The NFL is a revolving door of great players—as old ones leave, new ones enter.
Every year NFL front offices scramble to ensure they find the next “great” player, players who will eventually become the foundation of a pathway to competitive success.
Greatness, however, is not defined by talent alone and is therefore, much more difficult to find.
Yet, as fate would have it, the Jacksonville Jaguars might have found their very own “next great player.”
Enter Dwayne Gratz.
The Jaguars selected cornerback Dwayne Gratz in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft. Gratz would go on to be a rookie starter on a young Jaguars defense and perform like a seasoned veteran.
Now with his budding career ahead of him, the expectations are growing for the young defensive back, and greatness awaits.
Why Gratz? Why not one of the other young talents on the Jaguars roster?
Let me explain.
The Scouting Report
Simply put, Gratz is an athlete. He’s got good size (5’11”, 201 lbs) and speed (sub-4.5 40-yard dash time) to dominate at his position. As a defender, he’s physical on the line of scrimmage and gets his hands on opposing receivers.
He’s got excellent range and does a good job breaking on receivers' routes. Additionally, he’s got fluid hips and solid play-recognition skills. A willing tackler, Gratz is effective in man and zone coverage as well as in run defense.
Despite all his strengths, Gratz is not without weakness. Gratz needs to improve his recovery speed and is susceptible to being beat by speedier receivers. Gratz will need to improve his ability to stymie speed receivers at the line of scrimmage in order to not get exposed too often.
Dwayne Gratz had a strong rookie campaign. He allowed only one touchdown and racked up 32 tackles and two interceptions in 10 games played.
Most interesting of all the advanced stats is that of NFL QB rating allowed, a stat that measures the average opponent’s NFL QB rating against an individual defender (for defenders, lower is better). In this stat, Gratz allowed an average NFL QB rating of 75.7—a better rating than Patrick Peterson (91.3), Dee Milliner (86.6), Darrelle Revis (81.5) and Tyrann Mathieu (85).
I wanted to better evaluate Gratz by comparing his rookie stats to those of other young, emerging cornerbacks. For comparisons sake, I selected Patrick Peterson, widely considered the best young cornerback in the game, and Dee Milliner, the first cornerback selected in Gratz’s draft class.
|Pro Football Focus's Player Grades By Position|
|Overall||Run Defense||Pass Defense|
|Courtesy Pro Football Focus, Subscription Required|
The above table compares the three cornerbacks in player grades during their rookie seasons. The grading system evaluates each player on every single snap they play, not just base statistics. As you can see, Gratz leads in overall player grade and run defense, and he is second in pass coverage.
If nothing else, those stats suggest that Gratz’s start is similar to, if not better than, that of other highly talented defensive backs. At 24 years old, Gratz still has room to develop and could easily emerge as one of the best in the league.
While stats are great, they don’t tell the whole story. The only way to truly understand a football player is to watch his impact on the field.
In a recent film review, I broke down Gratz’s interception of Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker.
In this play, Gratz is lined up at the bottom of the screen across from Shonn Greene.
Gratz immediately back-pedals to deep zone coverage. Here Gratz is carrying Shonn Greene upfield while keeping his eyes affixed to Locker and Nate Washington, the slot receiver.
The second that Locker plants his foot, Gratz reads his eyes and breaks toward Washington.
A poorly thrown ball goes over Washington while Gratz executes a ball-hawking jump to create the turnover.
This particular play shows a lot about Gratz as a defender. During his retreat to deep coverage, he displayed a quick, smooth technique while essentially carrying two defenders and keeping himself aware of the quarterback's eyes. Gratz doesn’t second-guess his instincts, immediately breaks for the ball and comes up with an interception.
You can’t teach that.
Considering the aggressiveness of head coach Gus Bradley’s defense and an improved pass rush, it isn't unfeasible to expect Gratz to emerge as a top-15 cornerback by the end of the season.
I fully expect Gratz to improve on his 2013 season stats and produce a stat line in the area of 67 tackles, 14 passes defensed and five interceptions.
Additionally, I also expect Gratz’s development to continue year-by-year and project that he’ll be a top-five cornerback before the end of his rookie deal.
Overall, Gratz has all the tools you’re looking for in an elite cornerback. He has size, speed, good instincts, excellent technique and considering his rookie play, he’s very coachable.
It won’t be an easy road for Gratz as he faces Andrew Luck and other elite passers all throughout the season. As the Jaguars rebuild, there will be times that Gratz gets exposed and times that he will shine.
The important thing to recognize is his potential and growth, both of which are evident. If Gratz continues his career like he has so far, he can be the next great Jaguar and hopefully, lead this team into prominence.