INDIANAPOLIS — In the 2018 offseason, Auburn’s Noah Igbinoghene was fresh off competing in track and field as a triple jumper and preparing for the upcoming football season as a wide receiver and punt returner.
But just six days, at 5-foot-11, 198 pounds, Igbinoghene was slated to be the starting cornerback opposite Jamel Dean in the season opener — a position he has never played in his football career.
“I didn’t plan on coming to Auburn to move from wide receiver to cornerback,” Igbinoghene said Friday at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. “I wanted to be a wide receiver and that’s what I did my whole career, so it really shows God’s plan for me and that there’s nothing you can project. It all just came together suddenly.”
Igbinoghene was thrown out to the wolves against SEC competition in his sophomore season and rose up to the challenge by showing raw talent as one of the conference’s most consistent and explosive players at the position. He finished with 11 pass deflections and one interception.
He then predictably improved leaps and bounds in his junior campaign, playing his best games against top-flight competition, including Oregon, Alabama, LSU and Florida. Igbinoghene truly looked like one of the top cornerbacks in the country with his athleticism in man coverage and playmaking instincts with the ball in the air.
Igbinoghene then declared for the 2020 NFL Draft as a potential first-round pick at the position just two years removed from never taking a single snap at cornerback. This transition has been a learning experience even to this day, but it is a challenge Igbinoghene is embracing and taking in stride.
“Now I have to look at the game whole differently,” he said. “I’m covering backward and running backward now. It’s all different. At wide receiver, you’re running forward and have an advantage. I used to talk trash to cornerbacks and now I really see how hard corner is and how disciplined you have to be with your attention to detail and patience.”
At the same time, Igbinoghene argued that while he is behind other corner prospects in this class in terms of experience and reps at the position, he is at a significant advantage by playing on the other side throughout his career — knowing the mind of the player he now matches up against.
“My ball skills, reading patterns, running routes and what the receivers are doing by counting their steps,” he said. “When they’re coming off the ball hard, I’m able to tell that now because I played wide receiver. It took a little bit of time for me to grasp that to remember but I feel really comfortable doing that now.”
It’s crazy to believe that at a position as complex as cornerback — where discipline, patience and timing take years to develop in man coverage — Igbinoghene has evolved into one of the most instinctual cover corners in this class.
It just shows his uncanny ability to learn and develop at such a rapid rate. Just think about this: If Igbingohene played like an All-American in just his second season at corner, where could he be in five years for an NFL team?
His untapped potential is through the roof, and it makes him the most fascinating cornerback prospect in this class. With his world-class athleticism and rare efficiency in man coverage so early in his cornerback career, Igbinoghene believed the fact that he has grown that much in such a short period of time, while still having a lot to learn about the position, makes him the best cornerback in the draft.
“I feel like my mental is even more important than my physical, even though my physical is out of this world,” he said. “I have the traits and intangibles to do anything I want on the field. Moved from wide receiver to corner, started in six days. A lot of people couldn’t do that, so I really take pride in that. I’m really confident in that. I’m really confident in anything I do.”
Now at the combine, Igbinoghene has a chance to show that raw talent to scouts, highlighting his athleticism in the testing drills as well as with his footwork. The defensive backs take the field Sunday, and after running a 4.32-second 40-yard dash his freshman year, Igbinoghene said he is going to put on a show.
“I’ve gotten way faster since then,” Igbinoghene added. “We’ll see how it goes on Sunday.”
Finishing as a finalist in both the long jump and triple jump competitions in the SEC, Igbinoghene projects to be among the leaders in both the broad jump and vertical jump.
Sure, he may not be as refined as other top cornerbacks in this class. But with his world-class athleticism and rapid development in just two years playing the position, I believe he has unlimited upside as a man coverage corner at the next level — and should be in every top-five cornerback discussion in this class.