Few pedigrees come with more cache in the NFL than having played college football at the University of Alabama, and playing for Nick Saban’s defense in particular.
Simply starting for Saban’s defense is often enough to have a player rated highly in pre-season draft rankings. The reasoning being that if a player is able to rise to the top of such a talented depth chart, and execute Alabama’s defensive schemes well enough to start, they must be good. And generally, that’s a good rule of thumb.
But that can also work against prospects, as the sheer breadth of talent on Alabama’s roster can disguise some players’ weaknesses.
Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain ii has long been considered one of the (and often the) top cornerbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft class. But how good is he, and how does he stack up to the rest of this talented cornerback draft class?
Prospect: Patrick Surtain II
Games Played: 40
Tackles For a loss: 6.0
Forced Fumbles: 4
Passes Defensed: 24
Games Played: 13
Tackles For a loss: 3.5
Forced Fumbles: 0
Passes Defensed: 9
Best: Size, athleticism, football IQ, disruptiveness at catch point
Worst: Run defense, play in traffic, stop/start quickness
Projection: A starting outside cornerback with scheme versatility.
(Note: Surtain is CB number 2)
Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II is a big, long, smart, and athletic corner with the skill set to start on the outside at the NFL level.
Surtain typically aligned on the left side of the defense, across from the receiver on the offensive right. He would occasionally follow receivers into the slot, but Surtain is predominantly an outside cornerback and typically stays on the offensive right. Surtain will align in
Surtain has impressive football IQ, executing a complex coverage scheme which uses both man and zone principles, as well as pattern matching to disguise coverages until after the snap. He does a good job of playing with his eyes in the backfield in zone, reading the quarterback on his way to the play. Surtain is a disciplined zone defender, respecting his assignments and not being drawn into chasing receivers.
He is also a solid man coverage corner, beginning with a quick jam to disrupt receivers at their release before getting in phase through the route. He has enough quickness and long speed to stay with most receivers down the field. Surtain does an excellent job of maintaining contact with receivers without quite doing enough to draw a defensive pass interference penalty.
Surtain is very disruptive at the catch point, using his size, length, and closing burst well to play the receivers hands. He does a very good job of playing through (or around) receivers without drawing penalties. Likewise, he is a sound tackler who generally takes safe angles to the ball and wraps up to get the ball carrier on the ground.
But while Surtain is a good tackler and unafraid of getting physical, he can struggle to disengage from blockers in run defense. He doesn’t set a particularly firm edge and can be moved out of position to create running lanes on the outside. His size can also work against him in coverage, as he can be prone to giving up separation to receivers out of their breaks when they press their route stems into him. In those cases he can struggle to reverse his momentum and recover in time to prevent the reception. Surtain can also get a bit “leggy” in his backpedals, limiting his ability to stay with quicker receivers on sharp breaks.
Overall Grade: 9.2 - This prospect has the athletic and mental traits to be a starter immediately and has the potential to receive Pro Bowl honors early in his career.
Patrick Surtain ii projects as a starting outside corner at the NFL level, with the versatility to play in a variety of defenses.
He is able to play man and zone defenses, with the size and athleticism to match up against just about any outside receiver he will face in the NFL. Surtain also has a sky-high football IQ, as evidenced by the fact that he started in Nick Saban’s complex and nuanced defense as a freshman.
Surtain is also particularly disruptive at the catch point, using his length and explosiveness to slam receiving windows shut and playing receivers hands. He doesn’t generate many turnovers, but Surtain is very good at denying the reception and forcing incomplete passes.
There are a few weaknesses in Surtain’s game, notably when playing against quicker receivers. As good an athlete as he is, he can’t defy physics and often needs a moment to gather himself before transitioning to playing downhill. That can give quick receivers an opportunity to create separation after pressing their route stems into him and forcing him to respect a vertical pass before breaking sharply back toward the line of scrimmage. Surtain can also be susceptible to rub routes when the offense schemes for him to play through traffic. He also isn’t quite as dominant a run defender as one would expect looking at his frame.
All that being said, Surtain should start immediately upon entering the NFL and his combination of size, athleticism, and football IQ give him a very high floor, as well as a potential “Pro Bowl” ceiling.