By Alex Kozora
Our focus has shifted to the offseason and for the next few months, I’ll be providing scouting reports on several draft prospects. Some of these players the Pittsburgh Steelers may look at and others will be top players that will be off the board before they select. All to make you as prepared as possible for the 2014 NFL Draft.
Breakdown of the mid-round cornerback I referred to in my Ross Cockrell article. Missouri’s E.J. Gaines.
E.J. Gaines/CB Missouri: 5’10 190
- Matched up well against NFL prospects (Matthews, Evans, Moncrief)
- Physical and willing to get his nose dirty, will factor in the run game
- Reliable tackler who isn’t afraid to initiate contact
- Above average feet and change of direction
- Not a great athlete but sneaky speed and times well
- High effort player
- Smart in coverage and uses sideline to his advantage
- Versatile, played multiple spots
- Impressive senior year
- Decorated career
- Durable, relatively few injury concerns
- Frame isn’t special and possesses short arms (30 3/8)
- Won’t wow you as an athlete
- Not a special cover corner and doesn’t make too many plays on the ball
- Interception numbers are a bit misleading
- Not always a fundamentally sound tackler, times where he’ll cut instead or wrap or lead with shoulder for a big blow
- Didn’t appear to play much man coverage, mostly zone
- Three year starter for the Tigers, 37 career starts
- 2013: 75 tackles, 5 INTs
- Career: 244 tackles, 31 PDs, 14 TFL, 8 INTs
- Two-time 1st Team All-SEC (2011, 2013)
- Missed just two games in career, sitting out twice in 2013 due to a quad injury
- 11 career punt returns, one touchdown
- Three-time Missouri CB of the year
- Reportedly ran in the high 4.3’s-mid 4.4’s at Missouri’s Pro Day (did not run at Combine –injured groin)
Normally, when we talk about corners, we’ll first focus on their coverage. With Jason Verrett, it was quick feet and explosion. With Darqueze Dennard, his physicality and press coverage was at the forefront of his scouting report.
Not with Gaines.
What I admire most about him is his tackling ability and willingness to support the run. Something I failed to see in guys like Cockrell and Victor Hampton. As I’ve mentioned, that’s equally as important to the Steelers’ as coverage skills.
Sheds the wide receiver attempting to stalk block and sticks the wide receiver on this screen for just a short gain.
Closes on this curl route against Tennessee, not allowing any YAC.
Attacks and closes quickly on Johnny Manziel.
Didn’t have to run that hard. It was 2nd and 16 and Manziel was going to run out of bounds anyway. Plays like that show Gaines’ tenacity and desire to embrace the physicality of the run. Lots of cornerbacks would shy away from that type of contact.
Doubled-teamed on this trap block against Vanderbilt.
If I had to venture a guess, Gaines had the most tackles in 2013 of any cornerback in this year’s draft class. Stats don’t always tell the story but his 75 takedowns show how often he got his nose dirty.
It wasn’t as if teams picked on Gaines in coverage, either. Didn’t see many targets his way. Pass deflections fell from 11 in 2012 to three in 2013. Ended up watching seven games of him in an attempt to get a better feel for his coverage skills.
Didn’t see anything superbly impressive in that facet. But the numbers don’t lie. His toughest test came against Mike Evans, the #2 wide receiver to most draftniks. Gaines’ performance needs to be qualified with the realization Missouri plays a good deal of zone, but he lined up against Evans on nearly every single play. And the Aggies’ monster receiver was shut down to the tune of four catches for eight yards. The latter stat obviously a season low.
Missouri went on to beat Texas A&M, and Gaines had a lot to do with it.
Thought he handled himself well against Jordan Matthews and Donte Moncrief. Didn’t allow any splash plays. Those receivers did their damage against other members of the Missouri secondary. Not Gaines.
There were multiple games where Gaines was asked to play just the left side of the field. But others where he moved to the slot or a “rover” position. Has experience moving around the field which can only help him at the next level.
Stats will show he had five interceptions but none of them seemed to be difficult plays. More of him taking advantage of some lame duck throws. Like this one against Tennessee.
Can get beat deep in coverage and even though he ran well at his Pro Day in March, he likely does not play to that low 4.4 speed. Post gets him against Georgia.
And there are times where he loses his form as a tackler, going for the big hit with his shoulder.
Does make the tackle here and shows his willingness to deliver a blow but not what you’re taught as a defender.
Gaines will never be a polarizing prospect and for those teams trying to find a cornerback that will fit in a man heavy scheme, it’d be wise to look elsewhere. But for what the Steelers are looking for, Gaines fits. Allows the Steelers to focus on other wants/needs in the first round and still get a solid cornerback in the third or fourth round.
Projection: Late Third-Early 4th
Games Watched: at Indiana, at Vanderbilt, at Georgia, vs Tennessee, at Ole Miss, vs Texas A&M, vs Oklahoma St (Bowl)
Previous Scouting Reports:
Buffalo LB Khalil Mack
Illinois State T/G Josh Aladenoye
Penn State WR Allen Robinson
Stanford ILB Shayne Skov/a>
Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin
North Carolina TE Eric Ebron
Auburn T Greg Robinson
Minnesota DT Ra’Shede Hageman
Notre Dame NT Louis Nix III
Auburn LB Dee Ford
Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro
North Dakota State T Billy Turner
Boston College RB Andre Williams
South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
BYU OLB Kyle Van Noy
Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald
Tennessee NT Daniel McCullers
Colorado State DE/OLB Shaquil Barrett
Alabama T Cyrus Kouandjio
Tennessee T Antonio Richardson
Central Florida RB Storm Johnson
Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller
Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
West Virginia DE Will Clarke
Louisville S Calvin Pryor
Wisconsin ILB Chris Borland
Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews
Virginia T Morgan Moses
Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt
Mississippi WR Donte Moncrief
Central Florida QB Blake Bortles
Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
North Carolina DE Kareem Martin
UCLA OLB Anthony Barr
South Carolina CB Victor Hampton
Clemson WR Martavis Bryant
Fresno State WR Davante Adams
Texas DE/OLB Jackson Jeffcoat
Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard
TCU CB Jason Verrett
Louisiana Tech NT Justin Ellis
Baylor RB Lache Seastrunk
Rice CB Phillip Gaines
Coastal Carolina RB Lorenzo Taliaferro
LSU WR Odell Beckham Jr.
Cincinnati TE Blake Annen
Alabama LB C.J. Mosley
Auburn RB Tre Mason
Duke CB Ross Cockrell