Fighting Irish: Troy Pride Jr. Is 2020 NFL Draft's Most Underrated CB

Photo: USA TODAY Sports-Vasha Hunt

When the initial 2020 Senior Bowl rosters were announced, most analysts and pundits fawned over a cornerback group that included LSU's Kristian Fulton, TCU's Jeff Gladney and Ohio State's Damon Arnette

All three players eventually pulled out of the event, creating a huge opportunity for an under-the-radar senior cornerback to emerge as the top guy in Mobile, Alabama. It turned out to be Notre Dame's Troy Pride Jr. 

He dominated the one-on-one drills throughout the week of practice, and in my opinion, he asserted himself as this year's version of Terry McLaurin. After his performance at the Senior Bowl, the question became: Why did he fall under the radar in the first place? 

Let's take a look at his profile.

At 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, Pride has reportedly been running as fast as 4.30 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and that isn't just track speed from his background as a sprinter; it consistently shows up on his game tape.

Whether it was in the one-on-one period in Mobile or against some of the best wide receivers across the nation, the first thing you realize in Pride's film is that no one gets by him. His elite speed and reactive quickness make him incredibly difficult to separate against, especially over the top. You saw it against players like USC's Michael Pittman Jr., who is one of the best in this 2020 class at stacking cornerbacks vertically, then when they faced off against each other again, Pride was all over him.

Once again, we're talking about a cornerback with elite speed, good enough size and experience against top-flight competition, including the best performance of any defensive back at the Senior Bowl, yet Pride is still considered just a fringe top-100 player.

It reminds me of McLaurin last year, as the tape showed he was a top-tier talent, but for some reason, he just didn't get the attention other prospects at his position received. 

What is the most important thing I look for when scouting cornerbacks? The ability to mirror and match in man coverage. With Pride being one of the quickest and most instinctive cornerbacks in both off and press man coverage, why isn't he talked about with the likes of players like Fulton, Utah’s Jaylon Johnson and other top prospects?

I think one of the biggest things pundits point to is Pride’s lack of ball production. He only recorded one interception and six pass deflections in 2019, but I'd be wary of completely trusting the box score when it comes to judging a defensive back's ball skills.

For starters, Pride just wasn't targeted a whole lot because he gives up little separation; which isn’t a bad thing. There are reps with his back to the ball where he struggles to locate and attack over his shoulder, but he consistently drives and breaks from the off alignment with good timing and aggressiveness. Not to mention, he has more career interceptions than several of the cornerbacks generally ranked above him, including Fulton and Auburn's Noah Igbinoghene.

Another area of Pride's game that experts will point to over the next month or two as to why he shouldn't be considered a top-50 prospect is his technical inconsistency at the line of scrimmage in press man coverage. He undoubtedly needs to get stronger to be equipped for NFL physicality, sure, but his footwork and patience in press coverage are outstanding. You saw it on full display at the Senior Bowl practices against some of 2020's best release winners, including Texas A&M's Quartney Davis.

The hallmarks of a good press corner are as followed: quick eyes, quick feet and quick hands. Pride is strong in all three with his timing and coordination, which accentuates his natural quickness, change of direction and speed.

There are many aspects of Pride's game that may turn some off, including his catch point reliability looking over the shoulder, as well as his below-average play strength. But you can say the same for several of the top cornerback prospects in this class.

What you can't argue about Pride is his elite athleticism and how he is able to maximize it on the football field. When you break it all down, Pride's game translates better to the next level than most of the corners ranked above him, as there are very few who can stick to the hip pocket of a wide receiver in man coverage better.

Pride is going to blow up the combine at the end of the month, and it honestly would not surprise me if we see a Byron Jones-like rise for him after what he's shown so far on tape and at the Senior Bowl. If you're looking strictly at man coverage ability, Pride is in the top tier of this class. 

Again: If he's in the upper echelon of cornerbacks at the most important trait, why isn't he regarded in the upper echelon of cornerback prospects?