2024 Scouting Combine: Seven cornerbacks detail their favorite college plays

INDIANAPOLIS — Unless you are somehow able to gain access to one of the rooms in which NFL teams meet with draft prospects during the week of the scouting combine, there’s no way to know what’s really discussed. One thing that is almost always happens is a tape-watching expedition in which the NFL people will have play examples dialed up that hopefully show what the prospects can do.

Here at Touchdown Wire, we do not possess the required juice to crash those rooms, but we are able to ask these prospects during their combine media sessions which plays from their college careers best typify their potential.

On Thursday, we asked seven different cornerback prospects — Iowa’s Cooper DeJean, Kentucky’s Andru Phillips, Wake Forest’s Caelen Carson, Pitt’s M.J. Devonshire, Oregon’s Khyree Jackson, and Ole Miss’s Deantre Prince — for their favorite collegiate plays. These are the ones they’d like to show to NFL teams this week as indicators of their finest work.

Cooper DeJean, Iowa

(Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
(Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

DeJean is a first-round lock if you believe what evaluators tell you, and the tape backs it up. Last season for the Hawkeyes, he allowed 20 catches on 46 targets for 194 yards, 44 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, two interceptions, four pass breakups, and a preposterous opponent passer rating of 37.8.

But DeJean went back a ways for his ultimate play — the season before, when he gave up 37 catches on 72 targets for 422 yards, 115 yards after the catch, two touchdowns, five interceptions, five pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 49.7. DeJean isn’t just really good once in a while; he’s good just about all the time.

“I think a play that comes to mind is my first pick-six against Rutgers. Caught a ball over my shoulder, and took it back for six. I feel like that showed by ball skills and athleticism and all that.”

Indeed. This happened in the 2022 season, and the Hawkeyes were in 2-Man coverage. Pressure caused quarterback Evan Simon to make an abbreviated throw on the play, and DeJean broke off underneath coverage to go up and take receiver Joshua Youngblood on the deep over. One acrobatic interception later, DeJean had his first pick-six.

Andru Phillips, Kentucky

[Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union]
[Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union]

Last season, Phillips allowed 39 catches on 58 targets for 438 yards, 156 yards after the catch, four touchdowns, no interceptions, six pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 112.6. It was an anomaly in a collegiate career that had never seen him allow an opponent passer rating of 56.8 in any season before, and as he detailed, Phillips was getting it done in other ways in 2023.

“Definitely one play against Florida near the end of this last year — I had a big hit on third down to get us off the field. It was a big hit on the running back, Etienne. The other play I would say from this last year was against Vanderbilt. My linebacker D-Jack [D’Eryk Jackson] caught a pick, and I was there for an opportunity to help the team out and get a win.”

The tackle of Florida running back Trevor Etienne was a game-changer — the Gators had third-and-11 from their own 49-yard line with 4:34 left in the game, and Etienne caught a release route from quarterback Graham Mertz. Phillips came down from flat coverage like hell on wheels and flipped Etienne with his tackle, two yards short of the sticks.

Caelen Carson, Wake Forest

(Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)
(Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Carson is another cornerback who saw an unusual dip in efficiency last season from a statistical perspective, but his tape [and his study of the tape of his opposing receivers] still stood out. That was absolutely the case against Florida State’s Keon Coleman, one of the most dynamic receivers in this class.

“Keon Coleman tape. Slot fade, I pressed him with outside leverage because I knew it was going to be a fade. I used my technique and flipped him to the outside. Didn’t turn my head, because he was in the slot, and there was too much space to the sideline, and he’s a big guy. If I had turned my head, he could have pushed me.”

That happened with 7:26 left in the first quarter of Carson’s game last season, and you can see the letter-perfect technique here. Carson boxed Coleman out about as well as is possible to do.

M.J. Devonshire, Pitt

(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

Devonshire, who made our All-Underrated Combine Team, is an unusual cat in that he had nearly as many targets in aggressive press coverage as he did in off coverage in an era of college football where a lot of defenses are trying to out-vanilla each other in off-Quarters. Within that realm, he allowed 25 catches on 55 targets last season for 435 yards, 142 yards after the catch, three touchdowns, four interceptions, five pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 60.8. Not bad when you’re often on an island with no safety help up top.

Devonshire liked two plays in which he wasn’t even the targeted defender.

“There was a rep against West Virginia — it was a slant, it was the third quarter, and it wasn’t a target, but I jammed the receiver, and he didn’t get off the line — I held him up with one hand. To this day, people will tell me, ‘That was one of your best reps — just showing how physical you can be.'”

Most likely, Devonshire was talking about this rep with 4:10 left in the first quarter, where receiver Hudson Clement couldn’t do anything against Devonshire’s vise grip.

I asked him about the psychology of being that island guy with no help at all.

“It took a learning experience. 2021 in the Peach Bowl, I was embarrassed, and I learned from that. You’ve got to win in all phases, and you can’t seem to take a play off. I felt that I was better than what I put up on film that day, and I just told myself from that day on, ‘You’ve got to win in all phases of coverage.’ From the line to the second half to the deep half, you’ve got to line up and win. I started with being patient and squaring up on the line of scrimmage, trusting that I have speed, and there’s not a lot of guys who can run by me. Working with [receiver] Bub [Means] in practice, he’s one of those guys who will run by you, but there aren’t that many guys like him. So, you’ve got to trust your technique, slide your feet, get hands on, and run with guys, it’s a big thing.

“I started playing football at three, and my motivation was… I saw Darrelle Revis play, and Ty Law play, and the first position I learned was wide receiver. So, that one-on-one was instilled in my mind before I knew what the linemen did, and what the quarterback did, and the linebackers and safeties. I just picked my side as a cornerback, and I said, ‘I want to be the villain on this. I want to take guys out of the game.’ I would see how upset guys like Chad Ochocinco would be when Darrelle was locking them up, and I was like, ‘I want to be the guy who gives somebody that feeling.’ It takes confidence, and it takes a long time to get that confidence, but once you get it, it can be pretty good.”

So far, so very good.

Khyree Jackson, Oregon

(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Jackson was one of the best pass defenders in what was the PAC-12 last season, allowing

“One of the PBUs versus Colorado — a lot of people say I was getting handsy at the line of scrimmage, but really, the receiver was pulling me, and that’s why it looked like I got behind him. I didn’t miss my jam or anything; he pulled me through and stepped in front of me, but I knew he wasn’t fast, and I was able to get a step behind him. I looked up for the ball and batted it down, so that was one of my favorite plays.”

Jackson had three pass breakups in that game against Coach Prime’s squad in a 42-6 win that popped Colorado’s balloon to a large extent. The play Jackson’s talking about came with 1:45 in the third quarter against receiver Javon Antonio. And yes, if you watched this play without any context, it would appear that Jackson lost his landmark in press coverage for a split second. Still, he had the wherewithal to break up the pass.

Jarrian Jones, Florida State

(Morgan Tencza-USA TODAY Sports)
(Morgan Tencza-USA TODAY Sports)

When you say that you’re the best cornerback in the NCAA from a statistical perspective, you’d better come armed with proof.

Florida State’s Jarrian Jones does.

Last season, he allowed 16 catches on 32 targets for 158 yards, 117 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, three interceptions, three pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 25.3… which means that you were much better off throwing the ball in the first than you were anywhere near him.

“My entire body of work from the 2023 season,” he said with a laugh when I asked him to detail his best play. “Like I said, the numbers speak for themselves, and if you look at the numbers, I was statistically the best.”

Well, let’s maybe get a BIT more specific.

“I didn’t make any plays in this game, but go watch me against Wake Forest. See me pressing against the slot, and you’ll see what’s up.”

Okay, let’s do that, and let’s watch Jones do this. He didn’t have a single slot target in that game, and when you watch him defend tight end Cameron Hite’s choice route, I guess that’s what’s up.

Jones is certainly confident, which isn’t bad at all.

“You’ve just got to know that you can win. They may catch some balls on you, maybe an out or something, but just the mentality to go in there and do it again, over and over and over again, I don’t think a lot of people can do that.”

As they say, it ain’t bragging if you can back it up.

Deantre Prince, Ole Miss

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Prince, who allowed 24 catches on 45 targets last season for 341 yards, 76 yards after the catch, three touchdowns, one interception, five pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 91.1, went in the Wayback Machine for one of his favorite plays in 2021, and then brought it back to 2022.

“Probably the Vanderbilt and Pitt games in 2021, and my chasedown against Kentucky at the end of the game [in 2022] with their fastest players from the other side of the field. There was 40 seconds left, and if they scored, they would have won the game, so I just ran 40 yards to chase them down, down to the 10 or 15.”

This was highly impressive. Prince started at the bottom of the screen in press coverage, and then turned and ran like a shot to stop receiver Barion Brown from taking it to the house.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire