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2018 NFL Draft: Film Review of new Carolina Panthers defensive back Rashaan Gaulden

The Panthers drafted Rashaan Gaulden in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

After drafting one of the fastest defensive backs in the draft in Donte Jackson, Carolina opted to go in the opposite direction by drafting Rashaan Gaulden.

Gaulden had a poor combine workout. His SPARQ score was in the 2.6th percentile. He primarily spent his time at nickel corner for the Vols in 2017. Despite that, Marty Hurney has stated multiple times that he will compete for the safety position.

Given Gaulden’s athletic testing and strengths, it makes more sense to deploy him as a box safety.

Pass coverage

With Gaulden spending the majority of his 2017 snaps at nickel, his transition to safety becomes a projection. Rivera’s comments lead me to believe that he will be tasked with playing a box role, but there are questions about his ability to hold up in coverage.

As a nickel corner in Tennessee’s scheme, Gaulden was asked to play inside leverage. His job was to funnel receivers to the sideline, but his below average 3 cone score shows up on tape. He doesn’t show the twitch to flip his hips from inside to outside leverage, which gives the receiver instant separation.

Gaulden’s instincts can run hot and cold. He anticipates a slot fade by the receiver, but it turns out to be a sharp angle route. Gaulden’s movement when he travels outside is too high, which prevents him from fluidly changing direction.

Gaulden was beat on each of these throws, but the quarterback didn’t target him or was inaccurate.

Another issue that consistently shows up is his footwork breaking down at the top of routes.

Gaulden is lined up as the nickel defender. Once the receiver stems his route inside, Gaulden loses leverage.

Gaulden loses half a step on the release. The receiver’s quick footwork catches him off guard, which puts Gaulden in a trail position.

For his deficiencies in short areas, Gaulden does compete on every play. Initially, the receiver has Gaulden beat over the top. However, he tracks the ball and recovers to play the ball to force a pass breakup.

If Gaulden does line up in the box, then he has to quickly diagnose route concepts. He fights off the block while eventually breaking up the pass.

Run defense

Gaulden is a reliable run defender, which is an important component for a Ron Rivera defense. While Gaulden didn’t display the ball skills to make game changing plays, he was a turnover machine against the run.

Georgia Tech runs an outside pitch. Gaulden eludes the receiver’s block, but it seems that he takes a poor angle in pursuit. Gaulden recovers to strip the running back on the backside. Check out the time and score. This was a game changing turnover.

Gaulden disguises a blitz, but drops into his curl flat zone. When he sees the quarterback scrambling, he squares up and executes a perfect tackling form. As a result, he forces another fumble.

Facing a 3rd and 1, Vanderbilt decides to pound the rock with their back. Gaulden comes off the corner to close down the edge, but then uses his form tackling technique to prevent the first down.

Fit on the Panthers

If the Panthers are serious about converting Gaulden into a safety then the pick makes sense. He is a consistent force in the run game and as a blitzer. While his coverage deficiencies are real, if he zone drops or pattern matches against tight ends then his athleticism concerns can be hidden. Gaulden has a good understanding of route concepts, so he could see playing time early in his career. I remain skeptical that this selection will work out, but I am hopeful that the coaches can harness his potential.