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Tennessee Titans Draft Outlook: David Long (CB – Michigan)

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David Long raised his stock at the combine with excellent athletic numbers, while also showing exceptional coverage skills during his time at Michigan.  He’s not a perfect prospect, by any means, but he would be an ideal fit for the Titans and their roster construction. 

Team Fit:

The biggest issue with the draft is that, many teams label their strategy a best player available, because that’s the wise public relations move.  It’s rare for teams to draft a multi-million dollar player, and then label them as second choices.  Rest assured, the Chiefs won’t be drafting a QB high this year, regardless of any player dropping down the boards.  Most teams try to fill in gaps during free agency, so they aren’t backed up into a corner for drafting positional needs, but long term value in terms of needs should be factored into selections.  

We are going to use stats from Football Outsiders to depict the defense.  Why? They are free, and spending money on generating leads for real estate means I don’t have spare cash for PFF Elite.  Joke aside, I do trust Football Outsiders to provide some statistical interpretation teams through the year. 

The first stat to notice is that the Titans ranked 18th overall in defensive DVOA (21st against the pass, 15th against the run), which paints a picture of a mediocre unit.  It’s further exasperated by the fact that wide receivers were the biggest issue, as they ranked 20th against No. 1 receivers, while 30th against No. 2 wide receivers.  They finished 2nd against running backs, and 11th against tight ends in pass defense, so you can clearly see how receivers were the biggest issue.  It’s made worse by the fact that the team has invested money (Malcolm Butler) and draft capital (Adoree’ Jackson) at the cornerback position. 

Interestingly, the defense isn’t quite as bad when diving a bit deeper.  The defense was 10th overall for yards given up per drive, and 5th overall in points given up per drive.  However, they were 23rd overall for interceptions per drive, and ranking 21st overall in turnovers per drive.  The defense stepped up once in the red zone, coming out at the No. 1 overall defense for points per red zone drives, and 3rd overall in touchdowns per red zone drive. 

The defense seemed to struggle mainly in the intermediate areas where cornerbacks are the most vulnerable because the linebackers are up too far, while the safeties are behind them.  It would behoove the front office to add talent to the secondary, especially with the addition of Cameron Wake to the defense.  

Prospect Profile: David Long

David Long is a junior out of Michigan, with excellent coverage stats but lacks the ideal size and discipline now to be a first round pick.  However, he would be a valuable pick in the 2nd or 3rd for the Titans because they can bring him in slowly as the slot cornerback. 

As with these articles, we shall go with a Player Comparison:

Player A: 6’0” 190lbs

David Long: 5’10” 196lbs

Arm Length:

Player A: 31”

David Long: 30.6”

40 Yard Dash:

Player A: 4.4

David Long:  4.45

Vertical & Broad Jump:

Player A: 36” & 123”

David Long: 39.5” & 120”

3 Cone & 20 Yard Shuttle:

Player A: 6.61 & 3.94

David Long: 6.45 & 3.97

Reps:

Player A: 15

David Long: 15

Who is Player A? Stephon Gilmore

I compared him to Gilmore, because he was extremely coveted by the Patriots and they gave him a substantial contract to retain him.  The Patriots’ philosophy is to maximize their value with players on smaller contracts and let the costly guys move on from the defense, but they deviated from their plan for Gilmore, indicating a perfect fit for them. 

The Titans, affectionately or not, are labeled the Patriots of the South for their affinity for players set aside by Bill Belichick.  As witnessed with the Adam Humphries free agency, the front office might be trying to emulate the New England formula for team building.  David Long, at least physically, showcases some of the elite athleticism that makes Gilmore a top-flight cornerback in the league.  In the second round, the risk is worth because it addresses a position of need along with the physical traits that enticed the Patriots to shell out a big contract in free agency. 

This is a tweet from PFF mentioning how good Long has been in coverage: 

As you can see, he was exceptionally good at coverage, although some of it can be blamed on college QBs.

Let’s go to the tape:

The first film is against Ohio State because I like to view match ups with good QB/WR combinations are a litmus test for defensive backs. 

Positive:

On this play, you can see Long matched up one on one in man coverage at the bottom of the screen.  Notice how he stays step for step with the receiver, especially since he doesn’t have safety or linebacker help anywhere near him.  He’s essentially on an island yet stays with his receiver down the field.  He shows good ability to mirror the receiver, especially with his hips as the offensive player makes the cut to the outside.  He seems to have good hip fluidity for man coverage, although the lack of press coverage is concerning.  Notice at the top of the screen, how the cornerback engages in contact with the receiver, yet Long allows for a free release down the field. 

This play is extremely impressive because he must adjust to the late movement prior to the snap, and still cover on a crossing route.  The receiver is Johnnie Dixon, who ran a 4.41 at the combine this year, so this isn’t Long using his speed advantage to stay with an inferior receiver.  Notice how Long mimics the hips of the receiver in the route and then undercuts the pass.  For man coverage, it’s vital for the cornerback to copy the receiver’s hips because as Shakira exclaims, hips don’t lie.  If your hips can be lined up with the receiver, then you can react much faster to change of directions, and Long shows exceptional ability here. 

This is a good play to dissect because he’s playing close to the line, similar to a slot cornerback.  He isn’t in the slot, but the positioning relative to the hashes is close enough.  Once again, he does a great job at mimicking the hips of the receiver, as he doesn’t really fall for any of the stutter steps.  The receiver pushes off a bit at the end to gain separation, but for a slot corner, this would have been very good coverage.  One of the disadvantages of being in the slot is not having the sidelines as an extra defender, while being closer to the QB.  For instance, if you give up one yard of separation on an out route as the outside defender, the QB has to throw it further from his position, allowing you an extra millisecond to recover.  If you give up one-yard separation as a slot cornerback on a out route, the QB is closer, thus the travel time for a throw it shorter.  This is the biggest reason why slot cornerbacks are shorter nimble guys that can change directions quickly, which Long displays here on tape.  The downside here is the lack of press once again, because he again allows for a free release. 

A straight go route from Justin Layne on Michigan State, although he’s a good cornerback prospect in this year’s draft as well.  He is a converted receiver, but they allowed him to run some routes on offense similar to how Adoree’ Jackson played at USC.  There isn’t much nuance to this route, it’s a simple go route, but Long does show his speed by staying step by step with Layne. 

One of the few examples where Long decided to be physical off the line of scrimmage, and he moves receiver Felton Davis III (another player in this year’s draft) off his route.  The timing is entirely thrown off and the pass isn’t even close.  Long displays the ability to play press coverage, occasionally on film and by his reps at the combine, but does not engage on a consistent basis. 

Negative:

This play doesn’t go down as a completion, but he was definitely beat on this stop and go route.  Once again, the main issue here is that he allows for a free release to the outside, instead of jamming the player at the line of scrimmage.  If you are playing press man coverage, you have to at some point press the receiver and throw off the timing, but Long refuses to do so consistently on tape.  On this play, the receiver runs what looks like a stop and go on the outside, which caught Long looking for the ball.  It’s a bad throw by Haskins, albeit should have been caught.   I saw this a few times where, Long definitely lost his receiver on double moves. 

Scouting Report:

Positive:

  • Exceptional hip movement, can mimic receiver’s routes down the field
  • Excels at covering quick slant routes or in routes
  • Shows high end speed at combine
  • Excellent change of direction skills
  • Rarely allowed completions, excellent coverage stats
  • Left on an island at times, excels at man coverage

Negative:

  • Short arms, not great at press coverage
  • Wasn’t great on deep routes, despite high end speed

He’s not the perfect prospect by any means, nor is he the prospect that Stephon Gilmore was coming out of college.  Personally, I believe part of the issue with his deep route tracking results from a dominant defensive line at Michigan.  The defensive line created havoc in the backfield, forcing plays to break down, and Long may have been caught looking back for broken plays.  He has the physical tools to succeed in the NFL and he has shown consistent success while playing at a major college. 

Ideally, Long will start his career in the slot because his change of direction skills coupled with size is best suited for the position.  However, I believe he has bigger upside down the road if his press technique could be improved or if he gets stronger.  He fits perfectly for the Titans as they can bring him in slowly, and he helps provide backup options across the CB depth chart.  He can fit in behind Logan Ryan in the slot, while having the potential to fill in behind Butler/Jackson on the outside. 

This is a player that has excellent stats to go along with elite physical profile except for his size.  If he could learn to be more physical like Gilmore, this would a steal of a pick.  I’m not saying he will be Gilmore, but he has the upside to be a very good cornerback in the NFL.

Value: Late 2nd– Early 3rd

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