Since David Cutcliffe has taken over as head coach of Duke, the team had been quietly improving until they qualified for the Belk Bowl last year and suddenly the Blue Devils went from a basketball school to a great underdog story in football. While they did lose the bowl game against Cincinnati, they showed they showed glimpses of what they can become. The Blue Devils did not have the most talent but their players gave everything they had and left it all on the field, whether they were playing with the game on the line or down by four touchdowns. There might not be a player that personifies the newfound mentality of toughness and grit than cornerback, Ross Cockrell and while Duke had a couple of players that could have been drafted last year, Durham should see one of their guys get selected this year.
Cockrell is a tall but thin corner who has the ability to play man coverage and make plays on the football, but does not use his slight build as an excuse not to play the run. He gives everything he has on every snap and if he reads run, he comes as hard as he can and is not afraid to throw his body around to try to make plays. As a junior, that added up to 47 solo tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 13 pass deflections, 5 interceptions, a forced fumble and a pair of touchdowns. Cockrell is a player that coaches will love because of his sheer effort and will get every ounce of talent out of his body, so if he can add more strength coming into this season and going into the draft process, he could go from being a relative unknown and day three prospect to being a name player that people have to keep an eye on and someone fighting for a spot in the top 100 picks.
Vitals & Build
Cockrell is listed at 6’ 180lbs with a thin build at this point. He has pretty good speed going deep but shows fluidity in short areas and the ability to flip his hips. Cockrell goes all out and brings a ton of effort every play he is on the field. He does not give up on plays and finds himself in position to make plays just on hustle in addition to his skills. Cockrell has a terrific motor and gets everything out of his body he can, so if he can continue adding strength, his potential is high going forward. If he can get closer to 190-195lbs by the time of the draft, it will definitely help him as he brings great length to the position.
Cockrell’s tackling is inconsistent. While he is extremely aggressive and willing, his body is not quite there yet so he tends to throw his body around. He tends to launch himself and lunge at guys, going for their legs and dragging guys down as opposed to overpowering them. The logic is obvious as he simply does not have the strength to do it yet. The only question is that if and when he can put on the strength to be a better tackling and use better form with success, will he then use better form or will his bad habits follow him. If he brings the same aggressive mindset but adjusts to be a better tackler, he could be extremely effective.
As long as Cockrell diagnoses run, he will come downhill and look to make the tackle. There are situations where he has turn and run with wide receivers and simply does not see it and sticks with the receiver as his primary responsibility.
He needs to do a better job when it comes to taking on and shedding blocks, but he sticks with the play and tries to make the tackle. Cockrell may be pushed down the field ten or twenty yards and then still make the tackle. The effort is always there but he needs more strength and technique in getting off of blocks against bigger and stronger opponents. Cockrell will run down plays from behind all the way across the field and just never gives up on plays. If it means stopping a guy on the one yard line, this guy will do it.
Duke primarily runs a man cover scheme and Cockrell has shown a lot of promise in this area. He will play up on the line as well as in off man coverage, but he does not press. Whether this is a schematic choice or he has not shown to be effective, he opts to mirror the opponent. And when it comes to mirroring routes, Cockrell does a good job and is perfectly comfortable playing in the opponent’s hip pocket and being able to function in close quarters.
He does a good job of flipping his hips, turning his back to the quarterback and running with the receiver, but has demonstrated the ability to locate the football and make a play on it. Cockrell seems to prefer to try to body his guy outside the hashes and use the sideline as an extra defender. With his length and ability to track the ball, this is a good combination and helps him be extremely effective. Adding strength would make him able to have more success with this technique as well as making it more difficult for receivers to fight back and get the real estate back as they go down the field.
Cockrell can get bodied out at times because of his lack of strength, but he is a player who will go up and compete for the football. He is also effective when it comes to bending around the opponent without interfering and poking the ball away from the intended receiver. Between his height and arm length, this can be an extremely frustrating quality for the opponent as he is someone who can get to a number of passes and deflect them.
While he does not have as much experience in zone, Cockrell appears comfortable playing facing the line of scrimmage and reading where receivers are trying to go. He also possesses good vision about seeing where the ball is going when it is not to his guy whether it be a run, scramble or pass somewhere else on the field and will seek out and make a play be it near him or across the field. He is still a little raw when it comes to understanding and feeling zone concepts as it appeared much of the team was as a whole, but should improve with experience. He is at his best in man and clearly at home there.
Both in his ability to locate and track the ball and get his hands in position to deflect passes or causing interceptions, Cockrell has shown natural talent. He has a good sense for finding the ball, when he needs to turn and locate the football and then can react quickly enough to where he can make interceptions. Cockrell was able to deflect thirteen passes but also able to intercept five passes. While he may not be targeted as many times this year because of his success as a junior, Cockrell may be able to increase the percentage of the time he can make a play on the ball this coming season.
Blitzing off the Edge
Duke has been more than comfortable to send Cockrell off the edge and he has been able to make plays in the backfield as a result. He has good acceleration and has the speed to get into the backfield and cause problems but his risky but possibly necessary tackling style can make it a hit or miss situation. Like with everything else, he is a guy who gives it all he has but he gets blocked rather easily at this point. He has made a few plays in this role and it would not be surprised if he is utilized in the NFL, but he does need to be more reliable when he has opportunities to make an impact.
Given Cockrell’s style and effort level, it should not be a surprise that he is on and able to contribute on special teams. He is able to try to rush off of the edge on field goal block but could also be someone who contributors on punt as a gunner. These are areas he will need to be able to contribute to increase his viability at the next level, but Cockrell is the type of guy who appears willing to do anything he can to help the team and make worthwhile contributions.
Cockrell’s best fit is in a man coverage scheme. He is able to contribute up on the line of scrimmage as well as in off man coverage. With his height and arm length, it would be intriguing to see what he could do in press when he gets stronger. If he can get stronger, he could conceivably play as a strong side corner but right now looks good as a weak side corner who can bring something against the running game with further development. Based on his playing style and ability, he seems far more comfortable on the outside but he is fluid enough to play in the slot. Still, it seems more likely that he would come in and kick someone else in side and play on the outside. At this point, Cockrell looks like someone who could be coming in as depth and working to take reps as a nickel or dime back who can also help on special teams but there is potential for him to start in the NFL with further development, experience and more technical work.
|Sat, Aug. 31||vs. North Carolina Central|
|Sat, Sept. 7||at Memphis|
|Sat, Sept. 14||vs. Georgia Tech|
|Sat, Sept. 21||vs. Pittsburgh|
|Sat, Sept. 28||vs. Troy|
|Sat, Oct. 12||vs. Navy|
|Sat, Oct. 19||at Virginia|
|Sat, Oct. 26||at Virginia Tech|
|Sat, Nov. 9||vs. N.C. State|
|Sat, Nov. 16||vs. Miami|
|Sat, Nov. 23||at Wake Forest|
|Sat, Nov. 30||at North Carolina|
Cockrell’s first big test could come against Pittsburgh at home as he could be matched up against Devin Street in a battle between two talented, tall but skinny prospects. Duke’s schedule works out so they could be going into Blacksburg with a record that will surprise the average college football fan, but starting with Virginia Tech on the road, Cockrell is going to see a number of talented quarterbacks. Starting with Logan Thomas, then two weeks later, the Blue Devils face Stephen Morris and the Miami Hurricanes in Cockrell’s last game in Durham. The regular season finale is a huge game for both Cockrell and Duke. In addition to the fact that Duke beat North Carolina last year, it is a rivalry game, the last regular season game of his career, and they face off against the Tar Heels talented quarterback, Bryn Renner. Cockrell could play a huge role in that game and allow that Blue Devils class with back to back wins against their instate rival.
Cockrell’s game could be similar to that of Cary Williams, now of the Philadelphia Eagles. Williams was brought in by the Baltimore Ravens as someone who could compete and fight for a spot. He was a seventh round pick out of Washburn and worked his way into being a contributor, then when Ladarius Webb went down with a season ending injury, Williams stepped in and played well for the Ravens and helped them win the Super Bowl. He then earned a contract this offseason as a free agent to be a contributor and perhaps a starter with the Eagles. That could be the same type of path that Cockrell takes.
Cockrell is a talented player who appears to warrant a day three selection based on his work to this point, but because of the fact he plays at Duke, it would not be a surprise if he does not receive the attention he deserves until the post season process. Whether it be the East-West Shrine Game, Senior Bowl or both, he is a guy who should impress coaches because of his effort on the field and if he interviews anywhere near as well as he tries on the field, could make a significant move up draft boards. There is a lot of talent there and if he can continue adding strength and filling out his frame more, he is the type of player who will take full advantage of it and could evolve into a significantly better player, which is notable considering the player he already has shown to be. Unless something unforeseen happens, Cockrell appears to be a day three prospect but he could end up fighting for a spot on day two if he can continue developing physically as a hard worker which is a benefit in the locker room, someone who can help on special teams, and has the potential to develop into a starter at some point in his career. If Cockrell does not make it in the NFL, he is the type of guy who will die trying.