Jermaine Roberts picked the Longhorns on Friday night, giving Texas a high-level cornerback in a class stacked full of outstanding defensive backs. From the same school as recent Longhorn commitment Courtney Garnett, Roberts picked Texas over offers from Alabama, LSU and Michigan, as well as rivals Oklahoma and Texas A&M.
One of the things that I always hope for when evaluating defensive backs is that they have some return film. The reason for this is simple: it's so tough to evaluate cornerbacks on tape. First, if they're good, a lot of times (but not always) teams will avoid throwing their way. Second, film doesn't always do a great job of tracking what's going on down the field. And third, and perhaps most importantly, high school cornerbacks are so rarely in a position where 1) they are facing a BCS-caliber wideout and 2) with a BCS-caliber quarterback throwing to said wideout.
Because of that, one of the best ways to gauge a player's athleticism is in the return game, when they often have to stop-start, acceleration, change direction skills and — in the case of a good return — exhibit their top-end speed.
Roberts gets checkmarks in his credit in all of the above categories, as he was a deadly return man for St. Augustine a year ago, taking five kick returns (three punt, two kickoff) back for touchdowns. And you can see all the requisite athleticism there. He's tremendously quick and changes directions like he's just pushing a button — just watch the way he can shift from running vertically to making a nearly horizontal cut without gearing down significantly. And he has very good speed when he opens it up in the open field.
But while Roberts projects as a very good return man, he's a cornerback first. And he receives high marks there as well, showcasing smooth cover skills and an ability to run with receivers on a variety of routes.
At one point in his film below — check around the 2:20 mark — a receiver tries to give Roberts a bit of a hesitation move. But Roberts shifts back into top speed so quickly that it doesn't give the receiver any separation at all, and he's right on top of the guy for the over-the-shoulder interception.
The final part of that play shows one of the things that makes Roberts so special: his ball skills are such that 1) he does an outstanding job of playing the ball in the air and 2) when quarterbacks make mistakes, he absolutely makes them pay. Roberts had 10 interceptions a year ago, and he also had several instances where he used his active hands to break up plays and knock the ball to the turf.
The other thing that's impressive about Roberts is the job he does in run support for a smaller corner. Roberts attacks bubble and tunnel screens, doing a nice job of using leverage, striking the receiver and wrapping up. And he isn't afraid to give up his body to make a play. That's a trait that will endear him to future coach Duane Akina, who loves cornerbacks who attack ball carriers.
Roberts has everything a team would want in a cornerback with the exception of elite size, a package of smooth, fluid athleticism, cover skills, ball skills and a willingness in run support that makes him a great catch.