NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
As outlined last week in our Darius Slay feature, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s draft decisions at the cornerback position have been heavily influenced by what he perceives to be the position’s minimum athletic requirements; although Belichick’s philosophy has proved erratic at best in practice, it would be a surprise if he were to abandon his typical mode of operation in April.
Should he continue to prize speed and quickness at the position, one player who would represent a strong first-round value is Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant, the brother of current pros Marcus and Isaiah Trufant. Read on to find out how Desmond Trufant could fit into New England’s plans in 2013.
Trufant arrived at Washington in 2009 and became a first-year contributor, starting nine of twelve games with the Huskies that season and totaling 47 tackles, two interceptions, six passes defensed, a pair of tackles for loss, and a fumble returned for a touchdown. His starting role carried over into 2010, when he started thirteen games and recorded 48 tackles (1.5 for loss), half a sack, one interception, and four passes defensed. Trufant started another full season of thirteen games as a junior, being named as an honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection based on his 64 tackles (including one half sack), two interceptions, fourteen passes defensed, and two forced fumbles.
However, it was as a senior that Trufant emerged as one of the draft’s top cornerback prospects. After being named one of Washington’s captains, Trufant went on to put together a season which earned him a first-team All-Pac-12 selection, making 36 tackles (4.5 for loss, one sack), one interception, eight passes defensed, one forced fumble, and one blocked kick. He concluded his career with a total of 47 starts, including a streak of 45 that ended during his senior season.
Washington’s coaching staff evidently felt very comfortable with Trufant’s abilities, as they asked him to handle a wide variety of responsibilities this season. He was asked to cover opposing receivers on the boundary and in the slot, and the Huskies also employed Trufant frequently in coverage on opposing tight ends. On a handful of plays, he was lined up deep as a safety, and contributed on the kick-blocking team and punt coverage unit, exhibiting his versatility.
Trufant is at his best in man coverage, either on the outside or in the slot. He has the frame of an outside cornerback at 6’0” and 190 pounds, with exceptional speed (4.38 in the 40-yard dash), explosiveness (3.85 seconds in the short shuttle, 37.5” vertical leap), and agility, all of which are among the most impressive in the class. Because New England began to incorporate more man-coverage looks last season, they could be looking for a cornerback with Trufant’s movement skills and ability to mirror defenders.
Earlier in his career, Trufant’s strength appeared to be somewhat lacking, but the fact that he began his collegiate career at Washington as a 172-pound freshman and arrived at the Combine weighing 190 pounds is encouraging. Trufant’s added bulk paid off, as he recorded sixteen repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press, one of the more impressive figures among cornerbacks in Indianapolis. Although the Huskies may have been asking too much of Trufant by lining him up opposite tight ends such as Stanford’s Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, that Washington’s coaching staff felt comfortable with those matchups is indicative of Trufant’s improved strength.
Trufant’s ability to play inside and outside is especially relevant from a Patriots perspective because of the potential losses of Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington, although it does appear that the latter will likely reach an agreement on a new contract with New England this offseason. In Talib’s case, the Patriots learned a few things: that moving Devin McCourty to free safety and Kyle Arrington into the slot dramatically improved the secondary’s level of play, and that running more man coverage had a positive effect as well.
Unfortunately, re-signing Talib appears unlikely at this point because a lucrative long-term contract such as the one Talib is projected to receive in free agency appears unwarranted based on his play in 2012. Although New England could attempt to run the same man-coverage schemes with Ras-I Dowling or another free agent option in 2013, the Patriots would be wise to avoid spending too much at the position on the open market when they can acquire the rights to a young, durable player already well-versed in man coverage schemes for the next four seasons at a relatively low cost, which is where Trufant could come into play.