NFL Draft – Deep Dive Into CB Evaluation, Seven Jets Targets

James Kuntz breaks down prospective cornerback targets for the New York Jets in the NFL Draft and the best metics to evaluate potential success at the position

A month ago I wrote an article in which I examined the importance of Combine testing for offensive skill position players. I concluded that the metric that is most strongly correlated with success for Running backs and Wide Receivers is speed score, while, for Tight Ends, above-average testing in virtually every event besides the bench press is correlated with success. I thought it would be interesting to apply this concept to a position that the Jets will target in the Draft: cornerback.

To do this, I compiled data on the 17 NFL Cornerbacks who made the Pro Bowl in 2019 and 2020. I then averaged the metrics from these 17 players and compared them to the equivalent metrics of the average NFL player in order to determine which are most different. I found that four measurables set Pro Bowlers apart from the rest: Arm Length, Speed Score, Vertical Jump, and Broad Jump.

Although arm length is  infrequently mentioned, it is one of the most useful tools in predicting cornerback success. A common football cliché is that it’s a “game of inches,” but for cornerbacks, it often is. An inch or two in arm length can be the difference between a catch and a pass breakup or a pass breakup and an interception. However, arm length isn’t just useful for making plays on the ball; arm length also enables corners to shed blockers in the run or screen game. The average NFL arm length is 31.43 inches, while the average NFL Pro Bowler arm length is 32.22 inches (75 PCTL). This 25 percentile difference underscores the importance of this often overlooked measurement. In addition to arm length, speed score is an equally important metric in evaluating cornerbacks.

Given that speed score was an indicator of top NFL offensive skill position players, it is no surprise that speed score is similarly useful for identifying top Cornerback prospects. Speed score contextualizes the 40 yard dash by taking into account a player’s weight. The exact formula is [player weight] x [200] / [40 time]^4. This metric is useful when comparing players at the same position who have vastly differing weights. The average speed score of NFL corners is just over 94, while the average speed score of NFL Pro Bowl corners is 102.43. While there are some exceptions like Xavien Howard (91.36) and Richard Sherman (91.80), almost all Pro Bowl corners possess above average speed scores and 11 of 17 have speed scores above 100.

While speed score is important, the broad jump has the greatest correlation between having an impressive score and making the Pro Bowl. The average NFL cornerback broad jump is 10’2” (50 PCTL) while the Pro Bowl average is 10’8” (86 PCTL). This 26 percentile difference between league average and Pro Bowl average among all the events I tracked. In fact, there were only two Pro Bowlers of the 17 that had below average broad jumps: Marcus Peters and Tre’davious White. The fact that 15 of 17 Pro Bowlers have above average broad jumps demonstrates the importance of this event.

Lastly, it’s worth examining the vertical jump, which is the last event with a correlation to success in the NFL that I haven’t mentioned yet. There is a 21 percentile difference between the Pro Bowl average vertical jump (37.5”) and league average (35.6”). It is worth noting that this event had the largest number of outliers among Pro Bowl corners, with some, like Byron Jones, placing in the 99th percentile and others, like Tre’Davious White, in the 8th percentile. That being said, there were only 5 Pro Bowlers that have below average vertical jumps.

Having examined the Combine measurements that are correlated with success in the NFL—arm length, speed score, broad jump and vertical jump—it’s worth examining which players in the 2020 NFL Draft fit those criteria whom the Jets may be interested in.

Day 2:
Jeff Gladney – TCU: 94.8 speed score, 317/8 in. arm length, 10’4” broad jump

Gladney is currently projected as a fringe first round pick, and if he were to fall in the Draft to 48, the Jets’ Front Office would have a tough time passing on him. According to Jordan Reid of the Draft Network, Gladney is “scrappy, tough, and physical.” Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com says that Gladney is scheme versatile, as well as “quick and feisty.” Scouts are eager to point out that Gladney’s physique is slightly underbuilt, but this issue is easily remedied in an NFL weight program. Gladney’s scheme versatility and scrappiness make him an ideal fit for Gregg Williams’ defense.

Noah Igbinoghene – Auburn: 98.3 speed score, 313/4 in. arm length, 10’8” broad jump

Igbinoghene is an excellent athlete but a technically unrefined player. A former track star, Igbinoghene is explosive, aggressive, and has none of the physical limitations (ie. hip stiffness) that plague other defensive backs. That being said, Igbinoghene has a habit of playing with his back to the ball and can be a bit over aggressive in man coverage, which may lead to penalties in the NFL. According to Benjamin Solak of the Draft Network, “The ceiling isn’t even nearly scratched with Igbinoghene, but you should not rely on him to start in Year 1, unless you are comfortable with some growing pains.” If the Jets are looking for a developmental corner, Igbinoghene fits the bill; the real question is whether Igbinoghene’s athleticism is enticing enough for the Jets to forego greater needs (ie. wide receiver) at pick 48.

Day 3:
Michael Ojemudia – Iowa: 102.0 speed score, 321/4 in. arm length, 10’2” broad jump

An early day 3 target, Ojemudia exceeds all desired physical markers and brings the requisite toughness and physicality to stick in the NFL. He’s a willing tackler who’s not afraid to lay big hits on wide receivers. Ojemudia is primarily a zone corner because of his lack of fluidity to flip his hips, according to Kyle Crabbs of the Draft Network. That being said, Ojemudia is combative and competent at the line of scrimmage in disrupting releases. Ojemudia is a paradoxical evaluation in some ways because he has athletic gifts (ie. impressive speed and arm length), but some of his athletic shortcomings (ie. lack of short area quickness and hip fluidity) limit his deployment. Ojemudia fits the aggressive brand of play that Gregg Williams values and would play well in Williams’ zone-heavy scheme. Depending on how the board falls, Ojemudia should be a target in the fourth round for the Jets.

Kindle Vildor – Georgia Southern: 98.3 speed score, 321/4 in. arm length, 11’1” broad jump

Vildor is an undersized corner who will need to put on weight in the NFL in order to take advantage of his physical gifts. Vildor has good ball skills, is violent at the catch point, and is capable of throwing around his body to generate incompletions out of nowhere. According to Jordan Reid of the Draft Network, Vildor is more comfortable when he is allowed to be “handsy in coverage,” but I noticed watching him that Vildor possesses decent click and close ability in off coverage. It’s difficult to determine whether Vildor will be a late round pick or a priority UDFA, but I’d feel comfortable if the Jets traded back and used a 7th round pick on him.

Harrison Hand – Temple: 94.4 speed score, 313/4 in. arm length, 11’1” broad jump

A transfer out of Baylor, Hand is a gifted athlete and an ultra scheme-specific prospect. Some think that Hand would be best served if converted to safety, due to his comfort with Cover 3 and aggressiveness as a tackler. If the choice were between Ojemudia and Hand, I would choose Ojemudia because he’s a more versatile prospect, but both offer similar value in terms of physicality, length, and click-and-close in zone coverage. Hand isn’t the best fit for the Jets, but if he falls in the Draft to 6th round, he’s more than worth a shot.

Reggie Robinson – Tulsa: 105.5 speed score, 311/2 in. arm length, 11’ broad jump

Robinson is an intriguing player who notably possesses the highest speed score of any prospect mentioned in this article. Robinson is an interesting evaluation because he needs improvement in all aspects of his game, but there’s definitely an athletic foundation to build on and flashes of excellence, the foremost example of which being when he abandoned a smoke screen to pick off a corner route against Oklahoma State. Robinson is relatively scheme versatile and has the upside of an eventual starter in years 2/3. I’d love to take a shot on Robinson in the 6th or 7th rounds if he’s available.

UDFAs:
Thakarius Keyes – Tulane: N/A speed score, 325/8 in. arm length, 10’6” broad jump

Keyes is an intriguing evaluation. There’s a lot to like: monster arm length, fundamentally sound tackling, and decent short area athleticism, but there are some very valid questions about his long speed. These concerns are compounded by the fact that the level of competition he faced is likely not even equivalent to that of NFL practice squad players. Keyes gets bailed out by his arm length all the time, so the question is: will this gift translate to the NFL. Keyes is worth a preseason invite for the Jets, who can compete for a spot on the 53 man roster.