Despite Louisville's Top 25 finish this past season, virtually no one is being discussed from the school as a potential draft pick. One of the only players being mentioned in mock drafts is cornerback Adrian Bushell.
The prospect transferred from Florida and became one of the key pieces on the team's defense. He is known as an aggressive cornerback, but does he have a skill set that can translate into NFL success?
Bushell is a very aggressive cornerback and can be called on to blitz and make hard tackles easily. He has plenty of special teams and kick return experience as well.
He does a good job of reading defenders, and his footwork is good enough that he can adjust his route if he needs to. His 14 passes defended last year also speaks volumes about his ability.
Bushell is somewhat undersized for the position at 5'9"-5'10", and he is one of the smallest CB prospects available. That's not a deal-breaker if he has a great build or great speed, but he has neither.
Despite the strengths, he is too aggressive at times, and is susceptible to play fakes. He's also an inconsistent tackler, and there are times that a wide receiver can break his way out of one of Bushell's tackles.
Bushell's 40-yard dash time of 4.58 was one of the slowest at the combine, and given his 186-pound build, he should have been able to run a sub-4.5 time. Conversely, his 17 reps on the bench press was one of the best numbers put up by a defensive back.
While he had a poor combine, he stepped it up on his pro day. He ran a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash, which is better, his vertical jump improved from 33" to 36", and his broad jump increased from 9'8" to 10'1". The increases tell me that even when he doesn't have great numbers, he's willing to improve on them and get better.
At Florida, Bushell had trouble with the coaching staff. Why was he in the doghouse? Aside from clashing with the coaches, he had academic issues, and after not getting a starting job when Joe Haden left for the pros, he transferred to Coffeyville Community College.
He has had no trouble since joining Louisville, so this is hopefully a situation where a young player has matured and has left his trouble behind him.
Despite transferring from Florida, Bushell was lucky enough to have the same main coaches for most of his college career; Vance Bedford was defensive backs coach at Florida before becoming defensive coordinator for Louisville in 2010. Not only that, but Louisville head coach Charlie Strong moved to Louisville from Florida that same year.
Playing the Ball
Bushell has great ball awareness, as shown by 14 defended passes last year. He is able to get his hands up to block the ball, and his aggressiveness allows him to prevent wide receivers from getting comfortable when trying to catch a pass.
His hands, however, are a concern. For as many breakups as he had, I would have liked to see more than one interception last year. He's never really been that type of cornerback, though, which could be an issue if his ball awareness isn't as good as it appears.
Against the Run
Bushell is able to get around offensive players to tackle a running back. While a bigger running back could get by him, he is tough enough to make open field tackles at times. On film, he performed best when he simply went after the guy with the ball rather than worrying about a coverage assignment.
Surprisingly, given his position, he has much better success bringing an offensive player down closer to the line of scrimmage. When trying to tackle someone 10 or 15 yards out, it's harder for him to shift to make a tackle compared to when he's blitzing.
My major concern is if the offense runs a draw play. Wide receivers are able to cover him and prevent him from getting a tackle in those cases, which cancels out his aggressiveness big-time.
When he's in man coverage inside and slant routes, he is able to cover players much more effectively, and is able to keep them mostly out of the play. So long as coaches don't have him in coverage for the deep ball, he can be utilized here.
Zone coverage relies more on ball awareness and a bit of patience, but Bushell actually does fairly well in this role, thanks to primarily being used in zone roles at Louisville. He knows who has the ball, and is able to make moves to get to the intended target quickly.
If he's in a zone role and there's a player in motion, he rarely follows him to the other side. It's fine if that's by design, but that likely allows for an open target on a pass; plus it leaves the question open of what Bushell does for that play, and at times there isn't an answer.
When tackling, Bushell tends to aim low, diving to get defenders when running with the ball. He's able to get them down often enough, but a skilled player could evade that move relatively easily.
When he tackles the player higher, which he will do more often in the open field, he has greater success. If he can at least modify his tackling to the waist or higher, rather than going after legs, then he should be able to tackle in the NFL much more effectively. Then again, with all the rule changes in the NFL, his tackling style may be an advantage.
Bushell has the skill set to have great technique, but it's something that will need to be coached up. He has great footwork and is able to smoothly run his routes, and when he's in press coverage he will stay close on the offensive player.
Bushell is, primarily, a player who utilizes his motor rather than refined techniques, and that will be something he has to work on in the NFL, making sure his hand placement and situational awareness are improved.
In the NFL, he could be a great fit on special teams due to his aggression, but I would not place him as a kick returner because he tends to dance around and attempts to find holes, rather than rushing ahead.
As a cornerback, he's someone who can come in as a change-of-pace option, someone to keep locked in man coverage at times, while letting him blitz or spy on the running back other times.
Bushell is projected as a sixth-round draft pick. Given his film and ability, I see him as a sixth-round pick as well. He has a great motor and is great for cornerback blitzes, but he's not going to be able to do that every play at the NFL level, and I'm much less confident in his abilities as a pure cornerback; I would only have confidence in him as a nickel cornerback.
If a coach can harness his aggressive running and get him to make the tough plays, he could be a late-round steal. That being said, he seems to be a player who can weak havoc if left unaccounted for, but if teams plan for him, he can be shut down a little too easily, which is why he is a day-three prospect to begin with.
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