2020 has been a turbulent year, to say the least. COVID-19 has significantly impacted the world and has forced sports leagues to get creative. This impacts every NFL franchise and the 2020 New York Giants aren’t excluded. This reality is compounded by some apparent poor decision making by 2019 first-round selection DeAndre Baker, who is facing felony charges and is on the Commissioner’s Exempt List.
The secondary of the Giants was further affected when Sam Beal opted out of the season. To try and bolster that group, the Giants are expected to add free agent Ross Cockrell to the roster. Cockrell is a versatile defender who played 253 snaps in the slot, 385 at wide corner, and 59 in the box last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Cockrell played last season with the zone-heavy Carolina Panthers. He was targeted 67 times, surrendering 37 receptions for a 55.2 percent catch rate. Cockrell only allowed one score, had four penalties and gave up 441 yards on the season. He also recorded two interceptions and four passes defended.
It’s not a sexy signing. But after reviewing the 2019 tape, I think the Giants could have done a lot worse. Cockrell is aggressive and willing in run support, has above average mental processing and reactive quickness, but has played with a lot of zone-heavy teams with Carolina and Pittsburgh. In 2017 with Steve Spagnuolo as the defensive coordinator, he played a lot of man coverage and was a pleasant surprise for the Giants.
Finding a versatile, solid, 6-foot, 190-pound cornerback with training camp already underway is a plus, especially when the player is not shy to throw all of his weight around and does so within the box effectively.
Cockrell (47) isn’t even in the screen when this play begins. Coming from the far right, he fills the 3 hole squickly on the zone-read and doesn’t allow David Johnson to each the gigantic hole in the B-Gap. Cockrell boxes Johnson back into the middle of the line of scrimmage and makes the tackle.
Above left, Richie James (130 attempts to block Cockrell. At the snap, Cockrell reads his run keys and anticipates the running back’s path. He crashes inside to the opposite B-Gap to fill the hole behind the middle linebacker. From outside the blocks, he beats the blocker to the set-point, gets to the hole, and makes the tackle.
Cockrell also does a solid job as a force/contain defender. This is a job that corners will have to do at a successful rate on the boundary, and not every corner does a great job in run support, but Cockrell takes pride in his ability to tackle and box players towards teammates. He attacks the outside hip of Latavius Murray above and doesn’t allow him to juke outside where there are no defenders. The defensive line crashes inside and spills Murray to Cockrell on the edge.
Above, Cockrell defeats the lead blocking fullback and gets to Jamaal Williams’ outside shoulder. He’s a solid option in run support for a cornerback who can be the force defender. He’s also good at keying and diagnosing screen plays near the line of scrimmage and then reacting accordingly. He makes a similar play in the second video where he is able to tackle Leonard Fournette by evading two blocks and forcing Fournette to go wide. He’s just getting set up outside after following Dede Westbrook in motion, and he’s not even the primary force defender, but the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOLOS) allows Fournette outside. Cockrell is able to get outside of Westbrook’s block and avoid a clean hit from the backside guard to tackle Fournette for no gain.
Above, the Cardinals come out in a 3x1 set and throw a swing screen to the strength. Cockrell is on the No. 2 wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald. Watch Cockrell’s angle once he sees the screen. He anticipates the pass catcher’s path and shoots to the outside shoulder of Fitzgerald, who attempts to block him. Cockrell pushes Fitzgerald’s outside shoulder right into the pass catcher for no gain. This is a savvy, aggressive, play from Cockrell and shows his above-average instinct when he’s playing top down.
Cockrell also has solid click-and-close ability to come downhill on underneath routes. Above, the Cardinals are in shot-gun, 11 personnel, and run a pick 9 route with the No. 2 receiver going underneath. Cockrell does a good job seeing through his assignment and reading the quarterback to react promptly. He’s able to hit Fitzgerald at the catch point and not allow a substantial gain.
As I stated earlier, Carolina played a lot of zone last season and this looks like some form of zone-match with a man everywhere he goes (MEG) call for James Bradberry. Cockrell has his hips pointed towards the quarterback, allowing the play to develop in front of him and funneling wide receivers inside towards other coverage defenders. He shows solid closing burst once his receiving assignment breaks inside and he’s able to be a bit disruptive at the catch point.
Cockrell would use his ability to process route combinations and his vision to read, react, and attack on the football in zone coverages. He’s the outside corner at the bottom of the screen, reading the quarterback who is tipping his hand on the slot’s outside break. He anticipates the quarterback’s mistake and earns an interception. He’s aggressive like that; he’ll bite if he feels like he can make a play on the ball, but I’m glad to see the awareness level and the timing on the route switch to see him come away with the pick, albeit from Jamies Winston.
Although this is a reception by Titans’ wide receiver Corey Davis, which was assisted by a subtle push-off, we can glean that Cockrell at least attempts to play through the catch point. Cockrell does a solid job closing the gap after the push-off and almost forces an incompletion on Davis.
This is a play where we get to see Cockrell in cover 1 man, a type of defense we may see a lot of with Patrick Graham as defensive coordinator, and Cockrell does a good job on the outside. He gives the receiver inside leverage, rides his outside hip up the stem, and is quick to react to the inside break, while also reading the quarterback when it permits. Once the quarterback throws the football, he’s in perfect position to get in front of the receiver and knock the ball away. Cockrell is able to make plays like this in the slot as well. Below, he’s on the No. 2 receiver at the top of your screen and he earns a pass defended.
Cockrell is a good signing for the Giants. He will come cheap, it won’t mess with the 2021 cap flexibility and it fits the style of team that Joe Judge wants - versatile, aggressive, football players. With that said, he’s susceptible in man coverage against better competition (not exactly groundbreaking news).
Cockrell is at the bottom of the screen against Davante Adams in true man coverage. Adams does a good job selling the inside release and manipulating Cockrell’s hips near the line of scrimmage. Once Adams establishes outside leverage, he raises his hand and has the necessary separation on Cockrell. To his credit, Cockrell is able to recover enough to put himself into a position to make a play on the ball. Unluckily for him, he can’t locate the ball in the air and Adams comes down with the reception.
Adams also turns Cockrell around on this route outside and towards the bottom of your screen. Very nice route running by Adams spins Cockrell around and allows Adams to be wide open. Luckily for Cockrell, Aaron Rodgers is sacked and nothing comes out of the play for Adams.
Ross Cockrell is a better fit as a zone cornerback, but that doesn’t mean he’s a liability in man coverage and he will automatically compete to be one of the 11 starters on this defense. His ability in run support, mental processing in coverage, and his ability to click-and-close on routes underneath should earn him a realistic shot to start opposite Bradberry in 2020.