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NFL Draft
NFL Draft

Pair of ‘CB2s’ Rising Up NFL Draft Boards

  • Ryan Fowler
  • February 8, 2023
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Two corners looked upon as the ‘CB2’ for their respective teams this fall, South Carolina’s Darius Rush and Oregon State’s Alex Austin have skyrocketed up NFL draft boards. Now independent of their collegiate programs, isolating the redshirt sophomore in Austin and the redshirt senior in Rush has provided teams with two more corners to throw into an overwhelmingly deep pool of secondary talent in the 2023 NFL Draft class. 

While both played second-fiddle in their teams’ secondary in 2022–Rush shared the spotlight with Cam Smith and Austin lived behind the curtains with Rejzohn Wright holstering attention—pre-draft all-star events and simply turning on the tape has seen both athletes enjoy meteoric rises on league-wide evaluation sheets. 

For Rush, his ability to flash was a common theme down at the Senior Bowl. While the WR convert received little buzz heading into the week, three days of work saw him showcase extremely well against some of the class’ elite at the wideout position. A late addition to the event, Rush checked every possible box on the outside, including the old eye test.

At 6-foot-1 with nearly 33-inch arms, he had a pick on Wednesday’s session—could have had two—nearly another on Thursday, and remained constantly in phase with pass-catchers in one-on-one opportunities. During portions of practice tailored toward wide receivers finding success, Rush’s knack for mirroring and “running the route” for some of the wideouts in attendance has popped every day during practice. In a day and age where NFL corners are asked to work in multiple coverages, he was smooth during all phases and has been a common voice that has echoed during special teams work as well. The instincts he’s showcased the last few days have spoken volumes. It’s stuff you simply can’t teach. 

Technique, working with different leverage, eyes… those are things you’re able to control and ingrain into guys, but having a “feel” for the game that allows an athlete to consistently make plays on the football is unteachable. From a technical standpoint, he’s not perfect—and his tape this fall oftentimes saw him get caught peeking in the backfield in an attempt to read eyes—but he’s a ball of clay dripping with tools that any DB coach would, and should, pound the table to get their hands on. Tools and traits are often the common buzzwords this time of year, and while they matter, and Rush has them, there’s something to be said about just being a “good football player,” and Rush has more than set the stage for himself to explode up positional rankings with the combine and pro days in the months to come.

For Austin, a long, physical athlete who isn’t afraid to take your lunch money and let you know about it on the perimeter, he’s got all the makings of the next young alpha to hear his name called in April. 

One of the nation’s elite man corners, what makes him so exciting as a prospect is his ability to dominate in man coverage. Facing USC’s Jordan Addison and Mario Williams, or Stanford’s Elijah Higgins, Austin thrived this fall in isolated scenarios against a few of college football’s most explosive perimeter weapons. What’s more impressive about Austin is his ability to cover for four, five, and sometimes beyond the six-second threshold as Oregon State’s pass rush remained one of the more ineffective units in the nation with just 20.0 sacks in thirteen games (sixth-worst in the Pac-12) this season. It forced him to fine-tune the small details of his game.

“I love man coverage for the simple fact it shows how much I love to be physical at the line of scrimmage,” Austin said. “It showcases my passion to win… no matter what.”

While game tape reigns supreme for prospects as they look to prove themselves to scouts, Austin’s athletic profile and how he’ll test has opened eyes around the industry. A 6-foot-2 corner with the frame of an NFL perimeter defender, scouts expect him to run in the “low 4.4s,” record a “34-inch plus in the vertical,” and have an explosive short-shuttle that showcases a player’s ability to change direction on a whim—a must to be successful on Sundays. Currently training in Tampa during the pre-draft process, working alongside both established veterans in the league and NFL draft hopefuls like himself present the competitive environment Austin has thrived within his entire life.

A glimpse at Austin’s knack for diagnosing offensive concepts, his ability to come off his man in the flat area of the defense to not just close, but break up the pass at the goal line is outstanding. Really, he’s doing the job of No. 21 who gets caught up in a pick route over the middle of the field. It happens quickly, and on a high-leverage down like 4th-and-goal, this was a game-changing play for the Oregon State defense and a flash of Austin’s quickness and patience on a crucial down.

Being able to tackle in space is often a learning curve many corners face moving from college ball to the NFL. While many position coaches teach their guys to grab a leg and hold on as more hats pursue to the football, the ability to take down guys in isolated scenarios is a big box that NFL general managers look to check. What stands out here, away from the tackle, is Austin’s communication in passing off the slant to the inside defender, only to stick his foot in the ground, get downhill, and blow up the ball carrier for a loss. An athlete that has consistently improved from year to year, his 10 pass deflections ranked third in the Pac-12, and with a forced fumble and pick-six also on his resume this fall, Austin has become much more than just a name to bold as we move toward the meat of the pre-draft process.

Two talents each with unique skill sets, independently evaluating each player has raised eyebrows toward their immediate path to snaps next fall. Both rangy, long, aggressive defenders with a knack for making plays on the football, those types of guys don’t last long on NFL draft boards, and teams have more than begun to take notice.

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Ryan Fowler