TCU product Jason Verrett doesn’t have the prototypical size (5’9”, 189 lbs) and length (30.625" arms) at the cornerback position.
However, after watching the tape and studying his footwork, Verrett has the top-end speed, transition ability and ball skills to project as a nickel defender or No. 2 cornerback in both man and zone schemes.
Today, let’s focus on Verrett’s skill set and discuss why the corner could be a late first-round steal in the NFL draft next month.
Footwork and Transition Ability at the Cornerback Position
When I study the cornerback position, I start by focusing on off-man technique. Is the pedal smooth and comfortable, and can the defender accelerate out of his breaks to drive on the football?
With Verrett, I see a defensive back who is lightning quick with his transition at the top of the route stem (plant and drive/hip turn), and he doesn’t panic in his pedal.
The former TCU defender keeps his shoulders square to the receiver and creates angles to the point of attack that allow him to find the ball consistently.
Verrett can mix up his alignments and techniques (off, press, bail, etc.) and understands wide receiver splits (uses the boundary to pin receivers versus an outside release).
Plus, he has a good feel for inside-breaking concepts to make plays on the dig (square-in), curl and smash/slant by closing to the receiver’s upfield shoulder on the throw.
A very explosive athlete when we talk about the acceleration and burst coming out of his breaks, Verrett can change direction with speed and work laterally underneath in zone coverage.
Going back to his workout in Indianapolis at the NFL Scouting Combine, Verrett showcased his pedal and transition speed during positional drills while producing excellent numbers in the 40-yard dash (4.38 seconds), vertical jump (39") and three-cone (6.69 seconds).
The workout and the testing numbers mesh with the talent on tape, as Verrett plays to that speed while displaying the leaping ability to climb the ladder and the quickness to redirect on the field.
Verrett can be boxed out when playing from an outside leverage position versus bigger receivers, and that does bring up questions about his size outside of the numbers. But given the production he put on tape at TCU, he should compete for a spot as a No. 2 corner this season.
Playing the Nickel Corner at the NFL Level
The skill set we just talked about with Verrett is ideal for defenses that are looking for talent to align inside of the numbers at the nickel corner.
Think of the lateral quickness underneath as a Cover 2/Cover 3 defender, the man-coverage ability versus a “two-way-go” on the release or the footwork to play the option route in third-down situations.
Plus, Verrett is aggressive versus the run game where he can chop down ball-carriers, and he has shown the ability to blitz from the slot—two keys for any defender who wants to play inside of the numbers.
Here’s a look at the route scheme Verrett will see in the pros using a pre-snap example from the Bears' matchup versus the Redskins with Brandon Marshall aligned in the slot.
Nickel defenders can still expect to play the top of the route tree (seam, post, corner), but it’s the “money routes” (shallow drive, slant, flat, option) that have to be accounted for in crucial game situations when offenses are looking to move the sticks.
I like Verrett’s ability to match up versus those specific route concepts based on his skill set inside, but we have to remember that he will play multiple roles depending on the game plan.
Using a pre-snap look of Tyrann Mathieu and the Cardinals versus the Lions, here are a couple of examples of how an NFL defense can utilize Verrett at the next level.
From the nickel alignment, Verrett could pressure off the edge in a zone scheme (rush five, drop six) or a man blitz (safety rolls down over No. 2), drop to the seam-hook (Cover 2), the curl-flat (Cover 3), plus play the inside hot read and the vertical seam (trail-man).
This is just a static example of the nickel position. And that's not easy work in the NFL. But given Verrett’s ability, I can see why so many people are projecting the cornerback inside as he makes the transition to the NFL.
Is Verrett a First-Round Pick Next Month?
As Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller wrote in his scouting report, Verrett would be considered one of the top prospects if he had the size and frame NFL clubs want outside of the numbers.
And that would put him in the discussion with Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State), Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech) and Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State).
However, I still look at the talent here with Verrett despite the 5’9” frame. This is a cornerback who has speed, transition ability and ball skills, and he wants to compete.
Plus, when you add in his projected value on special teams (coaches should align him at the gunner position immediately), he can make an impact during his rookie season.
A first-round pick? I think so. And he might end up being a steal if an NFL team utilizes and develops his skill set the proper way to maximize his abilities.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.