The third day of the NFL draft encompasses a group of players who will primarily fill backup and special teams roles on NFL rosters. There are, however, several diamonds in the rough each year.
Michigan State Johnny Adams is looking to be one of those players. Will the NFL see the guy who had two interceptions in his last regular season game, or the one who had one pick in the year leading up to that game?
Adams put up relatively good numbers at Michigan State. In his four years there, he had 11 interceptions and 34 passes defended. He also has nice speed; while his 4.48 in the 40-yard dash isn't elite, it does show he can stretch the field.
Also, he's athletic and aggressive enough to make tough plays against receivers, even if they are bigger than him. He has no problem playing physically despite not having the best build for the NFL.
Adams doesn't have much bulk at 5'10" and 185 pounds. His route running can be very choppy at times, and if he's up against a receiver who can turn on a dime, he's likely going to get beat.
While he can handle zone coverage and is physical enough to handle press, he's not going to be someone who can run a man defense unless he learns enough to handle the second wide receiver.
A 4.48 40-yard dash at the combine, as well as 16 reps on the bench press, shows that Adams has a good balance of speed and strength. He's not elite in either, but he has enough to hang with NFL-caliber talent.
He did not participate in all the combine events due to turf toe, but he was able to continue working out at his pro day where he had a 33" vertical leap and a 9'10" broad jump. Both numbers are on the low end for defensive backs, and it could be a concern, especially since his athleticism is considered a plus.
Adams was a three-year starter at Michigan State, but he missed the 2009 season due to a serious shoulder injury; he earned a medical redshirt as a result. While it was three years ago and unlikely to be a concern, if anything is lingering then that could be trouble for his draft status.
Michigan State used Adams primarily as a slot man cornerback. Given that he was one of their best players, he was used often against another team's best wide receiver. He was also used to blitz the cornerback rather frequently, and he was successful at it, earning three sacks in 2011.
Playing the Ball
Playing the ball is one of Adams's biggest strengths. He seems to know where the ball is at all times, and he can make plays for it when necessary. Sometimes he tries to play it too well, paying attention to the ball rather than to the man.
When he's in zone coverage, he's able to see whether the team is going for a run or a pass, and get adjusted on the fly accordingly to make tackles.
Against the Run
When Adams is asked to blitz, he is effective, and if the team is going for a run, he has no trouble charging in to make a tackle. The only detriment is that he rarely had to worry about extra blockers, and he may have trouble with them at the next level.
The problem with Adams comes in man defense. He tends to move inward and in front of opponents, which is great in a zone scheme when you have another defender nearby, but in man, if he gets beat, that's six points, and beat in coverage was precisely what happened to him more than once last year.
Despite those concerns, he can be effective. He is not the smoothest route-runner, but if a team is running a flat or curl route, then he is easily able to keep up with his target and make a play. He might get overrun by tight ends, but he is physical enough to handle most wide receivers.
Adams fares much better in zone coverage than in man. He is able to read defenses and make a play for the ball, leading to quite a few interceptions. If a team forgets he's there and Adams is able to get in front of a wide receiver, a pick is almost a certainty.
On top of that, Adams has great leaping ability, so if the ball is just a bit inaccurate and within his range, he's going to make a play for it. He can play the position too aggressively at times, and while it was OK in college football, he'll be penalized often in the NFL if he doesn't play smarter.
Despite not having an ideal frame for the position, Adams has no problem making tough tackles and made it look like nothing in college. He knows how to get around the player and drag him to the ground, and he is not afraid to just run into somebody head on.
Quite a few of his highlights, however, showed him leading with the crown of his helmet, which is no longer allowed in the NFL. That's something he will have to be careful about, but it happened in cases that he could easily make adjustments.
Adams has some work to do in terms of his technique, but he does not have any red flags. When he does go for interceptions, he tends to bobble the ball at times and have his hands stretched out, allowing the possibility of a strip.
While he has good ball awareness, he is not the most polished route-runner, and players running on the edge can use that to their advantage. He is much more effective when making plays near the hashmarks as players curl in, so long as he's already in position.
Adams projects best as a nickel cornerback at the next level. His aggressiveness and ability to be a ball hawk at times means that he can play great inside. He does not, however, have the moves to defend on the outside edges, which will limit how successful he can be at the next level.
His physical nature will make him a great player on special teams, and if he is unable to translate his skills into an NFL cornerback role, he will still be able to contribute on special teams.
Adams is projected as a sixth- or seventh-round draft pick. Personally, I see him as a fourth-round pick. I do have some concerns about handling NFL receivers, and it remains to be seen if he can adjust. The average numbers at the combine didn't help his draft stock either, and he needed a big performance to get his name out there.
That being said, I love his physicality and his athleticism, and most of the problems I saw on film are relatively easy to fix with the right coach. If you want a Day 3 steal in the draft, here he is.