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Cardinals’ UDFA Gem #2: Deatrick Nichols, CB, South Florida

Could the South Florida cornerback be the next UDFA gem from Steve Wilks?

NCAA Football: South Florida at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

As with Southern Utah’s Mike Needham, after watching Deatrick Nichols on film, it was difficult to fathom why he wasn’t drafted. What jumps off the tape is how athletic (4.38 speed, 37” vertical, and a sensational 6.72 3 cone) Nichols is. He is a track star who ran a 10.63 in the 100 meters. While he lacks ideal length (5-10), because of his aggressive, combative style of play, his quick feet and his impressive jumping ability, he doesn’t play small. Not in the least.

In the NFL, Nichols appears to be perfectly suited to play nickel CB. However, don’t count him out as a starting #2 CB because he can press in man and he’s particularly skilled in zones (a Steve Wilks’ staple). As the leader of the Bulls’ defense, he recorded 56 tackles, 12 pass breakups and 3 interceptions. Over the past three years, the ball-hawking Nichols snatched 11 interceptions, earning him 1st team All-AAC honors in 2015 and 2nd team All-AAC in 2016 and 2017.

Jason Hurley of wrote the following scouting report on Nichols:

“Nichols finished his career at South Florida, where he played in 49 career games, had 170 tackles, 13.5 for loss, 11 interceptions, 34 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovered. He has good speed, is a tackling machine, and was a ball hawk. He has good instincts, and good ball skills. He is very physical, and does not back down. He is a relentless defender, a good cover cornerback, and a shut down cornerback. He is also a hard hitter, and a defensive playmaker. On the other hand, he is a bit undersized, but that does not hurt his game. With that said, I view Nichols as a potential day 3 pick when it is all said and done.”

What stands out about Nichols when you him on film is that he is a flat-out baller. Like Hurley says, he is “relentless” is “very physical and won’t back down.” One of the best examples is how fiercely he battled Memphis’ All-AAC 1st team WR Anthony Miller. That was a matchup to savor. With the game on the line, and Memphis on the Bulls’ 5-yard line, Nichols made three straight outstanding defensive plays, including the last one---a pass breakup in coverage against Anthony Miller that preserved the Bulls’ stunning 49-42 win at Memphis. Check it out for yourself---fast forward to the last 30 seconds of the video.

Nichols also had an interception of Riley Ferguson earlier in the game (at the 2:10 mark).

Hurley describes Nichols as a “tackling machine.” He is a highly aggressive tackler who has a penchant for darting underneath the ball carrier’s’ pads and driving all the way through the tackle. Here’s a short highlight tape from 2016 that will give you a good sense of Nichols’ style of play.

Deatrick Nichols’ path to the NFL is quite a success story. He and one of his best friends, Quinton Flowers, helped lead Miami Florida’s Jackson High School to three state championships. Despite having offers from LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee, Clemson and UCLA, Nichols (and his pal Flowers) decided to stay home and play for South Florida. He says of the field he grew up playing on, “This field made men out of boys, just playing tough football and grinding it out every day. Just being here makes me feel good. I don’t take anything for granted, just knowing that all of this (the tradition of Miami football) is all so much bigger than me.”

Deatrick’s mom, Lawanda Nichols, said in a TV interview over a year ago that, “For a child to grow up in an area where it’s always ‘you’re not going to make it---you’re not gong to make it’---and to succeed in life---to go from one step to the next step---and to still be humble about it---that’s what makes me proudest of my son.”

Over the past three seasons, Nichols and Flowers helped to turn the South Florida Bulls into a formidable, top 20 program. Their freshman year the Bulls went 4-8. But, then came the turnaround: 8-5 in 2015, 11-2 in 2016 and 10-2 in 2017 winning the past two Birmingham Bowls over South Carolina (46-39 in 2016) and Texas Tech (38-34 in 2017).

Lawanda Nichols said that the advice she gave Deatrick when making his college decision was, “You can’t just go to a college that has a name, you have to go to college and make a name for yourself.”

Well, that’s precisely what Deatrick Nichols did at South Florida. And now for the first time in his life he’s leaving home---in order to chase his ultimate dream of playing in the NFL and helping the Arizona Cardinals stifle the likes of Cooper Kupp, Doug Baldwin and Pierre Garcon.

Next up: Cardinals’ UDFA Gem #3: A.J. Howard, S, Appalachian St.