Last Thursday, Chidobe Awuzie became one of 22 players to receive an invite to this year’s NFL Draft. The draft will take place April 27 and will be hosted in Philadelphia for the first time ever.
Awuzie is one of three Buffs defensive backs who will be taken in this year’s draft, the other two being Tedric Thompson and Ahkello Witherspoon. To find the last time three CU Boulder DBs were drafted in the same year, you’d have to turn your clock back to the year 2000. Ben Kelly was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the third round, Damon Wheeler was drafted by the then-San Diego Chargers in the sixth and Rashidi Barnes was taken by the Cleveland Browns in the seventh.
In addition to being late-round choices, all three were also out of the NFL within their first three seasons.
This year’s class, led by Awuzie, has the opportunity to do things a little different, as well as set the gold standard for future defensive backs coming out of Colorado. Awuzie and Witherspoon in particular have done nothing but fly up draft boards as time has progressed.
One of the many factors helping their stock was the fact that Washington cornerback Sidney Jones went down with a torn ACL during the last drill of his pro day.
While Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore has been widely known as the number one corner in the draft, Jones seemed to be the consensus number two. Following Jones’s injury, teams with an immediate need at the position scrambled to rearrange their draft boards and find other players who could come in at the position and contribute.
Each team has their own criteria and set of attributes that they look for in a cornerback. While that fact has benefited both Awuzie and Witherspoon, it’s definitely benefited Awuzie more, as he was expected to be a high pick to begin with.
With his fellow Pac-12 position rival out of the way, Awuzie is only competing with a few other players to be the second called at the cornerback position. Awuzie’s rivals include: Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey, Ohio State’s Gareon Conley, LSU’s Tre’Davious White and Washington’s Kevin King.
One of the main factors setting Awuzie apart (and something I wrote about in a previous piece) from the others is his distinct style of play, which he gained a reputation for during his time at Colorado. His lethal combination of physicality, athleticism and durability has been popular among the scouting community.
Unlike the guys listed above, Awuzie has played in the slot, nickel and outside cornerback spots, and even made several appearances at safety. His effectiveness at each spot has also impressed many. Unlike a guy like White, who may be restricted to the slot cornerback position in the NFL (where he can maximize his potential), Awuzie demonstrates tremendous flexibility on where he can play and who he can cover.
This also gives teams a lot of leverage from a coaching standpoint. It doesn’t just allow you to test him out and coach him at all these spots, but it also allows for greater flexibility. If he happens to struggle mightily at one of the spots, it is widely known that he can play at one of the others. That allows teams to figure out where he’ll be best suited on the field in their specific scheme.
Some of Awuzie’s other separating attributes are his tackling and ability to gain great reads off the ball. As well as having great closing speed on the ball and intended receivers, he’s shown himself as someone who smells plays before they happen, and even earned a reputation as a screen pass-killer from SB Nation’s Dan Kadar.
He has flashed this physical, instinctive element, and he’s also shown his ability to blitz — something that’s led to eight sacks in the past two seasons.
Since defensive coordinators drool over these statistics, his stock has inflated, and he’s added another element to his already versatile game.
In addition, he isn’t as much of tackling liability as are some of his draft counterparts (most notably Humphrey out of Alabama), which will bring closure — and many hours of sleep — to defensive coordinators. That issue is usually a major concern among cornerbacks because they typically don’t have the physicality to deal with the bigger, more athletic backs in the NFL. Once a running back is able to break a tackle on the second level, it increases the likelihood that he will gain an additional bundle of yards, if not a touchdown.
Overall, Awuzie could easily be the second cornerback called on draft day. Not only does he have the physical tools to succeed, but he’s gained traction and popularity among teams due to his flexibility. It’s no fluke that he was compared against the top cornerback talent in the draft, or that he received an invite to the draft itself. Look for him to not just be a high draft choice, but to have a very successful NFL career.
Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Jack Stern at firstname.lastname@example.org