With the 2010 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before the 2011 scouting combine begins on Feb. 24, we'll be taking a closer look at the 40 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue our series with Nebraska defensive back Prince Amukamara. As a key man in one of the better college defenses in recent years on a season-to-season basis (featuring an especially dominant secondary), Amukamara established himself as a great athlete and an outstanding pass defender. In three full seasons (48 games), including eight in his freshman year, Amukamara intercepted five passes, made 110 tackles (100 solo), has 26 passes defended, forced three fumbles, had four sacks and one quarterback hurry.
There's a lot of talk about Amukamara perhaps being a better fit at safety at the NFL level (think Antrel Rolle(notes)), which is an odd concept for such a good cover corner. What does the tape tell us?
Pros: Fast enough to backpedal with most receivers in press coverage; but more importantly, he does a fantastic job of mirroring his assignment through any sort of route. Exceptional feel for where receivers he's covering are going, which makes his on-field speed even more impressive because he doesn't have to flail around and play catch-up. Transitions well from coverage to tackling if his target doesn't have the ball - he'll break off quickly and help make a play.
He doesn't get lost in off coverage because he can generally clamp down so well in short areas. Is able to disengage from the blocks of bigger receivers and make run tackles and is willing to do so – he doesn't mysteriously disappear when a bigger back is in his line. Isn't really affected by double moves or stutters at the line because he's so quick and his footwork is so good. Closes quickly, violently, and with great direction on receiver screens and other throws around the line of scrimmage. Good size (6-foot, 205 pounds) and isn't afraid to use it when tackling.
Cons: As fast as his trail speed is, and as well as he takes receivers through their routes underneath, Amukamara frequently gets eaten up on comebacks and other quick moves out of more vertical route concepts. Is so intent on following the ball at times that receivers can actually transition him out of coverage. Can catch up to receivers who play possum at the line and then blaze away, but finds it difficult to jump with bigger receivers as he's catching up (his game against Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State was especially revealing in this area).
Can jump routes very well but seemed to do less of this in 2010, as teams appeared to game-plan around him by getting vertical with their best receivers and breaking off quickly. At this point, it appears that Amukamara's still catching up to that concept, and it's one reason he didn't have any interceptions in 2010.
Conclusion: Comparing any rookie to Darrelle Revis(notes) is unfair and burdensome, but the NFL prospect versions of Revis and Amukamara do have some similarities. When Revis came out of Pitt, he was underrated as a deep trail corner (which is hilarious at this point, because that may be the thing Revis does best as a New York Jet), needed to improve his backpedal but did have the makeup speed to compensate, and had a highly developed sense of press coverage.
Amukamara can only hope to have the benefit of the kind of defensive coaching Revis has had at the pro level, but if he gets in the right system with coaches who will be patient with his flaws and understand what he can bring to a defense (perhaps as a nickel corner at first), he could be the next great man corner in the league. Prince Amukamara is not a future safety – at worst, he's a decent and slightly overdrafted corner, and at best, he's a star waiting to happen.
NFL Comparison: Darrelle Revis, Pitt Panthers
More Shutdown 40
#40 -- Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State | #39 - Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee
| #38 - Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor | #37 - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas | #36 -- Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami | #35 -- Danny Watkins, OL, Baylor | #34 - Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State | #33 -- Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State | #32 - Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida | #31 - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado | #30 - Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame | #29 - Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois | #28 - Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State | #27 - Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA | #26 - Brandon Harris, CB, Miami | #25 - Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin | #24 -- Jake Locker, QB, Washington| #23 -- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado| #22 - J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin | #21 - Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois| #20 - Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State | #19 - Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland | #18 - Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue | #17 - Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama | #16 - Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa | #15 - Tyron Smith, OT, USC | #14 - Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri | #13 - Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College | #12 - Cam Newton, QB, Auburn| #11 -- Cameron Jordan, DL, Cal| #10 - Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri | #9 - Julio Jones, WR, Alabama