INDIANAPOLIS — Rams cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant helped lead one of Los Angeles' more successful units in 2017. Under the direction of Pleasant and safeties coach Ejiro Evero, the Rams' secondary accounted for 13 of the club's 18 interceptions and three forced fumbles.
After only meeting with incoming rookies for most of the week, Pleasant was finally able to see the prospects on the field on Monday — the final day of the NFL Combine. In evaluating the players, Pleasant said he's looking at "body mechanics, movement, [and] overall athletic ability."
"When we say athletic ability, we talk about short space quickness, lateral agility, turn-run agilities, hip movement, hip fluidity," Pleasant said. "Those are the things that you look for and you want to see if they match with the player that you've seen on tape."
But scouting corners on film is not always the easiest task when looking for a particular trait.
Check out photos of head coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead at the 2018 NFL Combine.
"You can watch six games of a defensive back and not find what you're really looking for," Pleasant said. "What you really have to do, is you have to find situational ball. What is he doing third down, what is he doing two-minute when the game is on the line? 3rd-and-1, red zone, backed up — those are the things that you try to really focus in, and then you try to do extra things. Does he celebrate with his teammates after a play? When things go wrong is he pointing? Is he being very over dramatic with his hands? Those are the things that I think tell you a lot about a player."
Speed is another factor Pleasant tries to asses from tape. While an athlete's time in the 40-yard dash is certainly one measurement of how fast he is, the cornerbacks coach likes to say that there's different kinds of speed.
"I was joking with a scout from my former team, the Redskins, earlier and I was saying, 'There's a difference between track speed, being chased by a dog speed, or trying to chase somebody speed,'" Pleasant said. "And when I see a guy on tape who never gets beat deep, who always catches a guy, but then he runs a 4.50 — is there a difference? Or if I see a guy who runs a 4.30, but he's getting beat deep and it doesn't really seem like that speed is transitioning over into game speed. You have to kind of use it as an overlay to figure it out."
But there are plenty more on-field drills the players go through during the Combine, and those can be particularly helpful when trying to evaluate how the incoming rookie might play different techniques. Under coordinator Wade Phillips, the Rams utilize a lot of man coverage. So it's important to evaluate how a corner who may have played zone in college may be able to adjust to the different scheme.
"I think that's one thing that the Combine does a very good job of, is it allows us to see them in drills that they might not have been focusing on the last three, four years," Pleasant said. "There are guys out there that might have done 'W' drills every day, but might not have done the hip flip, the 90-degree break. In those drills, I feel like if you know you're scheme, you can pick off that skill set and see which one really relates with the technique.
"It's kind of hard when a guy plays nothing but zone and you want him to play man," Pleasant continued. "But that's what's good about the process and to me, that's what makes this game the greatest game — the greatest team sport in the world. It's not a fixed science. It's not an art, nobody knows how to draft. It's all projections, it's all development and me, that's what separates the good organizations from the great ones."