Compared to the other major sports, the NFL’s trade deadline is generally silent, often going unnoticed and not producing any big moves. The reason for that is the immersion process; by the time the acquired player learns the playbook, he is essentially useless. Despite this, two trades were made this week, one of which involved former Tampa Bay Buccaneers first-round pick Aqib Talib and the always important seventh round pick being dealt to the New England Patriots in exchange for a fourth-round draft choice.
Talib, who was the 20th selection in the 2008 draft, has a strong skill-set that fits what the Patriots look for: big, strong, and long. He’s approximately 6′ 1″, 205 pounds, and he ran a 4.44 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine — although I firmly believe he doesn’t play at his timed speed.
At times, Talib has been one of the best cornerbacks in the league, manhandling wide receivers and converting picks on pass plays. At other times, he’s been his own worst enemy, as noted by my colleague Sean Tomlinson, who provided statistical evidence that shows a regression in Talib’s performance this season.
The reason for his inconsistency is his technique. Inconsistent technique has followed him throughout his career, and that’s mostly his own fault because of questionable work ethic that dates back to college. The same issue plagued him in Week 2 when he went up against the Giants’ Hakeem Nicks, who matches Talib’s physicality with a strong frame of his own.
The Giants targeted Talib on more than a dozen (13) plays and had great success, particularly in isolation man coverage situations when the Buccaneers went to one-deep safety. With 1:28 left in the fourth quarter, Talib had a bull’s-eye on his back. He was on the line of scrimmage, and because of his poor technique, he was going to be toast.
When the ball was snapped, Tailb did the right thing by waiting for Nicks to make his first move. Once Nicks decided to go to his right, Talib was slow to the outside. He didn’t slide his feet, and he instead attempted to jam the inside shoulder of Nicks with his outside hand. He misfired because he was off-balance due to his lack of movement (1). However, he recovered and now was in-phase (shoulder-to-shoulder) with Nicks down the field.
While Nicks was running down the sideline, he looked back to locate the thrown ball and so did Talib. Although Talib was shoulder-to-shoulder with Nicks, giving him the right to look back for the ball, it was still relatively early in the route for him to do so and as a result he lost a step on Nicks and was left in trail position (2).
Because he was in trail position, he was behind Nicks and losing ground. He attempted to hold on to Nicks to slow him down (3) but failed to do so, resulting in Nicks creating separation down the field (4) and catching a deep pass for the first down while Talib lost his balance.
Those mistakes may seem like minor issues that can be fixed and that’s because they can, but they’re not minor. Poor technique will make even the best of talents play poor in the NFL as witnessed here. When Talib does play with good technique, he’s very good because he uses his length well and he can get very physical with the wide receiver.
This next play featured isolated man coverage once again — Cover 1 (Man-Free) — and Talib held up very well. He showed the ability that once made him a first-round pick, and made the Buccaneers believers. He was rolled up to the line of scrimmage in the boundary and across from Nicks once again before the snap (1). At the snap, he slid to the outside and got his hands on Nicks, re-routing him further outside than what Nicks hoped (2). Once he got inside position on Nicks and was step-for-step, he opened his hips up and turned his head back in a timely manner to locate the football (3). Finally, he extended his long right arm and deflected the ball for an incomplete pass (4).
As with other players, there is good and bad with the newly acquired Talib. He has the length and physical prowess that the Patriots seek in defensive backs, but he’s lacking consistency in his technique, which has hampered him from becoming one of the league’s best defensive backs year-in and year-out.
Another factor that has slowed his growth as a player is his character away from the field. The Boson Globe’s Greg Bedard elaborated on Talib’s character questions Thursday:
As far as his character issues, several teams removed Talib from first-round consideration after he had big-time marijuana issues at Kansas. That followed an incident in high school when he pawned a computer stolen by someone else. He had a daughter in June 2007 and said that matured him. And then his issues continued in the NFL: a fight at the rookie symposium, was suspended one game by the NFL for beating up a cab driver, had a felony warrant issued for assault with a deadly weapon (charges later dropped) and then the current suspension [4 games - adderall].
The hope is that a change of scenery will do wonders for Talib’s character, and hopefully his technique too.