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Steelers Draft Prospects: Meet Jermaine Waller, CB, Virginia Tech

Dive into the potential and expectations of one of the draft class's most versatile defenders.

Jermaine Waller committed to Virginia Tech as a three-star recruit back in 2018. In 2019, he burst onto the NCAA scene for the Hokies defense by ranking inside the top 10 amongst ACC defenders in both interceptions and pass breakups. 

A foot injury costed him most of his junior season in 2020, but he bounced back in a big way to end his college career, leading the ACC in interceptions this past season.

Waller has now declared for the 2022 NFL Draft and has one of the most intriguing skill sets in the class. Offering scheme versatility with his blend of size, speed and length, he will likely be one of the more coveted players at his position. 

In addition to that, Waller has plus ball skills to come away with some jaw-dropping interceptions, like this one from the opener against North Carolina's Sam Howell.

Bell: Coming out of High School as a three star recruit, what drew you towards committing to Virginia Tech?

Waller: After switching to corner in 9th grade, another 4 star corner took me up to Tech with him and that was the first time I told a coach that I played corner with no film or anything. That was the day I switched. Tech was one of the schools that I wanted to go to, just because of the history with the DBs. It was between 11 or 12 schools and I ended up choosing Tech which ended up being the right decision.

Bell: So you mentioned the history with all of the great defensive backs that have came through that program. Who are the first ones that come to mind when you think of Virginia Tech DBs?

Waller: People like Kam Chancellor, Deangelo Hall, the Fuller brothers. Chuck Clark from thr Ravens and the Edmunds brothers, too. I know Tremaine played linebacker but guys like that really paved the way.

Bell: You broke on to the scene as a sophomore as one of the best corners in the nation, playing in a loaded defensive backfield with Caleb Farley and Divine Deablo. What was that year like for you in that defense? 

Waller: It was being around Coach Bud (Foster) who really allowed us to play loose and do the things that we were able to do in man coverage. It was just about not dwelling on the moment or the praise too much but getting ready the next week to go do it again. The last game doesn't matter too much when you got to do it all over again.

Bell: Your running mate, Caleb Farley was one of the top corners selected in last years draft class. What was your relationship with him like on and off the field? 

Waller: On the field, we didn't talk too much. We'd look at each other but didnt have to say too much. But we'd talk a lot through the week in the classroom whether it's talking about certain plays or the receivers that we'd be seeing that week, what this particular receiver might do better. When we get to gameday, let's go. You cover your side and I'll cover mine and let's make it happen. 

Bell: What's that like playing with another shutdown corner just like you on the other side? 

Waller: Oh, it's fun. Because whenever he makes a play and is shutting down his side of the field, they might decide to come my way to try to stay away from him. Then I get some plays and when we're shutting down both sides, that means that we're doing our job.

Bell: We talked about this a little before the actual interview but I had no idea that you played the entire 2019 season with a foot injury  A season where you had more pass breakups and INT's than catches allowed ten yards down the field. How were you able to play through that?

Waller: It was definitely frustrating just trying to make it through the week. I had originally injured it during 2019 back in camp in the every day grind, things happen. I had x-rays done and knew that I would have to have surgery done at the end of the season. But it was my second year on campus, I had just got the starting position. I felt like I had no choice to play at this point. I knew if I could go then I had to go.

Bell: You lost some of the momentum from that 2019 season because of that same foot injury which caused you to miss all but two games in the 2020 season. How frustrating was that for you? 

Waller: So I had surgery in the offseason, I had just got out of the boot the week right before COVID hit. We all got sent home and I was given a paper with some stuff I needed to do before I came back. When COVID hit, everything was closed and shut everything down. I was just trying to do everything that I could cause I didn't have an active physical therapist to really help me. Then, I didn't really know how I was going to have to work on my calf strength, quad strength because I wasn't doing anything on it. Had to make sure my ankle as stiff so there was a lot more to it than I originally thought and not being able to go through my rehab with a physical therapist really put me behind and messed up my 2020 season. I really shouldn't have played any games honestly but I was just trying to get back and do what I could to help the team. 

Bell: Fast forward to 2021, you get off to this incredibly fast start with four interceptions in the first five games of the season. You lead the entire ACC conference in interceptions. What did that bounce back feel like? 

Waller: It was something that I was proud of myself for and to bounce back, show some resiliency and that nothing can really stop me when I put my mind to it. To be able to help my team in a major way, that was big. Just to be out there with the team because when you're injured, you are constantly in the training room. There's no fans or team in there and you are by yourself, it can kind of mess with your mental at times. Just being back out there was a blessing.

Bell: The ACC is always loaded with skill position players, lot of draft-able talent year after year. Who was the toughest receiver that you had to line up across over the course of your career? 

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Waller: I felt like if something happened, it was because I got lazy in my technique or I was tired or something like that, nothing super crazy. There was Jordan Addison, he was good but he was in the slot a lot. I did play nickel and lined up on him sometimes and he was kind of shifty. Dyami Brown, he got drafted. I felt like he was one of the more polished receivers. He was a deep threat.

Bell: Is there a past or present NFL corner that you study or model your game to see if you can implement certain things? 

Waller: I wouldn't say model my game because I'm my favorite corner. I'd say Tre White. Stephon Gilmore is really technical. Jalen Ramsey just because of his physicality and he got moved to the nickel this year, I played nickel this year, as well. He's playing at a really high level. Patrick Peterson another guy that I looked up to at times, too. 

Bell: I was glad you mentioned physicality because you're a guy that likes to hit people. That's not always the case with corners at this level. Is that something that you take a lot of pride in? 

Waller: Defintely, I like to work at everything. I pride myself on being a complete corner. Whether it's being able to cover, catch a pick, tackle. I'm not saying that I'm the best at it but I can do it and I'm not scared to do it. Being a complete corner and check every box is my end goal. 

Bell: Four interceptions on the season, which one of those was your personal favorite? 

Waller: My favorite was the Notre Dame pick six. That was my first pick six ever. Cause I feel like I'll have a few picks and then they'd stop throwing it. It was a crazy momentum change. It was a third down and we were down but the touchdown put us ahead. Really big play in the 3rd quarter and it was just crazy.

Bell: So did you have a favorite NFL team growing up? And how has that changed as you've gotten older and are still playing the game?

Waller: I was actually a Chargers fan growing up, watching LT when he was there. But I got tired of arguing with people when my team wasn't good so I just haven't had a team ever since. I just had a lot of players that I liked.

Bell: After all, this is a Steelers site so I've got to get your thoughts on the team. This a franchise that prides itself on having good defenses with a lot of legendary players having played in this city over the years. What's your opinion of them as a franchise? 

Waller: I played Madden a lot and playing with Santonio Holmes, making those tough catches. I know it's a winning program and always a hard nosed defense. When you play Pittsburgh, It's always going to be a physical game and they're going to hit you in the mouth a few times. Win or lose, I like that. That aggressive style, coming to get you type of defense, not playing passive. 

Bell: I love hearing young players talk about Mike Tomlin. One of the most respected coaches in the entire sport. What sticks out to you about Coach Tomlin?

Waller: I see him as a guy that's just about business. I feel like he's going to give it to you straight. I've seen him interact with people at other pro days over the years and he just seems so genuine. 

Bell: These next four months or so are going to be incredibly busy for you already leading up to the NFL Draft. What's your training process going to be like and what are some things that you're looking forward to improving on? 

Waller: I'm working in Florida and putting on some weight, getting stronger. Footwork and things like that technique wise, I don't ever feel like I can be too good at things like that. Being as technically sound and consistent as possible is really what I'm trying to work on all the time. 

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