For the first time in some time, the New England Patriots enter the NFL draft with a notably limited number of draft picks. Because of the Albert Haynesworth and Chad Johnson trades, the Patriots only have five choices this year in what is considered to be a relatively deep draft class.
That said, the Patriots, as they seem to always be, are in a strong position to trade up in the draft as part of an overall aggressive philosophy for the next two seasons. Picking at 29th overall in the first round should allow them to grab a talented player who can help them immediately, but if they fall for a specific talent they could look to move up or trade future picks to add a choice this year.
This is the first in a series of reports that will look at potential players the Patriots could be targeting in that scenario.
Name: Desmond Trufant
Date of Birth: September 10th, 1990
Height: 6'0 Weight: 190
Trufant has a 4.38 forty time on his resume, but that speed doesn't translate through every aspect of his coverage. That said, he is a very fluid athlete with the agility to break on the ball faster than most of the receivers he covered in college.
At the professional level, that aspect of his game should prove invaluable as the overall speed of the game shouldn't be an issue for him. His recovery in tight spaces or when he loses sight of the receiver is also very impressive.
The first thing that stands out when watching Trufant is his aggression. Aggression is often lauded as a positive without context. In reality, aggression is only a positive when it is used properly. Fortunately for Trufant, his aggression shows off his intelligence and ball-skills.
Trufant's aggression breaks down into two categories: Run support/Screen-stopping and Ball-skills.
Trufant is a willing tackler against running-backs and a protagonist in shutting down screen passes to his side of the field. He beats blockers better than some linebackers, although it must be said that he is going against wide receivers and not offensive tackles, and routinely arrives at the receiver almost at the same time as the football(01:48 mark).
In coverage, Trufant's aggression shows off his ball-skills. He does an excellent job of attacking the football without being overly susceptible to double-moves. His comfort playing in space allows him to stay aware of where the receiver is without losing sight of the ball when it comes his way. This makes him a very hot property as a cornerback who could specialize in playing man coverage at the professional level. Trufant showed off these traits against Stanford, with a game-sealing interception(05:00 mark) in the fourth quarter particularly standing out.
Even before the immaculate conception of Russell Wilson's NFL career, looking down on someone's size in evaluations has always been met with vitriol from certain sections of readers. As a race, human, that is brought up on fairy-tales and Disney films that teach us about the size of the heart overcoming the limitations of the anatomy, that is no real surprise. However, Trufant's size(or lack thereof) cannot be brushed aside.
His height alone isn't a major problem, plenty of 6'0 defensive backs have had success at the professional level. However, his height combined with his frame and skill-set should create some caution for prospective buyers of his draft stock.
Less physical defensive backs in the NFL are often limited to playing as the nickelback or in zone-heavy schemes. If Trufant is to translate his coverage abilities from college to the professional ranks, and become that top-tier man cover corner he proved to be at Washington, then he will at the very least need to bulk up or he risks being pushed around by bigger receivers such as Vincent Jackson on a consistent basis.
In college, Trufant could use his ball-skills and aggression to handle bigger receivers. In the NFL, his assignments will be bigger, more powerful and have better ball-skills. If he doesn't get significantly stronger, he will never be able to counter those players in single coverage.
Trufant is valuable because of his coverage potential, but without a greater physical presence, that potential won't ever be reached.
While it is a less looked upon aspect of his game, his size could also negate his aggression against screens on the professional level as receivers tend to be better blockers and bigger. Even in college there were times when Trufant was simply pushed passed receivers or missed them in space because he came in too fast.
Trufant doesn't appear to have a huge amount to learn from better coaching. His footwork is already impressive and he reads the game well. Becoming a full-time professional athlete shouldn't cause a major improvement in his play, but it should help him develop physically.
Against Stanford, Trufant played free safety when the offense went to tight formations. He was caught out of position more than once and didn't look overly comfortable at the spot. Maybe if transitioned to the spot in a full-time role, he could excel there as he certainly has the skill-set, but it's unlikely he is moved away from cornerback in the NFL.
He also played inside as Washington's nickelback in college. With his agility and aggressive ball-skills, Trufant could easily become a full-time starter on the outside who moves inside with regularity a la Leon Hall or Lardarius Webb. Webb and Hall are different types of nickelbacks. Hall is better at covering possession receivers or tight ends, while Webb offers a physical run-stuffer and edge pass-rusher. Trufant is somewhere in between and would play the game in a similar style to William Gay of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Trufant is the type of player that every NFL team would happily have on their roster. However, his value to different teams will range from very high to just a decent fit. He doesn't appear set to follow Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Darrelle Revis or Antonio Cromartie as almost exclusively man cover cornerbacks. Instead, he should find his home in a defense that will run multiple coverages to take advantage of his all-around skill-set. The Patriots definitely fit that mold.
His aggression attacking screens and the ball in the air is reminiscent of Cortland Finnegan, but his coverage ability and ball-skills are similar to that of Brent Grimes.