From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be profiling UTSA corner Tariq Woolen.
#3 Tariq Woolen, CB, UTSA 6041, 205 lbs.
Senior Bowl/Combine Invites
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Tariq Woolen||6041/205||9 1/8″||33 5/8″||78 5/8″|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
*Broad jump done at Pro Day
— Size and athleticism are both elite, even by NFL standards, making one of the highest upside prospects in the draft
— Length and athleticism allow him to be extremely effective in press bail
— World class long speed allows him to open up and carry receivers vertically with ease
— Massive frame allows him to close ground on his breaks even when late to react
— Does a solid job of rerouting receivers and sinking as a flat defender in Cover 2
— Uses length well to shock and shed stalk blocks in space
— Appeared to have a natural feel for the post safety position in limited work at the collegiate level, provides some positional versatility
— World class closing speed allows him to hawk ball carriers from behind and limit explosive plays/keep them out of the end zone
— Has proven to be an explosive and effective blitzer off the edge, using his speed/size to blow past tackles/bend the arc to generate pressure
— Does a great job of playing through the hands when unable to locate the football downfield
— On the oft occasion that he uses his hands in press coverage, he has shown the ability to disrupt receivers releases
— Quick to locate and close to the near hip when beaten off the line, which happens often
— Could likely function as a versatile chess piece with safety/corner versatility and rangy ability in zone coverage
— Far from a finished product with just two seasons at the position, likely won’t be ready to contribute on defense as a rookie
— Slight hesitation coming out of his breaks, will need to become more fluid in his click and close ability at the next level
— Lacks discipline in maintaining outside leverage/edge contain in the run game, will get caught peeking inside from time to time
— Presence and route recognition in zone coverage could stand to improve, although largely understandable with just two seasons at the position
— Could stand to utilize his length more in press coverage, too often opens his hips prematurely and fails to gives receivers free releases at the line
— Occasionally lacks effort/consistency in the block shedding and tackling departments
— Consistently struggles to locate and play the football downfield
— Makes little to no attempt to stay square in press coverage, opens hips and invites the downfield footrace, where his speed saves him from time to time
— Could flame out at the NFL level if forced into a role as a boundary cornerback in a man coverage scheme
— Will need at least a season to develop before he’s ready to effectively play on the boundary at the NFL level
— 62 tackles 5 TFLs 1.5 sacks 2 INTs 11 PDs 1 BLK
— 2021: 25 tackles 2.5 TFLs 1 QBH 1 INTs 6 PDs
— Only two years of experience at cornerback, converted to receiver after his sophomore season
— Career offensive statistics: 24 receptions 263 yards 1 TD
— 4.26 40 yard dash was the fourth fastest in combine history, 2nd fastest for a defensive back
— 2021 Conference All Conference-USA Honorable Mention
— Redshirted as a freshman in 2017
— Participated in the 2022 Senior Bowl after finishing his 2021 Redshirt Senior season
After a productive free agency period, the Steelers currently field a strong cornerback group with a pair of lengthy cornerbacks on the boundary in Ahkello Witherspoon and Levi Wallace, and a versatile chess piece on the inside in longtime veteran Cameron Sutton. Nonetheless, in today’s NFL, adding versatile depth to the secondary is rarely a bad plan.
Enter Tariq Woolen, a lengthy 6’4” cornerback out of UTSA who turned heads in his final two seasons after transitioning from wide receiver. Recently, at the 2022 NFL scouting combine, he posted an earth shattering 4.26 40 yard dash time, the fourth fastest in combine history, and second fastest ever by a defensive back, behind a fellow 2022 draft prospect in Baylor’s Kalon Barnes.
While he certainly has plenty of technique refinement to undergo before he’s able to become an effective cornerback at the next level, Woolen’s raw athletic traits, namely his freakish size and straight line speed, jump off the tape immediately. Understanding that he is faster than every single receiver he lines up against, Woolen will often take an unconventional approach in press coverage, opening up prematurely and inviting the foot race.
Below, in USTA’s season opening road upset at Illinois, Woolen aligns in press man coverage, opening the gate immediately and flipping his hips to carry the receiver vertically on the fade route. After closing the receivers near hip, Woolen stays in phase downfield before using his length to play through the hands at the catch point for an impressive pass breakup. While allowing receivers to take free releases off the line is a cardinal sin of press coverage, Woolen’s unique combination of size and speed often allow him to succeed in defending fade routes out of his unconventional approach.
Later this season in the Conference USA championship game against Bailey Zappe and Western Kentucky, Woolen once again aligns in press coverage, opting to open the gate immediately and invite the downfield footrace. After opening the gate and baiting the fade, Woolen takes off downfield, immediately closing to the near hip, staying in phase, and physically punching through the receivers hands at the catch point to break up a well thrown ball.
While Woolen certainly needs to work on using his length to squeeze receivers downfield and eliminate space for quarterbacks to fit balls in where only their receivers can get to it, his length and athleticism consistently allow him to play the pocket at the catch point.
On the occasional rep where Woolen attempts to stay square and is beaten off the line, his hip fluidity and world class long speed also help him to close space rapidly and stay in phase downfield. Aligned in press man coverage on the rep below, Woolen attempts to stay square, but gets shaken off the line of scrimmage with a hesitation speed release.
Once beaten off the line, Woolen flips his hips and rapidly closes ground to the near hip, this time using subtle hand fighting to disrupt the receivers stride and keeping him from reaching a well thrown football. While his work at the line leaves much to be desired, reps like this, where Woolen uses his length to disrupt receivers downfield and prevent them from reaching their landmarks, display his potential once he refines his current technical issues.
Given that Woolen still has a way to go in terms of his technique in his press man coverage work, I came away from my evaluation firmly in the camp that he works best as a zone defender in Cover 2 and Cover 3 schemes. Below, serving as the flat defender in the boundary, Woolen aligns in press coverage before bailing at the snap, and settling just past the sticks.
As the receiver breaks on a speed out, Woolen plants, drives the catch point, and arrives with violence, decleating the receiver and jarring the football loose for a violent pass breakup on third and medium. In zone coverage, Woolen is free to keep vision on the football, mitigating one of his primary weaknesses as a press man coverage defender.
Although Woolen’s run defense certainly has room for improvement, he was solid in crack/replace situations, which is inarguably the most important run responsibility for cornerbacks. Aligned into the boundary below, Woolen works into his bail technique before identifying the crack, replacing the safety’s alley fill, and shooting low to chop down the Illinois running back after a short gain of five yards.
While the effort needs to improve on a play to play basis, Woolen’s size and athleticism should help him develop into an effective run game and screen game defender as he continues to grow his game at the next level.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Woolen’s game, particularly given that he may have to transition to become more of a versatile sub package chess piece as opposed to a full time boundary corner, is his work as a blitzer off the edge. Below, aligned on the line of scrimmage just outside of the tight end in the boundary, Woolen bursts off the edge, using his speed to beat the tackle before he can get fully into his drop.
Converting speed to power, Woolen uses a dip and rip move to quickly defeat the block of the off balanced tackle, maintaining his speed and flushing the quarterback out of the pocket to force a roll out and an overthrown pass on the wheel route. Ultimately, I believe that Woolen’s freakish athleticism and ability to cover ground could make him an elite sub package chess piece for a defensive coordinator who best knows how to utilize his unique skillset.
As I had previously referenced, Tariq Woolen’s ability as a press coverage defender still leaves plenty to be desired, and his technique is simply not where it needs to be at the moment. Below, aligned in press coverage to the field, Woolen works out of a man coverage assignment on the point man of a stack formation.
On the designed stalk and go double move, Woolen engages in a jump jam, getting caught off balance while eying at the screen fake. As the receiver disengages and releases downfield, Woolen is caught flat footed, and his world class long speed can’t help him recover, ultimately resulting in a long touchdown. While he was certainly affected by the screen fake here, he is in a man coverage assignment on the point receiver, and thus he needs to trust his safety to make a tackle in open space if the screen is ultimately thrown.
The largest issue in Woolen’s press game is his tendency to open the gate prematurely, and allow receivers to release off the line untouched, nullifying the advantage that his freakish arm length gives him. Below, aligned in press man coverage to the field with Western Kentucky threatening in the red zone, Woolen gives ground and opens the gate immediately, ultimately getting turned around and allowing easy separation on a slant route.
Particularly deep in the red zone with limited room for the receiver to win downfield, corners are taught to stay square and protect their inside leverage, understanding that the quarterback has limited room to fit the fade ball in with a shortened field. Reps like this show how far Woolen has to go as a man coverage defender, which is somewhat understandable given that he has just two years of experience at the cornerback position.
Overall, Woolen undoubtedly has one of the highest ceilings of any defensive back in this draft given his freakishly large frame and top end athleticism. That being said, given his current lack of ability to stay square and use his hands to disrupt receivers in press coverage, I am not sure if his best role at the NFL level is at his current boundary cornerback position. Rather, given his freakish athleticism, ability in zone coverage, and ability as a blitzer off the edge, I believe that Woolen could transition to become an elite sub package safety in the right defense.
If he stays on the boundary, Woolen’s best fit is in a defense which primarily features zone coverage, as he is currently at his best as a flat defender in Cover 2 schemes and a deep ⅓ defender in Cover 3 schemes, where his issues locating the ball downfield are mitigated. Ideally, I believe Woolen could develop into a player similar to current Dallas Cowboy Jayrone Kearse at the next level, as they have similar frames, although Kearse is far more physical and Woolen is far more explosive in the athleticism department. That being said, while Woolen still has plenty of development to undergo before he is ready to contribute at the next level, I believe his ceiling lies as a safety and sub package defender rather than as a pure boundary cornerback.
If drafted by the Steelers, Woolen could likely contribute on special teams as a rookie while learning how to become an effective press coverage defender working Teryl Austin and a veteran group of cornerbacks in Witherspoon, Wallace, and Sutton. If able to develop at his own pace, Woolen could become a dominant player at the next level. However, if he is thrust on the field immediately as a boundary cornerback in the wrong situation, I believe Woolen could struggle mightily early in his career, potentially hurting his confidence down the road. Regardless, I believe Woolen will likely be selected on Day 2 due to his raw traits and his effectiveness at the next level will largely be determined on if he is put into the right situation and role early in his career.
Projection: Late Day 2/Early Day 3
Depot Draft Grade: 7.1-Raw Traits/Upside Prospect (4th Round)
Games Watched: vs North Texas(2020), at BYU(2020), at Illinois(2021), vs Western Kentucky(2021)