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Panthers Film Room: Ross Cockrell is the ideal zone cornerback for the Carolina Panthers

After the deal for Bashaud Breeland fell through due to a failed physical, the Panthers signed free agent Ross Cockrell to fill the gap in the secondary created by the Daryl Worley-Torrey Smith trade.

The Panthers had a hole at outside cornerback after Bashaud Breeland failed his physical. General Manager Marty Hurney attempted to rectify that issue by signing former Giants cornerback Ross Cockrell to a prudent deal.

Since being drafted by Buffalo in 2014, Cockrell has been on three teams prior to joining the Panthers. His athletic and measurable profile is quite unique. He possess ideal height, but his arm length is shorter than the mean for outside corners. Furthermore, his explosion or jump scores are above average. However, he has poor agility scores which indicate his change of direction skills could be lacking.

Of course, those tests were measured in 4 years ago. It’s possible his scores have improved, but his baseline skill set indicates a corner who excels in off man zone coverage. After watching his 2017 film, those inclinations were justified.

The Giants are playing quarters coverage. Larry Fitzgerald is aligned tight to the formation heads up against a linebacker. Cockrell is lined up near the numbers in off coverage. His zone responsibility is the deep sideline. With the safety providing assistance over the top, the Giants should be in good shape to defend any deep routes.

As the play unfolds, Fitzgerald runs a corner route towards the end zone. Cockrell executes his assignment in zone with perfect technique. His shuffle is fluid and he has his eyes on the quarterback the entire time. The play is further punctuated by Cockrell’s finish. His ball skills are underrated. He plays the ball at the highest point to finish with an interception.

Once again, Cockrell is in off coverage covering the deep sideline. He faces a hitch wheel concept to his side. The outside receiver runs a deep hitch route, but Cockrell smartly passes it off and matches with the wheel. Cockrell’s eye discipline is on point throughout the the play. He stays within arm’s reach of the receiver. Then he makes a fantastic adjustment to showcase his ball skills.

Cockrell’s strong eye discipline is on full display here. He’s covering the deep sideline in cover 3. Redskins wide receiver Josh Docston is running a double move, but Cockrell doesn’t allow his eyes to get lazy. He keeps them on the QB, which allows him to carry the double move fluidly down field. Despite the ball being under thrown, Docston has shown throughout his short career that he has the advantage in jump ball situations. However, Cockrell gets the better of him on this attempt.

As shown in the previous videos, Cockrell aligns way off the line of scrimmage. He breaks on the underneath route to force a pass deflection. The receiver he wins against Alshon Jeffrey who is bigger and stronger than him, but that doesn’t deter Cockrell from making a play.

None of this is to say Cockrell can’t play near the line of scrimmage in man coverage because he can. He carries this drag route across the middle of the field to force another pass deflection. This is no difficult task. He has to mirror the receiver’s quick release, fight through traffic, stay within arm’s reach, and time his deflection perfectly.

He flourishes when the ball is in front of him so he can decipher route concepts and keep his eyes on the quarterback. His less than ideal arm length and strength make don’t suit his skill set in press man coverage, but he could be used in that area in spurts.

According to PFF, Cockrell finished 42nd in the NFL in cover snaps per reception. For reference, no cornerback on the Panthers finished higher than him. He is certainly an ideal 2nd cornerback. Carolina’s need was further accentuated when Breeland failed his physical. Hurney made the most out of a dire situation. Let’s hope that Cockrell can replicate his past success in zone coverage for the Panthers in 2018.