Second Round: 51st Pick
Coming off of a 13-interception season in 2011, North Carolina State cornerback David Amerson entered his junior season as one of the hottest potential prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft.
Amerson’s draft stock has fallen back down to earth after an up-and-down junior season. While he continued to make big plays, he was also made to look silly by some of the best wide receivers in college football in 2012, including Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson and Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins.
While Patterson and Hopkins are both projected first-round draft picks, Amerson will have to face wide receivers of their caliber on a regular basis in the NFL. Will he be able to hold up? We take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of his game that will have teams taking a look at him early, but leave them potentially leery of drafting him in the first two rounds.
Amerson’s 2011 ACC-record-breaking season for interceptions was no fluke: his ball skills are truly exceptional. He does a tremendous job making plays on the football in the air and is a threat to make a big play once the ball is in his hands.
Run defense is also a strength of Amerson’s game. He is an active tackler and strong hitter. He also has good instincts, especially in the run game, in which he does a great job of reading plays out of the backfield and attacking around the line of scrimmage.
Amerson also has good movement skills, with quick feet and fluid hips.
Inconsistency is the biggest problem with Amerson’s game. For as many big plays as Amersonmakes on defense, he also gave up many big plays. This was especially true in his junior season, and he also misses too many tackles in the open field.
Although a good hitter in run defense, his coverage lacks physicality. He has very little experience playing press coverage, and does not gets his hands on opposing receivers often. In off coverage, he has a tendency to give too much cushion and give up easy passes underneath as a result.
Amerson has the size of a safety combined with the athleticism of a cornerback, giving him the potential to play either position at the next level.
Amerson measured in at the NFL Scouting Combine at 6’1” and 205 pounds with 32 and 5/8” arms, fantastic size for a cornerback. He also proved his athleticism at the combine, running a 4.44-second 40-yard dash, jumping 35'1/2" in the vertical jump and broad jumping 10'7" inches.
The regression in Amerson’s play from his sophomore to junior season was concerning. He addressed those concerns in an interview with the Charlotte Observer in February.
“A lot of it was me just beating myself, just sitting on routes,” Amerson told the Observer about his poor play last season. He added that he was “just playing to get interceptions.”
This does bring up some questions about Amerson’s intangibles: While his physical talent is clear from his play on the field, will he continue to beat himself mentally? On the other hand, it speaks well on Amerson intangibly that he recognized he was not playing up to his ability, which will hopefully motivate him to play better in the NFL.
Amerson has good on-field instincts in both coverage and as a tackler. He has no documented off-field issues.
NC State’s coverage scheme consisted mostly of off-man coverage with some zone. As a result, Amerson has very little experience in press coverage, and may be a tough projection at cornerback for teams who use a press-man coverage scheme.
Playing the Ball
Amerson’s ball skills help his draft stock immensely. He is fantastic at breaking on passes in the air and making plays on the ball. As a result, he had the most interceptions and total passes defended in the FBS over the past two seasons, with 18 and 35 respectively.
He makes many of his big plays against curl and comeback routes, as he does a great job driving with speed out of breaks, coming back to the ball and using his length to reach over receivers. He has good hands and catches the ball consistently.
He is also a threat to turn any interception into a big play the other way. He used his good speed and open-field quickness to return three interceptions for touchdowns over the past two seasons.
Against the Run
Amerson is an aggressive player in run support who is not afraid to come up to the line of scrimmage and make plays. He has good instincts and with good change-of-direction quickness, he can react quickly off his reads and make stops before runs even cross the line of scrimmage.
He has to improve, however, as a downfield run defender. He takes some bad angles out in space and tends to whiff tackles against elusive runners as a result. He also does not use his hands very well against blockers and struggles to disengage.
Amerson may be better suited to play free safety than cornerback in an NFL man cover defense. If he does stay at cornerback in man coverage, he will need to take advantage of his size in press coverage by learning how to use his hands against receivers within five yards and jam them at the line of scrimmage.
He makes most of his plays in off-man coverage and is quick at breaking in on receivers to make plays on the ball. His biggest issues in off coverage are his tendencies to sit on routes and to get beaten by double moves from quicker receivers on the outside.
As an outside cornerback, Amerson’s game is better suited for a zone-coverage scheme at the next level. He does a good job of making plays downfield and off the ball, and is good at reading the quarterback’s eyes to figure out where a play is going.
His ability to break on passes and jump routes gives him ample opportunities to make big plays when he reads throws coming into his zone.
Amerson has a presence on the field as a striker. As an attacking run defender, Amerson does a great job of hitting running backs low and can up-end them. He can also break up passes outside and over the middle with his ability to hit receivers as a pass comes their way.
His tackling in the open field is very inconsistent. When he takes a good angle at a runner, he is good at wrapping up his opponent and taking him down soundly to the ground. Poor angles, being out of position and hesitancy against quicker runners often lead to whiffed downfield tackles.
Amerson is a raw technician. At NC State, he would line up between 5 to 10 yards away from a receiver. As a result, he has little experience placing his hands against opposing receivers and usually is able to react to plays in front of him rather than backpedal with receivers off the line.
He has good feet and is quick at breaking on routes. He has a tendency to sit on routes, however, and when working downfield, he gives up too much cushion against short and intermediate routes. He is effective at covering receivers in off-man red-zone coverage.
Future Role/Scheme Versatility
Whether Amerson ends up as an outside cornerback or a free safety could depend on the scheme he is drafted into, but he projects well to make the move to free safety in a man-free coverage scheme.
He possesses the length, athleticism, ball skills, striking ability and deep off coverage skills to be a ballhawking free safety at the next level. He has to become a more consistent cleanup tackler on the back end to make that move.
Amerson is also an effective contributor on punt and kickoff coverage teams. He uses his speed well and gets in good position to make stops when attacking the play downfield.