It seems like every year, NFL fans and fans of the NFL Draft in particular are enamored with what we have designated as “sleeper” prospects. North Dakota State cornerback Josh Gatlin is hardly a sleeper to anyone that follows the NDSU football program knows that Gatlin is anything but. After a senior season where he had five interceptions, six passes defensed, 19 tackles and one for a loss, the Jacksonville, Florida native has vaulted his name into the NFL Draft conversation, and possesses a very intriguing blend of size, speed, athleticism, and ball-hawking skills.
Gatlin was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule as he prepares for the next level to talk to NFL Mocks, and you can tell that he is eager to prove that the NFL is a place that he belongs.
The first order of business for the offseason interviews is to ask what a player is doing to prepare for the next level.
“Right now, I’m training at a place called Velocity in Minnesota. I’m there for four or five days a week, and then I go back to school on Monday. Typically, I’m there from about 7 to 8, and the workouts vary daily. It depends if we are doing a speed workout or agility–it just depends.”
Gatlin, like our previous interviewee Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (Iowa), was invited to participate in the NFLPA Game, formerly known as the Texas vs. Nation Game. Gatlin really stood out to scouts with his 6’0″ 195 pound frame and excellent speed, and says that the experience was valuable more than just on the field.
“To me, it was a great experience. To meet guys from Division 1, Division 1AA–to play against that type of talent was good exposure for all of us. The experience overall was great. After that game, that whole week being around those guys, we built relationships. We still communicate and talk to each other.
Playing in the game, meeting the coaches, and meeting the other players–it was a great experience for me and for everybody.”
Now that he’s moving on to the NFL, something is going to need to set him apart from the other prospects in the draft. Gatlin points to his blend of size, speed, and versatility as reasons he will stand out in this draft class.
“My best asset would have to be my size, my speed, and my physicality. Everyone says I’m great in man coverage, and I agree. For a team that I go to, I’m going to be a playmaker so if you want me to do something and you tell me to do it, I’m going to do it–I have no problem with it. When I go up against another receiver, I want to lock them down, and erase them.”
If you thought the name “Gatlin” sounded familiar, it’s because you probably have heard of his cousin, Justin Gatlin, who is an Olympic sprinter. Josh says the relatives were given a common characteristic–speed.
“I guess since it’s a family issue with the speed, everyone hears his name and immediately when someone hears my last name, they want to know off the top, ‘Can this kid run?’ I feel like I can live up to the family name. You know, I’m not AS fast as my cousin, but I definitely feel I bring speed to the table as one of my best assets.”
North Dakota State football had a huge turnaround from 2009 to 2010. Gatlin attributes much of that to a new found energy from a new coaching staff.
“Well, from the players’ standpoint, they did some changing around with the coaching staff. We got better coaching as a secondary, and a secondary that was coached by a great coordinator. We had a great coordinator this year and a great position coach. He taught us a lot of things, and changed things around. The new coaches were a big reason we went from being last in the conference in defense to being the top team in the conference.”
I know that cornerbacks can be some of the most competitive players in the game, so I had to ask Josh who he thought was the best competition he has faced thus far.
“I don’t know, probably the toughest–I’ve played against some great athletes. It’s hard to characterize the guys from the NFLPA game, but there was one guy, number 15 from Iowa (Derrell Johnson-Koulianos) was a really good athlete. Damien Berry (Miami) was a good athlete on that side of the ball as well. Even some athletes on my team, and even our running backs were great. Robert Hughes from Notre Dame was very good. He is a tough guy, and a very good runner.”
The difference in competition from the NCAA level to the NFL level is one of the biggest hurdles a rookie faces. I asked Josh what players he was most looking forward to facing at the next level.
“I train at Velocity, and my trainer has worked with Larry Fitzgerald and Dwayne Bowe and they both have impressive resume’s. I’m really looking forward to when Larry comes back to Minnesota. I want him to teach me some of the things that can help me become a great cornerback from the wide receiver’s standpoint.”
Gatlin closed out the interview by giving me a nice scouting report of himself, and what he feels he brings to the next level.
“I just want people to know that I can play at the next level. I’m not just a “man” corner, I have all of the assets that come with being a cornerback. I am very versatile, I can play cornerback, receiver, kick returner, punt returner–you know I just feel I am a great athlete. My “man” coverage is great, but I can do everything. I just want everybody to know that I’m ready for the next level. There are a lot of things that I can do, and I just want people to know that about me.”