One calendar year ago, the Miami Redhawks’ basketball team was sitting at 10-11 and preparing for the final month of the season before the MAC tournament. Their point guard, a four-year starter, was putting the finishing touches on a stellar collegiate career.
As the final buzzer went off on Quinten Rollins’ basketball days, he had clearly left a positive mark on the program. Rollins’ imprint on the Miami record books is significant; ranking second in career steals (214), fourth in assists (391), seventh in games started (106), and ninth in minutes played (3,448).
After the basketball season, Rollins toyed with the idea of playing football for his final year of eligibility. In an interview with Dane Brugler of CBS Sports, Rollins decided playing football could help clarify his future.
…my senior year came around and I sat down with Coach (Chuck) Martin and we saw eye to eye. I gave spring ball a shot and it worked out pretty well. It was basically a tryout kind of deal whether or not he was going to give me a scholarship. And fortunately I was able to make enough plays for that to happen.
The last time Rollins had played football, he was primarily a running back and receiver. His experience on defense was as a roaming playmaker, or essentially a strong safety in the mold of Troy Polamalu.
Fast forward back to present day, and it’s almost unbelievable Rollins only played one season on the college gridiron. His one and only campaign resulted in 73 tackles, seven interceptions and nine pass breakups. The seven interceptions were tied for third nationally.
The NFL took notice of Rollins’ abilities and invited him to the 2015 Reese’s Senior Bowl. The Senior Bowl is a great test for small-school prospects that don’t usually get to play elite talent on a weekly basis, as every snap in practice is dissected. Almost unsurprisingly after seeing how far Rollins has progressed thus far, the cornerback held his own all week and showed the hype is warranted.
To get a better feel for what Rollins brings to the table, I went and looked at seven of his games in 2014 and wrote a scouting report based on his strengths and weaknesses. With some visual aids, let’s take a look at the dual-sport phenom’s football acumen.
When evaluating Rollins, the first thing that has to be mentioned is his frame. The NFL is filled with cornerbacks of all sizes, but some teams tend to avoid smaller cornerbacks. Rollins shouldn’t have that issue, as he measured 5’11”, 193 pounds at the Senior Bowl.
On the field, Rollins plays bigger than he is listed. He has a thick build that allows him be a physical presence in the secondary. Just to the naked eye, he looks like a dribble-drive point guard, and a bulldog-type cornerback. His frame fits his game.
His willingness to be physical with his body is one of the most impressive areas of his game. To be a strong run defender on the boundary, being effective is mostly about effort and functional strength. Some cornerbacks don’t care about this aspect of the game because effective coverage is a bigger part of their job description.
Rollins doesn’t take that liberty, though. Of the seven games I saw, he missed only two tackles he had a reasonable chance at getting. His form is nearly flawless, as he approaches the ball carrier low to the ground so that he can explode forward and deliver a blow.
He’s relentless fighting through blockers as well. Rollins is a pest for receivers that don’t want to put much effort into blocks, as he takes it very seriously. Below is a good example.
Looking at Rollins’ coverage talent, it’s clear he’s a natural playmaker. His seven interceptions were far from flukes, coming scattered throughout the season in different situations. He didn’t waste time to show his ability to read plays and stay in position, either, as he logged four interceptions in the first four games of his career.
Throughout football, collegiate and professionally, many cornerbacks have a bad habit of playing the receiver more than the ball. It’s maddening, as the ball belongs to the cornerback as much as the receiver. This results in many pass interference calls and blown opportunities for a turnover.
That’s why Rollins’ natural instinct to locate and play the ball is invaluable. A turnover is a premium result of a play for the defense and can be one of the few differences between a win and a loss. Make no mistake; it’s hard to find a defensive back that sniffs out the route as early as Rollins did.
Athletically, Rollins has the ability to stick at cornerback long term. His ability to line up directly over the receiver, mirror movements off the snap, and then turn and run downfield is crucial. Every defense in the league plays a variety of man and zone coverages to some extent, so that versatility is a major plus. Rollins has enough fluidity in his hips to smother comebacks, or go deep on post routes.
In zone, Rollins is a star. Zone coverage allows the cornerback to open his hips early and just read the quarterback and receiver. If the receiver gets into his assigned area, the cornerback acts. Rollins’ anticipation and play recognition are excellent, regardless of his inexperience.
Although Rollins measures and weighs well, his arm length is a bit of a concern. The premium placed on height can an overrated part of the puzzle for projection, but length isn’t. There’s a reason why the Seattle Seahawks prefer players with certain arm measurements; players with length help limit explosive plays.
Rollins’ arm length measurement of 29 3/8” could be an issue. He struggles in press coverage at times, which isn’t surprising because he is underdeveloped with technique and lacks experience. But without length, the receiver can get upfield without being touched easier. Take a look below, where Rollins loses on a slant route because he cannot recover from his length limiting him.
Overcoming this may not be a big issue as Rollins improves and gets more snaps to practice, but it narrows the margin for error greatly. Arm length can also help in jump ball situations against taller receivers and when breaking toward the ball to make a pass breakup.
Breaking down is where Rollins has the most issues; it is with deep routes. For the most part, he smothers underneath routes with impressive efficiency. His ability to trigger from his backpedal and explode forward is certainly above average.
But when going deep, either Rollins lacks straight-line speed, or he’s struggling with his footwork early in his coverage and doesn’t have necessary makeup speed. It’s hard to tell from his film because he wasn’t getting burned every game.
In the screenshot above, we see the receiver’s lead shoulder is well ahead of Rollins’, and Rollins is in a compromising position at this point. The quarterback notices his slot receiver has the leverage and targets him for a completion. By the time the ball arrives, Rollins is well behind the receiver.
At the Senior Bowl, Rollins didn’t appear to be lacking deep speed. It’s difficult to tell from television broadcast angles where Rollins is losing on deep routes, but if it turns out he is speed deficient, a move to safety is possible. For what it is worth, I think his footwork is the bigger issue than straight-line speed, or else he would be targeted deep on every play, and that isn’t the case.
Rollins should improve his technique as he receives more coaching in the NFL. His biggest issues just come from lacking experience, such as where to place hands when jamming, or when to be physical with the receiver downfield. Footwork wise, he needs to keep his lower and upper body aligned so he stays balanced, but this wasn’t a constant issue.
The NFL is desperate for good cornerbacks and safeties. Even if a team has two good starters, injuries can ravage the position quickly, and in today’s NFL, that can spell doom to a defense. There is a premium on all defensive backs that are physical with good ball skills.
That’s a large reason why Quinten Rollins has skyrocketed in the 2015 NFL draft process. He currently ranks as the third-best cornerback and 31st-overall prospect in the class by CBS Sports. Again, one year ago, he wasn’t even committed to playing football for the Redhawks.
Everything considered, Rollins is a project at cornerback, but his innate ability to locate and play the football is special. He can become a very good and reliable starting defensive back if he’s given time to refine some of the smaller details that separate the good from being even better.
If his first year at the position is any indicator of how much he can improve, there’s no reason to think he won’t maximize his potential.
All stats used are from sports-reference.com.
Ian Wharton is a Miami Dolphins Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, contributor for Optimum Scouting, and analyst for eDraft.
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Arden Key, one of the top defensive ends in the 2015 recruiting class, has made his college decision.
According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports, Key will be attending LSU:
According to 247Sports.com rankings, Key is the No. 4 weak-side defensive end and 82nd-best player overall. He's been making the college rounds recently, providing an update on how things stood with his decision following a recent visit to South Carolina to John Whittle of 247Sports.com:
I’ve been here plenty of times. I know a lot of the players and it was all about catching up and talking a little football. I’ve been here plenty of times and know a lot of people. I have the inside track on what’s going on in South Carolina football. It’s always good to reconnect with the boys you grew up with. I have a couple of players I played rec ball with who go to this school, so it was all good.
However, that didn't really do much to clear up the battle for Key's services as he was set to take one final visit to Auburn prior to National Signing Day that seemed to increase his interest in the program.
New Tigers defensive coordinator Will Muschamp could be a huge selling point to recruits, especially this year. In the end, neither team secured his services.
As far as what Key brings to LSU, Craig Haubert of ESPN.com had a detailed breakdown of what makes him such a highly-sought after recruit:
He needs to continue to fill out his lengthy and lean frame, but he has begun to add some good size since his junior year and is wiry with better-than-expected strength for his build. At this stage he is best playing on the move and getting after the quarterback. The top 25 prospect possesses excellent first-step quickness and with his length can develop into a disruptive edge rusher.
In an era of college football where offenses are playing spread-out styles with multiple wide receiver sets and taking more chances down the field, finding a player who can get after the quarterback is essential to finding success.
Key isn't a fully-developed edge-rusher at this point, but he's got plenty of time to get there. His raw potential stacks up alongside many of this year's top defensive linemen. Finding speed and athleticism up front on defense is something every program dreams of, but the best ones are able to make it happen.
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Nebraska football fans will be closely following coverage of national signing day on February 4. But as signing day approaches, Nebraska fans will be wondering what NU’s class for 2015 will look like. The contours of the class seem pretty clear, however. It is currently ranked No. 30 in the nation and No. 4 in the Big Ten, according to 247Sports.
While there are, of course, unexpected changes that can occur, it’s likely that the 20-man class of enrollees and commits that we currently know will end up as Nebraska’s 2015 recruiting class. So, absent a huge shock, here’s what the newest group of Huskers should look like.
The Early Enrollees
- Eric Lee (CB, 4-star, .9414 composite)
- Avery Anderson (ATH, 4-star, .8935 composite)
- Aaron Williams (S, 3-star, .8610 composite)
- Dedrick Young (ATH, 3-star, .8609 composite)
Early enrollees are the recruiting version of money in the bank. Once they’ve enrolled, you feel much more protected that the players will actually sign and become part of your class for the following year.
But this year’s early enrollees are more than just a security blanket. Lee might be the best overall player in the class, and the early enrollees as a whole could become the cornerstone of Nebraska’s secondary in the years to come.
The Top of the Class
- Jalin Barnett (OG, 4-star, .9207 composite)
- Christian Gaylord (OT, 4-star, .8882 composite)
- Khalil Davis (DT, 3-star, .8730 composite)
- Carlos Davis (DE, 3-star, .8891 composite)
- Daishon Neal (DE, 3-star, .8588 composite)
- Lavan Alston (WR, 3-star, .8832 composite)
- Matt Snyder (TE, 3-star, .8523 composite)
The top of Nebraska’s class was the first test of new head coach Mike Riley’s recruiting acumen. Riley was able to land Barnett, Alston, and Snyder on his own. He was able to keep the Davis twins on board and Snyder and in the fold after new Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh made a run at them.
Gaylord and Austin will help to fill positions of need for Nebraska. But with only three 4-stars in the class, Nebraska fans will be hoping a full season of recruiting (along with more scholarships to offer) will help Riley pull in a bigger haul in 2016.
The Rest of the Class
- Stanley Morgan (WR, 3-star, .8765 composite)
- Devine Ozigbo (RB, 3-star, .8560 composite)
- Michael Decker (OG, 3-star, .8544 composite)
- Willie Sykes (CB, 3-star, .8226 composite)
- Alex Davis (DE, 3-star, .8059 composite)
- Tyrin Ferguson (LB, 3-star, .8312 composite)
- Mohamed Barry (LB, 3-star, .8398 composite)
- Antonio Reed (S, 3-star, .8026 composite)
- Jordan Ober, (LS, 2-star, no composite)
The rest of Nebraska’s class addresses some glaring needs, particularly at linebacker with Ferguson and Barry. Missing out on junior college linebacker transfer Kaiwan Lewis was a blow, as Nebraska was hoping for adding some instant depth at the position.
The addition of Morgan should help a wide receiver corps that becomes disturbingly thin after graduation this year. Ozigbo is an interesting running back transfer from Iowa State, while Sykes and Reed should add to what looks to be a deep and imposing secondary. And Ober could very well be cover for an injury to scholarship long snapper Gabe Miller last season.
All rankings from 247Sports.
For a different look at Nebraska football, check out The Double Extra Point.
You can also use the Twitter machine to follow @DblExtraPoint.
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With signing day less than 48 hours away, the UCLA Bruins are potentially on the cusp of closing out its 2015 recruiting class extremely well. As it currently stands, the Bruins have the No. 19 class in the country (per 247Sports).
UCLA's in the hunt for multiple elite prospects. Landing even two or three of the recruits in question will raise the current ranking considerably.
It's conceivable to think as many as seven prospects could announce for the Bruins on signing day. Currently, UCLA has 17 commitments. Two of the said commitments (Josh Rosen, Zach Bateman) are already enrolled in school.
Here's a projected look at UCLA's 2015 recruiting class. Some of these predictions—especially involving out-of-state prospects—might be a big surprising.