+Doesn’t get burnt
+Fantastic pass rusher for a corner
-Tight hips for a small corner
-Can’t get inside leverage
-Rarely beat deep, but allows tons of short completions
-Below average tackler
-Mediocre route recognition skills
-Doesn’t always get a good jump on the ball
I think that Michigan State cornerback Johnny Adams is one of the more overrated prospects of the draft. He’s not terrible, but I don’t expect him to be much more than an average starter in the NFL.
Adams has decent measurables. He has average height at 5’11, below average bulk, but above average speed with a 4.42. He has the speed to stay with any receiver in college football, and his speed will really help him in the NFL. At 175lbs, he lacks the size and strength needed to be consistent in run support and jam receivers off the line of scrimmage in the NFL. His size is a real issue, but his speed is quite impressive.
Adams has excellent stats. In 2011, he had an above average 51 tackles, to go along with a respectable 3 interceptions and an unbelievable 3 sacks. Adams really brings something to the table as a pass rushing corner. I have never seen a corner who is as productive going after the quarterback, which is a great asset, and I’ll talk about what kind of impact he has as a pass rusher later. He also got an impressive 141 return yards on those 3 interceptions, which comes out to 47.0 yards per return.
Adams is a decent athlete. He has phenomenal quickness and acceleration, but he has less change of direction skills than one would expect. Typically, smaller players (especially shorter players) tend to have really loose hips and excellent change of direction skills, making them very fluid athletes, but Adams is a bit of an exception. His fluidity is only average (and below average for a player of his size), which is kind of disappointing. However, he makes up for it with truly phenomenal acceleration. Adams may be the quickest corner to reach top speed among all corners in this draft class. Even though his fluidity and agility are only average, Adams is so quick that, overall, he is a pretty good athlete.
Adams is spectacular in zone coverage. Typically, for a corner to have success in zone coverage, he needs to be quick, instinctive, and have excellent ball skills. Check, check, and check. Adams receives high marks in most of what is necessary to succeed in zone coverage. I’ve already talked about his exceptional quickness, but his instincts are sound too. He doesn’t always read the quarterback’s eyes and get an excellent jump on the ball on a consistent basis, but his ability to read the quarterback’s eyes is still adequate and you rarely see Adams biting on a play action pass or being out of position on a screen. His quickness and ball skills give him a knack for deflecting passes in zone, but his mediocre agility and short arms give him limited range in zone coverage. Still, Adams is among the best of all zone coverage corners in this year’s draft class.
Adams is easily the best pass rushing cornerback I have ever seen. He is truly phenomenal at getting to the quarterback. It’s tough to find a good NFL comparison for Adams simply because there aren’t a lot of corners in the NFL who can get 3 sacks a year, which is something Adams did last year with relative ease. Only one corner in the NFL got 3 sacks last year (Charles Woodson, who blitzed on nearly half his plays with remarkable inefficiency), and they play 16 game seasons in the NFL! Watching Adams on film, I sincerely think he could get 5 sacks every season at the NFL level. He does a brilliant job of disguising his blitzes, his quickness makes it incredibly hard for offensive linemen to block him, and he uses excellent pass rush moves to get great leverage against offensive linemen and shed blocks. There was one play against Wisconsin (the first Michigan State vs. Wisconsin game, the one that ended in a Hail Mary) that left me in a state of awe. He disguised his blitz, found a hole in the line, was picked up by Ricky Wagner at the last second, and he drew a well deserved holding call. I couldn’t believe it. It’s the first time I can recall seeing a corner who was such an explosive pass rusher that an offensive tackle was forced to hold him just to avoid giving up the sack. Nonetheless, Ricky Wagner committed the penalty. Wagner is widely considered a top 5 prospect in next year’s draft. The idea that a 5’11, 175lbs cornerback can be so explosive rushing the quarterback that he draws a holding call from arguably the best offensive tackle in college football is amazing. Just for the record, don’t be surprised if Adams goes to the Dallas Cowboys. Even though they just drafted Morris Claiborne, the Cowboys love to blitz their corners (with moderate success), and Adams seems like their kind of guy. I’ve never seen a defensive back who can blitz like Adams, and his blitzing is an extremely unique aspect of his game that could really help him in the NFL.
Adams has good ball skills. His excellent quickness and good hands are a recipe for interceptions. He rarely finds himself in position to make a play on the ball in man coverage, but, when he is in position, it’s money in the bank. Adams also has a tendency for nice interception returns, as evidenced by his 47.0 yards per interception return average.
I never have liked what I have seen from Adams in man coverage. It’s why I think he is an overrated prospect. Adams always stays with his man. He never gets burnt for a long gain. Ever. In fact, cover 2 with man coverage underneath is pretty useless, when you have Adams, because he never needs help covering the deep ball (unless he is facing a receiver who is, like, 6’5, in which case Adams can’t win a jump ball). Might as well use on of those safeties for something else. However, he allows short completions at an alarming rate. He can’t get inside leverage on a receiver to save his life, so he is constantly beaten by hitch and slant routes. His arms aren’t long enough to deflect passes on hitch routes or jam receivers off the line of scrimmage. His lack of length makes defending the hitch route impossible unless he can jump the route every time it is run, and he is rarely in position to jump the route. He frequently needs to resort to pass interferences just to stop catches. No matter how physical he is with the ball in the air, the fact that he can’t get into good position makes coverage very difficult for him. He seems to have below average route recognition skills, he doesn’t do a great job of reading the eyes of opposing wide receivers to get an idea where their route is going. I’ll give Adams credit where credit is due; I’m not sure there is a receiver in college football who can get 2 feet of separation when they are covered by Adams. At the same time, just about every receiver in college football can put themselves in a better position to make a play on the ball than Adams. Until Adams can learn to not only stay close to the receiver but also put himself in a position where he can breakup the pass in man coverage, I don’t have much faith in him. The big problem is that, in the NFL, the “speed of the game” will only get faster. NFL receivers are quicker and bigger than college receivers. And if Adams can’t get inside leverage (get between the receiver and the ball, as opposed in front of the receiver) against college receivers, I don’t expect a significant improvement against NFL receivers. The other big problem of a corner like Adams is good numbers by the QB when Adams is targeted. Don’t get me wrong. Adams isn’t out of position on every play. But, when he doesn’t get inside leverage, he is an easy target. Adams will typically allow around 50 yards to opposing receivers in man coverage per game. 50 yards isn’t terrible by any means, but, regardless of the number of yards, throws in Adams’s direction are rarely incomplete. Even if he holds a #1 receiver to only 50 yards in a game, the opposing team’s quarterback will usually go 5/6 or so when targeting that receiver in the game. Adams mediocre ability in man coverage really concerns me.
Adams is poor in run support, and he isn’t a great tackler. Adams doesn’t struggle in run support due to a lack of effort (unlike many corners). His effort appears to be slightly above average, albeit unspectacular in all aspects of the game. He struggles in run support because the average big ten running back us about 35lbs heavier than he is (175lbs). He’s not a very good tackler, against both receivers and running backs, because virtually everyone has size on him. Wide receivers love to use a stiff arm against him, knowing that their arms are much longer than his, and running backs can usually just power through him. Adams can be a bit fearful when tackling bigger backs, but his toughness isn’t horrible. He uses great tackling fundamentals, but he lacks strength. Adams makes up for most (but not all) of his size/strength/tackling deficiencies with phenomenal instincts. He is among the most instinctive corners against the run in all of college football. The sad thing is that he only converts on about half of his tackle opportunities, so ultimately, he is a below average run stopper, but his tremendous instincts mean he isn’t hopeless as a run stopper, as long as he adds about 20lbs of muscle.
Ultimately, I think Adams is going to be an average NFL starting corner. His tremendous quickness and instincts really help him in zone coverage, plus his pass rushing ability brings something completely new to the table for a corner, but I don’t think he’ll ever be too good in man coverage. Although he always stays with his man, he is rarely in position to make a play on the ball. I don’t expect him to be great in the NFL.
NFL Comparison: Richard Marshall with less bulk. There aren’t many good comparisons. There is no corner in the NFL who blitzes as well as Adams does right now. Other aspects of his game resemble Marshall’s; very quick, mediocre in run support, solid ball skills, often commits pass interference penalties, some problems in man coverage. Marshall is an average NFL starter. I expect Adams will be as well. However, you don’t shoot for average with a first round pick
Grade: 86 (deserves to be an mid to early second round pick)
Projection: 94 (will be a mid to late first round pick)