coverage but doesn’t actually “press” his receiver by influencing him off the line with contact. Instead, he uses naturally quick feet to instinctively judge the receiver’s direction…all while still watching the quarterback.
McDougle was likely told to play in close in an assumed press role because of the situation (3rd and 9 in completely isolated coverage). Yet, his obscure approach to defending the receiver shout that he should be in off-man whenever possible. Such fluid, choppy feet combined with a quick snap of his hips on the receiver’s break also show how he could really play in the slot if he was asked to. As a perimeter corner who uses the boundaries to his advantage, I wouldn’t call this an ideal role, but it’s nice to have that kind of versatility.
Here is another example that I think really sums up the basic good and bad you’ll get with the 5’10 corner.
Right off the bat, it’s easy to tell why McDougle can struggle without a cushion on his opposing receiver even when he doesn’t go through the act of pressing him. In the above GIF, the Old Dominion receiver runs a very icy stutter-go route. I call it “icy” because instead of making a definitive cut to bait McDougle, he pumps his feet a couple of times and sort of just slides through it. This typically wouldn’t be all too effective in baiting a corner, but since McDougle turned sideways and flipped his hips at the very beginning of the route, he finds himself having to catch up to the receiver since he was waiting on the cut. When he got the cut he was waiting for, it wasn’t very refined- just a stutter – yet his body positioning put him in the hole of falling for it anyway since his feet totally stopped churning.
Even with the lack of refinement in footwork and control you see from the Maryland corner here, you still get a lot of the good that often saves McDougle in the same play. As soon as he bites on the fake, he has the reaction time and explosion to get back in stride with the receiver in a few stride lengths. Next, while the throw wasn’t perfect, you see the excellent play around the point of the catch from McDougle that countless young corners still haven’t gotten close to mastering. Even though the receiver has some separation, he does a marvelous job of not panicking and grabbing him, instead, he simply trusts his speed and ball location skills to make a timely play on the ball with his superb length. It’s somewhat of a disappointment to see the ball pop out when the receiver kicks it, but he still stays focused and corrals the interception.
All in all, I do think McDougle is a nice fit for this Jets’ defense when it comes to his coverage skills. He has some kinks to sort out with his footwork and the body control that comes with it, even when in the off-man coverage that suits him. Even so, his fluidity, speed, hips, instincts, ball skills, and intelligence could have him competing with the Jets’ starters for a top job early in training camp. I couldn’t import any useful GIFs to show this trait, but McDougle also generates a lot of power when going from sinking his hips to full sprint. This is so useful for a corner in Ryan’s defense, and even more so from the general standpoint of a corner back who plays primarily off-man. Of course, coverage skills aren’t all that Rex Ryan will find useful. The Terrapin has much more to offer. Now that his coverage fit has been looked into, let’s see what else he can do.
Rex Ryan-taught defenses have been wrongly labeled as heavy blitzing defenses when in reality, he has toned down his pressure schemes significantly in regards to how many players he sends (in the past couple years, that is). Even though he hasn’t been sending as many, he still likes sending defensive backs when the Jets run nickel and dime packages. Kyle Wilson, Ellis Lankster, and Antonio Allen all had countless blitzing assignments throughout the season. Lucky for the Jets, I’d call blitzing a strong point for their third round selection.
Like I mentioned earlier when discussing his coverage, McDougle gets a lot of explosion from his stance or sunken hips to running full speed in the adverse direction. It’s on display in this particular GIF below.
Blitzing from a defensive back takes a lot of fearlessness when bending around the edge because of pass protecting backs who could be hidden, but McDougle shows no reluctance. He closes extremely quickly and doesn’t slow up to re-adjust his path like you see a lot of defensive backs do because they don’t trust their flexibility. Yet McDougle comes in hard and hits with power. I’m not sure you can ask for much more from a corner coming in to apply pressure, really.
McDougle does pack a nice punch into that hit on Florida International’s quarterback, and it’s worth noting because a hitter is what he is. Unfortunately, I don’t mean that in a fully positive manner. He’s your classic case of a fast corner who brings so much momentum and tenacity into tackle attempts that he hardly ever breaks down to tackle properly, and wrapping up is rare for him. thus, there are a lot of upper body tackles that McDougle can’t make, which is even more disappointing when you consider that his upper body is likely strong enough to do so. As a result, he’s refined his ability to make low hits on ball carriers, and he’s quite good at it actually. But with low hits come injuries, and it’s exactly how he injured his shoulder versus Connecticut.
The limitations in McDougle’s tackling are evident in this play below.
Above, you can see McDougle close quickly like he does as a blitzer and use his flexibility well to reach the running back while hardly slowing up. But predictably, he doesn’t go in for the quicker tackle on the whole body and crawls into the ball carrier’s legs to wrap him up low. As a result, the back gained another couple of yards.
Even though his tackling is nowhere near perfect, I wouldn’t say it’s a definite weakness for McDougle coming into this league. He’s a willing low tackler and even can apply a big hit here and there, and it’s always a huge asset to have a corner who isn’t afraid to stick his nose in the run game and take on blocks.
Lastly, I couldn’t help but throw this tidbit in. You really can never have enough players who are dynamic with the ball in their hands, even on defense! McDougle brings this type of danger to the field when he has the football with his speed and elusiveness, which you can see in this return versus Clemson below.
In conclusion, I do not think the Jets selection of Dexter McDougle was a reach. At all, to be frank. He isn’t refined and we really can’t tell how much consistency he’s going to bring into the league with the skills he flashes on tape for three games in 2013, but with a third round pick, I think it’s totally worth it. The Jets are taking a mild chance on big potential, and that’s absolutely fine by my standards.