After kicking the tires on South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore, we'll mosey on down the road a stretch to Coastal Carolina, where Josh Norman has plied his trade in the defensive backfield in recent years. Norman is a three-time All-Big South selection (and managed a third team All-American mention after ranking second in the NCAA with eight interceptions in 2009) and a two-time Big South Defensive Player of the Year. This past season, Norman led the Chanticleers (best mascot name ever?) in tackles and led the Big South in both passes defended (1.27) and pass breakups (12), good for sixth best in the nation.
I suspect that Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett will like Norman's story. Though recruited by some bigger schools, Norman followed his older brother, Marrio, to Coastal Carolina, coming to campus as a non-scholarship walk-on. He was an immediate standout, starting seven games as a freshman and all 34 in his sophomore, junior and senior years. After exploding on the scene with his big 2009 season, Big South quarterbacks were understandably hesitant to throw Norman's way, so he never duplicated those numbers. Nevertheless, he finished his collegiate career with 196 tackles (including seven tackles for loss), 35 passes broken up and 13 interceptions. Here's a highlight reel of his work (check out the athletic end-zone pick at the 0.44 mark).
Norman followed this up by strong efforts when mixing it up with the big boys at the East-West Shrine Game (where many pundits proclaimed him the best prospect in attendance) and the Senior Bowl, thus easing any concerns scouts may have had about his ability to move up a level or two in class. At the Combine, however, Norman was rather disappointing. He ran a 4.66 40-yard dash, managed only 14 bench-press reps, poor 33-inch vertical and 7.09 second 3-cone drill marks and a pedestrian 4.23 second short shuttle time. On the plus side, he broad jumped 10'4". Here's the official NFL video of his Combine workout.
Scouts maintain that Norman has all the tools (length, burst, vision, playmaking skill) to play with the big boys. The questions surrounding him have to do with his poor Combine performance and, more importantly, red flags surrounding his off-the field demeanor. He certainly gives scouts a lot to mull over, eh?
What do they think? Take a deep breath and make the jump...
National Football Post (Wes Bunting): 9th-rated CB; 47th overall
He displays good vision when feeling routes, a solid initial burst when looking to close and exhibits "plus" hands when asked to come down with the catch. He showcases natural fluidity in the hips when trying to change directions, stays low and can be physical when driving on the football in order to make a play on the football.
Demonstrates impressive body control when asked to adjust to the football in coverage and routinely is able to come down with the grab. Exhibits "plus" ball skills and has a knack for coming down with the pick. He's also very physical in pressman as well. Now, he does have a tendency to step into the press and will get caught with all his weight on his front foot, causing him to struggle to regain balance quickly.
There are some character concerns to his game off the field; however, the talent is most certainly there.
Impression: Talent says he's a top-60 pick, but there are some character concerns that could cause him to fall. Either way he has the talent to quickly match-up with NFL receiver at the next level.
CSB Sports (Rob Rang): 28th-rated CB; 215th overall
Strengths: Long-armed press corner with size, athleticism and ball skills. Gets an effective jab on the receiver and has loose enough hips to turn and run. Good agility and balance when shadowing his target. Competitive player. Plays the ball as if it was thrown for him, showing burst back to the ball as well as good timing for the jump ball. Good hand-eye coordination. Rips the ball out of the hands of receivers as they grasp at it (35 career PBUs) and shows good hands to make the interception (13 career INTs). Possesses long arms (32.5) and can extend and snatch the ball as well as track the ball over his shoulder. Cagey. Will bait quarterbacks to throw in his direction and shows a surprising burst downhill. Alert run defender willing to take on and discard receiver blockers to get to the action. Enjoyed a strong week of practice at the East-West Shrine Game and and a late call-up to the Senior as an injury replacement, impressive in both environments … Big play artist on special teams, registering a school-record four blocked kicks …
Weaknesses: At his best in press-man coverage as he has a high backpedal and loses a step turning without a cushion. Plays with adequate speed but there are concerns about his ability to handle the truly explosive speedsters of the NFL. Makes himself vulnerable to big plays on occassion by attempting to bait the quarterback. Was arrested in October 2009 for driving with a suspended license.
Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki): 15th-rated CB; 99th overall
Positives: Looks the part—has excellent size, length (long arms) and muscle tone. Thin ankles. Athletic, fluid and flexible. Able to sink his weight or open up his hips, redirect and accelerate. Quick to read and react. Outstanding career ball production—eyes light up when throws go in the air. Can high-point and make acrobatic plays on the ball. Comes from an FCS program which has produced NFL players. Shined at the East-West Shrine Game. Durable.
Negatives: Has to fill out his frame and get stronger. Lacks elite top-end speed. Ordinary leaping ability (33-inch vertical jump). Could stand to refine technique. Looked uncomfortable in off coverage at the Senior Bowl. Bites on double moves (shows up repeatedly on tape). Unreliable edge setter in run contain. Takes some questionable angles in run support. Soft, leaky rodeo tackler who shows poor body control—struggles to break down in space and whiffs. Did not consistently lock down marginal opponents. Could require patience grasping complex schemes. Has an overinflated opinion of his ability—thinks he has arrived and could rub veterans the wrong way once he fits his head through the locker-room door. Has some con in him—questionable character and dependability needs to be investigated. Will be 25 years old by the end of rookie season.
Summary: Long, lean, athletic, cocky FCS ball-hawk with intriguing size, a starter-caliber skill set and NFL-ready swagger. However, has boom-or-bust potential and makeup concerns—arrogance and finesse temperament will turn off some teams. Would be best for a predominantly zone team with veteran leadership and a taskmaster position coach in place. Is a prime candidate to be overdrafted based on his Shrine game performance.
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton): 10th-rated CB; 84th overall
Instincts/Recognition: Flashes good natural cover instincts. However, is inconsistent with his recognition skills and needs to do a better job of diagnosing routes. Looks lost in space at times. Does not pick up new concepts quickly and can be a quarter-count late to react in zone coverage at times. In 2011 game versus Georgia, he had a couple mental lapses and got caught playing out of control a couple other occasions.
Cover Skills: Has the size to match up one-on-one versus bigger WRs in the NFL. Smooth hips for a taller corner and looks natural sinking and opening. Has very quick feet. Can plant and drive on the ball quickly. Displays good burst out of his pedal and closing burst to the football. Smooth mover who can change directions with ease. Also shows ability to turn and run with little wasted motion. Needs to become more consistent and polished with footwork and press-technique. Awareness in zone is inconsistent. Might always be a better man-to-man cover corner.
Ball Skills: Playmaker with very good natural ball skills. Impressive body control to adjust when ball is in the air. Displays upper-echelon short-area closing burst to the football. Knows when to play the ball and when to play the body.. Shows ability to make the play when laying out horizontally and times his jumps/dives well. Was a ball hawk at the small-school level (35 PBUs and 13 INTs in four seasons).
Run Support: Diagnoses run quickly. Adequate job of keeping outside leverage but can be more consistent. Fills hard and is aggressive in run support. Shows good toughness and overall willingness. Plays a bit out of control at times and can improve his pursuit angles and open-field tackling skills. Needs to improve lower body strength as well.
Intangibles: Was arrested in October 2009 for driving with a suspended license but did not miss any playing time since a family member asserted that they were supposed to pay the fee, as promised to Josh. Regardless, scouts are studying his maturity level and work habits closely. As a player, he does not pay close enough attention to detail. Will need a position coach to stay on him and keep him focused in the NFL.
These scouts offer a wide range of possible slots for Norman. Because Rob Rang has him ranked so low, I took a look at a couple of other reputable draftniks reports to develop a more sound consensus. Dan Shonka of Ourlads has Norman as the 15th-ranked CB and 121st overall; Russ Lande of TSN (and GM, Jr.) has him as the 20th best corner and thinks he's fifth-rounder, which puts him in the 135-170 range. Even discounting Rang's ranking, leading draftniks have Norman going anywhere from the second (Bunting) to the fifth (Lande) rounds. Since he has ideal NFL size, I'm inclined to push Norman up my "little board," as I suspect NFL teams will. So, I'll put him in the third round, at # 81.
What might the Cowboys do? Unlike the other tall corners we have looked at already, who are seemingly better suited to playing zone, the scouting reports on Norman suggest that he'd be a good press/ man cover guy - which is exactly the kind of player and scheme that Rob Ryan wants to deploy. Given the questions about his character, it makes perfect sense that the Cowboys wanted Norman to come to the Ranch so they could get better acquainted with him and determine what kind of locker room fit he might offer.
I don't think they'll draft him unless he answers those character questions in a way that makes Garrett comfortable; the RHG has worked too hard to clean up the Dallas locker room to bring in any knuckleheads at this juncture. With this in mind, if they pick Norman, I'll celebrate the choice, as I honestly think he's got the potential to be better (and better in Ryan's scheme) than Kirkpatrick or Gilmore.
Next up: Oklahoma CB Jamell Fleming