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What happened to Stanford defensive back Paulson Adebo in 2019?

What happened to Stanford defensive back Paulson Adebo in 2019?
Photo Credit: Stanford Athletics

It’s a tale as old as time. A sophomore has a breakout season, forcing everybody into a frenzy to crown him going into his first draft-eligible season, only to disappoint or flat out fall on their face. Defensive back Paulson Adebo didn’t fall completely down the mountain, but he did tumble. The Stanford cornerback must clean up his sloppy play and become more consistent if he wants to hear his name called in the top 50 come next April.

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A frenzy in 2018 for the Stanford Cardinal

Adebo set a school record with 24 passes defended (20 pass breakups and four interceptions) and was a second-team FWAA All-American. Unfortunately, numbers and accolades lie. Lest we forget, Mitch Hyatt was an All-American somehow.

He’s fun. He’s flashy. He’s long-legged, with equally long arms that he uses to pluck passes out of the air. But he’s also well-built, stacking muscle together nicely with more room to grow, he’ll easily hit that 200-pound mark at the NFL Combine. But what those long arms allow him to do is play an ultra-aggressive style of football at the line. When he’s playing in press he’s really able to dictate the direction of the rep with a nice jam.

But it’s not just the nice frame and production we grew to love going into 2019. The young man has every physical trait you could ask for. He possesses track and field speed that was evident while carrying receivers vertically. He also knows how to use that speed, and even displays an extra gear when driving downhill or closing a gap when the ball is in the air or a ball carrier is in his area.

The former four-star recruit from Mansfield, Texas has no issues flying forward in run support or mucking it up with receivers trying to block him. His ultra-aggressive style in coverage carries into the pride he takes attacking the football on runs as well. It was giving him a ton of first-round buzz and even had some listing him as their top corner going into 2019.

Related | Analyzing high-impact 2020 NCAA transfers for the 2021 NFL Draft

What happened in 2019?

Well, a lot happened, actually. When the Stanford cornerback decided to return to school it was puzzling to those who hadn’t seen the product on the field in 2019. But after watching his junior campaign, it was clear he needed another go-round at things. His tape still flashes those same highs we’d seen in 2018, but with a ton of overall inconsistency and in some cases just flat out deficiencies.

Adebo plays both sides of the field and seems to travel with the opposing team’s best player. That can be a daunting task against the receiver trio the Southern California Trojans had, and one can even expect a few lost reps against Central Florida’s Gabriel Davis, but not at the rate he was losing reps. And some were in truly ugly fashion.

Double moves are Adebo’s Achilles heel. He works so incredibly hard to mirror comeback and other stop routes that he spins his wheels in the transition and gets beat downfield. And there’s no worse sight than a cornerback pumping his arms after getting torched for 40+ yards. Davis got him that way twice in their matchup.

Another issue he has, and it might be something taught but shouldn’t be, is that once the route starts to really develop his head often snaps back to the quarterback. That, in man coverage, is a massive no-no. Multiple times on tape he was left floating along a route the receiver had broke on, and he had to high tail it to recover.

But the issue that is most troubling because it’s one that will be difficult to fix is that his fluidity just isn’t top-tier, and his sloppy play in 2019 magnified that issue. So often when playing off the line-of-scrimmage he’d flip his hips early in the process with inside leverage and get broke off by in-breaking routes that led to easy completions.

Related | Highlighting the top Pac-12 cornerbacks of the 2021 NFL Draft

What to expect in 2020

As PFN draft analyst Matthew Valdovinos wrote, if Adebo simply gets back to his 2018 form, he’ll be a top-50 caliber pick. If he can improve his consistency, he could go on to be a first-rounder. But if we see 2019 Adebo in 2020, we might be looking at a high-upside, low-floor day three pick. Because of his playstyle, he’s got some of the highest variance in draft stock of all the senior prospects.

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