Ole Miss S A.J. Finley Impresses With Trio Of Picks On Day 3 Of Shrine Bowl

In evaluating the defensive back position, particularly in a non-live practice setting, it is important to focus on evaluating traits rather than production. That being said, a three-pick day from Ole Miss safety A.J. Finley, who was relatively quiet on Day 1, was impossible to ignore, and certainly had scouts talking.

Within the three interceptions secured by Finley on the day, each came while working in a different coverage assignment, securing an overthrow on a diving catch in Cover 2, a nice read to sink and read the quarterback’s eyes as a flat defender in Cover 3, and a tipped ball pick working as the post safety in a Cover 1 robber look. Through the versatility shown on each of the three plays, Finley showed the ability to execute and create impact plays from a variety of alignments and coverage assignments, a trait that should lend its skillset to virtually any defensive scheme at the next level.

On the first interception, which came in the team run session, Finley was aligned as the field safety in a two high shell pre-snap. At the snap, Finley pushes off the hashes, working for width and depth, providing body presence up the seam before breaking toward the sideline as the quarterback’s shoulders declare for the corner route. As the ball flutters and hangs in the air, Finley finds himself in perfect position to secure the diving interception. While most scouts chalk the play up to a poor throw, all turnovers are created equal, and part of great defensive back play centers around securing tips and overthrows.

On Finley’s second pick of the day, far and away the most impressive of the three, he aligns in the slot pre-snap, posturing as if he were in catch man on the slot receiver. Post snap, Finley expands to the flat, maintaining leverage on the running back while keeping vision on the quarterback.

In perfect position to midpoint the flood concept, Finley allows the quarterback’s eyes to take him to the football, sinking underneath the bender route to complete an impressive interception. On this pick, Finley showcased his ability to play underneath zone coverage near the line of scrimmage and bait quarterbacks at a high level.

On his third interception of the day, this one ending the final team session, and serving as a walk-off to Day 2 of Shrine Bowl practice, Finley works as the post safety in a Cover 1 robber look. At the snap, Finley rotates from a two-shell to the post, weaving in his pedal with vision on the quarterback, feeling the quarterback’s shoulders declare and planting to break and provide help up the seam.

As he closes to the catch point, Finley finds himself the recipient of a tipped ball courtesy of Tennessee linebacker Jeremy Banks. After his third pick, scouts and media members alike let out an audible gasp. A pair of picks in an all-star practice setting is an anomaly, a trio is about as rare as a solar eclipse.

Despite the level of difficulty, securing three interceptions from three different coverage assignments undeniably shows a knack for creating splash plays. In fact, in his final three seasons at Ole Miss, A.J. Finley was able to produce double digit takeaways, with eight interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles, adding four fumble recoveries and 21 passes defended for good measure.

Add in 245 tackles, 8.5 tackles for losses, and a pick-six ,and it becomes clear that Finley’s three interception day was no fluke; he came to the Shrine Bowl with a history of producing splash plays at a high rate. While quarterbacks are likely more wary of throwing in his direction over the final two practice days, he’s a guy I’ll be sure to keep a close eye on in drills and team sessions.

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