Cornay evaluation; ASU cornerback / field safety analysis

Arizona State signed its first junior college defensive back of the 2017 class more than a month after signing day. Here's our evaluation of Darien Cornay and how he fits in.

Cornerback / Field Safety

Ideal Scholarship Roster Number: 10-11

Potential Returning Number: 6  (Armand PerryMaurice ChandlerKareem OrrRobbie RobinsonChase LucasChad Adams*)

*Adams is perhaps better suited to play Bandit

Likely Returning Number: 6

2017 Commitments: 3 ( Alex PerryLangston FrederickDarien Cornay)

Remaining target number: 1-2

The Skinny

Arizona State coach Todd Graham has said that most programs want to have seven or eight scholarship cornerbacks on their roster in any season. He'll enter 2017 with no more than three returning scholarship cornerbacks (Kareem Orr, Maurice Chandler and Robbie Robinson) and another player who can play cornerback (Chase Lucas). With how ASU plays, the cornerbacks and field safeties have frequently been interchangeable from an athletic standpoint.  

So there was clear need to replenish this group in 2017 recruiting, and especially in consideration of ASU being dead last in Division I football in each of the last two seasons in passing yards allowed per game. Interestingly, however, the Sun Devils did not sign a junior college cornerback in the class they announced on Feb. 1.

That changed on Thursday. ASU's third overall cornerback addition in the class came more than a month after National Signing Day when Cerritos (Calif.) College 5-foot-11, 185 pound cornerback Darien Cornay signed with the Sun Devils while on an official visit to the program.

ASU is the only scholarship offer that Cornay has ever received. At Los Alamitos High School he missed his junior season with a collarbone fracture. As a senior Cornay said he was limited to some degree by an ankle sprain, though he still played in 10 games and had 18 tackles with two interceptions and seven passes defended. 

With no college prospects, Cornay headed to junior college even though he was an academic qualifier out of high school. As a result, he was able to sign with a college program as a 2017 recruit with the ability to play three seasons over a four year span at the Division I level. Cornay said he believes most colleges has no idea that he was able to transfer after his freshman season at Cerritos, particularly ones who were not recruiting him in high school. Only after ASU got in contact with him a week before his eventual commitment did other schools also show interest, he said. 

Cornay initially spoke with ASU assistant coach Shawn Slocum, who doesn't even coach the position. That led to dialogue with defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, and eventually a conversation with secondary coach T.J. Rushing. Within a couple days an official visit was set, and Cornay and his mother traveled to Tempe on Wednesday, already knowing that he would sign with the Sun Devils unless something unexpected happened. 

After being listed at 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds in high school, Cornay was listed two inches taller and 10 pounds heavier by Cerritos. He believes a lot colleges dropped the ball on his recruitment and ASU coaches decided they felt like he'd be able to help them. Now the question is whether ASU reached due to a need given that he had no other offers, or if Cornay really does project to being a capable cornerback in the Pac-12. 

The best attribute displayed by Cornay on film are his play diagnostic instincts. Pre-snap he tends to recognize formation changes and likely impending play development quite well. He appears to be able to work seamlessly and communicate effectively with teammates in situations that require quick reaction and vocal alerts. As a trail defender in man coverage he moves well with motion and has good visual identification of the football and its likely destination, often well ahead of teammates. Playing forward or laterally as a slot nickel corner is one of the things he does relatively well. 

Cornay would be considered a moderate athlete projecting to the Division I level as a cornerback, but his instincts help enough to counter-balance some of this. This visual awareness also serves Cornay well with pre-snap presence and how he manages space as a zone defender, particularly out of the Cover 3 shell. He has the ability to see the quarterback while feeling the receiver. His ability to adjust between receivers within his zone assignment is also a strength, and it's how he made a couple of the interceptions he's had in the last three years. 

On the perimeter, Cornay is best served in off coverage, particularly on zone. He has a crisp, functional pedal with high RPMs and a lot of composure that he transitions well out of either coming downhill to the play or opening to the deep threat of when he has a cushion to do so. When he maintains visual awareness of the football -- much easier out of relaxed coverage -- he has the ability to make some disruption plays down the field. 

At Baylor, new ASU defensive coordinator Phil Bennett often would play the team's field corner in off technique, but more often in man than zone. Cornay is better when he's facing the play right now, and particularly when he's able to have eyes on the backfield, but that's probably not going to be in the cards a lot of the times the way the Sun Devils play aggressive man defense. 

When playing press technique, Cornay has pretty good set up posture and decent initial footwork when reacting to route releases, though he can be too casual with his hands. He has enough hip mobility to play the position, though this wouldn't be deemed a strength, and he will at times be premature opening up, or overly exaggerate his orientation in a way that better receivers will be able to exploit. 

Cornay doesn't tend to get run by out of press, but there's not a lot of displayed bump coverage on film, which makes it difficult to project effectiveness from a skill standpoint. On some of the reps in which he does work to get a bump, the technique and overall approach is mediocre, a sign of someone who hasn't been asked to do it enough, and also has physical hurdles from a size and strength standpoint. This is one of the biggest concerns about Cornay as a cornerback in the ASU style of defense. 

Additionally, Cornay's effectiveness drops off when his back is to the ball, as is frequently the case with how the Sun Devils have played defensively. Though he's able to stay in phase reasonably well in such situations, the feel he has when he has good awareness of the ball is no longer on display when that reference is taken away. His competitiveness at the ball's arrival is a clear limitation in such situations at this stage of his career. That's not really a big surprise, as it's arguably the toughest part of being a high level functioning cornerback, but it's also an integral part of playing effectively at this level and beyond. 

From a open field tackling and run stopping standpoint, Cornay is decent for his size. He has a pretty solid approach as a tackler, more functional than showy, which is a plus. His instincts reflect well on bubble screens and other actions into the flat in which he has to try to evade blocking. When receivers get onto him though, he's not particularly stout, doesn't attack the block with a leverage and foundational edge, and is able to get washed off the line a bit too much at this stage of his development. 

As a moderate athlete with decent size, Cornay is going to have to become a great technician to be able to play in the Pac-12 successfully. There are signs of this being possible, particularly given his relatively strong instincts and ability to see play development ahead of him. But Cornay is going to to have to become much better with his hands at the line of scrimmage and playing with his back to the football on the perimeter.

Cornay is a corner who will play on the field side and probably as a nickel defender for the Sun Devils. He's not as well suited to the boundary due to the physicality of the position and increase of press technique and operating with his back to the play. There's even a possibility he might be able to handle the field safety position given his strong feel for space and ability to handle play development ahead of him. 

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