"Did you play sports growing up?"
Did I... DID I!? Did they really just ask me that? Can they not tell from my CLEARLY athletic figure that I grew up play all kinds of sports -- I'm just kidding, if I looked at me I'd wonder if I played any sports, too.
I did play sports growing up. In fact, I played a lot of them. In my earliest years I played hockey. From when I was three years old to when I was around 12 or 13, hockey was my life -- it was honestly the longest I'd dedicated myself to one sport. But when I got older I had a growing interest in other sports. So I tried my hand in basketball, baseball and soccer; all but football, really. My mother never let me play football because she thought I'd get killed.
She was probably right.
Sports were always of such great interest to me -- they still are -- but one has never been able to capture my full attention for long. I love the elements of athleticism that go into each; the teamwork of soccer and 22 people on a field at once all the way to the individuality and introspection of golf. I enjoyed learning a playing it all. There is certainly some good in dabbling in athletic diversity, but a small attention span for one sport can also cause somewhat of an impatient mindset; being good at one while beginning another and feeling like you have to start over skill wise. Sometimes that can shake commitments or the instinct to rise and get better when sports get hard, as they inevitably do.
I'm sure that was what it was like for Penn State cornerback Amani Oruwariye, too. The Tampa native spent most of his younger years playing soccer, but in middle school said he made the switch over to football and he loved it. Once football became his full-time sport of choice, it was time to hone his craft. As a 6-foot-1, 180-pound cornerback in high school, Oruwariye had the potential to be great anytime he stepped on the field. But when he got to Penn State, that's when the impatience crept in.
Oruwariye didn't become a starter with the Nittany Lions until his redshirt senior year -- that's a long time to wait for your chance.
"I wouldn’t say frustrating, but sometimes I would get impatient. I felt ready and I wanted to play, but at the beginning, I knew I needed to develop in the weight room and learn the game. After the first few years, I was starting on special teams and getting important in-game reps. After that third year, I knew I was ready and so in the offseason I went to work and it paid off," Oruwariye told Dane Brugler of The Athletic.
When the adversity of not getting much playing time set in for Oruwariye he had a choice: let it bring him down, perhaps decommitment in the form of choosing to play another sport -- or none at all -- or let it be something he used to lift himself up.
He did the latter.
Oruwariye got in the weight room, as he stated, and through discipline and determination became the player he is today, now standing at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds with a 4.47 40-yard dash time to boot. In his final season at Penn State, his first as a full-time starter, he recorded the interceptions, 11 passes defended and one forced fumble.
His success came from discipline, something that also stems from Oruwariye's background. Coming from a military family, when his back is against the wall or when the going gets tough, Oruwariye innately chooses to rise to the occasion, or in this case the commitment, and follow through as best he can -- which he knows is damn good. This is always why Oruwariye said he never considered leaving early for the NFL. He made a commitment to make an impact on the Penn State football program as a starting cornerback. And in his final year, he did just that. He made a commitment to one sport -- football -- a handful of years ago and he's stayed the course.
“No. 21 could probably line up for us right now. He’s got the size, the ball skills. OK speed. He’s been in that system since Franklin got there and should be one of the few rookie corners ready for NFL snaps early on," an NFC East scout to Dane Brugler of The Athletic.
After a fulfilled commitment to the Nittany Lions football program, the time has come for Oruwariye to make that jump to the NFL level. As stated in the quote above, some believe he's pro ready.
What exactly goes into being "pro ready" for Oruwariye? Let's take a look.
Play No. 1: Let Him Look
As the anonymous scout stated in his quote to Dane above, Oruwariye does have the size to play as an outside cornerback, so from the jump he has the basic threshold of what you would want. But the best aspect of cornerback play that Oruwariye brings to the table, if you ask me, is what he can do when you let him keep his eyes on the quarterback.
As shown in the clip above, Oruwariye makes his money off anticipation. Oruwariye doesn't have a long list of career starts under his belt to garner that anticipation being as second nature as it is, but you can tell that even before he was a starter he was in the film room learning tendencies and working on that point of his game.
When Penn State allowed Oruwariye to play some form of Cover 3, whether it was far off the receiver or even up close near the line of scrimmage with a slide-and-shuffle technique keeping everything in front of him, that's when he looked the most comfortable and the most confident. If you ask me, that style of play is what suits him best. Let him be a Cover 3 cornerback who can read a quarterback's eyes. He shows he has a good feel for receivers around him and can make jumps on passes, as shown above.
Play No. 2: Mano-A-Mano
When you see 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, if you're smart, your first thought will likely be "what can this guy do in man coverage?"
Man coverage is the highest form and most coveted scheme when it comes to cornerback play. Anytime you can find a player who has the size, speed and skill to truly play by himself -- on an island, as they say -- you don't have to use other players as extra resources to help him cover, and can instead either focus on other passing assignments or use that extra player to attack the pocket.
As shown above, Oruwariye can play in man coverage, but it's not of the press-man kind. He knows how to be subtle enough in his physicality within the first 5 yards of the line of scrimmage to make up for slower hip flips and acceleration (we'll get to that) and because of that can yield some nice plays in man coverage, as shown above.
Man coverage is also where Oruwariye made his biggest impact on the ball when it came to takeaways. This is ironic because I wouldn't even say it's a scheme in which he is most comfortable, but his production in this area shows that, while I believe he is a Cover 3 cornerback at heart, he can play some man coverage and won't leave your defense high and dry when doing so.
Play No. 3: Little Limitations
Now let's get into some of the smaller limitations Oruwariye shows that I referenced early.
Though Oruwariye does have good speed for his size, it's not a rare kind of speed. There are a handful of plays that I watched like the one above where even though Oruwariye had his eyes in the right place, saw where the ball was going and broke on the ball, he didn't have that elite first step and acceleration to either go get the ball or force an incompletion on his own. On these plays, he's just half a second late, but that half a second consistently is what separates a good prospect from an elite one.
In man coverage, as stated before, I think Oruwariye can play it and not be a liability. He actually has pretty quick feet for a bigger cornerback, and can chop and track down the field to mirror guys decently well. But, just like the example in zone above, it's not quite elite.
You can tell, even from the clip above, that Oruwariye just is not as comfortable playing in man coverage as he is with Cover 3. His feet will be quick, but he might take an extra step or two, which is the difference between blanket coverage and enough separation for a catch. Oruwariye is also not overly aggressive with his hands, which is why he doesn't press much. This comes as a surprise to me since he is so good using his hands for incoming passes (we'll get to that, too). So perhaps press technique is just a skill he has not been taught well enough yet. Regardless of the reason, he's not a press-man player right now.
These are little limitations, but I have to point them out because Oruwariye has such a good all-around game that this is why he wouldn't be say CB1 in this class.
He is good -- very good, even -- but I wouldn't say he's elite.
Play No. 4: He'll Hit Cha Now
WHEEEEEEW. NOW THAT IS A HIT.
Hold on, hold on. One more time. One more...... DAMN.
And it wasn't even targeting, either!
Ok I want to get something off my chest before I start talking more about Oruwariye's tackling ability.
Some of y'all have to realize that these are cornerbacks. These are players who, on average, are about 5-foot-10 and weight about 190-195 pounds. I feel like when I read some pros and cons of certain defensive backs that it's almost as if y'all expect them to tackle like linebackers. That's just not a realistic way to look at things.
Oruwariye not only shows willingness to tackle ball carriers but is also pretty consistent finishing his tackles, too.
Yes, cornerbacks' form when tackling isn't always going to pretty, Even in the clip above you can see Oruwariye almost sell his whole body out for the tackle, which can seem reckless or void of technique. But when a 200-pound guy takes on a 230 proud guy with momentum, this is what you have to do.
I like the tackle above, and the one above that and the one above that.
Play No. 5: Savvy Hand Usage
To put a bow on a player who really do believe is going to be a solid addition for a team in the second round as a top-end CB2 in the NFL, let's talk about my favorite aspect of Oruwariye's game: his hand usage.
This sort of plays off the first point we made when introducing Oruwariye's skill set, and it has to do with how good he is with his eyes. Not only can he use his eyes to read quarterbacks and anticipate throws, he also uses his eyes to time when passes are arriving and often has a punch or a swipe waiting for it when it does.
Whether it's down the field or short near the line of scrimmage, no pass is safe from a potential PBU when Oruwariye is in coverage because of his instinct to knock it away up until the last second.
I said this on Twitter but even though this defensive back class lacks the true, unquestioned Top 10 or Top 15 picks from the defensive back group, there are cornerback to like who will make some teams very happy in the long run -- Amani Oruwariye is certainly one of them.
I'm hesitant to believe Oruwariye posesses the elite agility or hip flexibility to be a full-time, franchise lock down cornerback. I don't see him as a player who is going to play in man coverage week-in and week-out against a team's top receiver. However, if you put him in a Cover 3 scheme, which is still plenty aggressive to be successful on a weekly basis, allow him to use his eyes instead of having his back turned to the ball, and let him win with size, length, savviness and anticipation, Oruwariye could be one of the best CB2's in the NFL. And if you commit to him, you better believe he'll commit to you, too -- it's who he is.
If paired with the right CB1 on the other side (or just a guy who can play more man coverage than him), Oruwariye would be well worth a high second round pick, and will make some team in the NFL very happy.