Every position group in the NFL Draft has one or more wild cards. These players don’t necessarily have concrete draft ranges, and where they go is especially dependent on how different teams view their profile. They could have ranges as large as five rounds, and it may come down to their offseason work to pinpoint a grade. Central Arkansas cornerback Robert Rochell is one of those wild cards in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Robert Rochell NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Cornerback
- School: Central Arkansas
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height: 5’11 3/4″
- Weight: 193 pounds
- Wingspan: 79″
- Arm: 32 3/8″
- Hand: 8 3/4″
Tony Pauline’s Robert Rochell Scouting Report
Positives: Nice-sized corner who flashes next-level ball skills. Displays good instincts and awareness, is very effective facing the action, and possesses a closing burst of speed. Keeps the play in front of him, engages receivers at the snap, and stays with assignments. Nicely times pass defenses and quickly closes to the action. Solid special teams player who makes a lot of plays on coverage units.
Negatives: Slow flipping his hips in transition. Hesitates when he turns to run with opponents. Not a physical run defender. Inconsistent with his fundamentals and techniques.
Analysis: Rochell is an athletic corner with excellent size who has flashed ability. He comes with scheme versatility, and Rochell’s special teams’ ability could help him find a roster spot as a No. 4 cornerback.
Robert Rochell Player Profile
There is a strong, but not quite direct, correlation between high school prestige and natural athletic talent. Most players who attract interest as high school recruits have decent athleticism, but more noteworthy schools tend to land the prospects with the most tangible upside. However, this isn’t always the case. For some players, it takes time to tap into that upside.
Robert Rochell was a product of the latter scenario. He was a standout player at Fair Park High School in Shreveport, Louisiana, who played as many as seven positions in his time on the field. He was on the All-District Team in 2015, but it wasn’t enough for the 175-pound cornerback prospect to get noticed. Rochell had no offers at the FBS level, and he was forced to settle for an opportunity with the Central Arkansas Bears.
Robert Rochell’s career as a Central Arkansas cornerback
At first, Rochell wasn’t even ready to produce at the FCS level. He was forced to redshirt his first season, to pack on more weight and develop his frame. As a redshirt freshman in 2017, Rochell started to look the part. So the Central Arkansas coaching staff gave him some opportunities at cornerback.
Immediately, Rochell began to show his potential. Over the course of the 2017 season, the redshirt freshman only logged three starts in 11 games. Nevertheless, he was able to put up eight tackles, one interception, seven pass deflections, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. The next year, he started eight times, and increased his output, amassing 25 tackles, three tackles for loss, four interceptions, 10 pass deflections, and a forced fumble.
Rochell’s final two years at the college football level
In 2019, Rochell finally broke out as a star on the FCS stage. The Central Arkansas cornerback started all 13 games, accumulating 44 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, five interceptions, 13 pass deflections, and a fumble recovery. He was named a first-team All-American and a first-team All-Conference selection for his production. And just like that, his draft stock started to rise.
Rochell came into 2020 as a steadily ascending sleeper in the 2021 NFL Draft. He aimed to use the 2020 season to expedite that growth. Unfortunately, the security of the 2020 season happening was uncertain. Fortunately, Central Arkansas was able to put together a schedule.
Rochell wasn’t as productive as a pass defender this year, but he still managed to log three deflections and a forced fumble in seven games. Two of those breakups came against future first-round pick Trey Lance.
Rochell had 10 interceptions and 38 deflections over the course of his career. In November, Rochell accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl. Subsequently, he set his sights on the 2021 NFL Draft.
Analyzing Robert Rochell’s NFL Draft profile
Elite athletes at the cornerback position are very valuable. Having an elite athlete doesn’t guarantee success, but it gives an NFL team the ability to supersede its opponent athletically. Robert Rochell provides that ability. The Central Arkansas cornerback is quantifiably an elite athlete. Robert Rochell’s testing numbers look something like this, per Bruce Feldman: 4.38 40-yard dash, 41-inch vertical, 140-inch broad jump, 3.98 short shuttle.
It’s worth noting that those numbers likely came from a private workout. However, at his pro day, Rochell confirmed his traits with similar numbers. At his pro day, Rochell logged a 4.41 40-yard dash, a 43-inch vertical, a 133-inch broad jump, and 83rd-percentile agility grades.
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So there’s interest. But there is a difference between having the athletic traits and utilizing them efficiently. Fortunately, Rochell appears to be proficient at using his tools as well.
On tape, he’s as explosive as advertised. He has the short-area burst to rocket out of his hip turns, and he also has tremendous closing speed when coming back toward the ball. Downfield, he has the speed to carry his man all the way, and he also has the length to impact the catch point, as his stats imply.
Beyond Robert Rochell’s physical traits
Rochell’s physical profile alone gives him a nice floor, but I was impressed with how smart he was in coverage. Rochell appears to have an understanding of route concepts, and he doesn’t bite on a route when he sees that it might lead him away from an approaching receiver. In zone coverage, he maintains positional discipline, and that allows him to serve as a safety blanket against short run-after-catch plays that might break big.
Furthermore, Rochell is solid in other aspects of the game as well. The Central Arkansas cornerback is a good tackler, courtesy of his closing burst and length. He has excellent ball skills down the field, possessing the capacity to rise and disrupt passes, and that capacity even extends into run defense. There, Rochell can also use his length to jar balls free. This past season, he forced a fumble and returned it for a touchdown against UAB. He has the playmaking gene, no doubt.
What are the issues with Robert Rochell?
Of course, the playmaking gene itself can sometimes be a double-sided coin. On one side, it allows Rochell to fill up the stat sheet. But on another, it can contribute to some embedded volatility in his game.
Rochell is more than willing to get physical, but this can sometimes be of detriment to him. He still needs to learn how to use his physicality with more efficiency. On numerous occasions, he’s been caught impacting receivers early. As a result, the Central Arkansas cornerback can be susceptible to flags.
Additionally, Rochell can also improve in press coverage. It’s a similar story there. Rochell has the physicality and the length necessary to make an impact, and there are a lot of reps in which he does successfully disrupt his receiver’s timing. But receivers who match his physicality might fare better, and Rochell’s tendency to jump toward them sometimes leaves space when he fails to recover.
Furthermore, there are times when Rochell is a bit late to break laterally when tracking his man. His hip turns are more fluid coming out of a backpedal than they are coming out of a downfield run. When Rochell has to turn back after already flipping his hips, he can be a bit late to react. This can leave space for in-breaking routes.
Robert Rochell’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
Being an FCS prospect, the NFL will represent quite a jump for Robert Rochell. However, he has the athleticism and the proactive mentality to be molded by the right coaching staff. It may take some time for him to develop into a final product, but he has all the tools necessary to be a potential starter. Athleticism alone doesn’t win, but it’s always a solid foundation to build off of.
As mentioned earlier, Rochell is a wild card, and now you know why. He has definite room for polish, but his athletic upside is through the roof. That may inflate his value, especially in a cornerback class that isn’t incredibly deep.
Robert Rochell’s draft stock is all over the place. He could go as late as Round 5, but his rare athletic upside gives him a ceiling in the Day 2 range. His pro day testing will undoubtedly boost his stock. However, an unspectacular showing at the Senior Bowl may work against him early on.
Which teams might have interest in Rochell?
Here’s the thing with specific team interest: It’s very dependent on valuation, and where a player goes off the board. It’s a bit harder to project with Rochell because his range is so expansive. Having said that, in that wide range, few teams have reason to turn away from Rochell. He’s a high-upside prospect whose athleticism could translate well in an early special teams role, and he also has starting potential.
Teams like the Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Jets, Detroit Lions, and Carolina Panthers present a mere sample, but almost all 32 teams could make a case for pursuing Rochell’s talents. Robert Rochell is the wild card who might be picked once the depth starts to go down a cliff. It’s hard to tell when that will be, but the dichotomy of supply and demand could very well work in his favor.
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