Thursday, February 2, 2017

2017 NFL Draft Breakdown: Iowa Hawkeyes Cornerback Desmond King

Desmond King is one of my favorite Iowa players ever. He started as a true Freshman and played pretty damn well. From there, he got better and better. Then he had every reason to leave after his Junior year as he won the Thorpe Award for best cornerback in the nation and had nothing left to prove. Still, he came back and basically shut down half the field for most of the season. Quarterbacks just refused to throw that way, so even though his stats were down, his play was just as good. Still, being a great college player does not make one a great pro, so I took a look at his games against Nebraska and Purdue from 2016 and Wisconsin and Indiana from 2015 (since people actually threw in his direction that year).

Something that stands out in King's play is his physicality. He isn't someone who can get physical; he's someone who looks to get physical. You see this a lot on how he tackles guys as he's looking to either make a big hit or go for a strip. Also, he plays through the whistle...and sometimes needs the benefit of a really long whistle.
Iowa's defense relies on their cornerbacks being able to make tackles in the open field and King always did a good job of containing the edge and finishing plays.

Where his physicality is more important is in his coverage, as he can make up for not having top end speed by physically punishing opposing receivers. What also helps is he is incredibly quick. Adding that to his decisiveness, and it's no wonder he's able to stick to receiver like glue (If you're looking for King on these plays, he's basically always the cornerback on the left side of the offense).
Indiana ran this play earlier in the game while Iowa was in a zone and it went for 20 yards. Here, King sees the quick break, avoids the pick (watch the receiver in the slot flail at King), and the Indiana quarterback has no choice but to throw the ball away.

The big concern is his lack of top end speed which means that many teams view him more as a safety prospect than a cornerback. As much as I love King, I do think it's still a question mark. He handled all varieties of B1G receivers, but how many of those guys were really top end talents? Also, the ones that were future NFL players likely didn't have a NFL level quarterback throwing them the ball to take advantage of any of King's weaknesses.

King would occasionally get beat deep by receivers. The problem with this is whose responsibility that was in Iowa's coverage. Iowa's safeties were not the most dependable players these last few years, so it was unclear whether there should have been a safety over the top or whether King just got beat. He also would often give too much of a cushion and allow 8-yard comeback routes without having any chance to break up the play. Again, that could be the Iowa defensive play call to drift back in the zone and allow the underneath route, or it could be King playing it safe with his lack of top-end speed.

His speed is definitely a concern, but this guy is a football player, and I would like to at least see him get the chance to stay at corner at the next level.

The biggest positives for King's ability to stay at cornerback are his intelligence and instincts.
Here, he follows the deep post over the middle until he sees the slot receiver going for a wheel route. He then spins around to break on the ball, make the interception while managing to still get a foot in bounds.

Another reason that I think King can stay at corner despite not having top end speed is the quickness and athleticism he has shown as a kick returner.
This sort of body control is impressive, and it is far more important than speed when trying to mirror receiver's actions.

And finally, he does things like this.

His ability to mirror receivers and basically run their route for them while undercutting any pass is really a treat to watch.
Right when the receiver breaks towards the outside, King turns back to look for the ball to make a play. King is a very smart player and knows the situation where that is the end of the route and he has a safety over the top so he can look to make a play on the ball if the quarterback decides to throw it. A pushoff from the receiver isn't enough to stop King from making the interception.

The biggest debate for King is whether he is a corner or a safety at the next level. It's a fair question, especially considering that nearly every recent Iowa cornerback has transitioned to safety when going to the NFL. I do think King has enough other skills to stay at corner despite the lack of straight line speed, but ultimately, I don't think it really matters. King's best trait is that he's a football player. He's a guy who consistently makes plays and those instincts will transition to any level. 

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