The Washington Redskins needed to improve in the secondary following a 2012 NFL season during which they ranked as the NFL’s worst pass defense. So with their first pick of the 2013 NFL draft (the 51st overall pick in the second round), they selected North Carolina State cornerback David Amerson.
Amerson is a 6-foot-1, 205-pound athlete with outstanding ball skills. In 2011, he recorded a Wolfpack-record 13 interceptions, feasting on opposing quarterbacks like road kill. While doing so, he showcased solid coverage abilities that placed him atop the list of draft-eligible corners heading into the 2012 season.
But his big sophomore season clouded his focus. Driven by the big play, Amerson’s performance declined during his junior year. He still recorded an impressive five interceptions, but was beat on numerous long touchdown passes. The worst of his performances came in a 44-37 loss to the Miami Hurricanes, during which he surrendered four passing touchdowns.
“Just trying to top off last year. Me being the competitor I am, trying to excel past that. Just trying too hard,” Amerson told reporters following his selection in April. “At the beginning of the season, I was trying to make every play, trying to make everything an interception, trying to just jump every route, and I started sitting on routes, eyes in the backfield, and it was more so beating myself more than getting beat by other receivers.”
Amerson’s selfishness is not a good mark on his record, but at least he recognizes what he was doing wrong. He stated that his goal heading into camp is to be a more dedicated player as he prepares to play against some of the best receivers in the NFL.
He certainly has the capabilities to do so. Blessed with an ideal combination of size and speed (he ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash at the Combine), the North Carolina native boasts the physicality and aggressiveness you want from a top corner. He is not afraid to use his hands against the bigger receivers and excelled against some of the nation’s top athletes while at N.C. State.
Amerson shows great instincts and reaction skills, making a name for himself by reading and jumping routes to record an interception or break up a big pass play. He is a much more intelligent player than most give him credit for, and he can only improve working with respected defensive backs coach, Raheem Morris.
The rookie’s playmaking ability is very reminiscent to that of the Atlanta Falcons’ Asante Samuel and fellow Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall. He is, however, a much surer tackle than both men have ever been during their careers.
Amerson is a willing participant against the run — a rarity for most pro cornerbacks. He closes in on the ball carrier quickly and has been known to deliver some bone-crushing hits. In the open field, he is much less dependable. He must learn to wrap up more often, as bigger, stronger players at the NFL level will simply bounce off his tackle attempts.
Despite boasting some outstanding athleticism, the Redskins’ second-rounder is not particularly fluid out of his breaks from his backpedal. This flaw may be his greatest of all, as it too often it results in big gains for opposing offenses as he gets beat off the line of scrimmage by faster receivers. The Hurricane’s Phillip Dorsett had a field day against Amerson during the aforementioned loss, feasting on this weakness… the wide out posted seven receptions for 191 yards and a touchdown that afternoon.
The double move is the cornerback’s kryptonite. Perhaps, the greatest evidence of this was when he was embarrassed by Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers, who was lined up as a receiver on one play. If not for a terrible throw, Amerson would’ve been beaten for a touchdown by a very unathletic quarterback who made what is arguably the worst double move in history.
The way to mask these weaknesses is actually quite simple: place Amerson in a position where he will not need to rely on his backpedal or be exposed in one-on-one man coverage situations. Fortunately, the Redskins are a perfect fit for the ball-hawking prospect.
The Redskins do not ask their cornerbacks to backpedal at all. Instead, they utilize shuffle/pattern match techniques which asks cornerbacks to use their eyes to read the quarterback while ensuring they are always in position to make a play. The Skins most commonly use man trail, off man and zone coverage schemes, all of which play into the favor of Amerson’s abilities.
Completely eliminating Amerson’s weaknesses — and really, his inability to get in and out of his backpedal, are the root of all his troubles — will enable him to be the elite corner many believed he could be following his spectacular 2011 season. In fact, with some refinement to his tackling technique, he could thrive as one of the better corners in the league with the potential to post major production numbers in the interception department.
Louis Musto is a reporter and sports talk host for the Sports Journey Broadcast Network. You can follow him on Twitter @LouisMusto.