The NFL Draft is less than three weeks away and as discussions about who the first overall pick and the first quarterback off the board rage on, many eyes have begun wandering towards the later rounds. Every year, Pro Bowl and even All-Pro talents are found on Days 2 and 3 of the draft as players slip for injury, performance, or off-the-field concerns. Many of these prospects selected later in the draft have supreme physical talent that allows them to shine, and UTSA cornerback Tariq Woolen is no exception.
The great Al Davis once famously said, “speed kills but absolute speed kills absolutely.” He may as well have been talking about Woolen, who ran a lightning-quick 4.26 40-yard dash despite checking in at an impressive 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds – a physical makeup that will make him one of the tallest and fastest cornerbacks in the league once he is drafted.
His Relative Athletic Score (RAS), a metric that grades his athletic traits relative to other cornerbacks throughout history, is a top-tier 9.71. Other notable cornerbacks with similar RAS scores are Jalen Ramsey, Marshon Lattimore, and Ifeatu Melifonwu (note – these are strictly physical comparisons). Of note is his composite agility grade which indicates potential concerns about his lateral agility and ability to mirror quicker receivers.
With an elite physical makeup featuring world-class speed and height, why isn’t Woolen talked about as a Day 1 selection? For one, he has only been playing cornerback for two years. He began his Roadrunners career as a redshirt freshman wide receiver, eventually transferring to cornerback in his junior year. In two years at cornerback, he has nine pass deflections but no interceptions as his production has not matched the level of his physical profile.
Woolen is ranked as the 13th cornerback and 97th player on The 33rd Team’s Prospect Board as his lack of refinement keeps him from being a surefire player in the NFL. As The 33rd Team’s Jared Hammond wrote in Woolen’s scouting report, he “projects as an immediate starter who can develop into an impact starter with more experience” but remains a “raw talent at the position.”
Although Woolen has only played two years as a cornerback, he already excels in zone coverage as an outside cornerback but is still lacking in his man coverage. He also needs to make strides in his tackling and run support abilities. As early as the end of Round 1 and certainly in Rounds 2 and 3, NFL teams are willing to take chances on players with elite physical tools that may have steeper learning curves due to level of competition or limited experience.
There are a few teams that would make for great landing spots for Woolen:
The Seahawks saw the departure of top cornerback D.J. Reed to the New York Jets in free agency, only bringing in former Chicago Bear Artie Burns into their cornerback room in the offseason. While Reed bucked the trend of tall cornerbacks with long arms in Seattle’s scheme, head coach Pete Carroll has still shown a strong preference for lengthy cornerbacks – particularly those with arms over 32”, a threshold that Woolen easily exceeds.
Seattle is looking to play more tight-match, Cover-3 defense, and he would be able to step in and contribute from Day 1. The Seahawks have yet to draft a cornerback in the first two rounds under Carroll and could easily be looking to select Woolen if he remains on the board at pick #72 in the third round.
The cornerback room in Indianapolis has undergone significant changes as Rock Ya-Sin was traded to the Las Vegas Raiders and Xavier Rhodes remains a free agent; both played over 50% of snaps for the Colts in 2021. Kenny Moore, a 2021 Pro Bowl selection, has one spot locked down and newly acquired Stephon Gilmore will man the other side.
Known for a scheme that prominently features Cover-3, Woolen would be a great fit for the Indianapolis secondary at pick #73 in the third round. Indianapolis would give him the ideal situation to grow behind Moore and Gilmore before assuming a starting role.