When projecting college football players to the NFL, their performance against other draft prospects provides a scout with valuable information. Was Player A completely outmatched by Player B? Did Player A exploit the weaknesses that Player B has? Did they expose entirely new issues?
The effectiveness of this exercise was exactly why the ITP crew at the Senior Bowl watched DJ Chark versus Levi Wallace through the night in their downtown hotel room.
Watching Damon Webb’s tape against Penn State, I realized he was often assigned with covering DaeSean Hamilton. What an opportunity Week 9 of college football provided to evaluators!
Hamilton, who best projects as a slot wide receiver, was one of the big winners in Mobile. One on one drills were made for him: they allowed him to showcase his route running ability to embarrass cornerbacks. He had opponents dancing to his tune, with his feet manipulating cornerbacks into a position not dissimilar to the punters stumbling out of Veets bar at 4 AM. DaeSean became BaeSean.
Webb is a single-high safety, which is refreshing in this box-heavy class. He has fantastic change of direction skills and genuine sideline-to-sideline range – stemming from his quarterback reading and burst. He reportedly ran a 4.40 according to Ohio State’s Iron Buckeye Excellence Board, and I expect him to run in the 4.5s on Monday. Undersized, he plays with a scrappiness and toughness that would make his duel with Hamilton highly competitive.
Here, Ohio State is reeling. They have had a nightmare start to the game. Saquon Barkley had just run the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. Afterwards, on their first offensive series, Parris Campbell coughed up the ball deep in his own territory. Penn State, already picking up a 1st and goal through intelligent run game wrinkles, is looking to go up 14-0 early in the game.
Having just had a Barkley counter stuffed for a loss of four, this 2nd and 13 situation finds DaeSean Hamilton (#5) in his usual slot role, and Damon Webb (#7) is apexing him as a two-high safety.
The defense has 4-3 personnel on the field. The Nittany Lions shift tight end Mike Gesicki into the slot, giving them a 2×2 shotgun look. They fake an inside zone run, and Hamilton runs a deep out route while their right outside receiver runs a shallow hitch. The defense pattern matches their safeties, with the corners manned up and the linebackers handling stuff over the middle intermediate. The play-fake will halt Jerome Baker from disrupting Hamilton.
This puts Webb in a direct matchup with Hamilton.
Hamilton accelerates quickly for five yards. He attempts to sell the post by glancing his eyes inside for three steps and pointing his lead toe, head and hips inwards. At the stem, he plants his outside foot, while flashing his head inside with a shoulder and hip feint. He then cuts to the outside, attempting to get his body in between Webb and the ball. Hamilton executed his fake too early, which caused him to round his route slightly to get into the endzone. He also did not keep inwards for quite long enough.
Webb, a former cornerback, plays this excellently. In off man coverage and with a 12-yard cushion, he proves how he excels in this assignment. He remains light on his feet, not allowing Hamilton to eat up the cushion too much. He stops his backwards shuffle at the goalline, showing good awareness. He respects the head fake and shoulder feint inside, mirroring well with small steps but crucially staying square and keeping his eyes aimed at Hamilton’s torso. He does not open his hips until the receiver has clearly declared, instead correctly choosing to slightly squat, on the balls of his feet, as he senses the receiver’s imminent break.
Once Webb sees Hamilton clearly move his hips, he breaks with fantastic explosion – aided by his low body position and light feet. He takes a great angle to the player, using his five yards of room to get to where the receiver’s hip pocket will be. He then stays camped on the backside hip, maintaining his balance. He plays the ball beautifully, undercutting the route and swatting with his nearside arm – his other arm ready to come down and break the pass up/make the tackle if he misses. He knocks the well-placed Trace McSorley pass incomplete.
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Hamilton went on to score on the next snap – a slot fade that he beat slot corner Damon Arnette on by using a nice inside foot jab step. However, Webb clearly won the first round against Hamilton.
Even on plays which are not designed to go in the direction of the players being scouted, evaluators can still gather useful material.
The way that Penn State runs this play likely means Hamilton is fully expecting a pass. (Note how McSorely glances left before running) Though it is a quarterback power, the backside is tagged with a double slants concept. Even if I am wrong, and Hamilton knows the ball is not coming to him, he still puts in his typical effort. This helps to remove the pursuit from the rear, but also demonstrates he is a committed, high motor player.
The goalline situation the Buckeyes are defending is an interesting scenario for Webb to be put in. Ohio State is essentially selling out to stop the run, with eight players focused on the box. With the space more crowded, Webb still opts for an off-coverage alignment when playing his one-on-one man. However, his normal cushion of 10+ yards is compressed to 8 with Hamilton off the line. Webb struggles in press because he lacks the length to jam effectively, despite his strong mirroring skills.
Hamilton wins on the goalline slant. Webb is shaded slightly to the outside, willing to give up a degree of inside leverage due to help in the middle of the field. Hamilton executes a lovely shimmy five yards from the endzone. He pumps his arms and shifts his hips, getting Webb to take a broad false step to the outside. This puts Webb in a disadvantageous position: he has surrendered too much leverage inside.
Hamilton steps with his right foot pushing to the outside, fully setting Webb up by landing on his left foot and pointing his head outside. He completes the break by letting his right foot go dead and dragging it to point inside. He explodes off his planted left jab step, gaining clear separation into the endzone. That right foot drag and the turf pellets it throws up is bliss.
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Webb does a nice job exploding off his back foot, with his sunken hip position aiding his speed. Still, if the ball had been thrown in Hamilton’s direction, Webb would only have been able to fling himself in a desperate attempt to knock the ball incomplete. It would have resulted in a touchdown.
Like the first play covered, on this 2nd and 9 Webb’s man coverage is going up against a deep out from Hamilton. Webb is in a trickier position, covering Hamilton in the slot on the roomier field side. Again, Penn State is in a 2×2 shotgun formation and Ohio State is in a spread 4-3.
Webb takes two steps towards Hamilton as the receiver accelerates, reducing the initial 11-yard cushion. His second step, with his right foot, is large; this puts his center of gravity forwards and locks his hips. It also takes him to the right of Hamilton, which sees him attempt to compensate by making his next step wider to the left.
Next, Webb commits to Hamilton’s first stutter and body feint to the left, turning his back to the sideline and opening his hips to the right. He opens ready to break on a non-existent dig. By not staying square, but also staying in line with the receiver, Webb is at Hamilton’s mercy. He does not wait until Hamilton has clearly declared, instead jiving to his beat. His hips are in position to wall an outside route, but his narrow positioning makes this near-impossible.
Hamilton stutters and feints inside again, pumping his arms, and expertly lets his right foot go dead, dragging it as he plants his left foot and cuts towards the sideline. It is a signature move that, while lacking the ferocity of a Jordan dunk or the va-va-voom of a Marseille turn, oozes panache and is subtly beautiful. Hamilton has clear separation after the wonderful piece of footwork, but the pass doesn’t get there because McSorely is forced to scramble by the six-man blitz.
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This play is an example of the inconsistency in technique that Webb plays with. He needlessly reduced his cushion, did not stay square, and guessed on the route. It saw him get beat. Yet Webb still demonstrated nice recovery ability via a nice head flip, and he did not break on the incorrect route.
Though Hamilton was distinctly open, the play raises an important question of his game. Do his routes take too long to develop? This was a discussion I had in the Renaissance Film Room with Mike Nuttle and Joe Ferraiola, watching him torch defenders after many stutters.
McSorely first looks towards his left and the wheel-slant rub route combination he has there. Seeing nothing open, he moves his progression to Hamilton on the right. He is quickly forced to step up to avoid pressure off the left, and is then flushed out of the pocket to the boundary side after roughly 2 and a half seconds.
Hamilton takes three yards from his first move to making his cut. He fakes inside twice. He can look great doing this in 7v7s – or in one on ones down in Mobile – but at the next level he needs to speed up and refine his process. He must eliminate some steps.
Let’s finish with another open field example. This is in the green zone (the 40 to the 20-yard line). It’s where it is particularly damaging for an offense to turn the ball over – especially when said offense is responding to 10 unanswered points. Penn State’s once comfortable lead in the game has crumbled to an eight-point margin.
Again, Penn State is in a 2×2 shotgun formation and Ohio State is in their two-high spread 4-3. Webb is back to his customary off man coverage over Hamilton, with a 14-yard cushion. Here, Penn State identifies the one-versus-one press matchup that we are unable to see from the TV copy and decides to go after it on a deep play-action.
Hamilton’s post route is merely there to move Webb away from the sideline and leave the coverage isolated. Hamilton knows this, and he just drags Webb away. Penn State scores a touchdown irrelevant to this article.
Webb still reveals some important traits though. He shows a smooth, fast backpedal. However, he is also too upright which runs the risk of him losing his balance when transitioning to cover the break on the post. As he often does, he manages to transition well – even without sinking his hips at the breakpoint – diagnosing the route and showing fluid hips without losing speed. He stays in prime position over the top of Hamilton ready to intercept any pass thrown his way.
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Article Score: Damon Webb 3 DaeSean Hamilton 1? Game Score: Damon Webb 5 DaeSean Hamilton 4?
Hamilton finished the day with just one catch for 13 yards and a touchdown, but this was largely due to him being the third progression for McSorely. Webb allowed zero catches. In off coverage Webb narrowly won the battle. He took great angles to the ball, particularly on slants. I counted five instances of Webb in off-man coverage over Hamilton, and on three of those occasions Webb had near-perfect coverage.
Hamilton did get Webb to bite on a head fake outside when running a post into his deep half zone, and his subtle feints and foot drags that form his route running have propelled him from being a Day 3 pick to at least a Day 2 player. Hamilton is a quick separation guy who can dominate the short to intermediate areas of the field.
Webb needs to be more consistent with his technique. In college, it seemed like he was overly reliant on his athleticism and therefore got sloppy with this. Whether it was not getting enough depth and failing to get to his landmark, or him getting too upright in his backpedal, there were some technical concerns. His transitional skills, which defied the laws of gravity, led to him getting lazy. To be more consistent with his skillset at the next level, it might take a eureka moment such as getting blown past by a burner like Julio Jones. Despite this, he stands out as one of the best pure single-high players in this class to me, behind Minkah Fitzpatrick and close to Jessie Bates III. Moreover, it is very revealing that Ohio State felt comfortable frequently matching him up with slot receivers.
In summary, these are both really good players who will succeed in the NFL. It was a joy to watch them go head to head. They can both make the pro bowl if they sharpen their technique.
This article was inspired by scouting work done for the 2018 Inside the Pylon Draft Guide. Pre-Order your copy today at ITPdraftguide.com.