|I have Darius Phillips of Western Michigan as my top CB prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft.|
After all, he did help lead his Western Michigan Broncos to the 2017 Cotton Bowl, a remarkable achievement for a MAC school that has not traditionally been a football power even at the mid-major level.
Not only is this converted wide receiver possibly the most versatile player in all of college football, excelling at cornerback, kick returner, punt returner, and once again at wide receiver, but he very well might be the best cover corner and playmaker heading into the 2018 NFL Draft.
While Phillips has been reported to run anywhere from a 4.45 to a 4.6 forty-yard dash, he plays extremely fast no matter what his official time turns out to be.
A quick twitch athlete, Phillips demonstrates the ability to bait receivers by laying off, only recover while the ball is still in the air and make plays due to his late closing speed. His burst is also evident in his return skills, and he has elite ability to not only run past, but also make opposing tacklers miss in the open field.
Phillips' speed allows him to shadow and lock down wide receivers when needed, but equally as important, he has the football instincts to locate and make a play on the ball when it's in the air when he's challenged.
As previously mentioned, Phillips initially played receiver for the Broncos as a freshman, and was only moved to the secondary out of need before landing a permanent job there due to his stellar play as a sophomore.
While Phillips is overlooked as an NFL prospect given that he typically plays against mid-major conference opponents, he has excelled against top level competition when he has been on the bigger stage.
As a sophomore, Phillips tallied two interceptions against an Ohio State team that was ranked #1 at the time, and he also returned a punt for touchdown against a Michigan State team that finished the season ranked #5 overall in 2015.
Phillips earned All-MAC Defensive honors and was named the conference Special Team Player of the Year his junior season. In doing so, he played lock down coverage in an upset victory over Northwestern, as well as in a close defeat against Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl. Overall, he finished his 2016 season with five total touchdown returns (3 INT's, 1 KO, & 1 PR).
As a senior, Phillips opened the season with a kickoff return touchdown against #4 ranked USC, and then followed that up by returning both a fumble (that he created) and a kickoff for scores a week later against a Michigan State team that is currently ranked #16 in the Coaches Poll.
If there's a knock on Phillips, it's his size. Listed at 5'10 and 178 pounds, Phillips is built more like a nickle than an outside NFL corner. However, he plays much bigger than his height, as his wide receiver skills allow him to highpoint the ball against taller opponents better than they do.
Even though he's only 5'10, Darius Phillips was able to use his football skills and take the ball away from 6'4 Michigan State receiver Felton Davis, who's known for his ability to win jump balls.
Phillips' forty yard dash time will still be a factor in determining where he gets drafted, but if he clocks in anywhere under a 4.5 he should be in the mix for being the top corner drafted in the 2018 NFL draft.
While I am confident in his straight line speed after watching his tape, his quickness and change of direction are as good as any player in the country, and I expect him to perform extremely well in the cone drills at the NFL Combine.
NFL Comparisons: Phillips has 2017 3rd round pick Jourdan Lewis' cover skills (Lewis fell in the draft due to a domestic violence allegation, but is playing like a 1st round pick in Dallas), with 2017 1st round pick Jabril Pepper's return skills. If you put them together I see a little Tyrann Mathieu in his game.
Draft Projection: 1st round of the 2018 NFL Draft. I don't think Phillips will end up being the first corner drafted in 2018 since he's coming from a mid-major program, but I still see him as ultimately ending up the best in his class.