It is my belief that aside from Mississippi St. cornerback Johnthan Banks, the cornerback position ranking is wide open. There’s no real athlete that can be considered absolutely deserving of the No. 2 spot at the position, although there are arguments to be made for the likes of Alabama’s Dee Milliner and Illinois’ talented (but unhealthy) Terry Hawthorne. However, one name that has gone from the tip of one’s tongue to the bottom of their throat rather quickly is North Carolina State’s David Amerson.
Amerson, a junior who hasn’t declared his intentions for the 2013 NFL Draft yet but is heavily rumored to be leaving, was once a prized prospect. Remarkably lengthy and physical of a tackler, Amerson was viewed as one of the best prospects at the position going into the 2012 season but appears to have fallen with a thud in the cornerback rankings for many. Some are debating whether he should even be a cornerback at the next level. Can he play cornerback? Is he a safety? Even worse, is he in the endangered no-man’s land?
It’s tough to definitively reply to each of the questions but it’s worth investigating; after all, he does have 18 interceptions in the last two seasons. David Amerson is built like a hard-hitting safety, checking in at a stature of 6’3” and weighing at 194 lbs., per NFLDraftScout.com, which is seemingly impressive on paper but ultimately plays to his disadvantage in practice.
Generally speaking, one of the vitals at the cornerback position is quickness in-and-out of cuts. A cornerback has to be able to break out of his backpedal and not be at a distance from the receiver he’s marking. If he is, he’s simply going to be beaten for a reception. Cornerbacks that are taller are less fortunate than those of smaller stature because they take longer to get out of their breaks, as they are “high-cut” athletes. This is the case with Amerson, and although he has good quickness for the cornerback position – again generally speaking – it doesn’t suit his size. His quickness actually is negated by his size and proves to be a non-factor when he’s taken a misstep.
This was depicted quite well against the Clemson Tigers this past season, when he attempted to break on an apparent inside-breaking route by a receiver, only to be fooled by a double move. Interestingly enough, his initial technique was fine on the play but his final steps were fatal.
The defensive play call was Cover 1 and he was playing off-man technique. Initially across the receiver at the line of scrimmage, he started to cautiously backpedal, keeping his shoulders square only until he was threatened vertically. That time came and Amerson was prepared for it, opening his hips up to the outside in anticipation of a vertical or outside-breaking route to be run. However, the receiver would instead be breaking to the inside to set up a double move. Because of the receiver’s inside step, Amerson planted his foot into the ground and looked to do what he does best, attack the ball. The only problem being that it was a double-move and the receiver broke off the inside step and turned back outside, leaving Amerson coming downhill and in the dust. The result was a touchdown and Amerson had no chance of getting him.
This is the concern that teams will have with the N.C. State cornerback. He’s very aggressive downhill, especially if he’s given any hint of a route being broken off, and he’s very confident that he can make a play on the ball, which is both good and bad. His aggressiveness downhill is also portrayed by his willingness to play the run, often seen doing so as a force defender on the outside. However, in run defense, he’s also had his issues with discipline, noticeably leaving his assigned gap to make a play.
Moreover, it should be noted that he lacks fluidity. He’s not particularly flexible, which again his size plays a part in, but how big of a problem is this?
There have been quite a few cornerbacks that have come through the NFL and played successfully without great fluidity, sometimes turning slower than a Dan Snyder yacht. The key to playing defensive back is not possessing track burning no speed or rubber band flexibility, rather it is efficient technique, which he is still learning. There are moments in games where he plays with good technique, and it becomes even better when it’s supported by his mega confidence. This was glaring against the University of Connecticut, when he logged an interception and a few other good plays to his name.
On one fine play, he recognized the route concept that the opposition was running. It was a Hi-Lo combination concept consisting of two primary receivers. Amerson, lined up into the wide side (“field”) of the field, was across the furthest receiver outside in State’s Cover 2 and a squat defender in the flat. This meant he was only responsible for the flat unless a receiver infiltrated the area. In this case, the UConn receiver never left it. At the snap of the ball, the receiver ran a short vertical stem and Amerson didn’t budge. Aligned with a slight inside shade, he sunk his cleats into the ground and waited on the route to develop. It was going to be a square-in and Amerson knew it, which is why he slid further inside and broke on the pass, breaking it up for an incompletion.
There are only a small number of cornerbacks that have the confidence to play the receiver’s route the way Amerson did. Typically ball hawks are associated with this behavior, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as a play is made.
Despite this confidence and ball skills, North Carolina State’s David Amerson will continue to be looked at as a possible switch to safety because of his lack of natural talent, namely his speed and fluidity. If he can improve on his discipline and develop consistent technique, he may be a keeper at cornerback just like Richard Sherman was coming out of Stanford.
Like Amerson, Sherman lacked fluidity and foot speed but has developed into a good corner. The same holds for Sherman’s teammate, Brandon Browner. That’s not to say Amerson compares to them as players overall, but they are two of a few cornerbacks that have come into the NFL with similar questions and fared well without a move to safety.