Thursday, October 19, 2017

Is Darius Phillips of Western Michigan the best corner in the 2018 NFL Draft?

I have Darius Phillips of Western Michigan as my top CB prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft. 
While Darius Phillips may not exactly be a household name when it comes to college football and the NFL Draft, he probably should be.

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 even wide receiver, but he very well might be the best cover corner in 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 out run, but also make opposing tacklers miss in the open field.

Phillips' speed and quickness allow 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, which is a skill that comes natural to the former wide receiver.

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. 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 finished the season ranked #16 in the Coaches Poll and #15 by the AP.

If there's a knock on Phillips, it's his size. At 5'10 and 188 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 a day two pick in the 2018 NFL draft. Again, Phillips is being overlooked by the talking head draft experts, and will likely outperform his draft slot.

While I am confident in Phillips' 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 third round pick Jourdan Lewis' cover skills (Lewis fell in the draft due to a domestic violence allegation, but played like a first round pick in Dallas), with the return skills of Detroit Lion rookie All-Pro punt returner, Jamal Agnew.

Draft Projection: Third 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 most productive corner in his class.