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Film breakdown: Can Amani Oruwariye be a starting cornerback for the Giants?

There is good and bad on Oruwariye’s tape, so let’s look

Seattle Seahawks v Detroit Lions Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The New York Giants signed former Detroit Lions’ cornerback Amani Oruwariye to a one-year contract. Oruwariye is a 6-foot-2, 205-pound outside CB with 2,654 career snaps played through four seasons in Detroit. Here are his measurements and athletic profile from the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine:

He was selected out of Penn State in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and he impressed down the stretch of his rookie season. His first meaningful snaps came in Week 12 against Washington, where he intercepted quarterback Dwayne Haskins (7) on a route run by wide receiver Kelvin Harmon (13):

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Oruwariye started the 2020 season opposite third-overall pick Jeff Okudah. The double O tandem on the outside struggled, as the Lions’ pass defense ranked 31st in yards allowed during the 2020 season.

Despite the secondary unit struggling in 2020, Oruwariye just allowed a 55.3 percent catch rate on 76 targets (42 allowed) with six passes defended and one interception while only allowing three touchdowns. He expanded on those numbers in 2021 by intercepting six passes with five passes defended with only two touchdowns allowed. His catch rate allowed in 2021 was 59.4 percent.

Unfortunately for Oruwariye, he hurt his back in Week 2 of the 2022 season and struggled mightily after his return. He was benched after allowing seven catches on as many targets for 123 yards and a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins in Week 8.

At that point, he had surrendered four touchdowns in the previous four weeks, with a catch rate of 83 percent. His confidence seemed to wane, and Mike Hughes admirably assumed Oruwariye’s role opposite Okudah.

Oruwariye finished 2022 with 474 defensive snaps, surrendering a 75 percent catch rate on 52 targets (39 catches), with four touchdowns conceded and three passes defended. It was a season to forget for Oruwariye, but that’s one reason why I love this move from the New York Giants’ standpoint.

As the roster is currently constructed, Oruwariye can compete to start opposite Adoree’ Jackson. He has good tape in his past, but it’s difficult to overlook the 2022 disaster. I have long believed in Giants’ defensive back coach Jerome Henderson, and his ability to maximize the talents of his players.

Last year, Henderson helped the Giants out of a dire situation by extracting value from cornerbacks Fabian Moreau and Nick McCloud. It’s plausible that Henderson can remedy the issues Oruwariye experienced throughout the 2022 season. This is likely another cheap addition with some upside.

To portray the accurate nature of Oruwariye’s profile, one must also share this unfortunate reality that makes the new Giant a Jekyll and Hyde type of addition:

That’s a lot of yellow laundry flying in the direction of Oruwariye. The primary impetus for his 2022 benching was his Week 3 game against the Vikings where he was penalized six times - Justin Jefferson is good, but wow. He found himself riding pine shortly after, and it wasn’t until Week 11 against the Giants that he saw meaningful snaps again; that’s where we’ll start.

Amani Oruwariye is No. 24

Week 11 vs. Giants

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Oruwariye composed himself adequately in his return to the field against the New York Football Giants. He surrendered one catch for only 11 yards, and he mirrors Isaiah Hodgins (18) well in MEG (Man Everywhere he Goes) on the backside of the split-back 11 personnel look. Once Hodgins releases inside, Oruwariye uses his off-hand to contact and ride the outside hip of Hodgins. He stayed high and over the top and did an adequate job flipping his hips upon Hodgins’ break to the outside.

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Hodgins’ shimmy at the line of scrimmage creates separation against Oruwariye’s press alignment; I appreciate how the young cornerback was able to recover, and Hodgins did well on the release, but the slight impatience to open his hips allowed Hodgins to move the chains on the 11-yard reception.

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The three plays above are all man coverage assignments for Oruwariye, and the tall cornerback did a sufficient job defending Darius Slayton (86) on the boundary side. It’s a middle-of-the-field-closed (MOFC) coverage to the short side of the field, and safety help is unlikely with the boundary safety down in the box over the tight end Lawrence Cager 83).

Daniel Jones (8) attempts to throw back shoulder to Slayton, since Oruwariye was in solid coverage on the inside hip, albeit Slayton seems to have an initial step. Oruwariye slips upon realizing the back shoulder, but Slayton fails to hang onto the back shoulder pass. Oruwariye didn’t use his hands often in press, which was one issue with his game up close near the line of scrimmage.

Oruwariye seemed - and I could be wrong here - unconfident to deploy his jam, which didn’t lead to many reps of him shocking and controlling the receiver's release. We didn’t see it on any of these three plays against the Giants. Here are some more critiques I have of his press technique.

Press alignment

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Oruwariye’s footwork is jittery; he takes a false step with his inside foot, doesn’t deploy his hands to shock, and then loses his balance in a backpedal as he tries to open his hips inside. Oruwariye isn’t stiff, but I wouldn’t say his transitions are always smooth. The football is thrown to the other side of the field, but the receiver creates good separation because of poor technique exercised by Oruwariye.

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Trent Sherfield (81) defeats Oruwariye on a pivot route to the outside. In a press alignment, Oruwariye doesn’t engage his hands and over-pursues the release of Sherfield. The route is well executed, and Oruwariye’s change of direction and fluidity is exploited for an easy 49er touchdown.

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Oruwariye intercepts Justin Fields (1) off a tipped pass, but the corner gets turned around with a failed jam attempt on the outside. In outside leverage, he attempts to jam with the inside hand, which gave the receiver an easy path to the inside, forcing a speed turn at the line of scrimmage to allow Oruwariye to get back in phase. The receiver creates plenty of separation, but the tipped pass works perfectly for the Lions.

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Receivers do work inside of Oruwariye once he flips his hips to the outside. He commits too prematurely, and his desire to stay in perfect position on these outside releases could allude to his own concerns about his man coverage ability. I don’t believe he’s terrible in man coverage, but I think the lack of high-end athletic ability forces eagerness that leads to untimely decisions. His hips could use some WD-40, and his reactionary quickness leaves some to be desired. Here are a few other examples:

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I do love how he is able to flip his hips and take the correct angle to Adam Thielen’s (19) hip to restrict space. Solid recovery displayed, but Thielen won the rep below:

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DeVonta Smith (6) beats Oruwariye outside, prompting the cornerback to hold. This was one of his 10 penalties in 2022. Oruwariye’s lack of elite short-area athletic skills and man coverage anticipation/ability led to many holds like the one above.

Ball skills

Oruwariye isn’t a perfect player, and he could stand to improve on technique, which hopefully can be achieved under the tutelage of Jerome Henderson. However, I don’t want to infer that he’s a bad football player because he’s not. We’ve gone through some aspects of his game that need refinement, but here are several highlights throughout the last two seasons that showcase his ball skills and physicality at the catch point:

Let’s go through a few plays from the reel:

Oruwariye almost gets a pick-six against Kyler Murray (1) and the Cardinals on the backside of Murray’s initial read. A.J. Green (18) runs an inside breaker, and Oruwariye is all over Green; as Murray extemporizes, Green attempts to flow outside of the numbers, and the cornerback does an excellent job reading Murray and jumping the route in zone coverage from an outside shade. Great anticipation and eye discipline were displayed by Oruwariye.

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Assuming outside shade at the snap, Oruwariye stays in the hip of the Steelers’ wide receiver in zone technique. He keeps his eyes on the quarterback, maintains body presence on the receiver without any holding, locates the football, and then disrupts the play with excellent timing to prevent a touchdown.

A forced incompletion against Chase Claypool (10) with excellent technique would make Jerome Henderson proud. With his outside hand, Oruwariye maintains contact on the hip in a subtle manner while using his inside arm to play through the catch point. He’s dropped all over Claypool, and the wide receiver created little separation and operating room.

There are several impressive plays on the football in both man and zone coverage throughout the highlight reel. For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus had him graded as the 153rd best man coverage cornerback in 2021; his zone coverage score was slightly better at 141st in that season. To be fair, his grades are significantly hampered by the unusually high number of penalties.

Man coverage

We’ve seen plenty of plays of man coverage snaps, and his struggles were exhausted above. Still, here are some more plays of Oruwariye executing man coverage assignments:

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When there’s no deception and Oruwariye is allowed to play to his leverage, he does a solid job, especially on vertical concepts. He has a long stride and showed the ability to stay in the hip pocket of receivers as we see against Smith above. He also does well at getting his head around and look for the football, which we saw throughout his highlight film. Still, when beaten at the line of scrimmage or against quick cuts on the horizontal plane, he’ll use his hands and grab.

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Oruwariye does a good job staying inside of Christian Watson (9) and squeezing him to the sideline from a press alignment. Watson has little to no space for operating, and Aaron Rodgers (12) threw a peculiar pass right into the arms of rookie safety Kirby Joseph (31).

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Oruwariye handles the outside release of A.J. Brown (11) very well to the boundary side. He opens his hips with his eyes directly on his target, and once Brown initiates the curl by lifting his arms, Oruwariye stops his momentum and works through the catch point to force the incomplete pass on fourth-and-short.

He did struggle when aligned against some of the top receivers like Tyler Lockett (16) of the Seahawks and Justin Jefferson (18) of the Vikings. The same issues of slight panic and uncomfortably seem evident in these three plays:

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Run support

Oruwariye has missed 35 tackles in his career - a missed tackle rate of 17.4 percent. He’s had 38 STOPs at the line of scrimmage in his career. I wouldn’t say he’s the most effective player in run support. His inability to shed blocks from wide receivers was frustrating, and his tackling mechanics were poor; he too often threw his shoulder into ball carriers and failed to wrap up or drive his feet through contact. His play strength is less than desirable as a tackler, and he could be more balanced. Here are some solid plays of him making tackles in run support:

left side

left side, third-and-1 hit

And here are some that allude to the problems listed above:

left side, at least he is boxing inside

left side, blocked by No. 80

Final thoughts

The contract details have yet to be released, but they’re likely modest. Oruwariye has starting upside as a best-case scenario - development must transpire. He shouldn’t be penciled in as the Giants’ starter - he has to earn that, and this addition certainly does not preclude the Giants from spending the 25th pick in the draft on a cornerback. In an ideal scenario, Oruwariye is a solid depth option and a spot starter as an outside cornerback.

He can play either zone or man coverage, with good overall ball skills and a harassing nature. However, Oruwariye is a better zone defender. He reads route concepts well and seems more comfortable in an outside shade playing over the top - a la Cover-3 technique. I’m not necessarily insinuating that he can’t play man coverage, but he is more natural as a zone defender and his struggles are amplified when alone in press; it’s his timing and ability to steer and control the receiver's releases that must be refined. He’s an adequate athlete with solid recovery speed, but he tends to struggle against twitcher wide receivers in tight spaces when in man coverage

He has technical issues in press, and his feet are not consistently married to his hands. His judgment on timing commitments on when to flip his hips seemed impaired during the 2022 season. Oruwariye will take extra steps when they’re unwarranted, which can be corrected with better positioning and trust in one’s ability.

If he can fix the technical issues near the line of scrimmage, then his lack of high-end athletic traits could be mitigated. He’s also not the biggest impact player in run support, and he had a 17.4 percent missed tackle rate. He must commit more as a tackler and bring more power to the contact point.

I like this signing and believe there’s potential with Oruwariye that could be honed by a different environment and coaching staff. Besides 2022, he seemed to find the football, even dating back to his time as a Nittany Lion. He recorded eight interceptions, and fourteen passes defended in college, with nine interceptions and eleven passes defended through his first three years as a Detroit Lion. The Giants will hope for that type of production in 2023, and not the regression that he experienced in the 2022 season.