Welcome to Cornerback Tips. We’re going to touch-on the skills and abilities that NFL scouts tend to look for when they’re scouting corners.

The sources of the info we’re gonna look at are definitely credible: one is a 3-time Super Bowl Champion head coach, another is a gentleman with nearly

Seven-time Pro Bowl Cornerback Charles Woodson (ICON Sports)

30 years of scouting experience at the NFL level, and the other is one of THE premier scouting sources in the nation…

I’m speaking of the late-great Bill Walsh, Greg Gabriel from the National Football Post, and Scouts Inc.

Let’s get started.

>>Related: Become a Shut-Down Corner with these Cornerback Drills

Speed. At the corner position, NFL scouts wanna see you running a 4.5 or better in the 40, but it’s not all about the 40, though.

Coach Walsh on speed:

Full-sprint speed is important, but there have been cornerbacks who have overcome a lack of sprinters’ speed and played many years and become Pro Bowl participants. You’d like to think of the cornerback being able to run 40 yards in under 4.5 seconds.

Gabriel on speed:

…speed is the most important trait in grading a corner. It is a stop watch driven position. A prospect may be a great college player but if he runs a 4.6 40, chances are he isn’t getting drafted high and may not get drafted at all. Most teams want their corners to be sub 4.5 types and if you can find a guy who runs a sub 4.4 that’s better.

>>Related: How to Set Up Your Own 40 Yard Dash Training

Size. Coach Walsh said his ideal corner stood 6″2′, and weighed 195, but he admitted that that good corners come in all sizes.

Gabriel prefers corners that are 5″10′ or taller, but says that 5″9′ is acceptable.

Lateral agility. Having straight-ahead speed is cool, but to play with the big boys, you have to be able to smoothly transition between lateral and linear directions, quickly.

Long arms. Long arms make it easier for you to jam the receiver, and they make your reach longer, which gives you a chance to break-up more passes and grab more interceptions.

Key and diagnose. Scouts pay attention to how well you read the quarterback, and how well you read the keys receivers give you both before and during their routes.

Good footwork. Corners have to be able to run backwards and cover a wide receiver running full-speed, so needless to say, they need good feet.

Loose hips. Corners have to be able to “flip their hips” to turn and run quickly smoothly and quickly.  To do this, corners need what scouts call “loose hips.”

Change of direction. Corners have to be able to react to wide receiver’s routes and movements.  Keep in mind that these receivers are running forward full speed, and a corner has to react quickly while basically running backwards.

Needless to say, superior change of direction skills are crucial for a corner that wants to be considered NFL-ready.

Body control. The more body control you have as a corner, the more able you are to command your body to go in the direction you want it to go, instead of falling victim to your body’s momentum.

Quickness. Wide receivers tend to be some of the most shiftiest players on the field, so it’s only right that the players that have to guard them need to be quick.

Explosion/burst. Corners have to be able to make breaks on the ball and get to full speed quickly, and you can’t do that without being explosive.

>>Related: How to Tackle Hard in Football – 3 Exercises that’ll Help You PUNISH the Enemy.

Transition speed. Transition speed is all about being able to quickly go from a back pedal to closing on the ball, and vice-versa.

Gabriel on the importance of transition speed:

The quicker a player is in transition can mean the difference between a pass completion and a pass breakup or interception.

Ability to play press, off, and zone coverages. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the more versatile you are in the coverages you can play, the more valuable you are to an NFL team.

Gabriel’s take on scheme versatility in corners:

The ideal corner can play press, off and zone coverage equally well. The problem is there aren’t many of those guys around. Most players are better in one skill than another. Many taller corners can have some trouble in off coverage because of their size. The shorter compact guys with great suddenness seem to be the types that play all three coverages well.

Instincts. Gabriel on instincts:

A good corner also has to have instincts.  They have to be quick thinkers who can recognize things instantly and make the adjustment.

Man-to-Man coverage  skills. This one’s pretty simple: can you cover NFL-calibers man-to-man, or can’t you?

Zone coverage skills. When a scouts analyzes a corners zone coverage habits and abilities, they look at things like your drops, and they analyze whether or not you consistently get the proper depth in those drops.

They’ll also look at how disciplined you are in covering your zones.  For example, do you have a bad habit of biting-up on play action fakes when you’re in zone?

They also pay attention to the amount of ground you can cover (aka “range”) in zone coverage.

Ball skills. According to Gabriel, ball skills consists of two qualities: hands, and reaction to the ball.  He goes on to elaborate on why ball skills are so important:

Sure, it’s great to get your hand on the ball and get a breakup but it’s better to get an interception. With a breakup the offense still has the ball; with an interception the offense loses the ball. There have been many times over the years where I have seen a DB make a good play on the ball and get a PBU, but then the offense scores a few plays later.

Coach Walsh sums it up simply:

He (the cornerback) must be able to do the kinds of things receivers do when they go up for a ball.

Aight, family, I’m out for now!

Check back soon for part 2, where we’ll finish up with the rest of the skills, and take a look at some film, as we observe the skills in-action.

You mean to tell me you ain’t followin’ me on Twitter?  C’Mon, man!  @alvingrier


If you want to check out their articles on your own, check out Bill Walsh’s How I Evaluate Each Position: Cornerbacks, Gabriel’s Scouting Defensive Backs from the National Football Post, and Scouts Inc. on Cornerbacks, from ESPN.com, that covers Scouts Inc’s criteria for grading cornerbacks.

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