It was 1st & 10 late in the second quarter on the Robert Morris 25 yard line. James Madison had just scored yet another touchdown to increase their already commanding lead. Looking at the scoreboard, and judging how much time was remaining, you knew it had to be a pass -- Jimmy Moreland knew it, too. Colonials quarterback George Martin dropped back, he looked at his target, and he let it go. But, just as was the case so many times before, it was a JMU player who was on the receiving end of things, and not only did he take it away, he took it to the house.
"Jimmy MF'in Moreland, man."
You won't hear that nickname being said on the game broadcasts, but if you go on Twitter or search any JMU football message board, that's the name fans use to reference a cornerback who now holds their school's record for most interceptions in a career (18) and most pick-6's in a career (6) -- it was only right that Moreland added to both stat columns when he broke the interception record.
At 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, Moreland faces a challenge on every snap. Most wide receivers he goes up against outweigh him by about 30 pounds and are taller than him by at least a few inches. But Moreland doesn't care; he never has. If you watch his tape, which we'll get into here soon, you'll see a scrappy player who not only fights every play to erase what most would call an easy physical advantage for the offense, but he overcomes it and wins battles so much more than you'd think. And the best part is, he'll make sure to chirp at you and let you know that you're getting locked down by a small corner, too.
That's all in his nature, likely because fighting to play the game is something he's had to overcome both on and off the field.
Coming out of high school, Moreland originally committed to Coastal Carolina, but after visiting JMU’s campus, he knew that was where he wanted to be. Moreland started all but one game in his freshman season of 2014. In that first season, Moreland was a two-time Colonial Athletic Association rookie of the week. He ended up starting 12 games and recorded 47 tackles, three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and 12 pass breakups in the process.
But the following March, Moreland and two teammates were charged with petit larceny of less than $200 dollars. But the dollar amount in the crime didn't matter, and the fact that it happened led to the dismissal of each player involved later that June.
That included Jimmy Moreland.
Moreland had to watch JMU's football team as just a fan in the stands instead of a player on the field. It was a sad state knowing a player of his talent couldn't help his team and his teammates, but looking back Moreland says that pain was the best thing for him, on and off the field.
“It really hurt sometimes,” Moreland said. “Some nights I cried. But, you know, I had to get over it. Even though I had to sit out, I got better in my technique. Got better in all my stuff. Got a little bigger. And I just focused in on becoming more mature.”
JMU went through a coaching change in 2016, as Everett Withers went from James Madison to Texas State. When Mike Houston was hired to replace Withers, he went to the team's cornerbacks coach and asked him all about Moreland; who he was as a player and a person. After seeing Moreland stay in school and continue to work on his craft without football, they decided he had earned himself a second chance.
The rest, as the JMU record books will tell you, is history.
At the end of his career, Moreland recorded 18 career interceptions, six returned for touchdowns and 63 pass deflections. In his senior season alone, Moreland had 56 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, five interceptions and three pick-6's. That was enough for him to be named CAA Defensive Player of the Year, and warranted the first Senior Bowl invite ever for a JMU player.
So you know the story and the stats, now it's time to get into the tape. Let's see what this small school standout has to offer the NFL with the 5-Play prospect formula.
Play No. 1: Holy Ball Skills
One of the more commanding traits that a defensive back can boast is their ability to get takeaways. Moreland certainly has the stats to back that up, and seeing clips like the one above are evidence as to why.
You can still be a good cornerback and not get takeaways. Some guys have good technique and good coverage ability, but lack the natural ball skills to get takeaways. That's still alright and you can live with that, as long as the coverage is consistently good.
But when you can make plays like Moreland does, you have to take notice even more.
In the first clip, Moreland was able to track the ball over his shoulder and lay out like a star wide receiver. In the second clip, he replicated a 6-foot-4 red zone wide out catching a fade pass in the corner of the end zone. You simply cannot teach that stuff. Moreland's natural ability to track the ball and pluck it out of the air is without a doubt elite, and though some of the interceptions he recorded are a result of bad quarterback play, there are many that just make you say "wow".
Play No. 2: Ain't Nothin' Wrong With A Little Bump N' Cover
Despite being just 175 pounds, Moreland is an absolute pest with some of these receivers -- and that is a compliment.
Due to his smaller size, Moreland gets away with more contact than I usually see with other cornerbacks, but he uses that to his advantage. Whether it's keeping pace with a receiver down the field or jamming them near the line of scrimmage, Moreland is not afraid to get physical with bigger players.
There is so much dog in Moreland. There aren't many players his size who have a willingness to press like Moreland did, as shown above, and once he did he stuck with his man, got his hand in there, popped the ball up and even took it away himself.
Moreland is such a fun player to watch because the area of his game that should be a big disadvantage for him is one that he takes head on and often conquerors -- or at least he did at the FCS level. He likely won't be able to have that same type of success against NFL guys, but he'll still be all over them whenever he can be.
Play No. 3: Awareness
Moreland talked about having more maturity on and off the field during that 2015 season, in which he was forced to sit out after being dismissed from the team. You could see evidence to that as his career went on and his stats continued to pile up.
Moreland recognizes routes and tendencies pretty well. Again, it is hard to say just how much of it might be predictability and sub-par play from the FCS level, but when you're an NFL-caliber player you're suppose to dominate lesser competition, and Moreland certainly did -- both physically and mentally.
I am hoping the reason why there are so many of these recognition-won plays on his tape is because he's a film room junkie and loves to understand tendencies of his opponents. If that's the case, these types of plays can translate to the NFL.
Play No. 4: Take-It-To-The-House Mentality
It's one thing to play good coverage and not get takeaways.
It's another thing to play good coverage and get takeaways.
And it's an entirely next level thing to play good coverage, get takeaways and score six points before the offense even gets the ball.
Moreland took that recognition and awareness in coverage and put it to the best use during his final two seasons by recording so many pick-6's. Every time he got the ball in his hands, he wasn't just happy to have it. His immediate thought afterwards was, "I have to do everything in my power to score."
You know why? Because he's a dog. Because he wants to beat you in the worst way possible. Because when the fourth quarter is winding down and he has to line up opposite his assignment for one more series, he wants to look at them and say, "hey, man, you the starting wide receiver for you team, right? So how come I had more touchdowns than you today?
That's Jimmy MF'kin Moreland.
Play No 5: Stick Talk
To round it all out, Moreland's physicality isn't just down the field. When he can get a clean shot at you, he will. Now, is this guy going to take on 215-pound running backs running right at him. No, duh, don't be dumb. But, when it comes to going for tackles he know he can handle and even giving guys a lick, Moreland will do it if he can.
It took just 20 minutes at the first East-West Shrine practice for me to notice Moreland, and for the next two week, both in St. Pete and in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, I became more and more intrigued by his game. That made me do some digging on what he did best over the last five years, and I have to say I really liked what I saw.
Size limitations still exists with Moreland, and they always will. He's likely a slot cornerback at the next level, but he's so sudden in his movements side to side that I think he can take a lot of the success he had as an outside cornerback and move it inside as a potential full-time nickel player.
If you want a guy who is both fast and agile, can track the ball in the air, has hands like a wide receiver, will be physical first, will talk trash to opponents all game long, and has a mentality to shutdown his opponents in every way possible.
That's Jimmy MF'in Moreland.