Rasul Douglas isn’t receiving nearly enough recognition leading up to the NFL Draft. This comes as a surprise to many after watching his stellar play for Dana Holgorsen and the WVU football program this past season.
Douglas tied for the nation’s lead in interceptions with eight, and earned a number of All-American honors. His first-team accolades came from the Big 12 (unanimous), Associated Press and ESPN.com, while he garnered second-team honors from Walter Camp, Pro Football Focus and USA Today. ESPN.com also pegged Douglas as the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year.
So why no love for No. 13 pre-draft? Could it be as simple as playing at West Virginia?
In Douglas’ NFL.com draft profile, his size (6’2″, 32 3/8″ arm length) is his biggest asset and liability. His strengths are laid out below.
"“Tall, sporting an angular frame with good overall length. Very aware from zone coverage. Will roll out of his coverage area and overlap in order to make a play. Reads quarterbacks drops and will break early to race ahead of slants and make a play on the throw. Finisher when the ball is there to be had and flashed ball skills of a pro. Plays with strong hands. Able to go up high and win the 50-50 balls and needs very little time to have hands interception-ready. Good recognition of route combinations and will shift from pattern to pattern. Not a physical tackler but gets guys down. Length allows him to catch stray running backs breaking contain.”"
That seems like a very draft-able player, no? A big, lanky guy who can read route combinations and make plays on the ball, not only in his zone but in others’. His speed seems to be his biggest weakness, as he ran a 4.57 40-yard dash at WVU’s Pro Day. Moving to safety seems to be an option for Douglas, but it shouldn’t be his only path to a successful NFL career. If he shows a desire to adjust and learn the safety position, he could become a versatile asset at the next level.
What do pre-draft projections and rankings really mean, though? Richard Sherman, one of the NFL’s top defensive backs today, was a Day 3 prospect according to his NFL.com draft profile. Sherman was 6’3″ tall, with a 32″ arm length. Sherman’s 40-yard dash time? 4.56. Let’s look at his strengths so we can compare them to Douglas’ leading up to the draft.
"“Sherman possesses rare height for a corner with enough bulk and speed. Effective when lined up at the line in press man coverage. Uses length well and established sound initial positioning. Flashes the ability to turn and run. Flashes the ability to high-point the football. Willing to help out in run support.”"
It sounds like Sherman did a lot of “flashing” at Stanford, with no real consistency. You see the similarities, “height, press-cover guy, length, high-points the ball/finishes.” It’s all right there.
Now, let’s see if you can pick which weaknesses are whose. I’ll lay them out, you try and tell the difference between the two prospects.
"“Can be baited out of position when in zone and a tick late to diagnose underneath routes. Tall, high-cut prospect who displays some hip-stiffness. Not explosive when transitioning or when changing direction. Lacks great recovery skills when beaten off the line. Can struggle tacking in the open field at times.”"
Is that the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year? Or the best defensive back in football? Seattle drafted the latter in the 5th round of the 2011 draft. Douglas is projected as the 9th-best defensive back available. Here’s the other pre-draft report.
"“Tall corner who plays upright in his pedal, which affects his balance and transition quickness. Very average in his pattern matching and has below average closing burst to the ball. Won’t be able to match quick-footed receivers from press coverage. Athletic and coverage limitations could limit his scheme fits. Doesn’t have the downfield juice to stick with burners on go routes. Makeup speed is below average. Inconsistent hitter who may lack necessary aggressiveness as tackler to project to safety. Defaults to arm tackles.”"
Sherman was the first one, while Douglas “doesn’t have the downfield juice to stick with burners or go routes.” Puhh-lease! Douglas has all the juice. Are there aspects of his game he needs to improve? Absolutely. But Sherman didn’t take over the league as soon as he came in. He flourished, but he was nowhere near the player we see today.
With the right team, Douglas can become whatever he aspires to be in the league, “the ceiling is the roof,” as Michael Jordan recently put it. And I believe that. Douglas “played in 11 games, added depth at cornerback and was used on special teams,” as a junior at WVU. He burst on to the scene as a senior and tied for the country’s lead in interceptions. This was after Daryl Worley entered the draft and opened up a spot for Douglas on the Mountaineer defense. That’s who some are comparing him to – I personally think that’s lazy. Richard Sherman (as a prospect) is a better comparison for Rasul Douglas; I’m not claiming Douglas will become the best defensive back in the NFL someday, I’m just not ruling it out.