Tale of the tape: Williams vs. Moore

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Sometimes, the position you play in college isn’t a great fit for the NFL. This might be true for defensive backs Aaron Williams (Texas) and Rahim Moore (UCLA).

Their skills seem to transfer better elsewhere. Williams projects better at free safety after playing cornerback for the Longhorns, and Moore might just be a great nickel cornerback after playing free safety for the Bruins.

Why would these switches make sense, especially in an unimpressive safety draft class?

Aaron Williams , Texas

Photo Williams

Height: 6-0
Weight: 204
40 time: 4.31
10-yard split: 1.58
20-yard split: 2.55
Shuttle: 4.07
3-cone: 6.72
Vertical: 37½”
225-pound bench press: 18 reps
Broad jump: 10-foot-7
Games: 37
Tackles: 97 (65 solo)
Interceptions: 4
Passes defensed: 15
Forced fumbles: 6

Rahim Moore, UCLA

Photo Moore

Height: 6-0
Weight: 202
40 time: 4.58
10-yard split: 1.56
20-yard split: 2.60
Shuttle: 3.96
3-cone: 6.98
Vertical: 35”
225-pound bench press: 11
Broad jump: 9-foot-7
Games: 37
Tackles: 186 (119 solo)
Interceptions: 14
Passes defensed: 15
Forced fumbles: n/a

Diagnosing the action: Good at reading routes and closing in on short and intermediate stuff. Can close run plays from off or outside coverage. Great sense of the play around him; looks to assist when the play goes away.

Diagnosing the action: Authoritative and confident when coming up from center field and safety depth to cover the run and shorter routes. Can transition from coverage to read and respond to the run, though isn’t always accurate on those reads. Good side-to-side agility while keeping his eyes front.

Ball skills: A work in progress, as his total of zero interceptions in 2010 would attest. Will drop some easy passes and tends to bat and swat the ball instead of going for the pick at times. Lack of speed will hurt him in this area – sometimes, he just can’t get to the deeper ball to make the big play.

Ball skills: Times routes well and also has a good internal clock for the jump ball downfield. Put up 10 interceptions in 2009, but regressed to just one in 2010 as UCLA’s front seven performed less effectively.

Main coverage: Physical corner in press coverage – also redirects outside receivers to the sideline to maintain inside position on a downfield run. Excellent footwork keeps him tight with faster receivers from the line through intermediate spaces. But does not have the trail speed to keep up with speedier receivers and doesn’t have that extra gear to close on 7- and 9-routes.

Main coverage: While not asked to perform much in man coverage as a free safety, Moore has the skills for the position. He plays tall, is reasonably physical, trails very well and can break on the ball.

Zone coverage: Field awareness serves him very well here. Has good short-area transition quickness as opposed to pure speed; flips his hips well and understands angles well enough to adapt to different slants and option routes. Would seem to be a good “hand-off” safety as he is keen on what’s going on around him.

Zone coverage: An intriguing specialty. When Moore comes up and plays the slot, it’s a very natural transition. He trails slot receivers, is quick enough to deal with option routes and understands when the handoff needs to be made, and when he needs to cover deep.

Recovery speed: His primary weakness, and the reason he would be better off with a safety-depth headstart downfield. Lacks the quickness to catch up after he’s initially beaten, and he doesn’t have the closing speed to jump routes.

Recovery speed: Quicker than most safeties (and some corners) when asked to recover after he’s beaten in coverage; can make the jump-route deflection or interception..

Against the run: Williams is a good tackler, though he’s not physical enough to be an in-the-box player or force defender on the intermediate edge. Has a tendency to arm-tackle.

Against the run: Very intent on making a play when in the box. Highly skilled running backs might abuse him with misdirection at the next level. Not a string tackler, but an aggressive player who brings maximum effort to the task.

Intangibles: No personality red flags. Some aspects of his 2010 season can be mitigated by the fact that the Longhorns lost Earl Thomas’(notes) great speed and coverage to the NFL draft last year, and Williams was sometimes overwhelmed making up the difference. Has said that he would like to play cornerback in the NFL, but doesn’t seem to be the type to complain excessively if that doesn’t happen.

Intangibles: Team leader who was voted a team captain as a junior. Once wrote a 2,058-word statement thanking everyone from his mother, high school and college coaches, teammates and fans to NFL standouts Kenny Easley and Ed Reed(notes) for their help in his development. Brings excellent effort to the field, though his overall instincts need work.

Conclusion: The move from corner to safety isn’t a pejorative step anymore. As the NFL becomes more and more a passing league, defenses are using interchangeable safeties. Williams would seem to be a perfect example of this. Williams could be an elite player in the NFL – he’ll just have to make a positional move.

Conclusion: As with the corner-to-safety switch, the concept of a nickel cornerback is not the problem it used to be. With some defenses playing nickel or dime on more than half their snaps, players at this position are going to increase in importance as the three-cornerback/two linebacker defense becomes more of a standard. At his best, Moore provides an unusually robust skill set for that particular position.

Comparison: Malcolm Jenkins(notes), New Orleans Saints

Comparison: Jordan Babineaux(notes), Seattle Seahawks

Doug Farrar is a writer for Yahoo’s Shutdown Corner blog and a senior writer for Football Outsiders.