The New York Giants dipped their toes into the XFL talent pool this week to sign defensive back Dravon Askew-Henry, formerly of the New York Guardians. Askew-Henry played his college football at West Virginia, where he recorded 208 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, 6 interceptions, and 10 passes defensed in four seasons. Undrafted, Askew-Henry spent the 2019 preseason with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was released at final cuts.
Outside of his decorated college career, he’s known for two things. One, he’s the cousin of cornerback Darrelle Revis. Two, he’s the XFL player who tossed a penalty flag back at a ref after catching the yellow piece of cloth.
Askew-Henry plays with a chip on his shoulder, always giving an extra push or shove to blocking attempts upon disengagement. The feistiness can be a catch-22, but I usually like to see cornerbacks who have that type of confidence and edge. For the Steelers, the 5-foot-11, 187-pound Askew-Henry played nickel, robber, and some single-high. At West Virginia, he played in all different types of safety roles (Cover 2, Cover 3, quarters, single high), and also dropped down into the box, while routinely covering slot receivers. Askew-Henry suffered a torn ACL in 2016 which forced him to miss that entire year. A colleague of mine at Inside the Pylon, Matty Brown, who writes for @SeahawkMaven, did the evaluation on Askew-Henry for ITP’s draft guide that year. Matty watched the film prior to Askew-Henry’s injury and after. Here’s his brief summary of Askew-Henry’s play post injury:
“A what could-have-been prospect. His ACL injury has robbed him of the athleticism he once had, making him way less effective at deep safety. Other parts of his game have fallen apart, such as his tackling. Will do well to get drafted.”
After watching the film myself, I don’t see a dynamic athlete for a defensive back, but he’s not a huge liability, either. He has solid recovery burst and some explosiveness when he comes down hill, but change of direction when he had to flip his hips is only adequate, and his long speed isn’t great. He’s a physical tackler, but is wild with his tackling mechanics, which can lead to some missed tackles in space. There’s a caveat — I did not get to evaluate his XFL film. I was able to get my hands on some 2018 college tape, and I watched three Pittsburgh preseason games in 2019. Let’s see some clips, shall we?
Here are some of the concerns I saw. Askew-Henry is over the slot in the first clip, and the wide receiver’s route curls at the sticks (the flag was not offensive push off). Askew-Henry is playing with too much cushion to recognize and react to the wide receiver stopping. He allows the receiver to make the catch and fully turn around, which is when Askew-Henry is in position to make the tackle, albeit not great position due to the poor positioning throughout the rep. Askew-Henry takes a poor angle and dives behind the wide receiver, allowing for extra yardage. You can see a similar poor angle in the second clip. Askew-Henry dives low and to the backside of the ball carrier, who is running straight up. His targeting is marginal at best, but this is a correctable issue. Square up, watch the player’s hips, and target the inside hip, then wrap up and drive through. I’m not overly impressed with his ability to tackle players that are moving laterally. He has to do a better job judging them, and utilizing correct form, target locations, and mechanics.
Askew-Henry was somewhat productive as a tackler in college. He’s not inept at tackling and actually does a solid job, when he’s squared up and he doesn’t have to rely much on his adequate ability to sink his hips and change direction in tight quarters against fast moving opponents. For a nickel corner, he doesn’t necessarily have the fastest lateral agility on tape, but you can see intriguing things in the two clips above. As a single high safety, Askew-Henry reads the run play and comes downhill at an advantageous angle to make a strong, physical, tackle. In the second clip, Askew-Henry is tasked to cover the slot, at the top of your screen, on a third-and-15. He keeps the wide receiver in front of him and, more importantly, in front of the down marker. Once the reception is made, Askew-Henry sticks the receiver, explodes low to high, and doesn’t allow the receiver to fall forward. It was a nice play to ensure that the offense was put into a fourth-down situation.
In both clips above, you see Askew-Henry do a solid job keeping plays in front of him. The tape is far from great due to NFL Game Pass not having the coveted ALL-22 film, but you can still recognize an ability to click and close downhill when the play is in front of him. Against the Buccaneers, he does a good job back pedaling with the stem of the receivers outside release, while keeping his eyes on the quarterback. Askew-Henry sees the quarterback’s eyes go right to the slot receiver and he’s able to undercut the route and force the quarterback to throw it too far outside. This is a very nice read, react, and attack play from Askew-Henry. Against the Chiefs, Askew-Henry is playing nickel again and he reacts to the hips of the receiver going outside in the 3x1 set. If you watch closely, Askew-Henry drives downhill to get in phase on the out route, and you can see his eyes go to the quarterback. He knows he’s in position and he’s seeing if the ball is coming out in the offense’s quick game. I like the confidence, awareness, and potential playmaking ability that is shown in that small clip.
There are things to like and dislike about the clips above, both from college. The first clip is in 2018 against Kliff Kingsbury’s Texas Tech Raiders. It’s 11 personnel, with a 3x1 set to the field. Askew-Henry rides his receiver up his vertical stem, with a slight outside release, before he flips his hips to the boundary receiver who was stopping on a short curl to set up the smash concept. I like the fact that Askew-Henry recognized the route concept and was able to get to his assignment. I wasn’t a huge fan of his ability to break down and locate in close quarters. He boxes the receiver inside towards his teammates, which is an undervalued move, but I still have some athletic questions with his short area burst, lateral acceleration, and change of direction. He doesn’t seem to maintain good speed through those tight corners, which is a concern for players who have to operate in space. Askew-Henry showed good recovery speed in the second clip. At first, Askew-Henry is beaten by the vertical slot and he’s a bit late to get his hips fully flipped, which gave the receiver a cushion. It’s hard to see in the clip, but Askew-Henry showed solid acceleration and burst, once vertical. He’s able to get back in phase when moving linearly, and then gets his arms into the catch point and forces an incompletion.
The concerns I explained iare real, but I still like the signing. The Giants need to find a solution to their biggest defensive liability last season, which happens to be the nickel position. I love Grant Haley in run support but he struggled vertically, and Corey Ballentine’s natural position is on the boundary. Bringing in as much competition for the nickel position is a smart way to find the most competent player, that should go without saying. I didn’t see a great athlete in Askew-Henry, nor was he a terrible one. If Matty’s Inside the Pylon report is correct and the player has been robbed athletically due to the injury, then who’s to say that can’t be recaptured? Askew-Henry is 24 years old — with an NFL training regimen, and top NFL strength and conditioning trainers maybe some of that athletic ability can be restored. It’s not the craziest idea. Plus, he’s competing for a position that needs an upgrade. I don’t see a reason to not give him a legitimate shot. Coaching may help the tackling flaws, and the athletic ability in tight quarters must improve, but the physicality, disruption at the catch point, and overall versatility of Askew-Henry should give him a chance.