The 2020 NFL Draft’s cornerback class is good. Like, really good. If you’re an NFL team who needs a cornerback, you are likely to find a legitimate option this year. Top-end talent, depth, raw potential, smarts — it’s all there. But even for all the hype the class gets, there are still prospects who deserve even more. Auburn’s Noah Igbinoghene is a massive sleeper, and while he isn’t often mentioned in the same breath as the likes of C.J. Henderson and Kristian Fulton, he deserves to be.
Noah Igbinoghene – NFL Draft sleeper
There’s so much that goes into playing cornerback at the NFL level, and as the game modernizes, it gets tougher for the players in the secondary. Having the physical capacity to handle a vast array of matchups, and having the versatility to line up in different spots, is more important than it’s ever been. Finding prospects who can fulfill these parameters isn’t easy, and it’s what makes Igbinoghene so exciting.
Igbinoghene is somewhat of a sleeper, and doesn’t have the name recognition of players previously mentioned, but he checks almost all the boxes on the list. In the surface-level evaluation, Igbinoghene thoroughly entices. He’s one of the youngest cornerbacks in the draft, as he doesn’t turn 21 years old until November, and at his pro day in early March, he put up stellar athletic numbers. He logged a 4.43 40-yard dash, a 40.5-inch vertical, and a 127-inch broad jump. His last name is also very fun to say.
Igbinoghene is an athlete, and he’s super young with a ton of upside yet to be unlocked. Some players put up those athletic numbers, only to disappoint with a slower pace on tape. However, Igbinoghene’s tape only reinforces his athletic potential, as well as his ability to use that athleticism proactively. A few examples will be provided below to illustrate this.
First, let’s check Igbinoghene’s quickness out of his stance. One of the most important athletic traits for a cornerback is short-area explosiveness and burst, and Igbinoghene shows it here, as well as the ability to flip his hips and gear up at a rapid pace. Not a lot of players can execute this kind of move as fluidly as Igbinoghene does here, and it speaks to the utility of his recovery athleticism. Igbinoghene doesn’t often give up ground, and when he does, he has the physical traits to gain it back just as quickly.
— Brian Johannes (@Draft_Brian) March 30, 2020
Here’s another play where Igbinoghene’s insane hip-flipping ability is on display, this time in run defense. Igbinoghene can change direction with tremendous quickness, and get up to top speed just as quickly. This gives him very impressive closing speed, and as this play shows, he’s not afraid to use it. Igbinoghene’s playstyle is very fast and aggressive; he approaches every down with energy, and that allows him to produce, both as a tackler and in coverage. On this play, his hip flip allows him to change direction and clamp down on an outside run before being flushed into the middle of the field. Without his combination of athleticism and urgency, this play isn’t made.
— Mike Spencer Hrynyshyn (@MikeH_Draft) January 17, 2020
Igbinoghene is also fast. He was Auburn’s primary kick returner in 2017 and 2018 due to his athleticism. Against Alabama in 2019, he fared very well against one of the most dynamic receiver groups in the nation. Here’s a clip of him going stride-for-stride with noted speedster Henry Ruggs III. Igbinoghene uses his arms to get in Ruggs’ space off the snap, then gears up quickly enough to stay in Ruggs’ hip pocket and break up the play in the end zone with his length.
Noah Igbinoghene locking up Ruggs in the slot at the bottom of the screen. Tight coverage forces a perfect throw and catch, but his ability to play through the ball at the catch point gets him the PBU. pic.twitter.com/Il8YnQoYWo
— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) January 28, 2020
Igbinoghene’s eagerness to make an impact on every play is encouraging; the former receiver has outstanding awareness at the catch point, and he has more than enough proportional length to be consistently disruptive. He logged 17 pass breakups at Auburn, proving that his traits can translate to production.
There are areas in which Igbinoghene can improve; his hands in press coverage are relatively raw, and he’s still working on the finer parts of the game as a cornerback. But Igbinoghene is a smart player who learned quickly on the job after switching to cornerback full-time, and if anything, the fact that he can still improve only reinforces how much potential he has.
He is a top-flight athlete who wastes none of that ability on the field, with searing play speed and ever-present physicality. He can flip his hips in the blink of an eye, accelerate just as quickly, stick to receivers in man coverage, and close in on the catch point. He also played in both slot and boundary roles with the Tigers, emphasizing his potential as a versatile, scheme-transcendent cornerback prospect.
The 2020 NFL Draft cornerback class is very strong, and while Igbinoghene might not be a sleeper in the purest sense, he is undoubtedly a sleeper in relation to the draft’s first-round cornerback prospects. Why? Because Igbinoghene deserves to be in that first-round conversation. He has some of the highest upside in the draft, and he’s just getting started.