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Deone Bucannon's coverage ability leaves room for growth

The rookie has a knack for making plays in zone coverage, but his man-to-man work needs some work.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When the Cardinals made Deone Bucannon the 27th pick of the NFL Draft, the sigh of relief about adding a player with the ability to be a matchup option against the tight ends that destroyed the Arizona Cardinals could be heard throughout the valley.

When you dig into what he did on the field though and look at what was said about his ability in coverage during his time at Washington State you see a lot of the same terms pop up:

  • Ball hawk
  • Playmaker
  • Big hitter
  • Stiff hips
I did a round up of sorts on some scouting reports on Bucannon to see where the coverage concerns came in and they all seemed to be in the same are, man coverage.

Has a high, choppy backpedal and is stiff in the hips, limiting his ability to change directions fluidly. This leaves Bucannon vulnerable to double-moves and ball-carriers with the agility to cutback against the grain.

Nolan Nawrocki,

Struggles to recover from missteps and will not track anyone down from behind. Some tightness in his hips. Takes some inaccurate angles. Man-coverage limitations (struggles to mirror slot receivers).

Charlie Campbell,

Bucannon doesn't look like a good fit as a safety who can cover receiving tight ends or slot receivers in man coverage. He also isn't a rangy safety to defend the deep part of the field from speed receivers. Teams that like to have their safeties interchangeable based on a pre-snap read probably will have some reservations about Bucannon. In pass coverage in the NFL, he would function best in a zone-based scheme like a Tampa 2.

Of course, there wouldn't be an NFL Draft without those on the other side of the coin, good people I have worked with and talked with extensively about their feelings on draft prospects:

Ian Wharton, Bleacher Report (Now with Optimum Scouting)

While in man coverage, he shows the ability to throttle down quickly and efficiently and then close on the receiver without wasting motion. Shows advanced technique in man coverage, with quick feet that stay under his shoulder pads. His lateral agility is aided by clean movement techniques.

Pete Smith, (FanSided)

Bucannon is an extremely fluid athlete who can flip his hips, see where plays are going and has the burst to get there quickly.  He also breaks on passes effectively which enables him to make plays on the football.

There are some plays that can help make those decisions, but first what I saw. I went back and watched every game and highlight video the Internet provided I came away thinking: It looks like Bucannon, right now, is much more comfortable and more effective as a zone defender, where he can read and react to the quarterback. What plays made me think of that? Bucannon makes the right read as the zone man in coverage and picks up his teammate who was beat badly and picks off the pass. A better throw probably leads to a pass break up, but the fact he was there and could make the play on the ball is what matters. Of the 13 Bucannon interceptions I could find, and mind you many were in highlight packages and not in All-22 coverage, it looked like 10 of his interceptions came in zone coverage, where Bucannon's instincts and ability to break on the ball comes into play.

While Bucannon is in man coverage he has some good plays, but he also has some plays that make you scratch your head.

On this play he is manned up on the slot receiver, playing ten yards off the ball, and somehow still allows the receiver to get a step on him. Thankfully Kevin Hogan misses his mark.

A little later, against tight ends, he has an opportunity to make a play against the tight end he's manned up on, and gets called for pass interference.

It's just not a smart way to attack the man in coverage, and it is not an indication of anything other than his overaggressive nature, and that is something you cannot have in man coverage, and something he will have to learn.

Against ASU, he plays what looks to be a zone scenario, and makes an exceptional break on the ball to make the interception, he takes the man coming into his zone and does a great job of jumping the route and taking one away from the Sun Devils.  When the play is in front of him, he has a much better time making plays.

Bucannon has the tools, the skills, and the natural play making ability to be a force in coverage. The question becomes can he improve his man to man skills, or will he be a guy who is limited to zone coverage, which is not a bad thing, but makes him not as completely versatile as you would hope.