2013 NFL Draft: Two cornerback prospects for the Panthers

Jared Wickerham

The Panthers sent their defensive backs coaches to the UConn's Pro Day. I'll take a closer look at who they might be targeting from UConn for the 2013 NFL Draft.

Although UConn is not a football powerhouse, their defense was one of the best in the nation last season, ranking number 10 overall in total defense. A big reason why was because of the outstanding play from their two starting cornerbacks – Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz, who routinely shut down some of the top competition they faced.

The Carolina Panthers sent their defensive backs coaches to the University of Connecticut’s Pro Day on March 28, to scout these two talented, but relatively unknown cornerbacks. Today, I’ll take a closer look at these two intriguing cornerbacks, to see how they could potentially fit in the Panthers defense. Both of these players are expected to be selected in the second to fourth rounds in the draft.

I’ll break down these two prospects using their film against Louisville. I used this specific game because it would be an excellent litmus test for the two cornerbacks, as Teddy Bridgewater is widely considered to be the best quarterback prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft. A big armed quarterback with good mobility, I was curious to see how UConn’s secondary would defend him. Furthermore, Louisville uses a variety of looks on offense, frequently switching from pro style to spread to dual tight end formations. I wanted to see how the cornerbacks would respond to these different formations, as they’d be seeing a lot of this in the NFL.

The UConn secondary ended up limiting Bridgewater to completing just 56 percent of his passes for 331 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. Bridgewater posted a 117.7 (college) quarterback rating, his second lowest of the year.

On tape, I instantly saw a lot of similarities to what the Panthers do on defense. Like the Panthers, the Huskies employed a lot of Cover 2 principles in their secondary – two deep safeties, with their cornerbacks giving 4-7 yard cushions on the wide receivers. They mostly played a soft zone defense, but occasionally would have their cornerbacks playing close to the line of scrimmage in man coverage.

Blidi Wreh-Wilson

I’ll start my evaluation with Blidi Wreh-Wilson, UConn’s #1 cornerback. In 2011, Wreh-Wilson suffered a knee injury that caused him to miss almost half of the 2011 season, but he came back healthy last season and had the best year of his career. He is currently being projected to go in the second to third round in the Draft.

Here are Wreh-Wilson’s measurables from the NFL Combine:

Blidi Wreh-Wilson


Height


6-1

Weight


195

40 yard dash


4.45

10 yard split


1.57

Bench Press


14

Vertical Jump


36

Broad Jump


10-8

20 yard Shuttle


4.12

3 cone drill


6.97

Wreh-Wilson has the ideal size you look for at the cornerback position. He also has excellent athleticism. So, how well do these measurables translate onto tape? Find out for yourself:


Here are my film notes on Wreh-Wilson:

- Excellent size and build

- Mostly lined up on the outside, but occasionally worked in the slot.

- Gave 5-8 yard cushions, although he also lined up at the LOS several times.

- Good closing speed

- Shows good awareness, can play ball in the air.

- Excellent ability to diagnose plays

- Slightly stiff hips, and doesn’t have a smooth backpedal. Awkward technique on backpedal.

- Struggled in off-man coverage.

- Has some issues with pass interference - struggled to keep up with the Louisville receiver on a go route, due to stiff hips and a lack of elite speed.

Although I didn’t see the excellent athleticism on tape that I expected after seeing his Combine numbers, I think that Wreh-Wilson is a solid zone cornerback. He has good awareness and ability to diagnose plays, and he can play the ball in the air very well. His backpedal looked a bit awkward to me, but it didn’t seem to limit his ability in coverage too much.

I think that if you ask him to play in man coverage at the line of scrimmage, he’ll struggle because he doesn’t have fluid hips, which limits his ability to quickly change direction with wide receivers. Some of this is due to his larger frame, as cornerbacks who are taller than 6 feet generally have stiffer hips and are not as smooth in changing direction as shorter cornerbacks.

Overall, I’m a fan of Wreh-Wilson. I think he’s a solid zone cornerback for the Panthers. He’s got a few deficiencies in his game, but when playing in zone coverage giving 5 yard cushions to receivers, he was almost flawless. I think he’s the second best ‘pure zone’ cornerback in this year’s draft after Jonathan Banks of Mississippi State. I’m not sure if I’d take him at 44, but if the Panthers can trade down in the second round, or acquire a third round pick, I’d have no hesitations taking Wreh-Wilson. He’s an immediate starter at cornerback in the Panthers system.

Dwayne Gratz

Gratz is projected to go in the third or fourth round. I’ll begin the analysis with his measurables at the NFL Combine:

Dwayne Gratz


Height


5-11

Weight


201

40 yard dash


4.44

10 yard split


1.55

Bench Press


22

Vertical Jump


38

Broad Jump


10-5

20 yard Shuttle


4.15

3 cone drill


6.7

Gratz is a bit smaller than Wreh-Wilson, but he still possesses good size. Gratz is a slightly more athletic cornerback than Wreh-Wilson. Here’s his game tape against Louisville:


Here are my film notes on Gratz:

- More of a physical cornerback, with a thick build.

- Lined up on the outside, but also as a free safety

- Played a lot more man coverage than Wreh-Wilson

- Smooth backpedal, with a good burst off the line

- Has special teams ability as field goal blocker

- Needs to work on his tackling technique – goes too high and occasionally misses the tackle completely.

- Needs to take better angles in run defense.

- Not as good at playing ball in the air, needs to work on ball awareness more.

- Stiff hips, got beat several times on vertical routes

Gratz is a joker in the secondary, as he can line up almost anywhere. He did a little bit of everything in UConn’s secondary – played in man and zone coverage on the outside, lined up in the slot, and played deep as a free safety. He did get beat at times deep down the field, due to lack of good technique. However, his deficiencies can be coached. To me, Gratz is fourth round talent - I don’t think he has the skillet that Wreh-Wilson has, but he is a solid prospect who would be a great fit in the Panthers zone scheme. I do think that he’d need a season on the bench developing his technique before becoming a full time contributor.

Both Wreh-Wilson and Gratz would be excellent additions to the Carolina Panthers’ secondary. They both come from a very similar system on defense to what the Panthers run, so the learning curve would be less compared with other cornerbacks. Wreh-Wilson is more pro ready, as he’s one of the best zone cornerbacks in this year’s draft. On the other hand, Gratz is raw and will need time developing his technique, but he could have a potentially higher ceiling due to his greater athleticism.

In short, the Carolina Panthers desperately need a talent upgrade at the cornerback position - these two players have the potential to provide that.

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