Phillip Gaines became a big time corner at Rice and was able to help the Owls win Conference USA and make it to the Liberty Bowl this season. Rice was able to become a starting corner as a true freshman before he was injured, ending his season. He had another significant injury in 2011 that cost him a large portion of that season.
On the field, Gaines developed into a fantastic man cover corner that has had a knack for causing pass deflections. After not recording an interception in his first four years at Rice, he finished this season with four, causing opponents to second guess throwing to his side.
For the NFL, Gaines has elite movement skills and has shown the ability to blanket opposing receivers at times. He has a great deal of ability and gives teams options, being able to play both on and off man coverage. Gaines tends to have problems with securing tackles and playing the run. His ball skills need to continue to improve so opponents are more afraid to throw at him. Gaines warrants a top 100 pick, but there is a chance that he could end up going in the second round because of his ability to come in and contribute early with a nice combination of size and speed.
Vitals & Build
Gaines measured 6’ 193lbs at the scouting combine with an arm length of 31 7/8”, which are slightly shorter than one might expect but not a problem. His movement skills are fantastic. Gaines showcased his top end speed at the combine, but his fluidity, feet and quickness on the field are as impressive if not better. He has tremendous burst and the ability to recover ground when needed. His strength is a work in progress and that is where his potential lies going forward. The stronger he can get while maintaining his elite movement skills, the better he can be in the NFL. The combine will also provide an opportunity for teams to investigate and get clearance on a couple of injuries that cut seasons short for Gaines.
Gaines’ tackling is inconsistent and below average at this point. When Gaines does not have time to think about it and just needs to get the guy on the ground, he is actually at his best. He uses his arms, latches on and just works to get the guy on the ground. It is not pretty, but he gets the job done.
When he has time to think and prepare for a tackle, the results are not good. Too often, he goes for a home run in the form of a shoulder bomb where he puts his head to the side, does not see what he is trying to hit and launches himself. There have been instances where he bounced off of the opponent or was so offline that he glanced off of the ball carrier and is unable to make the play.
More strength will help him, but he has got to get much better in his technique and want to get better at it. At this point, it is too hit or miss and it has to improve.
Gaines shows some ability in how he tries to help against the run, but certainly has significant room to improve. He will try to take on and beat blocks and try to get involved in making the play. Where some players will take themselves out of the play by trying to run around blocks, Gaines will take them on and at least not give up ground, giving teammates an obvious path to the ball carrier.
Gaines has to be quicker and more effective in how he is able to defeat blocks, so he can get more involved. He does not make much of an impact against the running game at this point, but he does not do much that stands out as being poor either.
Gaines shows a ton of ability in man coverage. He has been able to play in position to press and right up on his man. Gaines can do more to get a jam consistently and knock the opponent off of their line early in the play, but his agility and mirroring skills are fantastic. He tends to stick to opponents and really makes it difficult for them to get open and make plays.
Gaines is comfortable playing with his back to the ball, does not panic when he gives up space and has the ability to recover and make up ground when needed. The fact that he is not overly physical means that his transition to the NFL may be easier than for some collegiate players because he does need to be physical down the field and is athletic enough where he can be off, find the football and make a play. Gaines also can use the sideline to his benefit.
Gaines is also able to contribute in off man coverage with confidence as well. Not only that, but he has no problem playing with facing or with his back to the boundary, giving him options on how he wants to cover opponents. He is able to play over the top and avoid giving up the big play, but he might be more comfortable and effective playing underneath because of his speed and acceleration.
On multiple occasions, he has had the appearance of being beaten deep only to run down the opponent and deflect the pass. He has a ton of range and when he knows the ball is in the air, he has shown he can come off of his man and make a play on a different receiver.
Gaines’ ball skills appear to be relatively average. He does a great job of using his speed and quickness make it so he can poke the ball away, but when he has the opportunity to catch it, he is not as comfortable. There are missed opportunities and wanting to catch the ball with his body. If he can capitalize on more of these opportunities, teams will stop throwing at him.
Gaines’ best fit is in a pure man system. He seems to be best suited to play on the weak side at this point to mitigate how much of a problem his play against the run is. Give him someone to cover and just let him deal with that for the entirety of the game.
Initially, Gaines might be a team’s third corner and come into the game and while he might be able to function in the slot, may push someone inside and stay on the outside. The potential is certainly there for him to start out of the gate, but if all else fails, he should be able to eventually become the starter and has the upside to be an impact corner.
Gaines shares a lot of similarities with Desmond Trufant of the Atlanta Falcons. The former Washington Husky was a great weak side corner prospect that ended up going in the first round. The key difference between these two is the level of competition they played against, but both have tremendous movement skills and the ability to play in coverage, but tend to have problems with both tackling and supporting the run.
Phillip Gaines has shown he has a tremendous amount of ability and still has potential to be a terrific cover corner in the NFL. With better ball skills, he has the upside to be one of the best in the league. Still, his tackling and run support needs to improve to be a well-rounded player. Gaines warrants a top 100 pick, but a pure man team could take him in the second round, provided his injury history is not believed to be a lingering issue.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com