This, the last of our profiles of defensive backs in whom the Dallas braintrust has expressed interest, takes a closer look at a guy who started draft season as the player that mockers across the globe (including our esteemed head man here at BTB) were assigning to the Cowboys: Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara. Since that time, both Prince and the Cowboy's need for a defensive back have both been downgraded slightly, and Cowboys Nation seems to have cooled to his game. In recent days, however, his name has resurfaced--in no small part because of the Cowboys' oft-publicized desire to trade down to the middle of the first round, where selecting him makes a lot more sense.
Given the preponderance of information that most of you likely already have on the Prince (much like I did with our profile on the similarly over-saturated Tyron Smith), I'll get out of the way and let our peerless player profilers speak. Here's what they have to say about the Cornhusker corner:
National Football Post (Wes Bunting) 3rd-rated CB; 27th overall
A good athlete for his size who possesses good instincts in coverage and has a real feel for the pass game. Does a nice job quickly locating the football, putting his foot in the ground and clicking and closing on the pass in front of him. Possesses compact footwork in his drop when asked to play in off and does a nice job keeping his feet under him and quickly driving on throws. Exhibits impressive ball skills and consistently is able to come down with the catch. Improved his overall pad level in his drop from a year ago, does a much better job sitting into his stance through the play and not popping upright the longer he has to sit into his stance.
Lacks elite speed vertically down the field when asked to turn and run, will allow receivers to get behind him and doesn't possess the type of second gear to routinely make up for a false step. Possesses a little tightness in the hips when asked to turn and run, but is able to cleanly change directions and looks really comfortable smoothly getting out of his breaks and closing on the throw. Is an improved tackler from last season, has a physical element to his game, breaks down well and will stick his head in and wrap up.
Looked a lot more poised when asked to play in press coverage in 2010 as well. Did a much better job being patient off the line, using the proper hand to initially press with and was able to sit into his stance and maintain balance laterally through the play. However, doesn't play as physical vs. bigger, stronger wideouts at times and gets content playing press-bail, which will get himself in some trouble trying to play more like a finesse corner. Is fluid when asked to turn and run and his combination of balance, footwork and strength off the line makes him really difficult to separate from even initially into routes. However, he does get a bit grabby at times down the field and will get caught stopping his feet when looking back for the football, allowing receivers to get behind him.
Impression: A fluid, balanced corner who possesses only average deep speed, but looks like a guy capable of starting at a number of spots in an NFL secondary. However, I don't think he will ever be a real blue-chip corner.
The Sporting News (Russ Lande) 2nd-rated CB; 29th overall
Coverage skills: Has all the skills to be a solid corner at the next level. Shows the size and strength to really disrupt receivers off the line. Uses his smooth and quiet footwork to mirror the receiver and then jump the route to make plays on the ball. Is rarely beaten deep because of his understanding of routes and responsibilities within the defense. Moves well in the open field and does not get caught flat-footed. Is consistently around the ball.
Run/pass recognition: Shows a high football IQ on film that makes him dangerous to throw at anytime. Always seems to time getting to the receiver right when the ball is arriving and knocking it away from the receiver. Knows when to best take chances to jump the route and make the interception. At times is caught out of position, but has the ability to recover fairly quickly when he does make mistakes
Closing speed: Is more of a quick-twitch type of corner. Has a nice small area closing burst that makes him extremely effective in both man and zone coverage. Shows a second gear to keep pace with smaller scat receivers that get into the open field.
Ball skills: Has a nice nose for the ball. Uses his technique and athleticism to outwork a receiver and get the interception. Is effective on jump balls due to his height. Shows great hips, which allow him to move well around the field, jump routes and really change the momentum of the game. Does not break up as many passes as he has the talent to.
Run support: Seems to love to attack the line of scrimmage and bring ballcarriers down. Shows solid tackling technique and consistently sticks his nose into a pile. Is not the type of tackler that brings on huge collisions that knock balls out, but once he wraps up he makes a concerted effort to strip the ballcarrier. Will sometimes get caught with too much inside leverage against the run.
Bottom line: Amukamara is a solid athletic cornerback, but lacks the elite explosiveness and playing speed NFL teams prefer. However, his great frame allows him to match up against any receiver in the country. Overall, he has the size, strength, athleticism and coverage skills to be a starter at the next level, but doesn't have the playmaking ability to be considered a top-10 pick.
Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki) 2nd-rated CB; 7th overall
Positives: Excellent size—is powerfully built through the legs with a well-defined, thick musculature and a strong trunk. Uses his hands well to reroute at the line. Has natural cover skills—quick-footed with very good speed and transitional quickness to shadow receivers. Good balance and body control. Seldom lets anyone get on top of him—leverages the field. Is aware in zone coverage and processes route combinations quickly. Good football intelligence and feel for the game—quick to key and diagnose. Shows a feel for break points, allowing him to jump throws. Can accelerate and close fast. Explosive burst to drive on throws. Takes good angles. Aggressive in run support—can breakdown and tackle in space and likes to hit. Highly competitive. Dangerous blitzer off the edge. Has a 38-inch vertical leap. Solid character.
Negatives: Has short arms and small, suspect hands—did not record an interception as a senior (questionable downfield ball skills). Could struggle matching up with big, physical receivers, like he did at times against Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon, and got worn out by underneath routes against Oklahoma. Gets caught with his eyes in the backfield and is susceptible to double moves. Tends to clutch and grab more than he should—squats, gets caught on his heels and does not play at timed speed. Tends to rise in his pedal. Lacks elite recovery burst to outrun mistakes. Does not have return experience.
Summary: Sculpted, instinctive, well-coached cover man with the speed, twitch, instincts and tackling ability desired in a No 1 cornerback at the next level. Lacks elite defensive playmaking skills but should be very good for a long time.
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton) 2nd-rated CB; 9th overall
Instincts/Recognition: Confident in abilities and game appears to come easy to him. Anticipation and route recognition skills are a notch below elite. Shows very good awareness in zone coverage. Does a nice job of maintaining strong position and marking defenders coming into his area. Makes a quick diagnosis of both runs and screen and reacts quickly. Physical at the line of scrimmage when in press coverage and does a nice job of disrupting WR release.
Cover Skills: Above-average fluidity for size and shows ability to flip hips and run with receivers downfield when aligned in press coverage. Can get a bit high during backpedal at times and does not show elite quick-twitched explosion transitioning into breaks. Also can lose momentum when having to make sudden 180-degree turn. However, shows good overall balance and maintains strong position in man coverage. Shows quick closing burst to cut down separation when the ball is in the air. Also shows above-ability to recover against double moves and when caught in trail position.
NOTE: Biggest matchup problem was versus Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State) in 2010. But Amukamara did not play as poorly as the perception. Blackmon pushed off on the 36-yard catch in 2nd QTR. Amukamara runs step-for-step with Blackmon on the 2nd QTR P.I. penalty (and it's debatable if he makes contact or not). And while Amukamara does get beat on the flee-flicker (80-yard TD with 6:11 remaining in 2nd QTR), he shows recovery speed to get back into the play. From that point on, Blackmon was targeted three times versus Amukamara and caught one pass for three yards.
Ball Skills: Only concern here is that he can be a quarter-count late finding the ball. For the most part he does a good job in this area and stats (zero INT's) are a bit misleading (he had five INTs in 2009). Aggressive attacking and playing the ball. Carries an attitude that the ball is his whenever he can make a play. Shows natural hands and can pull in tough interception in traffic and outside of frame. Also displays adequate sideline awareness to keep feet in bounds when securing catch.
Run Support: Active and effective versus the run. Makes a quick diagnosis and quickly gets down-hill. Won't deliver violent hit but fills under control and does a nice job of securing tackle. Also does a nice job of going down low and cutting out legs of more powerful runners. Can have some problems quickly disengaging from bigger and more physical receivers at times but that's really the only knock on him in this area.
Intangibles: Takes care of business both on the field and off to succeed and improve. Above-average student. Well-liked by teammates and coaching staff. No off-the-field issues.
I don't know how many of you have seen the NFL Network's "Game Changers" series, where Steve Mariucci works with top prospects. One edition features top corner prospects Amukamara and Aaron Williams; its terrific. The two guys hit the field here; in this segment, Mooch grills them in the film room. After watching it, I like this kid (a lot) more than I did. He came across as smart, humble, and well-spoken--in addition to extremely talented. That said, I'm hoping the Cowboys don't draft the Prince--not because I don't like his game, but because I think they have far more pressing needs at other positions. If they Cowboys do pick him up, I hope its because they either a) trade back up in the first round after trading down and still nabbing T. Smith or Castonzo or b) he mysteriously--and shockingly--falls to them in round two.
I doubt this is going to happen, because this kid has first round written all over him. As most of the above scouting types point out, however, his game's not dynamic enough to warrant the ninth pick (Wes Bunting offers an argument why, here), but he's a prime candidate should Dallas trade down. That's where I'll put him: with the other "trade down" candidates, the Carimis and Pouncey's of the world, in the late teens or early twenties.
Next up: UNC LB Bruce Carter