In the next installment of their series on polarizing prospects, Dane Brugler and Rob Rang take a look at Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant. In previous editions, they've debated USC quarterback Matt Barkley, Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel and Oregon pass-rusher Dion Jordan.
Many talent evaluators had pegged University of Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant as a second- or third-round pick based on his play in 47 career starts with the Huskies.
It was the 48th start of his career, however, that has seemingly transformed his stock.
Perhaps no defensive player was a bigger winner at the Senior Bowl than Trufant, who has seen his stock skyrocket after a dominating week in Mobile. He has since followed that up with a sparkling performance at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis and his Pro Day.
The younger brother of two NFL cornerbacks, Marcus (Seahawks) and Isaiah (Jets), Desmond's bloodlines speak for themselves.
Rob Rang thinks his Senior Bowl performance does, as well. Dane Brugler, on the other hand, wonders why Trufant wasn't this dominant throughout his entire career.
RANG'S QUICK TAKE: While Alabama's Dee Milliner is universally regarded as the top cornerback in the 2013 draft class, Trufant is every bit his (or any other cornerback's) match this year in terms of pure coverage ability. Given that the NFL is increasingly turning toward the pass, that could translate into a top-13 pick.
Trufant, 6-foot, 190, doesn't just have the traits that scouts are looking for, he has the tape. He was a four-year standout in the Pac-12, a league known for throwing the football. He improved each season, culminating with a first team all-conference selection in 2012.
Rather than rest on his laurels, Trufant elected to compete at the Senior Bowl. He was dynamic throughout the week of practices and the game itself and proved his athleticism by dazzling at the combine, running the 40-yard dash in 4.38-seconds and the short-shuttle in 3.85-seconds, among the fastest times of any athlete tested. Like his older brothers, Desmond is every bit as impressive off the field as on it, which will make the four-year starter all the more appealing on draft day.
Trufant entered the 2012 season viewed by many scouts as a likely middle-round prospect. Though Trufant had always demonstrated rare athleticism, opponents had more success against him during his first three seasons in the Pac-12 than one expects from a first-round pick.
At least some of the blame for Trufant giving up big plays, however, has to go to a lack of pass rush at Washington during the early stages of his career. While head coach Steve Sarkisian has proven to be a brilliant coach on the offensive side of the ball, his initial choice at defensive coordinator, Nick Holt, floundered. A once-proud Washington defense allowed an eye-popping 47 touchdowns to rank second worst in the conference in touchdowns allowed in 2010. A year later, the Huskies finished 11th in both Total and Pass Defense in the conference (and 116th in the FBS), and Holt was fired. His replacement, former Tennessee Volunteers defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, brought with him a more aggressive attack, which often put Trufant on an island, taking advantage of his unique coverage ability. In Wilcox's first season, the Huskies vaulted to second in the Pac-12 (and 23rd in the country) in pass defense, the biggest jump of any team in the country in this category.
Just as Trufant did not deserve as much blame as he received for Washington's shoddy pass defense earlier in his career, he shouldn't get all of the credit for the Huskies' improvement in 2012. Make no mistake, though, Trufant's unique coverage skills played a critical role in Washington's leap.
Placed in a scheme that took advantage of his talents, Trufant starred, laying the foundation for his "surprising" performances in Mobile and Indianapolis.
BEST FITS: Miami, Tampa Bay, New York Giants, Minnesota, Denver, New England, Atlanta, San Francisco
RATIONALE: Just 10 years ago, most NFL teams viewed a 50-50 split between run and pass as the ideal offensive strategy.
In today's NFL, however, precision passing attacks are splurging. This is due not only to the sophistication of today's offenses and talent of the offensive skill position players but also due to the restrictions that the NFL has put on defenders. These factors have made pure cover corners more valuable in today's NFL than at any other time.
Trufant has the route-awareness, agility, acceleration and size to remain in the hip pocket of receivers. He also possesses the ball skills to make quarterbacks pay for testing him.
BRUGLER'S QUICK TAKE: There is a lot to like about Trufant with his athleticism, competitiveness and NFL bloodlines. He has the fluid footwork you want at the cornerback position with the click-and-close ability to drive on plays in a flash. He has a strong collegiate resume with 47 career starts and has experience in both man and zone coverage and inside and outside. Trufant is the younger brother of two NFL DBs (Marcus and Isaiah) currently in the league and has benefited from their experience.
However, due to standout Senior Bowl performance and the fact that he plays a premium position, Trufant has been moving up boards a little too much recently. He has really streaky technique and tends to revert back to bad habits once the ball is snapped, relying on this athleticism over fundamentals. And he can get away with this in most cases at the college level, but it will also cause mistakes and make him tough to trust on an island right now in the NFL. In the pros, he won't be the most athletic player on the field and won't be able to get away with mistakes as frequently.
Bottom line, Trufant is a good player who has the talent to sneak into the late first round, but I see him in the top 20 for some, and that's much too rich for me. He should compete with Boise State's Jamar Taylor and Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks to be the first senior cornerback drafted on April 25.
BEST FITS: Falcons, Patriots, 49ers, Ravens
RATIONALE: Cornerback is a premium position in the NFL, and prospects at the position will always get pushed up on draft day and Trufant won't be any different. There are several teams in the late first round that will look to target a cornerback, most notably the Patriots and Falcons. Trufant could step in from day one as a nickel cornerback for those teams and fight for the starting job. There is no question that he has the fluidity and competitiveness to be a top-32 selection.