As NFL receivers have gotten bigger, there has also been a trend for NFL cornerbacks to be bigger and longer to match them. It’s part of the natural arms race between offenses and defenses for one side to look for an advantage and the other to counter.
Corners seldom get much bigger and longer than South Carolina’s Israel Mukuamu , who measures in at a vaguely ridiculous 6-foot-4, 205 pounds. Despite his size he has good movement skills for a player his size and was able to be an effective corner at the collegiate level. If the New York Giants don’t select a defensive back highly in the draft, they could view Mukuamu as a value later on.
But is Mukuamu’s size an asset, a liability, or something in between?
Prospect: Israel Mukuamu
Games Watched: vs. Alabama (2019), vs. Georgia (2019), vs. Florida (2020)
Games Played: 22
Tackles For a loss: 4.0
Forced Fumbles: 1
Games Played: 5
Tackles For a loss: 0
Forced Fumbles: 0
Best: Length, physicality, tackling, relative quickness
Worst: Absolute quickness
Projection: Free safety or outside cornerback in a cover 3 scheme which runs some man coverage.
South Carolina cornerback Israel Mukuamu possesses truly rare size for the position. Mukuamu is exceptionally tall, and with long arms to match, for a cornerback which he uses to good effect. Mukuamu has aligned at both cornerback and safety for South Carolina’s defense, at times switching between positions throughout a game.
As a corner, Mukuamu shows an effective jam in press coverage, using his length to disrupt receivers early in their routes. He has enough quickness and lower-body flexibility to get, and stay, in phase with most outside receivers, and is particularly effective when he is able to disrupt at the start of the play. Mukuamu is a long-strider in the open field, which allows him to stay with most receivers on vertical routes
He gets good depth as a zone defender while maintaining awareness of the play around him. He shows good understanding of offensive concepts and his own role within the defense, communicating, picking up and passing off assignments well. Here too he uses his exceptional length to his advantage, allowing him to close passing windows which might appear open when the ball is thrown.
Mukuamu also appears comfortable when asked to play safety in a two- or three-deep shell. He is able to carry his understanding of zone coverages from corner to safety and maintains his assignment discipline. He also shows a good willingness to come down in run defense as both a safety and as a corner, with no hesitation and good competitive toughness when he needs to get his hands dirty. He has the play strength to set a firm edge as a cornerback and is able to fight through blocks or defeat stiff-arms from running backs. Mukuamu is a reliable tackler, generally taking good angles and routinely tackling with good form. Mukuamu is a wrap-up tackler who uses his length well to bring down ball carriers and limit yards after contact.
Mukuamu’s size and length is a double-edged sword. While he has good fluidity and agility for a player his size, he still struggles slightly to gather himself and change directions as quickly as a smaller player. He can be vulnerable quicker receivers and should not be matched up on players who win with agility. Likewise, he is vulnerable to receivers who have a good release against press-man coverage. While his jam can be very disruptive at the line of scrimmage, Mukuamu struggles to recover and catch up to receivers when his jam fails.
Overall Grade: 6.5 - Floor, ceiling, and draft stock will likely be in the eye of the beholder. This prospect has exciting mental and physical tools for development, but could also bust in the wrong environment.
Israel Mukuamu could be a difficult projection to the NFL level and his ultimate role will likely depend on the team evaluating him.
His most natural fit for most teams will likely be as a free safety in a Cover 2 or Cover 3 defense. There he is able to use his size, range, football IQ, and competitive toughness to their greatest potential, without being exposed to receivers who can out-athlete him.
That being said, Mukuamu does have the potential to be a moveable piece who can match up with bigger, longer receivers at the line of scrimmage. In those situations, he has the ability to physically match up with the bigger “X” receivers at the NFL level and disrupt quick passing games with his physical coverage. NFL coaches will also like his competitive toughness, as he is one of the rare defensive backs who seems to relish contact. Mukuamu is a reliable tackler with the ability to take on and defeat blocks to make the play. He also shows solid instincts to anticipate run plays and avoid being taken by misdirection.
Mukuamu might start his career as a depth piece while he finds his footing and natural role in an NFL defense, but he has tools which coaches will likely want to develop.