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When Scouting Cornerbacks, Beware ‘DB Panic Mode’

Which cornerbacks were flagged the most for pass interference, and can that troubling aspect of a player’s game be eliminated through coaching?
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – If you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a thousand times.

The cornerback has strong coverage and is in position to prevent a completion. And then he grabs the receiver’s arm. Or tugs on his jersey. Boom, pass interference.

Former NFL and college coach Jim Mora has seen it before, too.

“The thing that becomes the most important thing is how you react at the moment of truth? So many players, they enter what I call ‘DB panic mode,’” Mora said as part of the accompanying video. “They feel like they’re about to get beat, so they start to grab and they start to reach and they start to shove.”

The Green Bay Packers enter this week’s draft with an obvious need at cornerback. A loaded draft class or prospects awaits, even after eliminating some due to athletic limitations. Looking at 40-yard times is important. So is looking at things like passes defensed and catch percentages. But a look at penalties is important, too.

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In information passed along by Sports Info Solutions’ John Shirley, Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr., Syracuse’s Ifeatu Melifonwu and Oklahoma’s Tre Brown led the 2020 draft class with four pass-interference penalties in 2020. Northwestern’s Greg Newsome was among the group with three.

Among 2020 prospects in 2019, Appalachian State’s Shemar Jean-Charles and Oregon’s Deommodore Lenoir led the nation with seven.

Among potential Packers options with an early-round draft pick this week, here are the two-year pass-interference totals from Sports Info Solutions: Stanford’s Paulson Adebo had one (zero in 2020), Washington’s Keith Taylor had three (zero in 2020), Georgia’s Tyson Campbell had three (three in 2020), Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley had four (all in 2019; he opted out in 2020), Minnesota’s Benjamin St-Juste had four (one in 2020), Samuel had five (one in 2019), Melifonwu had five (one in 2019), UCF’s Aaron Robinson had five (two in 2020), Georgia’s Eric Stokes had six (two in 2020) and Newsome had seven (four in 2019).

Not all of those are signals of “DB panic mode,” obviously; some could be overaggressive play. Playing a bit more under control can be coached. Coaching what Mora calls the “athletic arrogance” necessary to get rid of panic penalties is another challenge. And it’s one that’s heightened in the NFL, with the game slanted toward quarterbacks and receivers.

“You’ve got to drill the moment of truth – ‘here comes the ball’ – until the point where they become very confident in their ability to react the right away,” Mora said. “I think you coach it out of them in terms of creating the right mind-set. But I think there’s always just a sliver of it in there and at the wrong time it can come back to haunt you. I’ve had that happen before in big games. Really good corners that you saw that flaw and it went away for a while and then it came back. That’s tough to overcome. That’s one of the things that separates the great ones from the good ones at any level and especially at the NFL level.”