Cowboys 2012 Draft Prospects: South Carolina CB Stephon Gilmore

Stephon Gilmore shines in pass interception drills at the Combine

From now until the draft, our in-depth looks at possible Cowboys draftees will focus on defensive backs. We'll look at corners and then move to safety prospects. Our last post offered some interesting info on Alabama corner Dre Kirkpatrick; here, we'll look at another tall (6'0"), first-round former SEC corner, South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore.

Gilmore has started all 40 games at corner for the Gamecocks over the past three seasons. In 2011, he recorded 46 tackles during the 2011 campaign while leading the team with four interceptions (including one in the bowl win over Nebraska), giving him eight for his college career. Following the 2010 season, he was a first-team All-SEC selection and a third-team AP All-American after tallying 79 tackles and three picks. Gilmore has demonstrated the ability to make plays, finishing his career with eight interceptions, four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.

His experience and playmaking ability were enough to impress scouts, most of whom had him as a late first or early second round pick at the end of the 2011 season. However, Gilmore's Combine workout, during which he registered an impressive 4.40 40-yard dash and added a 36-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot, 3-inch broad jump, a 6.61 3-cone drill time as well as the second best mark (3.94 seconds) among defensive backs in the 20-yard shuttle, served to push him up draft boards. Here's video of Gilmore doing his thing in Indianapolis.

Enamored with his size and raw athleticism, Gilmore is now being mentioned as a potential top-ten pick. On one level this makes sense: Gilmore is a superb athlete, with an NFL-ideal body. He's also smart player who uses his size well, both going to the ball and coming up on the run aggressively. That said, he's not particularly strong in man coverage - which is disappointing for a guy his size, and gets beat too often for a guy with his athletic talent. What should we make of him? Let's look at some film. Here's a comprehensive highlight video, and here he is in action against Nebraska and doing his thing as the Gamecocks face off against Alabama.

As with Kirkpatrick - and most of the first rounders in the 2012 draft - we see an athletic specimen with some worrisome warts to his game. Before considering where to slot Gilmore, I think we should get a little more info.

Check out what our collection of scouting types has to say about Gilmore and his NFL prospects after the jump...

National Football Post (Wes Bunting): 4th-rated CB; 32nd overall

A tall, solidly built corner with a physical nature to his game. Plays in mostly pres-bail/off-coverage at South Carolina and is at his best when he's near the line of scrimmage. For his size showcases impressive lateral quickness in order to mirror. Can keep his base down and under himself initially, but his base level rises the longer he's asked to sit into his drop. However, collects himself quickly and showcases a good initial burst when asked to turn and run. Uses his length well to work an arm bar toward the sideline. Is fluid in his hips, cleanly out of his backpedal and gets up to speed quickly. Exhibits good straight-line speed for his size (played like a mid 4.4 guy) and made it tough on defenders to separate vertically. Showcases some strength off the line when asked to press, has the ability to re-route because of his size, length and quickness, but needs to continue to improve his footwork in order to stay more compact/balanced.

Isn't nearly as balanced in off/zone concepts. Has a tendency to want to get upright and open up his hips prematurely. Doesn't feel the routes of receivers overly well, at times he gives up far too much cushion underneath and struggles to get back out of his breaks. Will get caught with his hips locked prematurely with his back to the sideline and is forced to get overextended with his footwork in order to click and close or simply bail out of his drop and turn his back to the receiver in order to loop around toward the football. Needs to do a better job being more patient in his drop, sitting lower and staying more compact with his footwork. However, he is the kind of athlete that can improve in this area. He showcases natural bend, quickness and fluidity to his game. When he does set his feet, showcases a good closing burst on the football. Exhibits good range in the deep half with above-average ball skills in space.

Will even line-up at safety at times. Does a nice job reading the action in front of him and getting early jumps on the ball. However, doesn't always trust what he sees when asked to close and can get a bit tentative at times. Nevertheless, is a "plus" tackler at the position who isn't afraid to come up near the line of scrimmage and throw his weight around. Is a strong kid who generates a pop on contact and will wrap on the play. At times gets a bit lazy wrapping, but has the skill set and length to fend off blocks on the edge and breakdown on the ball carrier.

Impression: Is a "plus" sized corner with good quickness and fluidity. Needs to clean up his footwork in off/zone concepts, but has skill set to play near the line, check receivers and turn and run. Should be able to fight for a starting role during his rookie year in more of a zone scheme.

CBS Sports (Rob Rang): 3rd-rated CB; 19th overall

Man Coverage: Plays mostly in press-bail or off-coverage. Flashes a tough, aggressive punch after the snap in rare press coverage occasions, but may not have the strength to knock NFL receivers off their routes. Not elite transitioning forward from backpedal, will take an extra step or loop a bit when closing on slants. Lacks elite recovery and straight-line speed to stay with faster wideouts down the field if beaten on a double move or losing a step off the line.

Zone Coverage: Fits best in a zone system like he currently plays. Knows his, and others', assignments on every play. Comes out initial read quickly to stop the underneath route dead. Quick feet in off coverage to adjust to inside routes, even when playing outside technique. Explodes to plays in front of him, cutting down his target or wrapping up if able to line up the receiver. Forces turnovers and dropped passes with his ability to arrive strong at the receiver with the ball.

Ball Skills: Makes quarterbacks pay for poor throws with centerfielder-like instincts and hands. Uses his height in full advantage on jump balls, make difficult catches with his hands extended away from his frame. Excellent elusiveness after the catch that shows as a punt returner. Has solid hands and typically makes the right decision to fair catch, but does not have breakaway speed and will dance or move east-west instead of heading straight upfield.

Run Support: Takes run support very seriously, seeking out contact. Chops down runs to his side when able, evades most receivers blocks with quickness and quick hands -- though NFL receivers will have regular success holding him up on the outside because of his slight build.

Tackling: Aggressive hitter in the secondary who plays without regard to his own safety. Best when coming downhill and cutting down ballcarriers with a low shoulder. Constantly looking to strip the football from ballcarriers while other defenders are making the tackle. Man-up tackling is a challenge for him, however, when facing a strong runner who lowers his pads or larger receivers with the length to stiff-arm him. Plays on coverage units. Brought on edge blitzes regularly when front four isn't getting there, uses quickness and big hits to create turnovers from the blind side.

Intangibles: Left after junior season with 40 career starts. Quiet, hard-working player who consistently gets praise from coaches and teammates for his work ethic and attitude. Puts in time in the film room, knows his opponents and defensive scheme inside and out. No worries about on-field effort, brings tenacious attitude on every play.

Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki): 4th-rated CB; 27th overall

Positives: Excellent height and athletic ability. Good speed. Natural bender with fluid movement skills. Balanced pedal. Transitions cleanly. Quick and agile in short area—lot of ground contact to pop out of breaks. Clocked sub-4.4 times in the 40, 3.94 seconds in the short shuttle and 6.61 seconds in the 3-cone drill at the Combine. Rangy. Supports the run willingly and is a physical tackler. Effective blitzer. Has returned kicks. Plays hard. Experienced, three-year, SEC starter. Does not dwell on mistakes. Has upside. Comes from a program known for producing successful NFL defensive backs. Good character. Mature.

Negatives: Lacks elite twitch and top-end speed—pedals tall and does not play to timed speed. Technique needs refinement. Was not asked to press very often—allows too much cushion and loses phase. Average instincts and anticipation. Inconsistent downfield ball reactions—is more natural reacting to lays in front of him than playing in reverse with his back to the ball. Could stand to get stronger and disengage from blocks more quickly. Up-and-down performer.

Summary
: A wiry, smooth, physical, inconsistent cornerback, Gilmore is unpolished, but offers scheme versatility and starter-caliber athletic traits. Is most comfortable in off-man/ zone coverage and should play faster once he’s coached up on the finer technical and mental points. Could move to free safety down the road. Premium for cover talent and upside will push him higher than he grades on tape.

ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton): 2nd-rated CB; 18th overall

Instincts/Recognition: Instincts are underwhelming when he's playing off the line. Gives too much cushion, doesn't always trust his reads and is too hesitant at times. Will be late diagnosing play too often and gets too many late jumps on the ball. Also will get himself in trouble by opening too early and/or getting his feet crossed up. Route recognition has improved. Much more natural when he starts at the line and either checks WR or immediately bails. Has a nose for the ball and seems to be in on more than his share of big plays (defense and special teams).

Cover Skills: Plays a lot of bail technique and off-coverage. More effective when he's close to the line than when he's in space. Has good size and quick feet. Could be more compact in his backpedal and tends to rise before turning or driving. But he shows adequate-to-good fluidity in his hips and good burst out of his pedal. Appears to have above average top-end speed and can make up some ground when ball is in the air. Has held up well vertically in man-to-man. Has a tendency to clutch and grab downfield and will need to adjust in the NFL. Gets lazy with his footwork and loose with his pedal. Gets his feet crossed and will open too early, which leaves him vulnerable versus double moves.

Ball Skills: Ball skills area adequate-to-good but not elite. Appears natural tracking the ball over his shoulder. Did a better job in 2011 of getting head turned around and locating the ball vertically. Shows good body control to adjust. Typically takes solid angles to the ball and times jumps well. Hands are adequate but not great. Needs to be more consistent attacking the ball at high point. All three INTs in 2010 were gift wrapped: tipped balls into his hands vs. Furman and Florida, and a hanging overthrow vs. FSU. However, 2011 INTs vs Vandy and UT were hard-earned.

Run Support: Has good size and shows some willingness in support. Likes to be in the mix near the line of scrimmage. Will lower his shoulder and deliver a blow on occasion. Has good initial power for a CB and will wrap up at times, but needs to be a more consistent finisher. See too many times on tape when he leads with his shoulder and fails to wrap up.

Intangibles: Member of the Fall SEC Academic Honor Roll in 2009 and 2010. Mature for his age. Quiet but leads by example. Was a fulltime starter immediately as a true freshman and handled the pressure. Has shown the work ethic, confidence and decision making necessary to succeed in NFL. No off-the-field issues to our knowledge.

Here's Bob Sturm's terrific profile of Gilmore, in which he reaches a contrarian's conclusion.

And here's a fun, old-school flavored preview from the fine folks at SBNation:

What to do with Gilmore? Our scouts are quite consistent in their appraisals: to them, he's a late first-rounder (with a range from 18-32). That said, a passing league with an ever-increasing number of tall receivers pushes up the stock of tall corners - perhaps higher than is reasonable; I've heard scuttlebut that Jacksonville might be interested in Gilmore at # 7! If he makes it past the Jaguars (and the teams picking from 8-13) to the Cowboys, I wouldn't be at all disappointed were they to take him, as I think that's about where the league has him slotted - and that's where I'll place him on my "little board."

That said, he does pose some risk-reward problems; as Sturm points out in the above-cited piece, Gilmore's play doesn't always live up to his tool kit. The question is: what is his risk-reward ratio versus that of, say Michael Brockers or Dontari Poe, two other risk-reward prospects. To my mind, when there are comparable tall, athletic corners further down the draft board (see: Trumaine Johnson, Josh Norman and Chris Greenwood), taking a chance on Gilmore makes less sense, from a gambling perspective, than rolling the dice on a big first-round defensive lineman - because there aren't any comparable candidates to be found on days two and three.

But that's just me. What do you all think? Go to the comments section and let 'er rip!

Next up: Coastal Carolina CB Josh Norman

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