Small school prospects are always difficult to project coming out of college because there are various questions that need to be answered.
Can this guy play at a high level? How did the lack of lower-level competition affect his play in college? Can he develop the necessary technique to become a quality player and live up to his billing?
These questions are just a morsel of the ones that personnel men asked themselves when they evaluated Tennessee State cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the months leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft. Rodgers-Cromartie, who goes by the moniker ‘DRC’, went 16th overall in that draft, and he still hasn’t answered those questions.
His rookie season in 2008-09 saw him struggle immensely after being thrown to the wolves and forced to start 11 games as an outside cornerback. He was already inexperienced after not receiving a high level of coaching at Tennessee State, and that problem was compounded when he lined up across from some of the league’s best veteran receivers every week.
In contrast, his 2009-10 season was much better. He snagged six interceptions and appeared to have a better understanding of the game, but he was still having issues with his technique. This was not surprising because cornerbacks generally take quite a bit of time to adjust to the pros due to a myriad of things to consider before and after the snap. However, there’s supposed to be progress from year to year and that didn’t happen for DRC between the 2009-10 season and 2010-11, and as a result he packed his belongings and headed northeast to Philadelphia.
It’s not worth discussing his statistical output last season, but it is important to note what went wrong from the tale of the tape when looking at his assignments and technique. He spent a significant amount of time in the slot in the Eagles’ defensive backfield, a position that’s much different from playing on the outside (where he played in Arizona) and it forced him to concentrate on the intricacies of the game even more — something he’s always struggled with.
But when outside cornerback Asante Samuel went down, DRC got a chance to be back on the outside and make some plays. Unfortunately, he didn’t do that and it was déjà vu; he struggled with his technique and got beat, most notably against the Dallas Cowboys and receiver Miles Austin in week 16.
Rodgers-Cromartie lined in a tight alignment across from Austin with his arms hanging loosely and nearly erect. He didn’t appear to be prepared for what was going to happen next, but he was determined to attempt his assignment of jamming Austin at the snap of the ball.
When it comes to jamming a receiver, one thing coaches will preach to their students is “jam with your feet”. When they say this, they’re not saying to execute a drop-kick on Austin. Instead they’re asking Rodgers-Cromartie to move forward with his feet while his hands are up and active. By doing that, he’s able to have a firm base, and it gives him the best chance of succeeding. But that’s not what Rodgers-Cromartie does on this play. In fact, he does the exact opposite of what he’s taught.
He gets his hands on Austin but only moves his right foot slightly forward, which isn’t enough…
After making contact, Rodgers-Cromartie is rocked to the right by the strong right arm of Austin, and he falls off balance. Because of his poor technique, he has lost the leverage advantage and is put in trail position.
He recovers the lost ground when Austin ran his route to the left and attempts to reroute him to prevent a completion. However, he extends his arms, lunging, and leaving himself susceptible to be thrown to the ground again by the opponent
And that’s exactly what happens…
He recovers again, but instead of staying on his feet to tackle Austin if he catches the ball, Rodgers-Cromartie dives forward for a swat/interception and misses. Austin comes up with the catch and picks up additional yardage to help move the chains and enter Eagles territory.
Coming out of Tennessee State, Rodgers-Cromartie was viewed as one of the top collegiate talents. He had great stature, checking in at nearly 6’2″, and great speed. However, that’s all he really had, and the Cardinals drafted him 16th overall almost solely based on his potential.
Through four seasons, DRC hasn’t realized his potential. He’s displayed poor technique, and he faces a crucial 2012-13 season with the Eagles. To his benefit, he will be back on the outside after Samuel was dealt to the Atlanta Falcons, but he has a lot to prove at the young age of 26.