2014 NFL Draft: Antone Exum Scouting Report
College: Virginia Tech
Video, per YouTube
*=Played in just three games
Versatility: Coaches love a player who can play in multiple roles and help out the defense in a variety of ways and that’s exactly what Exum brings to the table. Exum played safety for two year before making the transition to cornerback, and has looked very good in both spots. While he doesn’t have outstanding coverage skills he does a very nice job keeping his man in front of him, and getting to the ball quickly. He also has shown that he can quickly make the transition back to strong safety in the NFL, a position that would increase the amount of interested teams that find him a fit for their defensive scheme. He does a nice job both against the run and pass, making him an all-around stopper on defense and very attractive for NFL coaches.
Physicality: I’ve always said it, it’s easier to teach a player to be less physical and control his aggressiveness than it is to making a softer player more physical. That is something you won’t have to worry about with Exum, he loves to make contact and shows off his aggressiveness in coverage and when stopping the run. Early on tape you see Exum running downhill and attacking the ball carrier. He will shoot down at full speed and give his entire body up in order to stop the play. You don’t often get to see Exum play press coverage at the line playing for Virginia Tech but even in off man coverage you see how much he relishes the contact. He keeps his man in front of him as he tracks the quarterback and as soon as the quarterback commits, Exum uses his speed to break towards the ball and attack the wide receiver to break up the play. He loves using his size and strength to jam the wide receiver and try to force him out of the play, but he will need to be careful in the NFL limiting the contact after five yards. His physical style of play is perfect for multiple teams in the NFL and will be coveted by many teams for it.
Durability: When Exum arrives at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, one of the biggest tests he will face isn’t on the field but in front of team doctors and medical staff. After tearing his ACL and right meniscus during a pickup basketball game in January, Exum returned to the field but is now dealing with a nagging left ankle injury. He has only played in three games this season, and will face plenty of questions about his durability during the combine. While the knee has appeared fine this season, it’s harder to see how much progress he has made with limited action in 2013. Before the injuries Exum was potentially looking like a second-round pick but injuries and missed opportunities have severely cut into his draft value.
Tackling: If Exum wants to take the next step as a cornerback prospect and eventually become a starter in the NFL. Obviously Exum is physical and he loves to deliver big hits, his technique needs a lot of work. Too often Exum’s aggressiveness comes back to bite him, he will come flying in at full speed but whiff on the ball carrier because he is coming at a bad angle and trying to deliver the big hit. Despite his size advantage, he is too focused on delivering the hit that will knock the ball loose, instead of just wrapping up and taking down the running back. He needs to learn to ease up with his aggressiveness and instead of flying in like a missile, patiently moving in and squaring up the ball carrier. Exum needs to spend time with coaches working on his technique otherwise he will make some nice plays in the NFL, but will often get burnt when he over pursues and his man slips past him for the big play.
NFL Player Comparison:
Brandon Browner, Seattle Seahawks
While Exum may be shorter than Browner both players show the same style of aggressiveness and physicality that make them perfect for the press coverage the Seahawks run. Exum plays the run much like a strong safety, similar to Browner although both players still struggle wrapping up the running back. He plays the ball well in coverage, reacting quickly and using his size and length to break up passes and jam a wide receiver at the line.
The 2014 cornerback class is loaded with talent, and that’s definitely something that doesn’t help Exum’s draft stock. He is a good corner but some will point out that he isn't even the best on his own team, behind fellow senior Kyle Fuller. Exum’s draft stock will also be hurt by the injuries that have kept him out for most of the season, leaving scouts to work almost entirely off 2012 tape. But despite it all, I still see Exum being drafted early in the third round. His versatility to play cornerback or strong safety will appeal to a lot of teams and his physical style fits a lot of systems.
Because of his physical style of play and being a perfect fit for a team that uses a lot of press coverage, Exum is perfect for a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley brought over the physical style of defense that he ran with the Seattle Seahawks and will fall in love with a player like Exum.
Exum’s aggressive nature both against the run and pass, along with his size and versatility will absolutely meet everything Bradley is looking for. He could fit in nicely as a mid-round pick and contribute immediately for a Jaguars secondary that needs a lot of help.