Cowboys Draft Prospects: Johnny Patrick

Today's first installment of our series on prospects invited to Valley Ranch features Louisville CB Johnny Patrick. Patrick was a two-year starter (27 total starts) for the Cardinals, who's work in his senior season landed him on the Big East's first team defense after a campaign in which he finished the season with 51 tackles and tied for the conference lead with 17 passes defended. He closed out the season in high style, with a strong performance in the...wait for it: Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, in which he forced a fumble and blocking a kick in a win over conference rival Southern Miss.

At 5-11 and 191, Patrick meets the Cowboys' size requirements for cornerbacks, although he is admittedly on the smaller size of their acceptable range. That said, he plays big; Patrick uses his long arms to jolt receivers at the line and redirects well, he flies around the field, and he isn't afraid to stick his nose into things. This toughness is a key part of an overal package that includes good quickness and good--but not great--speed. Most scouts note that, although Patrick's game has seen considerable improvement in the last three years, he's still raw, especially when it comes to technique. To see what they're talking about, check out these videos: here's a nice one of Patrick in action against Syracuse; although most of the shots are pretty far away in this fuzzy (and self-produced?) highlight video, you can see his instincts: watch him reacting to the design of the play (he's # 19, lined up at left corner).

Since the season ended, Patrick has acquitted himself solidly, if unspectacular. At the Combine, he registered a respectable 4.16 short shuttle time, but the rest of his marks (bench-pressed 225 pounds a mere 13 times; 4.59 forty; a weak 32 inch vertical; the second-worst broad jump among defensive backs) were lackluster. A video of his Combine workout can be found here. At Louisville's pro day, which was attended by 27 teams, he fared somewhat better in terms of raw speed, tallying 4.52 and 4.46 40s.

Apparently, the 49ers were impressed enough that they took Patrick to dinner after his pro day performance. Since then, he has visited the Patriots as well as the Cowboys. After the jump, let's see what, according to our most revered draft pundits, these teams have seen in Patrick's game...

National Football Post (Wes Bunting) 10th-rated CB; 82nd overall

A tall, well-put-together corner with a long set of arms and a good-looking frame. Exhibits above-average patience in his drop and does a good job sitting into his back-pedal and getting good depth off the line. Maintains his balance and is coordinated enough to keep his feet under him in coverage and showcases good click and close ability on routes in front of him. Locates the football quickly in the underneath run game, fights his way through traffic and has the power to wrap up on contact. Is a strong tackler and isn't afraid to quickly attack the line and tackle. Also, displays good physicality off the line in press coverage. Isn't real technically sound at this stage and will get a bit overextended at times, but overall can get into receivers and disrupt their timing in the pass game.

Also, is a bit stiff in the hips and struggles to turn and run down the field with receivers.Consistently loses a step because he struggles to stay low and compact with his footwork, takes too long to get up to speed and doesn't have the ability to quickly make up for a lost step. Lacks ideal awareness down the field, as well, loses track of his man easily, doesn't consistently take proper angles toward the ball and will struggle to regain balance in jump ball situations. However, has improved his overall feel for the game this season, does a much better job identifying routes, closing on the football and making more plays in the pass game when throws are in front of him.

Impression: A good-looking athlete who has improved his overall balance in his drop, will tackle on the football and can click and close on plays in front of him. Still allows himself to get upright when asked to turn and run, but looks like a draftable corner who can work his way onto the field.

The Sporting News (Russ Lande) 31st-rated CB; overall unknown (not in top 99)

Strengths: Has a solid frame that he uses well in coverage. Displays long arms that allow him to shield receivers from the ball, especially on jump balls and fade routes. Has the speed to stay with fast receivers on deep routes and the quick reactions to defend well in off coverage and make up space created by receivers. Shows a consistent break that keeps him in good position. Shows good instincts when going for interceptions or breaking up passes.

Weaknesses: Is a bit sloppy in his technique. Tends to start and stay high in his backpedal, which makes him lose balance. Does not seem interested in run support. Hesitates to get involved in tackling. Shows poor tackling technique, tending to lunge at the ballcarrier's feet. Has long arms but rarely uses them to jam or re-route receivers.

Bottom line: Patrick spent the last three seasons developing and improving to the point where he was considered Louisville's shutdown corner in 2010. He has a good combination of size, athleticism and coverage skills, and could be a nice late-round selection provided he has a solid 40 time at the NFL Combine. Patrick has the physical talent to start in the NFL but will need to improve his technique, consistency and tackling.

Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki) 4th-rated CB; 43rd overall

Positives: Has a solid build and good athletic ability. Good cover skills—balanced, quick-footed and loose-hipped to mirror, shadow and ride a receiver’s hip. Smooth pedal and transition. Shows good zone reactions to break on short-to-intermediate throws. Supports the run aggressively. Has experience as a gunner. Showed improvement as the season progressed and finished the season strong.

Negatives
: Average size and speed. Has short arms and small hands—is not physical to re-route receivers at the line. Average functional strength—stays stuck on blocks. Could struggle to match up vs. taller receivers. Played with his eyes in the backfield and did not press at the line. Average plant-and-drive quickness—gets beat to break points and gives up some big plays. One-year producer. Questionable mental toughness. Does not like to play through pain. Character needs to be evaluated.

Summary
: Adequate-sized, field-fast, zone corner who lacks elite speed, length and explosion, but ascended as a senior when he showed starter-caliber coverage skills and a willingness to stick his nose in the run game. Could contribute early as a gunner, but the team that drafts him will have to evaluate his trustworthiness given questions about his character and makeup.

ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton) 7th-rated CB; 65th overall

Instincts/Recognition: Appears to have good overall diagnostic skills. Displays natural instincts in man coverage and can anticipate routes. Also shows good field awareness in zone coverage and does a nice job of reading QB's eyes and getting into passing lanes. However, he can be over aggressive at times and is susceptible to double moves. Questionable mental toughness and has had a history of going into the tank after making a mistake.

Cover Skills: Shows good technique and stays low in pedal. Feet always appear to be underneath and in balance. Moves well laterally and transitions quickly when breaking forward at the top of pedal. However, feet are quicker than hips and he shows some tightness when having to make sudden change of direction. Struggles to quickly transition and recover once caught out of position. Physical when aligned in press and does a nice job of using hands to reroute and disrupt WR's release. Closing burst is good and can cut down separation when the ball is in the air. Lacks an elite extra gear when caught in trail position.

Ball Skills: This is an area of strength. Generally takes sound angles and does a nice job of locating and playing the ball. Flashes ability to make catch outside of frame but lacks elite play making skills. Can be shielded at times by bigger and more physical receivers in jump ball situations.

Run Support: Diagnoses the run quickly. However, would like to see him fill and tackle with more conviction. Wrap up and drag down tackler and does not show ability to deliver strike. Generally reliable in the open field but will have issues bringing down more powerful runners in one-on-one situations.

Intangibles: Does not have a great work ethic off the field (film study, weight room, etc.). Light came on with new coaching staff but still has some maturing to do.

These reports suggest that Patrick has a lot of tools for a coaching staff to work with: a good frame, fluidity and instincts; plus, he's a willing tackler. On the other hand, he seems to be a one-year wonder, a type that many scouts prefer to avoid because many such wonders tend to revert back to previous form. So, the Dallas braintrust must determine: is the light that came on in Patrick's senior season going to stay on, or was it a temporary flicker? Because of the uncertainty of the answer to this question, its difficult to slot Patrick anywhere above the third round. On the other hand, his skill set is such that I can't imagine him lasting beyond the third. Therefore, if the Cowboys want to add him to their roster, it'll have to be in the third, where (assuming they don't trade down) they have pick # 71.

Next up: Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara

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