Justin Gilbert comes into the NFL with all the measurables that you could ask for, 6’0″, 202 lbs., and he runs a 4.37 40 yard dash, but do these impressive measurables alone make him an elite prospect? No, while he is a very good athlete there are players like Phillip Gaines who have the same impressive physical tools, Gilbert needs the intangibles to separate himself from the other cornerbacks, now let’s take a look at whether or not Gilbert has these intangibles.
One important thing for a cornerback is what is known as a trigger. This is when the defensive player breaks out of a backpedal to make a play on the ball. Elite cornerbacks need to break out of their backpedal and accelerate as quickly as possible, each wasted step gives the receiver more time to catch the ball and gives the quarterback a larger margin of error. Here are some plays that display Justin Gilbert’s trigger:
Gilbert read that the receiver was running a button hook and saw the QB releasing the ball, he was seamlessly able to break from his backpedal into a sprint to make a play on the ball
Here the Wide Receiver is running a comeback route and Gilbert is late to recognize it, he uses his great footwork and acceleration to close in on the receiver and make a play on the ball.
On this play Justin Gilbert is in the perfect position, it looks like the wide receiver is running a button hook which Gilbert breaks back on and has covered, but the quarterback is throwing back shoulder which Gilbert also has covered. After covering the play perfectly Gilbert finishes the play perfectly by intercepting the pass and returning it for a touchdown.
Another Important part of a defensive backs game is to have fluid and loose hips, this allows them to break in and out of routes with the most athletic wide receivers.
Here you see Gilbert has trouble turning his hips on the out route by the wide receiver, he takes extra steps to get turned around and only breaks up this play due to a combination of an awful throw by the quarterback and his elite closing speed.
When a wide receiver is running a button hook or a comeback route his goal is to break the cornerbacks cushion forcing the cornerback to turn and run, Gilbert allowed the wide receiver to eat up his cushion forcing him to turn and run. Once Gilbert turns he is unable to turn again due to his tight hips and the receiver is able to make an easy catch. This is a combination of Gilbert not understanding what a receiver is trying to due to him, and Gilbert not having fluid hips that allow him to make sudden movements.
Tackling is important for every position, but it is especially important to defensive backs, Antoine Winfield made a career out of being a run stopping cornerback. I’ll say this right now Gilbert is no Antoine Winfield, he is soft. Gilbert is what is known as a shoe string tackler.
On this play Gilbert allows a wide receiver to block him, he doesn’t even attempt to shed the block, fundamentally he does the right thing by keeping his outside arm free but that is about the extent of the good that he does on the play, the receiver somehow decides it is a good idea to run into Gilbert’s open arm and Gilbert just swings his arm at him and doesn’t even attempt to wrap him up.
On this play I want to believe that Justin Gilbert tripped, but I am almost sure that is not what happened. It looks like Gilbert planned on making a tackle but he saw the offensive lineman and in fear of being hit he dove at the receivers ankles rather than wrapping the receiver up. Gilbert is pathetic when it comes to run defense.
One of the final important things to a cornerback is their ability to play the ball in the air and high point the ball like they are a wide receiver. This is the one area where Justin Gilbert is truly special.
Here Gilbert stays with his receiver through the double move and knows the ball is coming before the receiver does, Gilbert then elevates and catches the ball at it’s highest point.
Here Gilbert ends up one on one with a significantly bigger receiver, Gilbert though is able to squeeze the receiver to the sideline essentially using the sideline as another defender. Now the receiver has to adjust to the ball and stay in bounds, this causes the receiver to adjust his jump and doesn’t allow him to high point the ball. Gilbert tracks and high points the ball perfectly getting a big pass deflection in the end zone.
Jamming and rerouting a receiver at the line is crucial if you are facing a receiver who is a better athlete than you, this will allow you to stop their momentum and prevent them from getting quick separation. A good jam at the line can knock a wide receiver off of his route and completely ruin a play for the offense. Justin Gilbert didn’t play press coverage very often in college but when he did I was thoroughly unimpressed.
When Gilbert goes to jam the receiver he is flat footed and reaching, he should be stepping into the receiver and jamming his hands into the receivers chest. Gilbert is off balance and completely misses his jam, the receiver beats Gilbert down field easily as Gilbert is not able to regain his balance to turn his hips and run quick enough.
Posses great size for the positions with an athletic build
Great speed, more straight line speed than lateral speed
Best defensive player in the class at playing the ball in the air
Great trigger, has the important ability to break back on the ball with very few steps needed
Soft, doesn’t fight off blocks, not a willing tackler
Tight hips, causes him to lose balance and is not able to turn and run as well as he needs to
Not great in press coverage, needs to learn how to jam at the LOS
Gilbert is not an elite cornerback prospect due to his tackling prowess, or lack thereof, his tight hips, and the fact that he didn’t play much press coverage in college. I still consider Gilbert the best cornerback in the class and expect him to be drafted in the Top 20 picks of the NFL Draft.