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Breaking Down Jeff Gladney

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The most battled tested CB in the 2020 draft

Kansas State at Texas Christian Bo Rader/Wichita Eagle/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The Vikings drafted cornerback Jeff Gladney in the first-round of the 2020 NFL Draft, with the 31st pick overall. The Vikings were apparently ready to draft Gladney with their #25 pick, but considering he and a few other prospects they were considering drafting at that point were still available, Rick Spielman decided to trade back a half-dozen spots with the 49ers and gain a 4th and 5th round draft pick, as they’d still get one of their top prospects at #31. As it turned out, Gladney remained on the board, and so they drafted him at #31.

College Career

Texas Christian University (TCU) | FBS - DIV - I | BIG-12

As a redshirt freshman in 2016, Gladney started 8 of the 12 games he played, and had 46 tackles and 6 pass break-ups (PBUs). Gladney was an honorable mention All-Big 12 pick as a sophomore, posting 28 stops, two interceptions (including a pick-six), and 5 PBUs. As a junior in 2018 as he tied for the team lead with 13 PBUs in addition to 2 INTs and recording 41 tackles (four for loss) in 13 starts.

As a senior in 2019, Gladney was first-team all-conference with 31 tackles, 1.5 for loss, an interception, and a conference-high 14 PBUs in 12 starts. Gladney played his senior year with a torn meniscus, which may have had some effect on his play, but probably not a lot. He has since had it repaired.

Measurables

The following are Jeff Gladney’s Combine measurables, along with (% rank) among wide receivers, with 99% being top, 1% bottom. Any pro day results are marked with an asterisk *.

Height: 5’10 1/4” (23%) | Weight: 191 lbs. (42%) | Arm length: 31 7/8” (67%) | Hands: 9” (35%)

40 time: 4.48s (58%) | 10-yard split: 1.54s (87%) | 20-yard split: 2.61s (73%)

Vertical Jump: 37.5” (71%) | Broad Jump: 124” (67%) | BP reps: 17 (73%)

3-Cone Drill: 7.26s (4%) | 20-yd Short Shuttle: n/a | Age: 23.3

Overall, Jeff Gladney is a slightly undersized cornerback with above average speed, excellent burst, and good upper body strength, but relatively poor agility based on the 3-cone drill. It should be noted that while he ran a 4.48s 40 at the Combine, he had been clocked in the mid 4.3s range the previous year. His coach at TCU said he was “a little heavy” at the Combine, and that may have been the reason for his slower 40 time.

Scouting Reports

There are a number of conflicting takes on Jeff Gladney in his various scouting reports. Some think he is good in press coverage, others think he’s better playing off-coverage. Some think he’s better in man coverage, others think he’s better suited for zone. All the scouting reports seem to agree that Gladney is very competitive, but some argue that he is to a fault - being too aggressive at times. Most would agree he’s tough and physical, but some question whether he’s big enough at the next level. Most agree he is quick, has good footwork, fluid hips, with excellent click and close ability - but his 3-cone drill suggests poor agility.

But despite all the conflicting reports, all agree Gladney is top-tier in this year’s cornerback class, but when and where he’s best suited to play in the NFL is a matter of debate.

His top tier credentials is perhaps summed up best by his college performance, according to PFF:

His career coverage grade (89.8) ranks ninth among all FBS cornerbacks with at least 1,000 coverage snaps played over the past four collegiate seasons (2016-19). He also ranks first in completion percentage allowed (47%), third in forced incompletion percentage (21.1%) and seventh in passer rating allowed (72.3) among the same group of cornerbacks.

Gladney’s high-end production and experience puts him in a league of his own in this class. He’s played over 250 more coverage snaps in the past four seasons than any of PFF’s top 10 cornerbacks in this class. He also has 42 more targets than any of the 10 cornerbacks in that span.

And he’s only gotten better with experience. Among the 143 FBS cornerbacks with at least 600 coverage snaps played in 2018 and 2019 combined, Gladney ranked sixth in PFF coverage grade (90.4). He allowed just 54 receptions for 690 yards, 27 first downs and four touchdowns from 130 targets. He ranked third in completion percentage allowed (41.5%), sixth in forced incompletion percentage (24.6%) and eighth in passer rating when targeted (59.5) in that span.

But that’s not to say Gladney’s trump card is that he’s played a lot of football. The former three-sport athlete (track, basketball, football) is an aggressive, physical cornerback prospect with uncoachable instincts, scheme versatility and raw athletic ability.

Here are a couple scouting report takes, although neither one seems to gel 100% with his college stats:

Press cover irritant who plays an extremely competitive brand of football from snap to whistle. He has the twitch and route anticipation to stay close. Possesses ball skills to contest a good percentage of throws. His coverage traits should allow him to thrive in man or zone, but his desire to make every play on the ball could lead him into occasional bait-and-switch traps by smart quarterbacks. He’s slender so teams will need to decide whether to play him outside or in sub-packages, but no matter where he plays, this ball-hawking alpha has the talent to help his team on all three downs if needed. - Lance Zierlein, nfl.com

Man Cover Skills - He’s a little loose at the top of breaks in off coverage but appreciate his stickiness in trail and how smooth he is to transition off of the LOS and snap hips vertically. Combative, squeezes receivers effectively and crowds the catch point by feeling pending breaks on the body.

Zone Cover Skills - Shows good chatter and comfort in passing off routes through his vicinity and not getting overly ambitious or anxious. Shows good range and ability to sink to drop underneath patterns layered behind him. Deep third range is plentiful to stay over top of receivers.

Feet/COD - Feet are active, clean and quite sudden. Wouldn’t describe them as elite but certainly a high end pedal and shows good patience to hop off the LOS and stay square to mirror potential hard breaks when playing up on the line.

Ball Skills - Has continued to yield more ball production on a year by year basis. Appreciate his nose for the football at the catch point and does well to work eyes back to the ball as hands flash. Takes good angles to the catch point to catch the body flush and reach through for the ball.

Flexibility - Love how dynamic his hips are. He’s effortless in efforts to throw hips open and get vertical to carry routes or stay leveraged in opportunities to bail off the LOS and eye the quarterback. Shows good hip drop to collect and redirect in space.

Acceleration - He’s quick! Definitely has the recovery speed to play on an island vertically. Think his explosion on bucket step is a bit hollow, negating chances to jump routes working back to the LOS. Plenty of juice in straight line situations and builds speed well.

Defensive Spacing - Will attempt to bait some throws by lagging off but typically has eyes ready to flash and react if ball is keyed his way. He’s quick to work into the body as he pattern matches bunched releases or stacked receivers. His short area quickness will deceive passers.

Competitive Toughness - Scrappy attitude, love the attitude and swagger he brings to playing on the perimeter. Functional strength and ability to physically dictate in press is good but not great, he’s not as much of a bully as he aspires to be vs. big, X-receiver builds.

Run Support - He’s willing and able. Doesn’t showcase elite length, nor booming hitting power with consistency. That said, he’s a sure wrap up tackler who will consistently get his body and hips aligned behind his pads to ensure he’s not just a bump in the road.

Tackling - Appreciate his efforts to close down on the edge and position himself to square up ball carriers. His tackle radius is rock solid thanks to foot activity and short area quickness, helping to mask for only pedestrian reach and area of influence with wingspan.

Player Summary - Jeff Gladney projects as a starting cornerback at the NFL level. His versatility in man and zone coverage alike will serve him well and will allow him to be a fairly universal prospect. Gladney’s foot quickness and ball skills would be best served in defenses featuring a high implementation of man coverage. Playing him in a primary Cover 3 is probably the only role where his best qualities would be consistently mitigated. Gladney’s football IQ should yield early dividends to his NFL team.

Gladney played a lot of press man coverage in college, and had a lot of good reps in that technique. However, his passer rating allowed while playing off-coverage was 30 points lower than when playing press-man, so that fact alone may go a long way in proving whether he’s better in press man or off-coverage. It may also, along with his size, be a factor in whether he’s better suited as an outside corner or in the slot.

College Film

There is a lot to like in Gladney’s college film, but also some aspects that could use further refinement. His competitiveness and physicality is evident throughout his tape. But so too is his almost too eager, or too twitchy demeanor at times. Still, it’s a lot easier for a coach to ask a player to dial it down a bit, rather than dial it up.

Gladney shows very good awareness of route combinations in his college tape, along with excellent ball-hawking skills. He did have some trouble with bigger receivers at times - the Texas game in particular stands out - although he had his share of wins against those receivers as well.

Vikings Fit / Projection

The Vikings coaching staff will have to decide which of their cornerbacks is best suited to playing the nickel/slot cornerback role. Mike Hughes has played that role as a backup in the past, but he may be best used as an outside cornerback, while Gladney could be used in the slot.

He has the ability to play both positions, but I expect the coaching staff will focus on teaching him one position initially, and adding to it as necessary later on, particularly in this shortened off-season.