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Senior Bowl: The next Richard Sherman at CB?
If timing is everything, Stanley Jean-Baptiste may have the good fortune of a position switch and an NFL trend converging at just the right time. Jean-Baptiste is the tall cornerback from Nebraska trying to find his place in the NFL, just as the team with cornerbacks similar in size is preparing for the Super Bowl. The Seattle Seahawks, with their top-ranked defense and tall cornerbacks, have given the rest of the defensive-minded coaches and scouts in the NFL something to think about. Maybe roughing up a receiver at the line of scrimmage and having the height and arm length to recover is the future of cornerbacks. If that's the case, with Richard Sherman doing plenty of talking and showcasing on the field, Jean-Baptiste could be the beneficiary. Sherman is listed at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds. Jean-Baptiste checked in at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., at 6-2 3/8 and 215 pounds. "I pretty much like them all," Jean-Baptiste said of NFL cornerbacks, but … "I'm watching Sherman because he's going to the Super Bowl, but I pretty much like them all." "He's long, a long corner. He plays aggressive for his size." Sherman is somewhat what Jean-Baptiste, the converted receiver from the University of Nebraska, aspires to be. And there are many similar comparisons. Looking at their numbers from 2013 – Sherman with the Seattle Seahawks and Jean-Baptiste with the Cornhuskers – the numbers are eerily similar, according to a STATS ICE comparison, even if they are at admittedly different levels of play. Sherman had a burn rate of 50.8 percent in 2013, Jean-Baptiste at 46.2. Sherman was burned 30 times, Jean-Baptiste 24. Sherman was targeted 59 times, Jean-Baptiste 52. Each gave up two touchdowns in coverage. Sherman gave up 456 yards and 15.2 yards per burn; Jean-Baptiste 446 yards and 18.6 yards per burn. Both had 16 passes defensed and no forced fumbles. Sherman had eight interceptions and Jean Baptiste four. But even beyond the statistics, the analysis was similar prior to them being drafted. Here is part of Sherman's predraft coverage from the NFL in 2011: "Sherman is a size prospect with some good intangibles that will help him mold into a contributing backup corner for a press-heavy team. However, he does not possess the natural coverage instincts, fluidity or burst to be considered a future starter. Is comfortable and capable in press man, using his size to disrupt receivers' releases off the line, but doesn't show enough make-up speed to consistently recover when beaten. Awareness in zone and off-man are only adequate. Has average ball skills but some upside as a playmaker." Here is Jean-Baptiste's analysis this year from NFLDraftScout.com: "Boasts excellent height and length for the position. Gets a strong initial jam to re-route receivers when playing press-man coverage. … Not nearly as physical as his size would indicate, especially when tackling. Frequently relies on ducking his head and swiping at the legs of ball carriers. Could be viewed by some as a potential safety convert but hasn't played this position before and will need to develop more physicality and reliability as an open-field tackler. While fluid in changing directions, is susceptible to double moves because he doesn't possess ideal initial burst and possesses just fair straight-line speed, overall." Part of Jean-Baptiste's ascension as an NFL prospect will be dependent on his ability to continue becoming more comfortable playing cornerback. He made the transition from receiver to the defensive side of the ball in 2011. "The offense, they wanted me at receiver," he said, saying it was something of a tug-of-war between coaches on both sides of the ball. "It really didn't matter to me. As long as I could get on the field and could play." In 2012, with cornerback now his primary concern after working at safety previously, he started five of 14 games and led the Cornhuskers with nine passes defensed. Last year, he played in all 12 games, leading the team with 11 passes defensed and tied for the team lead with four interceptions. He was voted second-team All-Big Ten by the conference's coach. After dropping weight to improve his prospects at cornerback, he said the only talk of him moving back to safety in the NFL is if he doesn't run fast at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. He normally runs in the 4.4-second range in the 40-yard dash, he said, but hopes to lower that into the 4.3s. "I've got to play to my height. I've got to be aggressive and I've got to show them that I can manhandle receivers," he said about Senior Bowl week. Being physical was always part of his game, even as a receiver, he said. It's just that now Sherman is starting to get NFL observers thinking that taller, physical cornerbacks could be a trend. "Hopefully it continues favoring me. I guess Richard Sherman's got a big part of that," Jean-Baptiste said. "I appreciate what he's doing right now and he's showing everybody why he's the best corner." Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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