With the 99th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles added a second cornerback after drafting Sidney Jones just one round before. West Virginia’s Rasul Douglas was the man who heard his name called by Eagles long-snapper Jon Dorenbos..but what does the future hold for the playmaker?
With Sidney Jones likely “redshirting” the 2017 season, Douglas was the only rookie corner drafted by the Eagles, leaving some major question marks over what next year has in store for the Birds secondary..or does it?
One of the most overlooked corners coming into the Draft, Douglas has great length at 6’2, and size at 209 lbs. The Eagles don’t just crave a long cornerback..but a playmaker. In his senior year, Douglas intercepted 8 passes and broke up 8 more. Douglas contributed heavily to a Mountaineers defense that dominated the Big-12, and has all the makings of a strong press corner.
Douglas is a true dinner corner..and one with rare length. In 2015 he amassed 8 tackles and one pick in 11 games, before his eye popping senior year that along with the aforementioned 8 picks, saw him rack up 70 tackles.
To learn a little more about what he brings to the Eagles secondary, it’s time to turn our attention to the game tape.
When people describe cornerback instincts, they’re normally just referring to someone who plays the ball as opposed to playing the receiver. But when we discuss that word in association with Douglas, we’re talking about an extremely high Football IQ.
On the play below against Oklahoma, Douglas follows the route over the middle, keeping his eyes on the quarterback before anticipating the path of the ball. The receiver was able to get inside easily, but perhaps didn’t expect the long corner to rech over the top and knock the overthrown pass out of harms way. Most corners would have settled for a tackle here..Douglas on the other hand, sent the Offense off the field and prevented a first down.
Here, we can see Douglas lined up maybe eight yards ahead of his receiver..which means it’s the wideout that’s going to dictate the success of this play. Douglas stays light on his feet and waits for the break, mirroring the route perfectly. But what really stands out is how quickly he locates the ball..in fact, Douglas locks onto it before the receiver. After detecting the overthrown pass, he pushes back and immediately tries to make a play and come down with it..but the ball was out of reach.
What really sums up Douglas perfectly is this play here. He’s lining up in press coverage, a rarity in the beaten up West Virginia Defense. Covering the top of the route and keeping his eyes on the ball, Douglas bails off of his assignment and brings down the streaking slot receiver before anyone else has a chance.
This is where things get a little interesting. Douglas is a competent tackler, period. The issue is that it’s not always consistent..and at times he can aim extremely low. It reminds me of if you took the wrapping style of Jalen Mills, and paired with the sporadic dives of Ron Brooks.
Here for instance, Douglas simply takes a bad angle and waits way too long for the receiver to make his decision. By the time he cuts inside, Douglas is left leaping in his trail.
Conversely, there are plays like this hit against OSU which jarred the ball loose, showing a great amount of instinctive tenacity. This is exactly the kind of play that the Jim Schwartz Defense thrives on.
Later that game, Douglas again makes a spearing challenge and brings the receiver to the ground cleanly. He takes a good angle, drives with his legs, and plants the receiver in the turf.
But just one play later..Douglas takes a sloppy angle and dives straight for the legs of the wideout. Luckily, the tackle did what was intended and forced the screen out of bounds..but we’ve seen way too many of these attempts shrugged off by opposing receivers..especially from Nolan Carroll and Ron Brooks last year.
If the Eagles can refine the technique of Douglas and drop just a hint of patience into his game..he may be one of the most secure tacklers in the secondary, straight out of the box.
The one drawback to the play of Douglas that was alluded to by Eliot Shorr-Parks earlier today, is that Douglas didn’t play in a lot of press situations. West Virginia lost a lot of talent to the NFL last year and a Safety to a devastating injury, meaning conservative play was a must. Now, while not playing in press coverage often is a negative..it doesn’t mean he’s incapable. In fact, when tasked with lining up inches away from the man ahead, Douglas actually flourishes more often than not.
Take this play for example, at the top of the screen, Douglas forces what was an in-breaking route, all the way to the sideline by mirror and matching perfectly, winning the battle at the line and executing near perfect bump-and-run coverage.
Again, with the Sooners inside the redzone, watch how Douglas (at the bottom of the screen) is able to force stay with a bigger receiver stride-for-stride, before coming over the top of the route in those last few steps, in order to push the ball out.
I broke down one of my favorite Douglas plays in press-coverage on Twitter earlier today:
The ONE complaint I do have with Douglas, is that he very rarely jams with his arms. A dinner corner in every sense of the word, the scheme in which he shined meant that he would often play in zonal looks..so those tendencies carried over into press plays more often than not. His immediate reaction is to backpedal and pick up the route by mirroring footwork..but at the next level, all it’s going to take is someone as elusive as Odell Beckham Jr twice a season, to really reap the rewards of being able to set the tone.
This play also worries me a little..not because of the touchdown, but because of how deep he’s sat. Now I can’t tell if this was intentional, as on the opposite side of the field, the corner is two yards closer to the wideout. But these are the kind of passes that burned the Eagles Defense to its core toward the end of 2016..and if Douglas sat too deep of his own accord, that simply cannot happen under Schwartz.
So to put it simply, can Rasul Douglas play in man-coverage comfortably? Yes. Is there going to be a learning curve? More than likely..just as there will be with Derek Barnett moving to a wide-9.
Toughness and versatility:
There’s one thing that does shine through every play Douglas makes..and that’s his toughness. Working out of the slot here (we’ll get to that), Douglas forms a human brick wall to prevent the route from going any further, making it easier to then shadow it all the way to the end of the play. Douglas made a great leap on the ball to knock it out of harms way, rounding out a stellar play.
Look at how Douglas jumps over the top of this route against Iowa State to knock yet another ball loose. Each hit, sporadic or not, is delivered with a nasty streak. His length mean’s he’s able to really drive into players and make this kind of impact, while the frame and mindset he has means it’s incredibly difficult to throw him off a route.
Now onto the versatility..which I kind of spoiled earlier. Douglas has played all across the secondary..and succeeded in most. As a lot corner on this play, he picks up the route, initiates strong contact with his hands and drives over the top to punch the ball away. The Eagles love versatile corners, Douglas might be as versatile as they come..with the length to play outside and hustle to cover the slot.
The one thing stats can’t measure, is effort. From the strange scenario of Dorial Green-Beckham last year, to what felt like abysmal displays at times from Leodis McKelvin and company in years prior, the Eagles need to cement a culture of players with relentless motors…Douglas fits that mold.
After shedding his bloc, watch how Douglas chases down the running back as other players fail to get their hands on him..closing off the sideline and eventually forcing the fumble.
Almost the exact same thing happened in the early stages of the Oklahoma game. Now sure, he missed the tackle..but I don’t see ANY other player driving as hard as he is back to the endzone..do you? Some criticize the speed of the former WVU standout..I see no problem with that here.
Rasul Douglas is everything you want in a corner. Long, aggressive, versatile, and most of all willing. He’s a dinner cornerback who plays with exceptional instincts and the ability to dissect routes within seconds. Balancing keeping his eyes on the quarterback with his contact on the receiver, feeling the route down the sideline, it’s been a while since I’ve seen such a well rounded corner. Sure, Douglas may endure a learning curve and nobody is expecting him to be Richard Sherman out of the gate..but the depth of this years cornerback class is on show..because in any other draft, Douglas should have been a second round pick, without question.
Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports