Aqib Talib's leg injury in the AFC Championship changed the course of the game. Baltimore was eventually able to expose New England without their number one cornerback on the field. With Ras-I Dowling yet to prove he can stay healthy, a possible (but unlikely) suspension for Alfonzo Dennard, and only Kyle Arrington and Marquice Cole as the backups, the Patriots could use another cornerback with starting potential on the roster. The 2013 NFL Draft has many cornerbacks that could fit with the Patriots, with Washington's Desmond Trufant being a player that could be selected in the first round.
In cornerback Desmond Trufant's four-year career at the University of Washington, he started 47 games while recording 38 passes defended with six interceptions. He was usually matched up with the top receiver on the opposing team, yet the ball was not thrown his way much at all due to his shutdown ability. Trufant is also the little brother of current NFL cornerbacks Marcus and Isaiah Trufant.
Thanks to Trufant's sensational performances at the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine, he propelled his draft stock into the first round. At those events he was able to showcase his elite athleticism, versatility, leadership potential, and improved technique.
At the combine, he measured in at 5'11" and 190-pounds. He ran a 4.38 40-time, which was the eighth best time of all players and third best out of cornerbacks. In the 20-yard shuttle he blew scouts away with a 3.85 time. He was also exceptional at both the broad and vertical jump.
The Tacoma News Tribune posted a transcription of a combine interview with Desmond and he was asked what his greatest strengths are, he said, "Instincts, feet, quickness in and out of my breaks and transition. A competitive nature. Leadership and things like that."
Trufant has remarkable instincts and has shown off that ability on the field. At the 42-second mark of the video above, he quickly breaks up a pass to cause an interception. His 3.85 time in the 20-yard shuttle is proof enough of his quickness when changing directions. Trufant is incredibly fluid in all of his movements which bodes well for his transition to the NFL.
In addition to his athleticism, Desmond Trufant has tons of experience placing in a variety of different styles of defensive coverages. At Washington, he had much success playing zone, man-to-man, press and bail, and press coverage. At the moment he doesn't get too physical at the line of scrimmage, so his press and bail coverage is stronger than when he actually presses the receiver. However, he has a good frame, so once muscle is added, it will allow him to have the strength to press bigger receivers in the NFL.
As Desmond mentioned, he is a leader and competitor. In 2012, he was voted by his teammates as both a team captain and the Guy Flaherty Award winner. According to GoHuskies.com, "The Flaherty Award, voted on by the players, was first awarded in 1908 and is given to the team's most inspirational player." His fellow 2013 draftees have also lauded him for his competitiveness.
Desmond notably didn't mention his technique as one of his strengths and that's because it's what he needs to work on most.
While his technique has improved throughout his collegiate career, he sometimes falls into spells when he relies solely on his athleticism instead of his fundamentals. This might not show up too much on film, since in both zone and man-to-man, his speed allowed him to play "catch up" with the player he was covering. He's no doubt fast enough to play in the NFL, but if he had improved his technique even more, he likely would've be considered a potential top-10 pick.
Trufant can sometimes get a bit too aggressive in pass coverage. He uses his hands a lot and that could get him in trouble in the NFL because of the frequency of pass interference and illegal touching calls. Two examples of this could be seen during the one-on-one Senior Bowl practices at the 3:38 mark and 11:04 mark of this video. While the coverage is impressively tight, some officials may view that as a penalty.
Desmond Trufant's run defense and tackling is a mixed bag. Because of his high instincts and football IQ, he distinguishes between a run or pass play very quickly. Due to his athleticism, his pursuit and closing speed is outstanding.
But after that, things go downhill for him. He has incredibly poor technique when it comes to tackling. He tackles with his arms and seems to dive at the ball handler instead of just wrapping the player up. The first minute of this clip does a great job of showing his struggles. While the video is from 2010, his tackling technique hasn't improved much since then. Click here for a more recent example.
Despite the concern with his tackling technique, it's impressive that he doesn't shy away contact. He reads the play quickly and if he is taught how to properly tackle, he could definitely become a force at the cornerback position as a run-defender; The tools are all there.
Overall, a lot of these negatives are purely nitpicking. Many cornerbacks coming out of college struggle at tackling and their technique can be inconsistent. But the concern is necessary because a lot of cornerbacks don't last very long in the NFL due to the inability to improve on their fundamentals. But Trufant is athletic enough to carve out a long career anyway.
In terms of current or former Patriots players, Desmond Trufant is a bit Asante Samuel. I believe that Trufant is a lot less "wild" than Samuel (in that Asante will jump routes that get him into trouble), but Samuel has elite instincts and so does Trufant. They both struggle with their run defense but are flexible and versatile in the secondary, with the ability to successfully play both man and zone coverage.
Around the NFL, Desmond is a bit like Joe Haden when he came into the league. Haden was praised for flexibility on defense, athleticism and quickness, but the concerns were his overaggressiveness in pass coverage and his run defense. Unlike Haden, Trufant has never had problems off the field. But on the field, their styles are similar. Haden has improved his technique but still has not yet reached his full potential. Trufant's development could take a similar path as Haden.
How He Fits
Considering Trufant's experience and success playing zone, man-to-man, press and bail, and press coverage, he will fit into any system in the NFL. Bill Belichick might find interest in his versatility. Last season New England used Aqib Talib in all of the aforementioned roles in coverage. Before Talib, the Pats stuck mostly to zone defense, but it's obvious going forward they would like to integrate more man-to-man and press techniques. Trufant would fit right in there.
His leadership is no doubt a bonus. Devin McCourty's move to safety has aided the leadership in the secondary, but since Ty Law, the team has not exactly had a vocal cornerback. Desmond Trufant would be a motivator on and off the field.
However, a first round pick might be a little bit rich for New England to draft a cornerback when they have other needs on the team. It likely depends on how they value the depth of the cornerback position versus another. Trufant has been graded from a player that could be drafted from 15 to 32, so it's possible he might not fall to pick 29 anyway. But if he does, the Pats could be in for a hard decision.