The 2012 season will be one to remember for NC State junior cornerback David Amerson. After celebrating one of the best statistical seasons by a defensive back in college football history where he quickly emerged as the games most feared ball hawk, playing theft to 13 passes with 2 returned for scores, the true Junior from Greensboro, NC has endured a very turbulent year that has raised a few eyebrows throughout NFL personnel departments.
In 2012, the preseason consensus All- American was exposed through the air, giving up timely scoring bombs of the long variety while facing his stiffest competition. The overwhelming success that he enjoyed a year ago was supposed to make opposing offensive coordinators and quarterbacks shy away from his region in the defensive backfield, giving him few opportunities to be a "game changer".
However, this season gave evaluators a snapshot at Amerson’s “flaw pad” while also assessing his football character. How he responds to the individual adversity that is sure to accompany even the NFL’s best defensive backs is critical in projecting his draft slot and anticipated success at the next level. While a top 5 selection is an extreme reach at this point, his skill set is atypical and should see him gone off draft boards before round 2 if he declares.
There are many questions to be answered for Amerson this offseason. Will the FBS’s active leader in interceptions with 18 make himself available for next Aprils NFL Draft, or will he return to school under a brand new head coach with a rejuvenated focus?
At 6’3 and 194 pounds, Amerson is among the new breed of long limbed, athletic cornerbacks alla Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks who many believe is the leagues best corner with All Pro Derrele Revis on the shelf. His size, great leaping ability and uncanny body control has evaluators salivating over the thought of him matching up with the games “basketball- bodied” wide receivers on the perimeter.
What makes Amerson dynamic is his elite ball skills. He has the surest pair of hands that I’ve seen on a college defensive back since Dre Bly, cashing in on nearly all of his INT opportunities while accumulating an astonishing 18 thefts over the past two seasons. He gets pics by the pairs, netting a couple of interceptions in 4 different contests alone in 2011. His instincts are his second greatest asset. He thoroughly believes what he sees and breaks on intermediate throws without hesitation, the difference between a pass break-up and a turnover. He is very comparable to Asante Samuel in that regard, at his very best in an “off- corner” position where he can have vision on the quarterback and anticipate throws.
People often wonder why many of Samuels’s interceptions hit him right in his chest, it is his high level of anticipation that allows him to beat the receiver to the spot and steal his gift. No need to dive or be an acrobat when you believe in your film study and what your eyes are telling you. As a run defender, Amerson willingly sticks his face in the meat grinder and is an overall sound tackler for a corner having registered at least 50 stops in each of his 3 seasons.
Though Amerson has a very intriguing skill set, 2012 highlighted areas of concern for the undeclared junior. Does Amerson have the foot speed to keep up deep down the field against the likes of a Mike Wallace or a Torrey Smith, two bonafide NFL deep threats? I’m not sure. I saw him loose his fair share of races this year which could point to a lack of foot speed as well as issues with flipping his hips fluidly and explosively kicking vertical from a back-pedaling position. This will be an area highly critiqued by scouts through the draft process if he so decides to declare.
The combine will send him through a series of defensive back drills that test hip flection, burst out of cuts as well as ball skills where he should shine. He must prove that he has enough straight-line speed to cover deep, preferably running in the high 4.4 to 4.50 range. If he runs a 4.6 or above, look for him to be projected as a free safety at the next level which could turn out to be a more natural fit for him since he loves to sit back, route read and jump patterns like a Darren Sharper who wasn’t the best man to man defender, but carved out a Hall Of Fame worthy career of jumping throws through his route recognition.
While Amersons vision on the quarterback is a clear asset, it also exposes him to double moves and play action fakes that enabled receivers to get behind him for big plays. We see it with Asante all the time, he returns an interception for 6, then gives up a touchdown on a double move where his instincts are used against him, a gift and a curse. Another question mark swirling around Amerson is his ability to play press-man coverage. On 3rd and medium to short, defensive coordinators often ask their corners to get directly in the faces of the wide receivers and win at the line of scrimmage.
With NC State playing a heavily zone based defensive scheme, Amerson was almost never asked to take his vision away from the quarterback or to go and eliminate a wide receiver at the line of scrimmage. He would be stripped of his instincts if he couldn’t face and read the quarterback. Press-man coverage puts your direct vision on the wide receiver and is much more demanding physically, trust me. He’ll likely be coveted by zone principled defenses where his skills are a premium.
Off the field, he has one minor blemish. He was under investigation early this year for improper contact with Erick Leak, a disassociated booster and former wide receiver for the Wolfpack from 1997-2000 who has provided prominent NC State players with benefits in the past, including future NBA draft pick CJ Leslie who served a 3 game suspension last year. Though he’ll likely have to answer those questions during the combines interview process, don’t look for this to have much value on when he is selected.
Many feel that David Amersons draft stock took a major hit this season, but if we take a look at his numbers from this year, we still see a highly productive player. 54 tackles, 5 interceptions with one returned for a score and 16 passes defensed is not a bad year by any means. He and his former head coach Tom O’Brien both agreed that Amerson abandoned areas of technique in his game in order to make every play out there. 2012 showed us that Amerson does indeed have that unique quality found in every great defensive back, amnesia.
We saw Amerson continue to play with the same competitive edge that made him a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award a year ago amidst some early troubles. In the NFL, there will always be room on a roster for a pass defender who carries around the play making ability and optimism that Amerson does. Scouts will get one more opportunity to see Amerson in live action on New Years Eve when the Wolfpack face the Vanderbilt Commodores in the Music City Bowl. He has not declared yet, but look for Amerson to play his final game in Wolfpack red before turning his attention to the NFL Draft process. Don’t give up on Amerson.