After suffering a season-ending injury in 2020, Tariq Castro-Fields spurned the NFL Draft to return to Penn State for the 2021 college football season. His performances have earned him an invite to the Reese’s Senior Bowl and the opportunity to impress NFL decision-makers further. Can the Penn State cornerback make an impression in a deep cornerback class? Castro-Fields’ scouting report reveals some traits that will prove alluring next spring.
Tariq Castro-Fields NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Cornerback
- School: Penn State
- Current Year: Graduate Senior
- Height: 6’0″
- Weight: 194 pounds
Tariq Castro-Fields Scouting Report
The 2022 NFL Draft class contains an impressively deep amount of talent. In my initial Top 300 Big Board for Pro Football Network, I had 34 cornerbacks. While prospects like Andrew Booth Jr., Derek Stingley Jr., and Ahmad Gardner are garnering first-round attention, NFL teams will be able to find a difference-maker on all three days of the draft — such is the depth of the class.
Where does Penn State cornerback Castro-Fields fit within this myriad of talent in the 2022 NFL Draft? Well, as mentioned in the introduction, he possesses some alluring attributes at the position that should ensure that he hears his name called next spring. Let’s start his scouting report with one of the critical factors in cornerback evaluation.
At 6’0″ and 194 pounds, Castro-Fields has decent size at the cornerback position. More importantly than that, however, is his length. According to reports, the Penn State CB has 35-inch arms. While that may be an inflated figure, you can tell on his tape that Castro-Fields has exceptional length.
This gives him two distinctive advantages over his opponent on the field. Firstly, when tasked with operating in press-man coverage, he can put his length to disruptive use at the line of scrimmage. Secondly, at the catch point, Castro-Fields can get his long levers on the ball to make a play, regardless of his positioning relative to his opponent.
Speed, versatility, and physicality
As the NFL gravitates towards speedier wide receivers, going stride for stride in man coverage is increasingly important. As demonstrated by his high school track background, Castro-Fields is up to the task in this regard. Against Ohio State, he was able to keep pace with Chris Olave downfield, a boast not too many cornerbacks can attest to. There are reports that he can run a low 4.4-second 40-yard dash, which wouldn’t be surprising.
In addition to the ability to go stride for stride downfield, this speed allows Castro-Fields to recover well if he does give up any ground at the line of scrimmage. There were several plays where he conceded a little ground early in the route but recovered within the blink of an eye. As a result, he demonstrated stickiness in man coverage.
While his speed and length allow him to thrive in man coverage, Castro-Fields has experience in zone as well. Combined with playing outside or in the slot, this gives him some valuable versatility as he heads to the NFL Draft.
Finally, Castro-Fields plays the game with physicality. This is evident in both coverages and against the run. He’s physical in coverage at the line of scrimmage and the catch point. Against the run, he shows fearlessness to crash into the box and overcome blockers to fight to the ball. This physicality could help him carve out an early role on special teams, in the same manner as his first season with Penn State.
Areas for improvement
Although Castro-Fields has some desirable attributes in his scouting report, there are some areas of improvement and concern ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft. Some of these may limit his stock and potential for the next level.
While you want to see physicality from your cornerbacks, they also need to know where to draw the line. Castro-Fields’ physicality can lead to grabbing at the top of the route. We’ve already seen that result in flags at the college level. In the NFL, this could be an even bigger problem.
While the Penn State product has impressive speed and athleticism, there are times when he gives up early yardage in press-man coverage. He can be wrong-footed by releases at the line of scrimmage. While he often has the speed to recover, Castro-Fields won’t have the luxury of allowing that room at the next level.
The undisclosed nature of his 2020 injury may pose some issues for NFL teams. It is also reported that he battled injury in 2019. While Castro-Fields has returned to full health in 2021, those questions remain and could present a red flag against his NFL Draft stock.
Tariq Castro-Fields Player Profile
Although he heads to the 2022 NFL Draft as a cornerback prospect, Castro-Fields began his high school career as an imposing safety. Growing up not far from Washington’s FedEx Field, he modeled his game on his idol, the late great Sean Taylor. While he may not have attained that level, he impressed Riverdale Baptist High School coach Caesar Nettles.
“He was the quarterback of the defense at free safety. He had really good range, high-pointed the ball well, came down in the box, and made a lot of tackles. He’s a willing tackler, and he’s a highly cerebral football player.”
The range he showcased on the football field also helped him succeed as a track and field athlete. Castro-Fields was a three-year letter winner on the track and field team. As a sophomore, he set the fastest 4x400m relay time in his home state of Maryland.
Castro-Fields changes position to secure college future
Despite playing on an undefeated championship team as a freshman, Castro-Fields’ high school performances translated to collegiate attention relatively late. He was under the radar until he was named the top defensive back at Nike’s “The Opening.” The result was a flurry of recruiting activity for the four-star prospect.
That attention intensified during his senior season. Although he’d earned praise at safety, most colleges had intimated that they saw his future at cornerback. As a result, he was moved to the position for his senior campaign. Castro-Fields thrived in his new surroundings, earning first-team USA Today All-State honors after allowing zero completions all season.
By the end of the year, Castro-Fields had racked up 15 offers, including one from Alabama. However, he narrowed it down to Maryland and Penn State. The decision weighed heavy, with the cornerback delaying an announcement until January 2017.
“It’s the hardest decision I’ve ever made,” he told reporters. “But, just something felt right about Penn State when I picked up the hat, and that’s the place I’m going to.”
Castro-Fields’ career at Penn State
Despite this relative inexperience at the cornerback position, Castro-Fields earned early playing time for the Nittany Lions. As a true freshman in 2017, he took defense and special teams snaps in all 12 games. Additionally, he proved his ball skills with an interception against Georgia State and 3 pass breakups against Michigan State.
Those performances, and 2 pass breakups against Appalachian State in the 2018 season opener, saw Castro-Fields earn his first start at cornerback for Penn State against Pitt. He continued to flash his ball skills through his sophomore year, finishing the season second on the team with 7 pass breakups. Furthermore, he proved disruptive against the run, finishing with consecutive 1.5 tackles for loss games.
Castro-Fields had a breakout campaign as a junior. He started all 12 games, leading the team with 8 pass breakups and 2 interceptions. Against Buffalo, he tallied a career-high 8 tackles, matching that performance against Michigan and Indiana. As a result of his playmaking ability, the Penn State cornerback earned third-team All-Big Ten recognition.
With his star ascending, Castro-Fields was a highly touted NFL Draft prospect heading into his senior season. However, the disruption of the college football season threatened to derail his journey to the next level. When the season finally got underway in October, the Penn State cornerback broke through the 100-tackle mark for his career.
Injury-shortened senior season sees Castro-Fields return to Penn State
Unfortunately, his season was even more short-lived than expected. Castro-Fields played just three games before an undisclosed injury ended his year. Reports suggested that he’d been battling through injury in his junior season too. Despite the injury, he was faced with the decision of declaring for the NFL Draft or returning to Penn State for a fifth year.
“I’m blessed with the opportunity to be able to come back,” Castro-Fields told reporters in March. “I want to be a leader and improve my game even more. You’ve got to be able to play a full season and show what I can do. I have so much more in the tank, and I haven’t been able to show it yet. I’m excited for this year.”
Castro-Fields has put an entire season of tape together in his last year with the Nittany Lions. Although Penn State’s campaign has unraveled following a winning start, their cornerback has had some highlight games. He logged 2 pass breakups against Indiana, 6 tackles against Illinois, and helped keep Ohio State’s trio of wide receivers under 100 yards each, a rare feat in the 2021 college football season.
An invite to the Senior Bowl alongside several of his teammates in the secondary will give Castro-Fields a chance to enhance his 2022 NFL Draft stock further. At present, all three of Pro Football Network’s Draft Analysts have a draftable grade on the Penn State cornerback.