2018 NFL supplemental draft has options for cornerback-needy teams

Senior NFL writer
Yahoo Sports
Western Michigan defensive back <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaaf/players/258157/" data-ylk="slk:Sam Beal">Sam Beal</a>, right, intercepts a pass intended for USC’s Jalen Greene last season. (AP)
Western Michigan defensive back Sam Beal, right, intercepts a pass intended for USC’s Jalen Greene last season. (AP)

It has been three years since a player was last taken in the NFL’s supplemental draft, but many are expecting that drought to come to an end next month.

That’s because this year’s draft, which will be held July 11, might contain the best pool of supplemental talent in 30 years.

Of the three players available — cornerback Adonis Alexander of Virginia Tech, cornerback Sam Beal of Western Michigan and safety Brandon Bryant of Mississippi State — one of them (Beal) is widely expected to be drafted, while many think Alexander (and to a lesser extent, Bryant) could also be taken.

“We’re going to have, possibly, three guys taken in one year,” said draft analyst Eric Galko, owner of OptimumScouting.com. “Beal can play sooner, Alexander may need a redshirt year and Bryant could make it [as a] special teams-type guy.”

The interest in all three is real. Fourteen teams reportedly attended Bryant’s pro day on Monday, while 26 reportedly attended Alexander’s on June 20. Even more could attend Beal’s, which is scheduled for Thursday.

Teams often opt against selecting anyone in the supplemental draft since clubs that select a player forfeit a pick in the corresponding round of the following year’s regular draft (the one held in April).

Since 2011, when the Oakland Raiders selected quarterback Terrelle Pryor with a third-round designation, only Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon (2012) and Rams offensive tackle Isaiah Battle (2015) have been taken in the supplemental draft. If Beal, Alexander and Bryant all get selected this year, it will mark the first time since 1989 that three or more players have been taken.

“Beal and Alexander are long and athletic enough to make it,” Galko said. “Both have really high grades, not only from Optimum Scouting, but also from the NFL-funded scouting services, and we know NFL teams are craving these above 6-foot corners who can press.”

The supplemental draft has long been an option for players with academic or off-field issues that emerge following the mid-January deadline for the regular college draft, which is annually held in late April, and these three are no different. The trio were having academic issues prior to their decisions to apply for the supplemental draft.

“The fact that both the top two guys don’t have a major, major off-field red flag is notable,” Galko said. “Alexander had a marijuana issue but for the most part, teams aren’t concerned about that, which is certainly unique.

“When Josh Gordon came out in 2012, there was a lot of concern about his marijuana use, his drug use, and it was very apparent that was the issue that was gonna hold him back. For all these guys, it’s not that impactful.”

With that said, here are scouting reports on all three players, complete with thoughts from our expert (Galko) and anonymous scouts from across the NFL.

1. SAM BEAL, Western Michigan, cornerback
Age: 21
Measurables: 6-0, 185 pounds, (Will run 40-yard dash on Thursday).
Bio: Two-year starter who recorded 26 tackles, 10 pass breakups and two interceptions in 2017, when he was second-team All-MAC. Declared for the supplemental draft after being ruled academically ineligible before his true senior season.

Evaluation: Physical, aggressive corner with good feet and length. Has good fluidity for his size, tracks the ball well and is expected to run in the 4.4s at his pro day. Needs to work on his hands — could have had more interceptions — and be more competitive as a run defender in the NFL, but teams nevertheless seem to agree he’s the top supplemental prospect available. “He’s the best one in the draft and it’s not close,” one scout told Yahoo Sports. “He’s got speed, size, the ability to tackle.” Another scout also liked Beal more than Alexander. “Beal is more sudden — he’s big, long and can run,” the scout said. “He can tackle and he’s willing to do it but he needs to get bigger. Could be a nickel.” A third scout was more muted but still liked him the most. “Long and has some developmental press skill,” the scout said. “Early tape was decent but tailed off some late because of injury.”

Galko says: “I think collectively, Beal is considered the top guy. The biggest reason why is I talked to a lot of scouts throughout the year about Western Michigan’s other cornerback, Darius Phillips, who is a really talented playmaker, and every scout I talked to always brought up Sam Beal. Being a taller corner, being long, fluid and works well vertically, I think he’s a better athlete in terms of his hip fluidity and quick-twitch for a taller corner than most guys are. Usually, you’re sacrificing height for quickness but he does a great job of not being that way — he sinks really low.

“His ability to play as a press Cover 3 guy will help, and he can play underneath, he can play man coverage and he can work across the field. He plays like a 5-10 corner at 6-1, that’s why teams are excited about him. I think he had a great shot for Round 1 if he came back to school.”

Projected draft round: 3-4.

2. ADONIS ALEXANDER, Virginia Tech, cornerback
Age: 21
Measurables: 6-2, 195, 4.6 (40-yard dash)
Bio:
Two-year starter who recorded 27 tackles, four pass breakups and one interception in 2017, when he started only two games after starting 12 the previous two years. Was a second-team freshman All-American at safety in 2015, recording 55 tackles, 10 passes defensed and four interceptions. Declared for the supplemental draft after being ruled academically ineligible and dismissed from the team before his redshirt senior season.

Evaluation: Big, projectable press-man corner with the ability to make plays on the ball. “He’s got great ball skills — his patience and ability to go get it in the air is rare,” one scout told Yahoo Sports. Long speed and short-area quickness as a corner is a question; was beaten vertically on tape and his middling 40 (4.6) won’t help his cause, but his explosive vertical and broad jumps at his pro day were impressive, considering the lack of time he had to train. “He ran poorly but has ability — he’s draftable,” another scout told Yahoo. Played his best ball at safety and might be a better fit there. Physical and will mix it up with receivers. Is competitive against the run. Teams have also dug into his character due to the marijuana arrest, but his combination of size and ball skills could be too good for a team that needs a big corner to pass up. “He’ll drop, but he’s a first-round talent,” a third scout said. “Someone will throw a six or seven on him for the hell of it.”

Galko says: “He had a lot of success as a freshman, but then he didn’t go to class for a year and a half because he was just like, ‘I’m the King.’ He grew up from that, though he never was able to recover from the damage done to his GPA. I’m not defending it, but it’s not like he did anything terribly wrong off the field.

“He’s not gonna be as quick-twitch vertically — the Miami game, in particular, stands out as the game he really struggled vertically — but he’s athletic enough, and his length helps him compensate a lot. A lot of nuanced technique development can really help him in the NFL. He’ll never be an elite turn-and-run corner, but his ability to come up in run support and finish as a press corner is good. If he develops the technique to run with guys and stay physical, that’s when he can truly be a Richard Sherman-type corner, not to make the comparison too lofty. He’s got great reviews from the coaching staff I’ve talked to there, as well. Despite his weaknesses, he could be a really impressive Cover 2, Cover 3 press corner.”

Projected draft rounds: 5-6

Mississippi State defensive back <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaaf/players/240158/" data-ylk="slk:Brandon Bryant">Brandon Bryant</a> (1) is in the running to be selected in the NFL’s supplemental draft in July. (AP)
Mississippi State defensive back Brandon Bryant (1) is in the running to be selected in the NFL’s supplemental draft in July. (AP)

3. BRANDON BRYANT, Mississippi State, cornerback/safety
Age: 22
Measurables: 5-11, 207, 22, 4.45
Bio: Three-year starter who recorded 32 tackles, two pass breakups and one interception in a three-safety rotation in 2017. Did not practice with Mississippi State this spring due to academic issues. Declared for the supplemental draft before his redshirt senior season.

Evaluation: Hard-hitter who plays with an edge, moves well and has some physical gifts — has reportedly run a 4.24-second 40-yard dash in the past — but needs to refine his eyes. After a strong freshman campaign in which he recorded 63 tackles, six passes defensed, three pass breakups and three interceptions, his father died in a motorcycle accident in 2016 and his play took a step back that season, as he didn’t start the last three games. He reportedly thought about giving up the sport, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, but built a bond with new safeties coach Ron English and went on to have a decent senior season, though whoever takes him will be doing so knowing he needs to improve his technique and instincts. “Stiff, linear, fast kid,” one scout told Yahoo Sports. “Only a 50/50 tackler. Lacks cover ability.”

Galko says: “He would have been one of the better athletes at safety in the 2019 NFL draft — a freakish athlete. Had he tested at the scouting combine, he might have been a 39-inch vert[ical] guy, a 4.4 guy. He’s a special athlete but he didn’t always put it together in college. He’s the one guy teams have some question about whether he can handle the NFL lifestyle, the NFL game. If he’s drafted, it will be off pure athletic ability. He’s not a definite to be drafted, but he’ll have a lot of interest from teams. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t go for a sixth- or seventh-round pick.”

Yahoo’s projected draft rounds: 6-7.

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