Player: Christopher Owens
School: San Jose State
Weight: 180 lbs.
Arm Length: Unknown
Hand Size: Unknown
Career Stats: 228 Tackles, 7.0 TFLs, 20 Passes Defensed, 3 Forced Fumbles, 13 INTs Ret. 132 Yd, 0 TD
2008 Stats: 68 Tackles, 3.0 TFLs, 8 Passes Defensed, 2 Forced Fumbles, 1 INTs Ret. 25 Yd, 0 TD
2007 Stats: 75 Tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 3 Passes Defensed, 0 Forced Fumbles, 6 INTs Ret. 26 Yd, 0 TD
*Stats provided by NFL Draft Scout (http://www.nfldraftscout.com/)
Most Unique Attribute: Aggressiveness
Areas For Improvement: Strength, Size, Footwork
Projected Round: 4th
My Take: I know, I already wrote up a guy from San Jose State. Why stick with this school? There is a reason. First off, not a whole lot of people get to follow SJSU and so not a whole lot of folks may realize that the SJSU team, defense especially, is a small cache of NFL talent, some of whom will play on Sundays, and some of whom will make it to an NFL training camp to try their fortunes. When I watch SJSU play football, I see three GOOD Draft prospects for the 2009 NFL Draft. I also see two or three more guys that might get invited to a training camp as UDFAs this summer. And then I see some other guys that I will be keeping an eye on for future drafts, including one guy I feel has a chance to wind up Top 3 or 4 at a particularly loaded position for his class.
The key is that the defense in particular on this team, and especially the defensive backs, appear to be very well coached players. Jeff Ireland once said about Alabama that despite Miami fans' misgivings with him, Nick Saban runs a really top notch program over there and as a General Manager, you feel a lot safer taking a player from a program like that because he's going to have a lot of fundamentals down and be very prepared. Keith Burns, the Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach of San Jose State, appears to me to be a very solid football coach. He may get a chance to improve upon the dismal record he accumulated as Head Coach of Tulsa from 2000 to 2002 (7-28).
This is a guy whose resume includes having coached CB Dwight Lowery, CB Brian Kelly, SS Kenoy Kennedy, CB David Barrett, FS Ken Hamlin, SS Caleb Miller, CB Jason Sehorn, SS Sammie Knight and CB Daylon McCutcheon at the college level. So, when Keith Burns fields a pair of All-WAC cornerbacks that are both headed to the draft on the heels of helping a defense that allowed only 170 passing yards per game, a stellar 5.7 yards per attempt, with quarterbacks only completing 52% of their passes, throwing 9 TDs to 16 INTs...you are absolutely forced to pay attention.
Now, Coye Francies is the guy that is grabbing the scouts' attention right now, and for excellent reason. Burns calls him the toughest player on the team, and says that he's not sure he has ever had a guy with his physical gifts. That is why it would be terribly unsurprising if Francies ended up the best cornerback to come out of this draft class.
But as aggressive and physical as Coye Francies is, Christopher Owens is more so. And, let's keep in mind, that when Coaches voted the All-WAC performers, they made Owens a First Team player and Francies a Second Team player. Additionally, Owens was invited to the Texas vs. Nation practices, and scouts were pretty clear that Owens was among the top one or two talents during the week.
Owens reminds me of an Antoine Winfield, and I don't like just throwing that term around. He might not have Winfield's physical strength but he has his mental aggression. And, between the two things, you can work on physical strength in the weight room. You don't often have success getting an unaggressive player to be aggressive. Or, as the term that Parcells and Sparano like so much goes, "if they don't bite as puppies, they don't bite."
Owens might be quicker than Coye Francies, we'll have to see at the Combine. He seems like the quicker change of direction type, that could work at slot CB in the NFL. He shows good closing speed and extension on the ball. His footwork is a little choppier than Francies', but effective. He'll open up and waste some movement in guesswork before recognizing the route a little better, but his hips are quick enough that he is able to do that while staying tight to the receiver's body.
He also shows the natural awareness to make plays by peeling off his man, whether that be intercepting the ball or leveling a would-be receiver (something that he's shown proficiency in doing, hence the forced fumbles). He has 13 career interceptions at San Jose State, one shy of tying the school record. He will get a little handsy at times, leading to some ticky tack officiating, but that is more a byproduct of his aggressive demeanor than something he needs to do to stay with receivers.
He fills against the run more than adequately, and seems even better at getting off WR blocks than Francies. A genuine tackle machine as a cornerback, he appears around the ball all the time and has averaged 6.0 tackles per game over his final two seasons, which projects to 95 tackles in a 16 game pro season. Hence the Antoine Winfield comparisons.
His primary weakness is that he is a 5'9" and 180 pound player, who needs to work on being stronger at the line of scrimmage on the jam, and stronger with the football in the air. Receivers find some success against him shielding the football with their bodies, to where he can't get through them. This, as well as the wasted movement and missed guesses, will be the biggest challenges he will face at the next level. But his hustle, speed, attitude, energy and effort will earn him a spot on an NFL roster and probably see him making plays.
And, when you look at the big picture, you have a physically aggressive tackling machine that makes all kinds of plays on the ball, doesn't allow many big receptions, was very well-coached for all four years, has the quickness to stay in the hip pocket, and 48 games worth of experience (38 as starter, I believe). All of those things will make me forget about his 5'9" and 180 pound size.
The downside is that for Miami, you probably only take him if you can get Andre Goodman and Will Allen locked up for the time being, and you can therefore bring a Chris Owens into the fold as a slot CB in nickel packages. His presence also does not solve our inability to make a heavy impact on receivers that have size going in their favor. I favor the strategy of taking two corners anyway, and you might want to pair an Owens up with a larger guy like Keenan Lewis, Dominique Johnson, or maybe even Sean Smith if he were to fall to #44 (highly doubtful). To be perfectly honest, I would relish the opportunity to import the pair of Francies and Owens directly to Miami as a pair.