Paulson Adebo offers a very strange study as a football player. He made a name for himself as a dynamic athlete in the Texas high school football world as both a receiver and cornerback before committing to Notre Dame, but he ultimately had a change of heart and signed with Stanford. As a four-star prospect, his flip to the Cardinal from the Irish was yet another reminder that Stanford had cemented itself as a true powerhouse in college football.
Name: Paulson Adebo
Weight: 192 lbs
2019 Stats: 9 games, 33 tackles, four interceptions, 10 passes defensed
Adebo didn’t play his first year, but when he stepped onto the field in 2018 he immediately made noise. Starting every game that year, Adebo had 64 tackles, five of them for a loss, forced a fumble, and tallied a whopping 17 pass breakups along with four interceptions. His play earned him a first team All-Pac 12 honor, which he repeated the next year with similar stats.
It was widely expected at the time that Adebo would go to the draft after just two seasons of stellar play, and Mel Kiper had him pegged as the best cornerback prospect behind Jeff Okudah. But Adebo returned for the 2020 season, shocking everyone, only to end up opting out due to COVID-19. Now, a mere year later in a cornerback class that is largely perceived to be less talented than last year’s bunch, Adebo is struggling to gain traction. But the guy who was once Kiper’s CB2 hasn’t done a thing to change his profile.
Man Coverage: Only one word: sticky. When Adebo is coming up on his guy in man coverage, he doesn’t get easily shaken off from his assignment. He’s got the perfect combination of fluidity and agility to mirror his receivers with ease and stay right on their tail throughout the route. Stanford almost exclusively had Adebo pressing receivers when calling man, which makes sense given his frame. There were times where I swore I was watching Byron Jones again.
Zone Coverage: Adebo is so good in man coverage that you almost don’t want to have him do anything else, but he’s also very effective in zone coverage. Not so much to the point where he’s more valuable in zone than in man, but he is very, very solid in zone. He understands spacing very well and does a good job of simultaneously reading the quarterback’s eyes and paying attention to receivers that enter and exit his zone. Adebo has the agility to cover distance in his zone with adequate timing as well, which helped contribute to his high amount of pass breakups both years.
Playmaking Ability: Ball. Hawk. Adebo is the poster boy for ball-hawking cornerbacks. He had 27 pass breakups and eight picks in just two years. To put that in perspective, the combination of Trevon Diggs, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis had a combined 24 passes defensed and six picks this last year. Adebo simply has an instinct for going after the ball. He does a good job of getting his head around in man coverage, largely due to his mirroring skills, and always plays through the catch point. His background as a receiver comes into play a lot too, as he understands how to shield against others and rise up to make the catch. Even when he’s not in a position to make a pick, he gets his hands on the ball to impact the play.
Athleticism: Adebo isn’t going to be breaking any records with his 40 time or broad jump, but he has great functional athleticism for the position. Very rarely would he get burned by faster guys. He has loose hips that allow him to handle a wide variety of releases by receivers, and his footwork is impeccable when trying to redirect receivers’ routes.
Run Support: Like most cornerbacks, Adebo isn’t overly physical in run support. He doesn’t make business decisions and is more than willing to do his part as a tackler, but nobody is going to suggest moving him to safety based on his run support. Still, he’s a smart run defender in that he comes in at a good, controlled speed and takes consistent angles. It’s why he managed five tackles for a loss in 2018, a rarity for cornerbacks.
Processing: It’s well-known that Stanford is the rare school that truly values academics over athletic ability, and players don’t get athletic scholarships there if they’re not smart. So it’s no surprise that Adebo, a mechanical engineering major, plays the game with a great mind. Whether it’s man or zone coverage, playing the ball in the air or coming up to make a tackle, Adebo understands where he is on the field relative to the ball and is able to inform his game decisions on that.
Toughness: As touched on with his run support, Adebo isn’t a headhunter or an overly physical guy, but he doesn’t lack any toughness where it counts. In coverage, he’s constantly in the faces of receivers and always gets in position to impact the ball in one way or another. Just because he won’t deliver any highlight reel hits doesn’t mean this guy isn’t a tough defender.
Intangibles: The football IQ aspect will play a large role in Adebo’s intangibles. His ability to absorb a playbook and scheme quickly should help his appeal to coaches. As with many players in this draft class, his decision to opt out will come under intense scrutiny with some teams. It’ll be interesting to see how certain teams approach players that did opt out. But Adebo last played football the same time Caleb Farley did, and he played at a much higher level, so it’s curious to see Farley getting all the buzz while Adebo seems to have been completely forgotten in the last year. But the tape is pretty clear that Ahe offers a legitimate outside cornerback prospect with playmaking ability from day one.