The Indianapolis Colts made cornerback Rock Ya-Sin the 34th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. A former cornerback for Presbyterian college, Ya-Sin ended up on the NFL’s radar after a dominant Senior season for the University of Temple. After the season, he put together a very solid Senior Bowl and solidified himself as a top 50 selection in the draft. It was even reported that GM Chris Ballard liked him enough to take him in the first round if he didn’t find a trade partner.
After an impressive training camp for the team, he has had a fairly quiet start to the season as he hasn’t quite made the impact that we all expected. In today’s film room, we are going to look at the up and down play from the rookie and what he can do going forward to improve.
The first clip here shows Ya-Sin getting beat in man but it is an overall positive play. He lines up in press man near the line of scrimmage. As the play starts, he mirrors the receiver off the line but fails to truly disrupt the route by making contact within the first five yards. This is likely a coaching point rather than a miss on Ya-Sin’s part but it does hurt his ability to disrupt the receiver at the line. After the initial release he opens up towards the sideline anticipating the fade. This isn’t a poor decision at all as he needs to take away the more dangerous route on 3rd and long.
After he takes away the fade, wide receiver Dontrelle Inman breaks inside for the in route. Ya-Sin is able to stop quickly and come down in the route and close the gap between himself and the receiver. Although he isn’t able to get the pass break-up, he gets in good position to make the tackle short of the first down. He showcased good footwork off the line and quick hips transitioning from that position to make the stop. Positive overall play from him here.
This next clip is Ya-Sin’s lowlight of the season but keep in mind who he is up against on this route. He is lined up in press man against one of the best route runners and skilled players in the NFL in Keenan Allen. This would be a tough match-up for even the best and most experienced cornerback. Ya-Sin initially does a good job with this route as he opens inside and allows Allen to work up field towards the safety help. Where Ya-Sin gets in trouble though is when Allen works to the outside on the post-corner route.
Ya-Sin makes the mistake of biting on the head fake by Allen as he turns back to the quarterback on the fake post route. As Allen breaks back to the outside, Ya-Sin has lost position and allowed Allen to get to his blind spot behind him. He panics while trying to recover by grabbing Allen and getting in poor position behind the star receiver. He over runs the play while beat and allows Allen to get inside and out muscle him for the touchdown. Going forward on plays like this, Ya-Sin needs to stay patient on the initial route and not panic if he is beat. The right reaction when beat is to stay in the receiver’s hip pocket, watch his eyes, and dislodge the ball from the receiver as he goes up for it. Poor overall play but definitely a learning point for the young corner.
This is an example of a similar type of play to the one above where Ya-Sin is in full control the entire time. He opens inside on the play and forces the receiver to the safety help on the interior. He makes subtle contact at the stem of the receivers route and continues to direct him inside without committing an infraction. As the receiver breaks to the inside on the post route, Ya-Sin is able to stick to the outside hip and take away the throwing lane. Marcus Mariota is forced to go to his second read on the play and by that time the pass rush gets home for the sack. Great play by Ya-Sin being physical throughout the route and forcing the play back to his safety to take away the throwing lane.
A perfect example of how Ya-Sin learned from the mistakes against Keenan Allen are in this play against Julio Jones. Like Allen, Jones is one of the top receivers in the NFL except he is a rare athlete combined with excellent route running. In a play eerily similar to the play Allen scored on Ya-Sin— the Falcons likely did their homework before this game— the call is a post corner on the outside. Ya-Sin does better at the line of scrimmage here as he gets a hand on Jones and redirects the route a bit more inside towards the safety. He stays in the back hip of the receiver as he makes his way up the field and never loses position.
As Jones fakes inside, Ya-Sin doesn’t take the bait and hangs in the outside hip pocket of the star receiver. As Jones begins to work outside, Ya-Sin runs the route with him and has the play completely shut down. Jones attempts to essentially box out Ya-Sin like one would do on a basketball court but Ya-Sin is able to be just physical enough with him to win the play and force the incomplete pass. Excellent play by the rookie to go toe to toe with an elite receiver.
An example where the mirror and match press technique works well and Ya-Sin is able to win the route. For anyone unfamiliar, the mirror and match technique is predicated on matching a receiver’s movements off the line and redirecting the route more with your footwork than physicality. Here, Ya-Sin is able to accomplish what he wants in press without laying a hand on the receiver.
He stays patient in his technique and doesn’t over commit to any of the receiver’s initial moves. He leaves the only area available for the receiver to continue his vertical route up the sideline where there is little room to work. He stays in the hip pocket of the receiver and squeezes him to the sideline which forces Matt Ryan to look to the check down. Great technique at the line and technique in the route to force him to the sideline and out of the play.
After a string of good plays in this film room, he was due for a learning mistake. That is exactly what this play is too, a poor awareness play that he needs to learn from. The Colts are in zone coverage and in a bit of an umbrella coverage as they are forcing the play inside. Ya-Sin gets good depth in his zone drop and gets to the outside of the play.
Where the mistake is made though is outside the responsibilities of the zone drop. Yes, on paper he does his assignment and gets to his land mark. Where he needs to improve going forward though is being aware enough to recognize that there is no receiver threatening that zone and to work inside to the nearest receiver. There is no point in covering air on the outside, so the logical step in this coverage would be to break off from his assignment and work back to the nearest receiver. Not a major mistake by any means but for a press corner learning zone techniques, he will improve in this area.
This next rep is just great press technique for the young cornerback. Lined up in the slot against Jones yet again, he doesn’t get over eager and plays with great discipline. Jones tries to stutter step at the line and Ya-Sin stays solid in his technique and doesn’t over commit. Jones then attempts to swat past Ya-Sin but again the young corner stays sound in his technique and gets physical with the big receiver at the right time. He stays inside and in the hip pocket of Jones and takes away the throwing lane. Ryan is forced to go to his check down due to the coverage from Ya-Sin on this play. The young second round corner performed great all day against (arguably) the league’s best receiver.
Another fairly low point for Ya-Sin in this young season as he bites on the run fake which allows the tight end to get behind him for the score. While this score is mostly on Ya-Sin, it is yet another learning moment for the young player. While you never want to see a player over commit to a play action or any action in the backfield, it is even more important how the defender reacts to being out of position. For a good comparison, look at this play by teammate Pierre Desir last season when he gets out of position by the play fake. He doesn’t panic as he locates the receiver and separates the ball from the receiver’s hands as the pass comes in.
Cornerback Pierre Desir (#35) had a day on Sunday. Here is a perfect rep on how you react when beat.— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) December 19, 2018
- Locates his man
- Doesn’t panic and try to find ball in the air, stays on his man.
- Once he sees the TE go up for the ball, he separates man from ball.@WeAreDBNation1 pic.twitter.com/LMcMqtK5Ly
Now compare it to the play by Ya-Sin and you’ll see the learning curve. He makes the mistake of retreating to the man while also looking back to the quarterback. By glancing back at the quarterback, he slows down his pursuit and is unable to get to the ball in time to make a play. He should have retreated full steam to his receiver and looked to separate ball from player as the pass came down. Again, another learning point for the young cornerback.
Remember earlier in this article when Ya-Sin didn’t stay aware on the outside and break off his zone to the receiver? Here is an example of him learning from that mistake nearly getting an interception. He initially lines up in press but retreats off the line as the ball is snapped and gets into his zone drop. He runs with the receiver on the outside while keeping his eye on the quarterback. He breaks off that outside route when he sees the underneath route break outside and gets in position to make a play on the ball when the pass is thrown. He would have had an easy pick on this play if Derek Carr didn’t see Ya-Sin breaking on the pass, resulting in the QB short arming the pass. Great awareness on the outside to break on the play and near;y get his first career interception.
While he has shown great patience and technique at the line throughout these clips, here is one of his few mistakes in this area. This is a major reason why I am not the biggest fan of the mirror and match technique as one false step can lead to a player being beat. At least in other press techniques, a corner can recover better from missed steps by getting a hand on a receiver and being physical. That doesn’t happen here as Ya-Sin doesn’t make contact at the line. As a result, he over commits on the initial move by the receiver and opens up late to the inside move. He stumbles a bit which allows the receiver to get enough space for the pass to be delivered. Ya-Sin gets bailed out by a drop but this is one of the many examples why I’d like to see Ya-Sin be more physical at the line and make contact so he can survive plays where his foot work is off.
Final clip of the film room ends on a great note as Ya-Sin is able to make the pass breakup on the sideline. The Raiders are looking to take a deep shot down the field to speedster Tyrell Williams before halftime. Ya-Sin does a great job of squeezing the veteran receiver to the sideline and closing the throw window for Carr to make the pass. He then contacts Williams enough at the top of the route to throw off the timing a bit. While Williams does gain a step due to his pure speed, Ya-Sin is able to hang in his hip pocket down the field. He watches Williams eyes and looks back at the ball right as Williams turns. He is able to extend to the ball in the air and get the big pass break up down the field. From technique at the line to locating the ball late in the play, this is textbook from Ya-Sin on the deep ball.
After looking at the film of every snap he has played this year, Ya-Sin is not the superstar cornerback that training camp made him out to be. He is however a talented young corner who has had his fair share of rookie mistakes that he is showing that he can learn from. His competitiveness is something to really admire early on. He gave Keenan Allen a good battle despite being beat a few times and he went toe to toe with the league’s best in Julio Jones for nearly an entire game.
Going forward, I’d like to see him steadily improve his zone anticipation and how he reacts to being beat. If he can stay in control when he is beat down the field and locate his man, a lot of these big plays we are seeing will start to go away. If he can read the field better in zone and anticipate plays before they happen, he will start to force turnovers. The talent is there and it is only a matter of time before he starts eliminating most of these mistakes and starts playing high level football.
Overall though, he is a young corner who is improving every week and slowly eliminating his mistakes. As his snap counts go up, so is his overall play. I think it won’t be too long until he turns the corner and becomes a very good player for this defense.