After a junior season in which he only played five games at safety due to a shoulder injury, Keith McGill’s coaches at Utah turned to the film of a former Ute — and current Chief — to show McGill what he could do if he moved to cornerback.
“I was playing safety up at Utah, and nobody really threw the ball my way,” McGill said. “I was kind of just back there roaming from sideline-to-sideline. After the year ended, the coach was like ‘Hey, we’ve got to get you involved, so they sat me down and showed me five to 10 minutes of Sean Smith and his transition from receiver.”
McGill, who checks in at 6 feet 3 and 211 pounds, could not deny his physical similarities to Smith, who is listed at 6 feet 3 and 215.
“They showed me how he started out and how I started out,” McGill said, “and I was pretty glad that we were kinda the same.”
McGill, a junior-college transfer who only had 12 tackles and a pass breakup in 2011, sat out 2012 while recovering from a shoulder injury. He returned with a vengeance at his new position last season, when he logged 37 tackles, 12 pass breakups and an interception.
Now, thanks to the success of Seattle, which rode a group of lanky, aggressive cornerbacks to a Super Bowl victory, big corners such as McGill are now en vogue, though such NFL personnel men as Chiefs general manager John Dorsey have always preferred big corners.
“Ever since I’ve been in the league, size has mattered at the cornerback position,” said Dorsey, a former linebacker. “I go back to the days of guys like Mike Haynes, Emmitt Thomas. To me, those were like real corners. To me, size makes a difference.”
McGill, who is expected to be an early to mid-round pick, credited coach Kyle Whittingham and his staff at Utah for helping him make the transition, and noted their past experience with Smith only helped their efforts to develop him.
“I think they kind of harped on some things with me that they didn’t with him because they were kind of feeling it out with him,” McGill said. “After the year, I think they said if (they) could have had him for maybe a year or more, they probably could have turned him into somebody great.”
That’s not to say McGill thinks lightly of the 26-year-old Smith, who signed a three-year contract with the Chiefs before last season. As McGill noted, Utah did win the Sugar Bowl in Smith’s last season, and he did go in the second round, and McGill counts Smith among the big corners he looks up to, along with Seattle’s Richard Sherman.
“They’re showing not only the National Football League but also the world that big guys can move,” McGill said. “It makes it that much easier of a transition for guys like me.”
While being tall can cause problems for big corners, who tend to be less agile than smaller corners, McGill, who ran a 4.51 40-yard dash and also had an impressive 39-inch vertical jump, knows his technique is key if he’s going to make it at this level. He said his coaches at Utah drilled that into his head.
“They said if you play lower than your opponent, then you have the leverage on him,” McGill said. “They just kinda showed me film of a lot of different corners that had been through there and different corners that were successful and weren’t as successful as they should’ve been. The big thing for me is getting low, not only from the start but coming out of breaks and making tackles.”
McGill is confident in his press-man technique, but when asked about defending smaller receivers, his mentality mirrors that of Smith’s, who has admitted that facing small guys is harder than facing big guys.
“I watch a lot of film and I know my speed,” McGill said. “I know if somebody’s there that’s 160 pounds, there is only one thing he can do and that’s run fast and catch the ball, so I tend to back up depending on down and distance.
“When I go against a smaller guy I kind of know he’s gonna be a little quicker than me and may accelerate faster than me, though I definitely don’t downplay my athleticism. But when I see a bigger guy, I smile and say ‘OK, who’s better?’ I see it as more of a competition with a bigger guy because it’s one-on-one.”Top 10 cornerback prospects for the Chiefs
1. Justin Gilbert, 6-0, 202, Oklahoma State
Three-year starter who had 42 tackles, seven pass breakups and seven interceptions in 2013. Is 22 years old. 33 1/8-inch arms. 8 5/8-inch hands. 4.37 40-yard dash. 20 bench reps. 35 1/2-inch vertical. 126-inch broad. 6.92 3-cone drill. 4.39 20-yard shuttle.
Looks the part — great athlete with long arms and great timed speed and recovery skills. Excellent ball skills (seven interceptions in 2013). Playmaker. Talented kick returner. Durable. Inconsistent technique and tackling. Not particularly physical. Needs to be coached up but has the talent to be top-notch cover corner.
2. Darqueze Dennard, 5-11, 199, Michigan State
Three-year starter who had 62 tackles, 10 pass breakups and four interceptions in 2013. Is 22 years old. 30 1/4-inch arms. 9-inch hands. 4.51 40-yard dash. 15 bench reps. 36-inch vertical. 134-inch broad. 7.07 3-cone drill. 4.41 20-yard shuttle.
Good athlete. Short arms. Fluid enough. Physical in coverage. Plenty of experience playing press coverage. OK in run support. Solid ball skills — competes when ball is in the air and knows how to knock the ball away. Good instincts. Can be too grabby. Durability a concern. Needs more experience in zone. Excellent intangibles.
3. Kyle Fuller, 6-0, 190, Virginia Tech
Four-year starter who had 24 tackles, 10 pass breakups and two interceptions in only nine games in 2013. Is 22 years old. 32 7/8-inch arms. 9 3/8-inch hands. 4.49 40-yard dash. 12 bench reps. 38 1/2-inch vertical. 128-inch broad. 6.90 3-cone drill. 4.19 20-yard shuttle.
Has NFL bloodlines. Long arms. Physical and aggressive. Willing, reliable tackler in run support. Flashes good ball skills — can break on the ball and make plays. Has a closing burst. Good awareness and instincts. Has experience playing nickel. Excellent intangibles. Needs to get stronger. Has dealt with injuries this year. There's some disagreement about his press-man coverage ability.
4. Bradley Roby, 5-11, 194, Ohio State
Three-year starter who had 70 tackles, 13 pass breakups and three interceptions in 2013. Is 21 years old. 31 1/2-inch arms. 10 1/4-inch hands. 4.39 40-yard dash. 17 bench reps. 38 1/2-inch vertical. 124-inch broad. 6.74 3-cone drill. 4.04 20-yard shuttle.
OK size. Very good athlete. OK arm length. Good fluidity and agility. Can stick with receivers downfield. Willing tackler in run support. Solid ball skills. Inconsistent in coverage last season. Technique, instincts and focus must improve.
5. Pierre Desir, 6-1, 198, Lindenwood
Four-year starter who had 33 tackles, eight pass breakups and four interceptions in 2013. Is 23 years old. 33-inch arms. 9 5/8-inch hands. 4.59 40-yard dash. 11 bench reps. 35-inch vertical. 133-inch broad. 6.86 3-cone drill. 4.30 20-yard shuttle. 11.60 60-yard shuttle.
Great size. Looks the part of a press-man corner, though his technique needs a little work. Long arms. Good athlete, though timed speed and agility isn't elite. Great hands and ball skills. Good intangibles. Durable. Might need time to adjust to speed of NFL after playing small-college football. Willing and capable against the run.
6. Jason Verrett, 5-9, 189, Texas Christian
Three-year starter who had 39 tackles, 14 pass breakups and two interceptions in 2013. Is 22 years old. 3 5/8-inch arms. 9 1/4-inch hands. 4.38 40-yard dash. 19 bench reps. 39-inch vertical. 128-inch broad. 6.69 3-cone drill. 4.00 20-yard shuttle.
Undersized with short arms but plays the game hard and is competitive. Great athlete — has the athleticism, speed and feet to stick to receivers. Great instincts and solid ball skills, though he can be overpowered by bigger receivers. Shows a closing burst against the run and can occasionally deliver a big hit. Has proven to be durable but has played through injuries. Profiles to be, at worst, a very good nickel corner, though his size makes his long-term durability an issue.
7. Keith McGill, 6-3, 211, Utah
First-year starter who had 37 tackles, 12 pass breakups and one interception in 2013. Is 25 years old. 33 1/4-inch arms. 10 1/4-inch hands. 4.51 40-yard dash. 12 bench reps. 39-inch vertical. 129-inch broad. 7.29 3-cone drill. 4.18 20-yard shuttle.
Great frame and length. Has experience at safety. Displays good timed speed for his size. Ball skills and range are solid despite limited ball production. Agility is only OK. Is an inconsistent tackler. Is not terribly physical. Needs to be coached up — technique is inconsistent. Is old for a rookie (25). Has had durability concerns. Does not have great vertical speed.
8. Bashaud Breeland, 5-11, 197, Clemson
Three-year starter who had 74 tackles, 13 pass breakups and four interceptions in 2013. Is 22 years old. 31 3/4-inch arms. 9-inch hands. 4.62 40-yard dash. 11 bench reps. 34 1/2-inch vertical. 123-inch broad. 7.04 3-cone drill. 4.33 20-yard shuttle. 11.65 60-yard shuttle.
Good athleticism with fluidity. Good length for his height. Competitive. Missing too many tackles but is willing in run support. OK instincts. Has decent range. Has some ability in press coverage.
9. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, 6-3, 218, Nebraska
Two-year starter who had 41 tackles, 12 pass breakups and four interceptions in 2013. Is 24 years old. 32 3/8 -inch arms. 8 5/8-inch hands. 4.61 40-yard dash. 13 bench reps. 41 1/2-inch vertical. 128-inch broad. 6.69 3-cone drill. 4.33 20-yard shuttle.
Great size and length. Has the tools to play press-man. Has flashed ball skills and physicality in coverage, though he needs to be more consistent. Former receiver who is very raw. Needs to be coached up. Old for a rookie (24). Needs to be more consistent against the run.
10. Dontae Johnson, 6-2, 200, North Carolina State
Two-year starter who had 82 tackles, five pass breakups and three interceptions in 2013. Is 22 years old. 31 1/2-inch arms. 8 5/8-inch hands. 4.45 40-yard dash. 12 bench reps. 38 1/2-inch vertical. 124-inch broad. 6.82 3-cone drill. 4.24 20-yard shuttle. 11.06 60-yard shuttle.
Played a lot of off-man coverage but has the height you want in a press-man corner. Also has very good athleticism for his size. Versatile — has played safety and nickel. Does not have great vertical speed — fast guys can run past him. Only has three career interceptions. OK tackler. Instincts are solid in coverage. Needs to get stronger. Inconsistent footwork. Is a developmental guy who needs to be coached up. Work habits need to be investigated.
*All evaluations and rankings are based largely on multiple draft profiles — thanks to NFL.com, ESPN.com, CBSSports.com and DraftNasty’s 2014 NFL Draft Manual — interviews with draft analysts and the author’s own film evaluations. Measurements and testing results are from the combine and pro days, according to the resources listed above and NFLDraftScout.com.