Why Christian Gonzalez is the very best defenseman within the 2023 NFL Draft

Level guards have a tendency to maneuver the needle in relation to NFL discussions, particularly in relation to the NFL Draft. Whereas final yr was an exception to that rule, on condition that Kenny Pickett was the one quarterback to come back off the board within the first spherical – and that was within the first two rounds – the 2023 NFL draft appears set to return to that norm. Three quarterbacks (CJ Stroud, Anthony Richardson and Bryce Younger) are anticipated to depart the board throughout the first 5 picks, with Will Levis possible becoming a member of them within the prime 10.

However whereas passers can form the primary 5 picks in a draft, defenders can form the complete first spherical. In line with nFLMockDraft Database, Six defenders at the moment are repeatedly positioned within the first spherical of mock checkers, and whereas mock checkers are only one knowledge level, Mel Kiper Jr. ESPN lately named this Cornerback class one of many deepest within the draft:

Cornerback sitting on the prime of this listing for a lot of? Christian Gonzalez from Oregon.

some “[e]xplosive exterior nook of a defender with a uncommon mixture of bodily and athletic qualities,” says Lance Zierlein of NFL.com describes Gonzalez by evaluating him to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. “His take a look at scores might see his draft provide skyrocket, however the components are already there to grow to be the formidable CB1 if he makes use of his items,” continues Zierlein.

We’ll get to these take a look at numbers in a second.

Zierlein is just not alone. In your design information for Ringer, Danny Kelly has Gonzalez on the prime of the defending board and among the many prime ten gamers within the draft. Kelly describes Gonzalez as “an enormous, lengthy nook with block-covering abilities; he’s a feisty defender who sticks to receivers with unimaginable steadiness and physique management.” Explaining why he is likely to be promoted in the course of the draft course of, Kelly concludes as follows: “Gonzalez combines measurement, chop-marking and corner-taking abilities; he has the benefit to grow to be the defender of the blockade. “

Community design he additionally has Gonzalez within the prime 10 total and on the prime of the defenders board. “Gonzalez is an extended and lean nook with distinctive total athleticism,” write the Oregon CB of their detailed profile. “It presents the proper measurement with a peak and size to match opposing groups’ No. 1 receivers on the boundary. Gonzalez is a nook guard who shines with the flexibility to dam his a part of the sector.

His efficiency at Mix is beginning to full the image. In line with Kent Lee Platte, creator Relative sports activities ratingGonzalez’s assessments in Indianapolis positioned him among the many elite stage of leads:

Going again to these flattering rankings, you needn’t examine Gonzalez lengthy to search out examples of him doing every thing you need from a prime defender’s perspective.

Let’s take this recreation towards UCLA, with Gonzalez on the prime of the display. Watch as he completely aligns himself with a vertical course earlier than displaying off his explosiveness on the finish of the sport, flying over the courtroom to interrupt the throw:

On this recreation towards Stanford, Gonzalez is on the backside of the display. He’ll deal with the again kick and watch as he shows persistence along with his press approach earlier than displaying off his athleticism – and size – to interrupt this throw:

Gonzalez is a flexible defender and whereas the earlier two video games have proven him in cowl conditions, he’s additionally adept within the play zone. It is on the backside of the display right here towards Colorado and watch it learn this vertical/round route mixture, pausing on a round path to intercept:

Not solely does Gonzalez learn it completely by breaking the vertical route to interrupt the round route, however you see these Indianapolis take a look at drills take to the sector with this interception. Should you’ve ever questioned what Mix means to a possible shopper, right here you may see Gonzalez’s explosiveness and skill to vary path at work, which places him ready to commerce.

Usually, when finding out a possible shopper, you’ve got the proverbial “second to place the pen down.” (Though, in trendy language, that is in all probability extra of a “Google Sheet shut” second.)

Now it is time to discuss that second I had watching Gonzalez, and why he is on the prime of my CB listing together with everybody else.

However first, some schematic background – and for those who simply need to skip a couple of paragraphs forward to get to the artwork, I get it – to set the scene. In Cowl 2, a two-depth safety, the skin defenders are historically answerable for the flats, whereas the safety divides the courtroom in half:

(Massive cheers to my buddy David Archibald for that nice have a look at cowl 2 again in ours Contained in the pylon days).

Now, one of many weak factors in cowl 2 is deep out of the way in which, removed from the place the safety is ready up and past the duties of the defenders within the condominium. That is also known as the “turkey gap” and you may hear analysts speaking about quarterbacks throwing the “gap”. Shoot the exterior receiver deep and hit it earlier than the safety has time to show from the hash marks.

In response to this, the protection started to “sink” the skin nook and acquire depth in response to a vertical launch from the skin receiver. The nook defender continues to be answerable for the flat, however will drop on a vertical launch to slim down this throwing path and supply help for a vertical route from the outer WR. If the QB nonetheless desires to make that throw, it is way more tough now.

After all, crime didn’t keep put. Their reply? Ship a rift receiver to an condominium on the quick exit route. Usually talking, it is a “go/flat” mixture, generally known as Ohio in textbooks… and sure, go loopy. Now, if a defender beneficial properties depth after a vertical launch from an exterior receiver, the QB can simply throw to the flat receiver and hope to not solely catch earlier than the CB deviates from the vertical route, however then make the participant miss after receiving.

You understand the place that is in all probability going, and the protection clearly adjusted. This led to the emergence of entice ranges, generally referred to as Palms or 2-Lure, or different insurance coverage phrases. The nook will nonetheless drop and deep relative to the vertical launch from the exterior receiver, however will learn the discharge from the inner receiver. If this crack WR breaks outward shortly, the CB will peel off and “trapped” this WR.

For an instance of what this appears like, watch Xavien Howard on the backside of the display towards Mac Jones and the New England Patriots on the finish of the 2021 season:

The Patriots lead the go/flat mixture, with Nelson Agholor working the vertical route down the sidelines whereas Jakobi Meyers runs the skin route from the slot. Howard initially drowns in response to Agholor’s launch because the Miami Dolphins are in cowl 2 however retains his eyes on Meyers within the slot. When WR explodes, it stops the tour and Jones takes the bait.

Landing dolphins.

What can Jones do in another way right here? It might shortly reset and roll a vertical route as a result of Agholor is open. But it surely occurs in a short time and is an instance of how very, very laborious it’s to play quarterback.

Let’s make it tougher.

As a result of on this instance, Howard steps again and reveals Jones the drop in zone protection. What if the CB reveals the quarterback a flip inside man vary by turning his again to the quarterback and transferring away from him as if he’s protecting the skin receiver?

Nicely, this nefarious defensive plan is known as 5 Cougar in some techniques, together with Nick Saban. On the hyperlink yow will discover a tremendous compilation of all of Nick Saban’s relationship with Cameron Soran, which is price bookmarking if you’re excited by defensive relationship patterns in any respect.

In 5 Cougar, the defender’s nook makes a flip behind the person’s cowl, turning and turning his again to the defender’s nook, working with a vertical launch of the exterior receiver. The nook defender, nonetheless, retains his eyes on the within, trying over his inside shoulder to learn the discharge of the receiver. If this receiver reaches the condominium shortly, the CB stops this route.

Hope? That you’re going to lure the quarterback into pondering you are sticking to a vertical route.

Why may this work? Put your self in QB’s sneakers for a second. Whenever you see that cowl man flip away from the nook and the again of his shirt run away from you, every thing you noticed tells you that he’s protecting that receiver and won’t return to the WR slot. Even when you understand the 5 Cougar is an possibility, it is a robust job for CB to shortly cease for a dime, change path, and hit the flat throw. You would need to be not solely a tremendous athlete, but additionally a fantastic positional sense to affect the Belgian shot in such a state of affairs.

I can already see the place that is going…

Watch Gonzalez on the backside of the display right here:

Gonzalez makes this flip with the person protect, matching the vertical launch of the exterior receiver. However he stares on the tight finish, and when he lets go to the condominium, Gonzalez breaks away from the plumb to catch the throw. Dorian Thompson-Robinson appears to endgame, however Gonzalez arrives similtaneously soccer, interrupting play.

It was a “Google Sheet shutdown” second for me.


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