Oklahoma State’s cornerback Justin Gilbert has been a contributor for the Cowboys ever since showing up in Stillwater, both as a cover corner but also on special teams. Gilbert has been somewhat of a feast or famine player and while he has made some great plays and can electrify at times, he is a gambler and there are times when he comes up empty as a result.
Gilbert really looks the part of a corner with his length and incredible athleticism. He has impressive agility and tremendous straight line speed. His hips are pretty good and he has the ability to make plays on the football as well as being a contributor on special teams. Gilbert does not want to hit anyone if he can avoid it and is a putrid tackler. While his athleticism is outstanding, he does not always play up to it and has lapses in his concentration and will make bad mistakes and in man and zone coverage that allow opponents to make plays against him. Because of athleticism, there is a solid amount of potential going forward but his complete lack of physical play will hurt him, so Gilbert looks like a third day pick that could get a boost in the postseason process, especially in workouts.
Vitals & Build
Gilbert is listed at 6’ 200lbs with a long, lean frame. His speed is outstanding and he demonstrates impressive agility in spots. He shows pretty good hips and is able to make plays as a result. Gilbert does not demonstrate much if any strength and it is a problem for him. There is an intriguing amount of potential physically as his frame looks like one that could add weight and strength easily while not impacting his athleticism and he really needs to increase his functional power.
Gilbert is an extremely poor tackler and really does not look terribly interested in getting involved in plays or getting better. He tends to just throw himself at opponents, lunge at them and ends up coming up empty. The most likely situation for Gilbert to really try to make a tackle is when he is coming downhill on a blitz or reads run and is in position to make a play. For the most part, if he does not have to make a tackle and there are teammates around him, he will let them do it. His form is bad, his results are mediocre, and his dedication to get better and be worthwhile in this area of his game appears to be nonexistent at this point.
Not only is Gilbert a poor tackler, but he is miserable in run support. His physical strength is underwhelming and opposing blockers can dominate him consistently. Gilbert struggles to take on and beat blocks and tends to get run out of the play without too much trouble. In a game against West Virginia, Gilbert got frustrated enough over an opponent blocking him that he threw a punch and got tossed out of the game.
Gilbert is really going to make a decision to be more interested and dedicated to improving as a run defender. Questionable tackling and a terrible ability to take on and beat blocks makes it difficult to use him for anything beyond obvious passing situations.
Gilbert is at his best in man coverage. He really seems to prefer to play over the top in man coverage, maintain his back pedal as long as possible and then drive on the football when it is in the air in hopes of cutting underneath and making a play on the football and potentially an interception. When receivers are able to break Gilbert’s cushion, he can flip his hips, turn and run with them down the field. He has the speed to run with most anyone and his length proves to be useful to body opponents out and to make plays on the football.
Gilbert will have lapses in his concentration and opponents will simply give up a good position. Some of this is due to the fact that Gilbert is always playing to create turnovers. He will give up some space in hopes of baiting the quarterback into making a throw and bet on his ability to catch up and make a play. This has some mixed results and Gilbert will end up giving up catches over the course of the game. There are times when Gilbert takes false steps and has trouble recovering to make a play and gives up catches that way. For the most part, if Gilbert is going to get beat, it is underneath and the damage is relatively small.
Oklahoma State will mix in some zone looks and Gilbert excels insofar as to say he really enjoys playing with the ability to keep his eyes in the backfield. Gilbert can read the quarterback and make plays on the football and at times will get caught staring in the backfield with receivers getting open behind him.
The larger problem for Gilbert is when he drops into a zone and there is no one that could potentially attack his area. Rather than finding work and going to an area where he could help, Gilbert stays in his zone and ends up covering no one in these situations. This could be what the coaches are asking him to do, but more than likely he is just not comfortable enough or aware enough in that scheme to realize he can help elsewhere.
Gilbert has long arms and is able to punch the ball and deflect passes but he is also able to go up and high point the football. Because of his height and overall length, Gilbert can take up quite a bit of space and really be competitive when it comes to going up and competing for the football. He definitely has the ability to get turnovers and break up passes.
Blitzing off the Edge
Gilbert’s speed and explosiveness has been utilized on blitzes from the edge. He can really fly off the snap and get downhill with incredible speed and the quickness to adjust and attack plays. As useful as that is, his tackling is so poor that he has a difficult time paying it off and making a play.
Gilbert brings a nice added dimension with what he can do on special teams. He does have a ton of experience returning kick offs and would be right at home watching the ball sail out of the back of the end zone in the NFL.
More useful is what he can bring on coverage teams, especially on punts. Gilbert is a terrific gunner with his speed and explosion that makes it extremely difficult for opponents to stop him from getting past them and getting down the field. His speed is impressive and he is able to cover a lot of ground in a hurry and get in a position to down punts or give returners reason to fair catch punts.
The best situation for Gilbert is to go to a team that runs man coverage and allows him to play over the top and allows him to gamble. He certainly has the ability to turn and run with receivers and that might be his best situation as it makes it harder for him to gamble and put himself in bad positions trying to create plays.
Gilbert’s inability to tackle makes him suited to be a nickel or dime back and play on the outside while having someone slide inside into the slot. He can play in the middle of the field, but he is far better and more comfortable when he can play on the outside, use the sideline as an extra defender and go up and make plays down the field.
Gilbert can also provide a benefit on special teams potentially as a kick returner but his biggest value is on coverage teams. He should able to contribute in that capacity immediately.
Gilbert’s game could be similar to Josh Norman of the Carolina Panthers. The former Coastal Carolina Chanticleer, with almost identical build, came out with interesting potential as he was not an overly physical presence but his athleticism and playmaking ability. Like with Gilbert, Norman came into the league as a depth corner that could also help on special teams. Like with Norman, the key for Gilbert is getting him to play up to all of that athletic ability.
Gilbert has some real assets that could help him be a worthwhile contributor on an NFL roster. His athleticism is really impressive and he might surprise some with just how well he works out, but Gilbert does not always play to it. Gilbert demonstrates the ability to cover well and make plays on the ball, but he is not a physical player and struggles to help against the run and make tackles. Gilbert’s potential combined with his ability in coverage and the contributions he can make on special teams makes it so he projects as a third day pick that could get move up due to workouts.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com