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Film study: In James Bradberry, what are the Giants getting?

NFL: OCT 12 Eagles at Panthers

The first outside domino fell for the Giants on Monday night. Former Carolina Panthers cornerback James Bradberry joined Big Blue and signed a three-year, $45 million deal ($15 million a year), with $32 million guaranteed. Bradberry was drafted out of Samford by current Giants’ general manager and then-Panthers’ GM Dave Gettleman in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

According to Pro Football Focus, Bradberry faced 81 targets and allowed 48 receptions (59.3 percent), while surrendering two touchdowns and 647 yards, along with recording three interceptions and nine passes defensed in 2019. He was penalized six times, which was the most of his career. That was in defensive coordinator Eric Washington’s loose Cover-2 system, which has a lot of pattern match/read match, featuring a lot of man-to-man elements. This requires a high level of mental processing, film study, and preparation, and Bradberry did this while typically following the opponents’ No. 1 receiver, even if the player went into the slot, which is excellent news for the Giants, but he’s a boundary corner. In 2018, in the same scheme but not with Perry Fewell as his secondary coach, Bradberry was targeted 101 times, surrendering 58 catches (57.4 percent), for 783 yards, six touchdowns, one interception, and 14 passes defensed.

Via @JeffRatcliffe:

Pro Football Focus had Bradberry ranking 103rd among cornerbacks in overall defense and 72nd in overall coverage, but I would argue that he’s a more effective player than that. Bradberry is very long and has solid athletic ability, as seen below. Reportedly, he also had a broad jump of 11 feet at his Pro Day.

His solid athletic ability does translate to the field; he lacks deep speed and is not a burner type of cornerback, but his speed isn’t a huge hindrance to his game. For a large corner, Bradberry’s hips are rather fluid, yet his problem comes down to maintaining balance in his turns. He tends to get high when I don’t feel like he has to. When he gets high while turning, his balance suffers and his center of gravity raises. Yet, there have been times on film where he stays low, transitions, and drives downhill hard.

He’s playing off coverage and it’s a quick slant to Mike Evans. Although it’s a bad throw by Winston, I still like what I see from Bradberry in this first clip. He’s off by about 6 yards and breaks downhill very quickly once he reads the route and Winston’s eyes. Bradberry combines a high football IQ with an ability to click & close downhill on underneath routes, which gives him an advantage when playing in zones over the top, or in off man with leverage on top of routes. Bradberry breaks downhill and physically disrupts the catch point to force the incompletion vs. Evans. The second clip, he’s in off man again, with zone help inside. Bradberry is too far off once the double move ensues by Evans, but watch how quickly Bradberry plants his foot and drives downhill towards the out-breaking route. Bradberry possesses good short-area quickness and close quarters explosiveness to close width promptly. The third clip just shows Bradberry reacting downhill on a flat route. I have my concerns with Bradberry’s tackling, for he doesn’t drive through ball carriers, rather he just throws his body at them or wraps up and “goes for a ride.” Tackling and run support is not a strength for Bradberry.

Let me start by saying Bradberry will not typically be an alley defender for the Giants, but here he is trying to do so in these two clips above. Despite his formidable size, Bradberry lacks the strength to punish runners who have momentum coming downhill towards him. At best, Bradberry can wrap up and hold on in these situations. His tackle radius will always be a positive, and he does a good job bringing receivers down after the catch, but his run support isn’t his strength, nor is it a deal-breaker.

Bradberry is not an “olay” type of corner, he plays with discipline. The same discipline he shows in coverage.

Here are three clips against the Jaguars in 2019. In the first clip, we see Bradberry give the space to the motioning Chark, providing the inside leverage towards the underneath linebacker and the safety. Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew rolls to his left, drawing the coverage away from the horizontal slant that Bradberry is tasked to cover in man. Bradberry waits, and is patient, allowing Chark to break inside; the young corner then reads, reacts, and attacks the inside hip of Chark, using his solid athletic ability, and good lower body explosiveness to dive in front on the pass and force the incompletion. The second clip shows Bradberry at the line of scrimmage where he doesn’t bite on the subtle inside move by Chark; he forces Chark to the sidelines, using positioning and leverage to squeeze him off the redline, but a good throw by Minshew and an even better body positioning attempt by Chark, put Bradberry in a disadvantageous position. Chark doesn’t give up and he fights through the catch point to force the incompletion. In the third clip also displays discipline and patience as Bradberry allows for the receiver that he’s covered down on to flow past him, as he waits for the flare route in the flat. The flare turns into a wheel and Bradberry is right there to defend the route. He uses excellent timing to force the pass defensed while being very physical at the catch point, something Bradberry has proven to do over his career at a high level.

Bradberry faced a murder’s row of wide receivers in the NFC South: Julio Jones, Mike Evans, and Michael Thomas, all twice a year. I watched games that included all of these receivers and I saw Bradberry struggle with deep speed if he hesitated, but he was susceptible to well-timed throws, outside of the numbers, which is somewhat par for the course with corners. Above there are two clips of Mike Evans and one of Julio Jones on similar route concepts. I believe the struggle is because of two reasons, 1). He’s off too much and a well-timed ball doesn’t allow for him to get to the catch point quick enough, and 2). Subtle moves up the receivers’ stem create hesitation and force Bradberry back, effectively lowering the confidence and discipline that he usually has under his belt. The overall ability of some of these types of receivers to create separation subtly is hard to defend, and Bradberry struggled in this area against those outside routes.

One of the things I loved most about Bradberry’s film was his high football IQ. Similar to the Giants last season under James Bettcher, he played in a pattern match heavy system that relies a lot on field positioning, decisive decision making, and cohesiveness among your teammates. The field positioning can be heavily altered by pre-snap motions that change assignments, so there’s so much to consider, especially in BANJO coverage situations with STACKS/BUNCHES. Something evident in every game I watched of Bradberry’s was his ability to see route combinations develop. You can see in the clips above how Bradberry is on his assignment, and then read the eyes of the quarterback, as I like to say “reading through his assignment,” and then reacted in a manner that was advantageous for the defense. Bradberry did this often for the Panthers and would even get in trouble sometimes by being too aggressive, but I love the high mental processing that he displays in these situations.

Final Thoughts

Bradberry is a long boundary corner, who shows good play strength being disruptive up the stem of receivers routes. Solid overall athletic ability assists him in man coverage, with above-average hips and average change of direction skills. High football IQ helps him in zone coverage, and does a very good job planting and driving downhill on routes underneath in click and close situations. Good discipline and patience when playing off, or on top leverage in man or zone. Good ball skills and very good ability to disrupt the catch point with physicality to force PBUs. Solid overall body control and very good concentration when knocking balls away from receivers at the catch point. Rarely out of position in run support and has a very wide tackle radius that he needs to use more. Must maintain a low center of gravity when backpedaling or moving laterally; he gets high, which affects his balance and ability to utilize his explosive lower half. Not a strong tackler, either wraps up and holds on for dear life or throws his body wildly at opponents. Trusts his eyes, which is usually a good thing, but it does lead to over aggression, which leads to susceptibility to some double moves. Lacks top-end speed and recovery speed isn’t great. Overall, a starting cornerback in the NFL who is capable of playing man or zone coverage concepts. Has a high football IQ, solid athletic ability, and good ball skills. I wouldn’t classify Bradberry as a “true No. 1 cornerback,” but he filled a massive hole for the Giants. He’s still only 26 years old and has a lot of room to grow. He’s a welcomed addition to Jerome Henderson’s unit and, along with DeAndre Baker, should help form an above-average quality young cornerback tandem.