NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2020. This is the 13th in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout the offseason.
Well, now I officially feel old. When I began my scouting career with the Baltimore Ravens in the early 2000s, Patrick Surtain was one of the top cover cornerbacks in the NFL. Sam Madison and Surtain formed an elite duo in the secondary for the Miami Dolphins. Fast forward to the fall of 2018, when I turned on an Alabama game and saw Surtain's son -- an athletic freshman cornerback at the time -- making plays for the Tide. He's since emerged as one of the top prospects at his position. Time flies! Here's my scouting report on the Alabama DB.
Height, weight: 6-foot-2, 203 pounds (school measurements).
2019 statistics: 42 tackles (32 solo), one for loss, two interceptions, eight pass breakups, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovered.
Game tape watched: South Carolina (Sept. 14, 2019), Texas A&M (Oct. 12, 2019), LSU (Nov. 9, 2019).
What I liked: Surtain has an ideal frame for the position. He's tall, long and rangy. I believe he can play in any scheme. He varies his technique in press coverage, and I love it when he jumps wideouts with a quick one- or two-hand jam. When he's not shooting his hands, he's patient and doesn't take false steps. He has build-up speed when challenged vertically, and he can find (and play) the ball.
He's very quick to anticipate in zone coverage and will drive on balls in front of him. He's fluid in his movement and understands how to read route combinations to position himself for plays. He's very willing and effective against the run, too. He fights through blocks and is a reliable tackler in space.
Where he needs to improve: Surtain is very smooth and athletic, but he lacks elite short-area quickness. This showed up in the South Carolina game last fall. When he gets widened out and is forced to redirect versus slant routes, he lacks the twitch to stay hugged to the hip of the receiver. He also utilizes a wheel turn (turns his back to the receiver and wheels around) at times instead of flipping open his inside hip. Some coaches teach this technique, but I believe it creates too much separation. This is always going to be a challenge for big cornerbacks like Surtain. The advantages of his size and physicality far outweigh the disadvantages, though.
Biggest takeaway: There's a lot to love about Surtain's game. The three things that stand out to me are his size, instincts and ball skills. That's a great foundation to start with when you're trying to build an upper-echelon NFL cornerback. As I mentioned earlier, I believe he can play in any scheme, but the Seattle coaching tree is going to be really excited about him! He would fit in beautifully with that system since he can play man and Cover 3 all day long. His length and physicality are exactly what they are looking for at the position.
He reminds me of: His size, jumping ability and consistency remind me of the Dolphins' Byron Jones. They have a similar body type and movement skills. Both guys have the ability to recover down the field and they avoid giving up big plays. They can each fill/tackle against the run and bring an overall toughness to their defensive unit. I think Jones has better short-area quickness and Surtain has better ball skills. This isn't a perfect comparison, but I think they'll have similar success in the NFL. Jones cashed in during free agency this offseason after spending five seasons with the Cowboys, and Surtain should be highly coveted once he makes the leap to the next level.