The New England Patriots had fans and reporters quickly scouring Google after they selected cornerback Keion Crossen out of Western Carolina with the 243rd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Crossen was a relative unknown to laymen, and as Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio tells it, he wasn’t on New England’s radar either until he performed at Wake Forest’s pro day.
Crossen proved he’s a freak athlete by running a 4.33-second 40-yard dash with a 1.56-second 10-yard split, 39.5-inch vertical leap, 10-foot, 11-inch broad jump, 4.01-second short shuttle and 6.67-second 3-cone drill at 5-foot-9, 178 pounds.
When the Patriots draft a player out of a small school, it’s always interesting to do a little digging on why he had to go that route out of high school. Sometimes it’s grades, legal issues and or something else entirely. Crossen was a quarterback and safety in high school but only weighed 140 pounds. A big school probably wouldn’t invest many resources in recruiting a player that small. So, Crossen bulked up and made it to the NFL by shining at the FCS level.
The Patriots have had success with small-school cornerbacks in the past. Malcolm Butler did pretty well for himself coming out of West Alabama and Kyle Arrington went to Hofstra.
The first thing that stands out about Crossen is his speed. It was nearly impossible for a wide receiver to beat him over the top. That’s not just testing speed. He’s got it in games, as well.
He not only caught up to Hawaii’s running back on this play, he looped back around to tackle him head-on.
Crossen is undersized at 178 pounds, but he still was able to bring down bigger skill-position players with regularity.
Crossen was selected in the seventh round, so you shouldn’t expect a perfect prospect in the undersized cornerback. His ball skills were slightly inconsistent in college. He only had three interceptions and 19 pass breakups in his four-year career. He didn’t have an interception as a senior, but he broke up seven passes.
Here’s a good example of him breaking on a ball. This probably should have been an interception, but it was a quality play nonetheless.
His coverage skills were always impressive, but there were times he was in position to make a play and didn’t. A tweak in his technique certainly should help with the Patriots.
Not every play was like that, however. Here’s a pass breakup he made on a long pass down the sideline.
Here’s a crazy leaping touchdown-saving breakup he made in the end zone.
And here are three more pass breakups we watched him make.
Ultimately, it looks like Crossen breaks on the ball well when it’s in front of him, but he has some trouble making a play on the ball when it’s over his head. The Patriots teach their cornerbacks to disrupt the pass by going after a receiver’s hands or arms. If he learns that technique, he should be fine.
Crossen’s agility stands out on tape, as well. Watch him flip his hips fluidly on this play.
You can’t teach that.
Crossen mostly played outside cornerback in college, but based on his size and testing numbers, he might project better in the slot at the NFL level. The fact that he showed an ability to play the ball in front of him would work well inside. Crossen likely will be asked to continue to bulk up at the NFL level if his frame can handle it, but he still was able to make plays close to the line of scrimmage when defending the run in college.
Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones and Duke Dawson seem like shoe-ins to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster, but Crossen will compete with JC Jackson, Cyrus Jones, Ryan Lewis, A.J. Moore and Jomal Wiltz for what could be a sixth cornerback spot on the roster. An injury also could open up a roster spot for Crossen.
Since he was a relative unknown coming out of Western Carolina, it’s also possible the Patriots could slip Crossen onto the practice squad.
Based on Crossen’s athleticism and college tape, he’s definitely an intriguing prospect to take a flier on in the seventh round.
Thumbnail photo via Western Carolina Public Relations