In terms of NFL Draft prospects, what is unfolding in Gainesville is one of the oddest situations I have seen over the past few years. Jalen (or Teez) Tabor entered the season as a strong contender to be the best cornerback in the nation and the first one picked in the 2017 NFL Draft. He is a big, physical corner with playmaking abilities, and because of his size he might have even more upside than Vernon Hargreaves III, who was the 11th-overall pick by the Buccaneers this past April.
As the season has progressed, Tabor has been replaced at the top of many rankings and big boards, which isn’t uncommon in and of itself. The strange thing is that the guy now sitting atop the rankings is his teammate, Quincy Wilson.
Like Tabor, Wilson has great size at 6-foot-1 and 213 pounds, giving him an inch and a few pounds on his fellow Gator. Both have been productive in turning the ball over, with Wilson’s three interceptions just one shy of his partner in crime. Yet in terms of consistency, it is Wilson who has stood out from the beginning of the season, allowing a lower quarterback rating on throws to his coverage and blanketing receivers all over the field.
Against Missouri, Wilson had a great game shutting down his side of the formation.
Wilson is able to read this quick in-breaking route perfectly. The motion pushes him off the edge of the tight end and into man coverage on the receiver. He smoothly readjusts his alignment on third and six in order to protect the large swath of field that is now in play for the pass. Yet the route is meant to beat him in the very space of the field he had just vacated. The quick snap actually catches Wilson moving away from the line of scrimmage at the start of the play.
The receiver is meant to continue up the field before breaking off to the middle. Wilson is sudden enough with his movements to stop on a dime and accelerate towards the catch point. With near-perfect technique — maybe the swat comes a tad early — Wilson wraps with his left hand and swipes at the football with his right, preventing the catch while securing the tackle.
It is that dedication to technique that has made him the superior collegiate player through this point in the season. Wilson always seems in the right place in stable position to make the right play. That is why opposing quarterbacks have been almost completely ineffective in throwing at him, even after he gave up his first touchdown of the season against Georgia.
Importantly, Wilson has also displayed the instincts to make plays outside the norm for cornerbacks playing within a scheme like Florida’s. Later against Missouri, Wilson comes away with an interception he runs back for a touchdown. However, while you could make the case it is an incredible athletic play, it is actually born out of a mistake by the receiver that Wilson reads quick enough to take advantage of.
Yes, Wilson undercuts a mediocre throw and is off to the races. Although the ball is seemingly thrown right to him, this technically isn’t a pass into his coverage. The design of the play is to run the receiver up the sidelines and to have the tight end run a deep out to the sideline into the space vacated by Wilson in coverage. Even Florida’s strong linebacking crew will have trouble stopping a well-executed version of this play.
However, Wilson’s strength prevents the receiver from getting a release up the field, slowing down the development of the play on the outside. When the receiver fails to push Wilson 15-20 yards downfield, that leaves much less space in that area to complete the pass. Wilson holds up the receiver long enough to read the play and sit in that space on the field, which should have forced a bad pass or the quarterback to continue his progression. Instead, the ball comes anyway and Wilson comes off his primary coverage to get the football, and with no one in the area fairly easily allows him to score going the other way.
The quickness in technique and the instincts in coverage have made him one of the best cornerbacks in college football, which makes a lot of sense as he is a much mature player than most of the receivers he is charged with covering. However, the reason some teams are shooting him up draft boards is because of his incredible athleticism, which gives him a high ceiling with the ability to make big plays. Against Kentucky, he uses that athleticism to make this one-handed interception.
Wilson is expected to run well at the NFL Draft Combine even at his size. On this play, he shows off both aspects of his game. He easily runs with the Kentucky receiver up the sideline, and although quarterbacks often feel comfortable going to their top receiver in a one-on-one situation, Wilson has a better chance of winning that matchup than most receivers. Stuck to him like glue, his size and reach make the window to complete a pass even smaller than it would be for most. The receiver never has a chance.
On top of that, Wilson’s ball skills allow him to make an acrobatic catch, and while the one-handed grab gets the attention, his ability to balance himself and chop his feet on the sideline to stay in bounds is even more impressive.
Last year, Mackensie Alexander was among the best statistical corners in the country, giving up very few catches and never allowing a touchdown. However, the knocks against him were his height and length, as well as his ability to catch the ball and turn offense into defense. This year, Wilson is pairing those subtleties of the position with elite size and playmaking ability, which is a big reason teams are coming around on him as a potential first-round pick. Wilson being very good doesn’t mean Tabor has to be disappointing, but it is clear why some scouts have moved across the formation to found their top-rated cornerback in this class.