ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 02: Stephon Gilmore #5 of the South Carolina Gamecocks returns a blocked extra point for a touchdown during the Capitol One Bowl against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Florida Citrus Bowl on January 2, 2012 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
This post begins a series on how our players will fare in next week's NFL Draft. Today, we're starting with Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore, who declared for the draft a year early, was considered a second- or third-round pick early in the process, but after some good workouts, he's now being projected as a first-rounder, potentially a very high one. There's a lot of discussion now about whether his rise is warranted. Let's take a look.
Gilmore's chief draw to NFL scouts is his athleticism. Gilmore, in short, is a prototypical athlete for the position of shut-down corner. He's 6'0, has been timed under 4.4 in the 40, and has been particularly impressive in the agility drills. That combination of size and speed (Gilmore was the only corner over 6'0 to run a sub-4.4 40 at the combine) is what has scouts drooling. It places him among the elite corners in the league in terms of physical ability. Another major plus with Gilmore is that he is a strong tackler for a corner.
As this article nicely illustrates, while Gilmore has elite measurables, they didn't always translate to stellar on-field production. There were more than a few times when Gilmore was beaten for a big gain. Oftentimes, the problem seemed to be mental--Gilmore would bite on a fake, get turned around on a jump ball, etc. A team that drafts him would have to hope that it can coach some of these errors out of him. Right now, his on-field production makes him look more like a utility corner who would be most useful in the slot, and that's not something most teams want to use a high pick on. It's also not what most teams think when they see his measurables.
I have mixed feelings about Gilmore and the Draft. On the one hand, I think the folks who call him "mistake-prone" (including many of our own fans) aren't quite fair on him. Indeed, there's a certain amount of unfair criticism that goes along with being the best corner on a team. If Gilmore was picked on occasionally while he played for us, he was also the guy who typically got the unkind task of lining up across from guys like Julio Jones. Things don't always work out in your favor in that situation. I also don't think that we always played to Gilmore's strengths. As has been well documented, Ellis Johnson preferred to run containment schemes in his secondary, but Gilmore always seemed to be most comfortable in press-man, which we ran very little of. In any event, the fact of the matter is that Gilmore was an excellent player for us, and he has the potential to continue to improve.
At the same time, I do wonder if the top 15 is too high for him. At that level, you had better be a sure-fire star, and Gilmore simply isn't right now. The fact of the matter, though, is that there aren't many elite corners in this draft. Morris Claiborne is great, but past him, the other guys all have some sort of blemish, just like Gilmore. Yet, some teams need a corner and are going to be tempted to reach for one of these guys. That sort of situation is tailor-made for a Draft-day mistake. That said, I do certainly think you could do worse than take a chance on our man Stephon.