Every year there are small-school players who take advantage of the opportunities in the Draft Process to raise their profile to the national level. The 2022 NFL Draft is no different, except that this year feels like it could be a banner year for small school players in the Top 100.
Few players have raised their national profiles quite as well as cornerback Tariq Woolen from UT San Antonio.
Very few people were talking about Woolen during the year — after all, UTSA can’t compete with the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, or Michigan for attention. And Woolen first generated some buzz as a freakishly big and athletic Senior Bowl invite. When he showed up to the Senior Bowl, however, Woolen showed folks expecting him to be another raw athlete that he could actually play cornerback.
That’s particularly impressive considering he’s only been a cornerback for two years.
His skill set, with a rare blend of size, length, athleticism, and movement skills, is highly sought-after at the NFL level. And as it so happens, the New York Giants will likely need to reorient their secondary around a similar skill set.
Could Woolen be a name to watch going forward?
Prospect: Tariq Woolen (20)
Games Watched: vs. BYU (2020), vs, Illinois (2021), vs. Western Kentucky (2021), vs. Western Kentucky (Conference USA Champion Ship Game, 2021)
Games Played: 34
Tackles For a loss: 5
Forced Fumbles: 9
Games Played: 9
Tackles For a loss: 2.5
Forced Fumbles: 5
Best: Size, length, athleticism, movement skills, physicality
Worst: Technique, experience
Projection: An eventual starting cornerback or safety in a blitz-heavy scheme
(Woolen is cornerback number 3)
Tariq Woolen is a big, long, athletic, and physical cornerback prospect from the University of Texas - San Antoinio.
Woolen brings rare physical and athletic traits to the cornerback position, measuring 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, with 33 ½ inch arms. He has rare size and length which allow him to match up with any outside receiver and could allow him to effectively cover tight ends at the NFL level. Woolen also has rare athleticism for a player of his size. He shows quick and agile feet, particularly for a big player, and good quickness in changing direction. Woolen also has good long speed to keep up with receivers down the field or recover if beaten early in the rep. He reportedly runs a laser timed 4.34-second 40 yard dash, which would be exceptional for a player of his size.
Woolen is physical at the line of scrimmage when playing press man coverage, as well as at the catch point. He is also a willing run defender with plenty of size and strength to take on blockers and is a good tackler for a defensive back.
He is a capable zone defender as well. Woolen gets good depth in his zone drops and does a good job of keeping his eyes in the backfield and allowing the quarterback to lead him to the target. He also shows good discipline in picking up and passing off receivers as they enter, or exit, his coverage zone.
Woolen has experience blitzing from the cornerback position and usually disguises his rushes well. He has a quick trigger downhill, and his size and athleticism could make him dangerous with more experience.
The biggest knock on Woolen’s game is that lack of experience. He only has two years of experience as a cornerback, and while his development has been rapid to this point, it’s also apparent that he is still developing. Woolen doesn’t quite trust his technique yet, and that can slow down his play speed or lead to him being beaten in one-on-one situations.
And while he is an exceptional athlete, he does show some slight stiffness in his hips. It isn’t a major issue, but he could struggle with particularly quick or precise route runners at the NFL level.
Overall Grade: 7.0
Tariq Woolen projects as a starting DB at the NFL level.
Teams should try to capitalize on his rare blend of size and athleticism and play him at cornerback to start his career. However, if he isn’t able to master the finer points of playing cornerback at the NFL level, his traits would translate well to safety.
Woolen has all the physical ability to be a press-man corner at the NFL level. His size and length should allow him to match up against the biggest “X” receivers without being at much, if any, disadvantage to all but the biggest wide-outs. While he has the necessary athleticism to keep up with all but the most athletic receivers at the NFL level.
Woolen doesn’t have the “oily” hips possessed by the most elite cornerbacks, but his size, length, strength, and physicality should be enough to compensate in press coverage. He should have the ability to jam and disrupt most receivers at the line of scrimmage, which should make up for slightly slower hips.
Woolen’s length and burst make him an effective zone corner as well. He has good awareness in off coverage and a very quick trigger once he reads the play. Woolen is explosive coming downhill and is a very physical tackler. He’s a willing run defender who can hold up on the outside and isn’t one to make “business decisions” when it comes to taking on blockers or making tackles.
The biggest problem in Woolen’s game is his lack of experience and unrefined technique. He’s improved rapidly in his two years as a cornerback, but he still needs more work. And despite Woolen’s background as a wide receiver, he doesn’t have much ball production. He only has two interceptions and nine passes defensed. He does a good job of using his length to attack the catch point, but better technique would likely put him in better position to make plays.
It is notable that he has (relatively) small hands at 8 ⅝ inches, which could explain his lack of interceptions and be part of why he transitioned from receiver to cornerback.
Coaches will absolutely want to work with Woolen’s athletic tools, and he could become a good piece in an aggressive, blitzing defense.