Scouting Report: Robert Alford
April 27th, 2013
Robert Alford at the Senior Bowl
After the Falcons selected him, I went back and took a look at Alford for the first time by watching some archived games on WatchESPN.com.
Height: 5-10 1/8
School: Southeastern Louisiana
Speed: 4.39 (Combine)
Alford is a small school corner prospect hailing from the FCS subdivision (formerly DIvision I-AA). He earned a bunch of accolades during his final season, being named a Buck Buchanan Award (given to top defender in FCS) finalist, 2nd team FCS All-American, and 1st team All-Southland Conference performer. That production earned him a Senior Bowl invite, where he was among several corners that impressed observers. He had a standout performance in the actual game, returning a kickoff 88 yards and also picking off a 2-point conversion attempt. He was able to show that he could match up with some of the top athletes around the nation from larger programs. He then transitioned easily to the Combine, where he was among the elite performers this year at the cornerback position. His speed, vertical jump, broad jump, and bench press were all among the Top 4 guys in Indianapolis. Alford was so explosive that he even got some reps on offense as a scenario, working on reverses (2 carries) and being a vertical threat on occasion (4 catches for 52 yards). His older brother Fred Booker was journeyman corner out of LSU in 2001 that bounced around the Arena League and NFL Europe before finally landing with the New Orleans Saints in 2005 where he played in 12 games as a reserve and special teams player.
2012: 11 GP/11 GS, 39 tackles, 5 TFLs, 0 sacks, 4 INTs, 21 yds, 8 PBU, 0 FF, 0 FR
2011: 11/11-52-1-0-5-64-7-1-1 (1 INT returned for TD)
2010: medically redshirted
- missed 2010 season with a shoulder injury
2012: 7 punt returns, 99 yards (14.1 avg), 1 TD; 4 KO returns, 61 yards (15.3 avg), 0 TDs
2011: 1-(-2)-(-2.0)-0; 0-0-0.0-0
2009: 1-7-7.0-0; 0-0-0.0-0
2012 GAMES WATCHED
at Lamar (9/29): 3 targets, 1 catch, 10 yards (3.3 YPA), 12 YAC (12.0 avg), 0 TDs, 1 INT, 1 pressure, 2 run stuffs, 1 penalty (pass interference)
vs. Northwestern State (10/13): 3 targets, 1 catch, 16 yards (5.3 YPA), 13 YPA (13.0 avg), 0 TDs, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 TFL, 2 missed tackles, 1 penalty (personal foul); Offense: 1 carry for 6 yards; 2 targets, 0 catches (drew penalties both times)
These are general skills required for his position and relative to not only top collegiate prospects, but also NFL players. Grades are based on a 10-point rating scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite
Speed (8.5) – Has very good straight-line speed and acceleration. Has good catchup speed that can cover some other coverage deficiencies. He shows his speed as a returner, and likes to get the edge as a punt returner. His closing burst on the ball is good, able to come upfield and help in run support underneath. He shows good burst off the edge on the corner blitz.
Man Coverage (5.5) – He has upside to get better here due to his smooth hips and athleticism. He can play either press or off coverage, but is better in the latter. He struggles to get the jam in press coverage and has a tendency to grab. Has experience playing inside in the slot. Needs to be more consistent with his backpedal, footwork, and technique, but flashes tools to be very good there with refinement.
Zone Coverage (5.0) – Speed, range, and ball skills give him upside to get better here, but too often is stuck out of position when working in zone. He can get caught looking in the backfield and covering grass, which can lead to some blown assignments in coverage. Needs to play with more discipline and awareness there.
Tackling (5.0) – He is willing in run support, and his burst allows him to be more effective than a player of his size should be. But he’s undersized and has a tough time making open field tackles against FCS backs, and thus there could be a significant jump to the NFL level. He will wrap up and with some added muscle he should be a competent tackler on the edge. Will come up and defend the edge and burst allows him to come downhill with some steam. Needs to take better angles to the ball and not an ideal space player yet. Struggles to get off blocks at the point of attack.
Ball Skills (7.5) – Plays the ball fairly well in the air. His athleticism allows him to get underneath and break up some passes. Has fairly solid hands and consistently takes advantage of his opportunities when he’s in position to make the turnover.
Alford is a developmental starter at the cornerback position that I would say would be ideal candidate for the third round. You like his athleticism and upside, as he does have the potential to start. But he’s not a guy that looks like he’s going to be able to contribute as a starter in the first two years of his career, which is ideal for second round players. But his return potential does push his value up slightly, so a team with needs on special teams isn’t reaching in the latter part of Round Two.
Grade: 5.1 – These are players that could become starters for you, but more than likely you target them as really good role players and complements. Might be talented, but might have serious questions about size or athleticism to be considered a reliable starter at the next level. They can definitely contribute on the next level, but you don’t see them being anything more than average starters. Click here for more information on my grading system.
Alford has upside to rise above his grade. His speed and athleticism means he has good room to grow in coverage. He hails from a small school at SE Louisiana, but the Southland Conference has produced recent NFL starters in the secondary in cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Terrence McGee, and safety Chris Harris.
Initially, I think he’ll have to produce on special teams to get that needed development time on defense. His speed makes him dangerous when he gets to the edge on punt returns, but has a tendency to try and get there. He may not be the most disciplined punt returner and he’ll need some refinement there. Doesn’t have a ton of experience returning kickoffs, but his speed and acceleration mean that he might have more upside there than he does on punts. His speed and willingness to tackle also mean he shouldn’t have too many issues becoming a valuable gunner on special teams.
Alford needs more refinement, but you see the tools to believe he has the capability of being a solid starting corner. His speed, athleticism, and ball skills are his greatest assets. He’s not short on toughness, but just needs a bit more discipline. In Atlanta, I expect him to impact quickly on special teams. He may not be as reliable and consistent a returner as Eric Weems, but he certainly is much more explosive. Due to the presences of Samuel, McClain, and now Trufant, he is in a good position to be patiently developed. He won’t have to be rushed into the defensive lineup. At the very least, without a ton of improvement he can add depth and be in the mix as a nickel corner down the road. At best, it wouldn’t shock me if he winds up surpassing the three players ahead of him by his third year to be the best corner on the roster. As a rookie however, I suspect he’ll just be relegated primarily to special teams. He should be a good replacement for Chris Owens on the outside in coverage due to his speed to get downfield as a gunner, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he led the Falcons as a rookie in special teams tackles. He should be able to win one of the return jobs, although again I think he might be better suited to returning kickoffs than punts. He doesn’t have great change of direction, nor do I trust his hands and discipline as a punt returner. As a kickoff guy, he can use his speed and acceleration to hit the seam and just fly past opponents. In his second season is where you’re hoping to start to see the growth on defense. It’s not to say he won’t be able to add some defensive value as a rookie, but I’d be surprised if he were to surpass Samuel, McClain, or Trufant. And I don’t think he’ll be a better fourth cornerback than Dominique Franks right off the bat, even though his special teams value is likely to allow him to leapfrog him on the depth chart. But by his second or third year, if he can polish his game and really digest the game mentally, he could prove to be a better candidate to replace Samuel on the outside than McClain just due to a higher athletic ceiling to match up with premier NFL wideouts. Depending on how all of these players develop, it’s not difficult to imagine that the Falcons may have secured their left (Alford), nickel (McClain), and right (Trufant) cornerbacks presumably until the end of this decade.