Opportunity Awaits Notre Dame DB's At The Senior Bowl
The prestigious Reese’s Senior Bowl is underway and three Notre Dame defensive backs have a chance to standout this week.
Former Irish cornerback Troy Pride Jr. is joined by safeties Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman as participants in the Senior Bowl, which is the first postseason opportunity for players to impress NFL teams leading up to the April draft.
Jalen Elliott, Safety
2019 Stats: 49 tackles, 2 INT’s, 2 break ups
Career Stats: 172 tackles, 6 INT’s, 11 break ups
Elliott measured in at 6-0.4 and 205 pounds. His 32” arms were tied for third best among the 11 safeties in attendance, his 76 5/8” wingspan was also third best.
What’s At Stake: Elliott was a standout for the Irish as a junior, but his play dipped a bit as a senior. He has been an overlooked player each of the last two seasons, so standing out during the Senior Bowl practices would give him a chance to start moving up draft boards.
Elliott was a bit inconsistent in 2019, but he was also asked to do a lot more this season, and it seemed he was asked to cover a lot more ground.
Elliott is an athletic player that has all the physical tools to excel in coverage, and at times he’s quite good in coverage. He was a standout in coverage last fall, and his numbers in 2019 were even better from a pure coverage standpoint. He held opponents to lower completion rate in 2019 (53.3%) than he did in 2018 (58.3%), his yards allowed per target was down a whole yard in 2019 (5.7 YPT) and his yards per completion allowed was down to 10.7 after giving up 11.5 a season ago.
At times this season Elliott got sloppy with his technique, especially in coverage. He would be to flat on his feet as receivers got closer to him, which then caused him to get a bit too grabby as they ran by him. When his technique was off he got ran by, but when he stayed light on his feet, trusted his technique and allowed his athleticism to take over he was top notch.
There are three safeties in Dane Brugler’s Top 100 in attendance, which means Elliott has a chance to be compared in person to some of the top safeties in the draft. The key this week is being sound with his technique and letting his athleticism shine. That means being sound in the run game (taking good angles, wrapping up), staying light on his feet, using his leverage properly and reading wide receivers instead of guessing. If he does that he’ll have a big week.
Alohi Giman, Safety
2019 Stats: 74 tackles, 1 INT, 2 break ups
Career Stats: 244 tackles, 3 INT, 12 break ups (includes Navy)
Gilman measured in at 5-10 1/2 and 202 pounds. His 31 5/8” arms were seventh among 11 safeties in attendance and his 73 3/8” wingspan was ninth.
What’s At Stake: Gliman is the one player I am most intrigued by this week. Based on what I’ve seen from him the last two seasons I’m not sure if this is the kind of environment where he will shine. Gilman is a gamer and a playmaker, getting by on intelligence, toughness and a knack for making clutch plays.
He has never been a defender that I’ve felt was a standout in one-on-one drills, which we’ll see a lot of this week. His lack of size could cause problems in those types of practice settings, and it tends to mask the traits that made him such an outstanding player for Notre Dame the last two seasons.
Like Elliott, Gilman was put in a number of challenging situations in 2019. After getting off to a bit of a slow start, he settled in and played quite well during the second half of the season. Staying under control in the run game will be important for Gilman, and if he does that I expect the former Irish captain to grade out quite well in the run game this week, which should not come as a surprise to Notre Dame fans that broke down his game the last two years.
Where Gilman could make the biggest mark is if he can have an effective week in coverage. He wasn’t often asked to play man coverage and was rarely matched up against slot receivers. Gilman could handle backs and tight ends, and he was at his best when he could keep things in front of him. If he can show himself to be an effective one-on-one cover player this week he’ll check a box that could result in him making significant moves up team’s draft boards.
Gilman was a special teams standout for Notre Dame and a tremendous leader, and I expect teams to see that from him during the Senior Bowl practices and game.
Troy Pride Jr., Cornerback
2019 Stats: 40 tackles, 1 INT, 6 break ups
Career Stats: 121 tackles, 4 INT, 18 break ups
Pride measured in at 5-11.3 and 193 pounds. His 31 3/8” arms were fifth best among 10 cornerbacks in attendance, and his 73 3/4” wingspan tied for sixth.
What’s At Stake: There likely isn’t a former Notre Dame player in this draft that will thrive more in the testing events like the NFL Scouting Combine and the Pro Day than Pride. There is no doubt he will impress scouts and coaches with this athleticism, but the Senior Bowl gives him a chance to show off his football skills.
The first thing most Notre Dame fans bring up when talking about Pride is that he didn’t play the ball well this season, and there’s merit to that accusation. Pride struggled to finish off certain routes by not playing the ball or the receiver well, and that is something that drags down his grade. If he can show improvement playing the ball this week it will help him climb up draft boards.
Where Pride doesn’t get nearly enough credit is with how good he was in coverage the past two seasons. Part of the reason is watching Pride on television means you likely only see him when he is targeted. What the television does not show, and what can only be appreciated when watching him live, is how good he is in coverage. Pride was asked to play a lot of man coverage, and he was targeted in the boundary 20 fewer times this season than All-American Julian Love was targeted in 2018.
While Pride didn’t show Love’s strong all-around game or ball skills, his pure coverage was far superior, and there were many games this season where opponents simply avoided his side of the field when he was playing in press or tight coverage. Virginia Tech’s talented wideouts caught just three passes on 11 targets, and opponents completed one or fewer passes on Pride in five games this season, and there were two more game where he gave up just two completions.
The wide receiver group at the Senior Bowl is talented, so a good week from Pride will be a tremendous resume builder. Pride impressing scouts and climbing up draft boards before the combine could result in him jumping up into day two of the draft (rounds two and three).