With their fourth-round pick in the 2020 draft, the Panthers once again looked to add talent to their defense – and having neglected cornerback through the first two days of the draft, they made a point of adding to it early on day three, selecting Notre Dame cornerback Troy Pride Jr. with the 113th pick.
While it is not yet clear whether Pride will be viewed as an immediate starter opposite Donte Jackson, or whether this is more of a long-term piece in the secondary, what does the tape say about Troy Pride Jr. the player, what does he bring to the Panthers – and most crucially, where could he still stand to improve?
“We wanted to find guys that were 5‐11, 6‐foot, 6‐foot‐1 to match up with the big receivers that we’ll face. We wanted to find guys with elite speed. That might go without saying, but some people look for other things.” -Matt Rhule
If you wanted a very simplistic answer as to why the Panthers liked Pride, then you probably don’t have to look much further than the fact that he is 5-11 and ran a 4.40 forty yard dash at the Combine. Of course, there is a lot more than just height and speed that go into playing corner, but it is clear that the Panthers are looking for a certain physical prototype. Mary Hurney went into a little more detail about the exact skillsets he tends to look for in a cornerback.
“I always believe in corners, they’ve got to cover first,” said Hurney. “Now, you want them to be able to be physical and come up and tackle, but I think we’re looking for corners who can play both man and zone coverage. You’re looking for the skillset that guys can run, I think that’s very important. I wouldn’t say really what we were looking for in corners changed much, but I think length is important to us, especially in this division.”
“So you’re always looking for some corners with some length, corners that are fluid, can flip their hips, turn and mirror, and corners who can run.”
This gives us a little bit more to go on, so how does Pride fair in these regards? Let’s start with his ability to turn and run vertically. This is something that Pride does quite well, showing good fluidity in opening his hips, allowing him to turn and match vertically:
And he also does a nice job in bail coverage – a technique where he has his body turned toward the field instead of being square with the line of scrimmage and at the snap of the ball, Pride runs, or “bails” out, instead of backpedaling – opening his hips well and being able to run vertically with receivers:
And does occasionally show some nice things in terms of his ability to transition into bail from off-coverage:
And while there is a reason for him not playing receiver, he does have the ability to catch the ball if it’s thrown to him:
Those are certainly some nice core traits to work with then, especially for a team looking to play man coverage or cover 3 – but there are also some things that he needs to work on, and Rhule did speak after the draft to the fact that Pride is somebody who will need further development:
“We’re not taking a first-round corner or second‐round corner, we’re taking guys a bit little later in the draft but these guys have talents that mean they can be starters in the league,” Rhule said. “We’re going to do our best to develop them, but we feel really good about them.”
The biggest thing that Pride needs to work on from a coverage point of view is how he gets to the point where he transitions, as his footwork early in plays can be quite poor at times. While his ability to transition and run vertically is more valuable when working at the line of scrimmage, his footwork at the line itself is quite poor, as his feet tend to be overly stationary with slow, heavy steps:
And while he generally does a good job of not taking steps that commit him one way or the other, sometimes, this is achieved by not taking any steps at all – this makes him slow to come out of his stance and forces him to be a step behind early in plays.
He also suffers from a similar problem in off-coverage at times, taking slow, heavy steps which cause him issues when coming out of breaks:
And which mean his change of direction can look very cumbersome at times:
And his backpedal in off-coverage also tends to create something of a backwards lean, which then can make it harder for him to come out of his breaks effectively:
While I think Pride has the core movement skills, speed and fluidity to be reasonably effective in his footwork in both off-coverage and playing at the line, at the moment, his footwork in both regards is still poor – he will need to work on this before he is looked at as a starting option, as in off-coverage especially, this can make him quite slow to come out of his breaks and make him vulnerable to underneath routes.
Plus, his tendency to get grabby on such routes is going to lead to a lot of flags if he is unable to fix it with footwork at the NFL level:
Another main concern with Pride’s coverage on tape is his struggles at the catch point at times. In off-coverage, he isn’t too bad in this regard, and while he doesn’t always knock the ball loose, he is able to compete relatively consistently at the catch point on shorter routes:
But he does seem to struggle with location at times when playing with his back to the ball, and while he is sometimes able to judge this from the receiver’s hands:
There are times where this lets him down:
Also, while he is in the Panthers’ ideal size range, he is towards the smaller end of that and doesn’t have super long arms – you can see him struggling to be a factor at the catch point at times:
This is something that is going to be harder to fix, but ultimately probably isn’t quite as important, as if he can consistently force receivers into making contested catches down the field, that is a reasonable success for a corner.
The biggest question mark for Pride, however, is his ability to process in zone – while this is at least partially explained by the fact that Notre Dame didn’t play a huge amount of underneath zone with their corners, this is something that he will need to show that he can do in order to allow for him to be effectively used in the diverse ways the Panthers have suggested they want to use their corners.
Pride is definitely a project in terms of his coverage, and if he is asked to play a lot early, there is a chance he could struggle, but there are the raw skills there to work on, even if there is quite a lot of work to be done.