The rain was falling. Traction was limited. But ego still reigned.
Split out wide with an unknown opponent five yards away brought a smile to the face of a receiver. Confident that he would be open downfield for the called go-route, the receiver looked back at the quarterback and signaled to him. The quarterback, also confident that he would deliver the ball on time, signaled back. The receiver turned, smiled and stared into the eyes of the defender… bad move.
The receiver got a clean break off the line, while the defender backpedaled with his full attention on the quarterback. The defender spotted the ball in the air with the receiver on his side and recognized that the ball was underthrown. As the receiver cut toward the middle to try to track down the ball, the defender undercut the route, leapt and made a tremendous interception.
Cromartie makes a catch during positional drills at the Scouting Combine.
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
With the receiver and defender on the ground after the play, the defender rose up, showed the ball to the crowd and gave the receiver the opportunity to read the name on the defender’s back; the name staring him in the face was Cromartie.
Nicknamed “DRC”, Tennessee State’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been one of the more fascinating stories this offseason. He was mentioned this past season as a sleeper; a player who had great physical attributes, but played against far less superior talent and may need some time to develop. But the maturation process has happened quickly, and scouts are taking notice.
Cromartie had a breakout junior campaign where he recorded 47 tackles and six interceptions, but this past season his production dropped off to just 37 tackles and two interceptions. Both of his interceptions this past season were returned for touchdowns; one was from 69 yards out and the other from 71 yards out.
The 6-foot-2, 184-pound Cromartie arrived at the Senior Bowl as a skinny, small-school prospect who only a handful of people actually saw live. But after a stellar week of practice and an even better game where he displayed great ball skills, instincts and physicality, he was named MVP for the South team and his draft stock soared.
Just when you thought his stock couldn’t get any higher, Cromartie displayed his track-star speed at the NFL Scouting Combine. He was timed at a blazing 4.33 in the 40-yard dash and ran the 60-yard shuttle in 11.06 seconds. Cromartie also showed his athleticism with a 38.5-inch vertical jump. Not only were his measurables incredible, he was smooth in positional drills and flashed great ball-hawking ability.
Cromartie is a natural athlete who has star potential. He’s a tall corner who has a fluid backpedal and is excellent in coverage, using his long wingspan to his advantage. He’s extremely instinctive and anticipates the action well. He’s a physical defender who will mix it up against the opposition. He has great closing speed and has quick hands, which can turn defense into offense on any play.
However, besides the level of competition he faced in college, another knock against Cromartie is his size. He has to add bulk to his frame if he expects to have a chance defending the run at the next level. He likes to play physically against receivers, but he has problems shedding blocks. Cromartie also has to improve his footwork. He tends to get tangled transitioning in coverage.
Even though Cromartie is from a small school and basically came from nowhere, he’s shown that he deserves to be mentioned among the elite defensive backs in the country. He has all the tools, size and speed that you want in a front-end defensive back. Cromartie has made a meteoric rise from the midway point of the regular season — where he was a late second-round selection — to now, where he will ultimately land in the first round as a top-20 selection.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.