Over the next couple weeks on WFNY, I will be breaking down the film on all seven draft picks of the Cleveland Browns. As fans, we often rely on mainstream draft analysts to give us certain traits and characteristics that we use to form our opinions. Rather than simply tell you positives and negatives, the goal of this series is to better inform you by showing evidence, in GIF form, of the skills each prospect possess and areas they each must improve upon. Past film rooms: Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel, Joel Bitonio, Christian Kirksey, Terrance West.
Each NFL Draft class brings in a melting pot of former college athletes from all kinds of backgrounds. Some grow up in the classic middle-class, two parents house-hold with the picket fence that the media glorifies. Others struggle their whole lives to not just make it to the NFL, but the survive. Despite the struggle many prospects go through, rarely is this fight to make “The League” more obstacle-laden than the journey of rookie cornerback Pierre Desir.
An immigrant from Haiti at the age of four, a dad by fifteen, Desir has spent his entire life fighting adversity and instilling a maturity greater than that of his peers. He eventually ended up as a walk-on at division II Lindenwood University, a far cry from his initial offer of a scholarship from Washburn University to play football. Working part-time jobs, taking classes, and playing football, Desir somehow managed to persevere through a massive commitment to his family, school, and the game of football. He has recently accomplished what his triumvirate of responsibilities kept him from achieving for so long. Desir has married the woman he had a child with at fifteen, earned a degree from Linderwood University while appearing on the MIAA Academic Honor Role, and was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the fourth round of the NFL Draft. Not bad for a walk-on to a Division II program.
Since Pierre Desir attended such a small school and was not picked in the top couple rounds, the available film on him is scarce, to say the least. Our friends at DraftBreakdown had one chopped-up film on their site for me to break down, and it just so happened that this is not Desir’s greatest game. Therefore, this piece will likely be abbreviated in comparison to the other five analyses of draftees. In any case, thanks for joining me for this series and go Browns!
With the additions of Desir and first round pick Justin Gilbert, Mike Pettine has a clearly defined idea of what his cornerbacks look like. Desir and Gilbert are six-foot-one 198 pounds and six-feet 202 pounds, respectively. But most importantly, they both have arms of 33 inches, a feat that only two other cornerbacks in the 2014 Combine can match. This unique length allows Desir and Gilbert to jam receivers more easily as well as go up for the ball and either knock down a pass or get an interception. Desir utilizes his tall, lanky frame to his advantage, often out-jumping receivers or using his length advantage to make up for any distance between himself and a receiver.
The idea of using larger corners to give receivers challenges at the line was most recently popularized by the Seattle Seahawks who managed to hold Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos record-setting offense to just eight points in Super Bowl XLVIII. Richard Sherman and company used their size and physicality to knock the Broncos’ wide receivers off of their routes, a strategy no one was able to successfully apply yet. Desir and Gilbert’s size will give Mike Pettine many options as to how best to stop the passing game. Desir has a natural advantage with his size and length that he must fully incorporate into his game if he wants to make the leap from division II cornerback to NFL starter.
SEA starting cornerback Richard Sherman
SEA starting cornerback Byron Maxwell
Great Ball Skills:
During his career at Washburn University and Lindenood University, Pierre Desir produced twenty-five interceptions, setting many school and national records. At Lindenwood, Desir spent two years patrolling the defensive backfield, totaling thirteen interceptions and twenty-six passes defended. Desir earned the Cliff Harris Award, given to the best small college defensive back, as a Senior. Simply put, he has been the most productive defensive back in division II football for years and has absolutely dominated inferior competition.
As seen below, Desir is able to stay stride-for-stride with wide receivers and consistently knock down or intercept passes. When watching film of him and deep balls, Desir often looks like a wide receiver when the ball is in the air, understanding where the receiver is, yet trying to put himself in the best position to make the catch. On the play below, he steps in front of the wide receiver and picks off the ball as if it was thrown to him.
On the next play, Desir plays defense on a receiver running a deep fade. He is able to run with the wide receiver perfectly, never losing a stride. However, the most impressive part of the play is that when the receiver starts to look back, Desir turns his head and locates the ball within a fraction of a second to pick the pass off. Having the ability to adjust to the ball that quickly is rare in the NFL and he adds a play-making element in the defensive backfield that the Browns have been missing.
Good in Press Coverage, Can Turn Hips Quickly and Fluidly:
For a defensive back who is larger and thus slower than his fellow position-mates, Desir must jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and turn his hips fluidly to run with them. If he is unable to prevent a receiver from getting a clean release off the line, Desir will be susceptible to getting burned deep which he did not have to worry about nearly as much at Lindenwood or Washburn. He did a solid job getting in the face of his opponents at the line of scrimmage, using his length to bother receivers, but he needs to better use his strength to knocks opponents out of their routes.
On the play below, Desir does a great job in zone coverage jamming the receiver he lines up across. But, the most impressive part is his quick realization that the running back is on a wheel route. Desir quickly comes off the jam, adjusts his body, and runs with the back. This play shows off his ability to transition from a jam to covering a different player.
Good Instincts, High Football IQ:
At Lindenwood, Desir was able to experience zone and man coverage as well as pressing and playing loose on a wide receiver. Therefore, despite playing at a small college, he will be able to understand the defense very well. In both zone and man, Desir showed off a high football IQ, consistently understanding where he needed to be on the field and playing on high-alert. When players came into his zone, Desir understood who to pick up and when to let them go.
In man coverage, his ball instincts were a thing of beauty. If Desir is able to improve his acceleration defending curl and comeback routes, he will be able to defend most routes at the pro level. Despite lacking elite athleticism, he breaks on the ball, reads the quarterbacks eyes, and knows when to turn his head to deflect or intercept a ball as well as any cornerback in college. On the play below, Desir shows press then backs up to loose coverage, opening up the slant route. However, immediately, he reads the quarterbacks eyes and breaks on the pattern, dislodging the ball and nearly coming up with a pick. Desir’s quick reaction to this route bode well for success at the next level as he will be forced to read and react at a speed he has never played at in his career in DII football.
On the next play, Desir once again recognizes the route, this time a curl by the wide receiver, and quickly breaks on the ball, knocking the pass down. He consistently does a fantastic job in recognizing a route and staying within striking distance. Desir loves to play the ball and he does a great job in almost never losing one-on-one balls to receivers.
One of the main detriments to Pierre Desir, as he enters the NFL, is that he never played against the speed, size, and talent that he will face in the NFL. Despite skill level in division II and III increasing, prospects from these smaller colleges are rarely drafted, let alone in the fourth round, such as Desir. Some current professional defensive backs such as Danieal Manning, Brandon Carr, and Brent Grimes have succeed in the transition from DII to NFL, but success stories are rare. In fact, in the five drafts prior to the 2014 NFL Draft, only one defensive back was drafted, Tommie Campbell of California PA in the seventh round.
Despite winning the inaugural Cliff Harris Award, Desir will have to work to understand the speed of the NFL. With youth in Cleveland at the cornerback position, Desir may be used via trial by fire. With Joe Haden on one side, Desir will likely fight with Justin Gilbert to play as an outside cornerback and Buster Skrine to play in the slot. Long-term, I envision Desir on the outside since he may struggle with the quickness of inside receivers. In the short-term, Desir must quickly come up to speed on the play-book and learn that NFL game speed will be faster than anything he has ever encountered in his playing career. The adjustment may be difficult, so with training camp upcoming, keep an eye on Desir’s progress.
Questions About Speed:
One of the most difficult aspects of a division two player to analyze is their speed. Most NFL Draft hopefuls will look much faster than their competition on the field, as Desir does, but may be slower in comparison to division one athletes. At the NFL Combine, Desir ran a 4.59 second officlaly timed 40-yard dash, slower than anticipated, thus likely dropping him lower than he would have been selected had he run in the 4.4’s.
Out of Shippensburg University, Miami Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes ran a 4.56 second 40-yard dash, so this is not a major concern, but something to keep an eye on. Desir’s size and ability to jam at the line should be able to cover up some up his lack of elite speed and some players are simply faster on the field than in a pad-less 40-yard run. At training camp, watching Desir cover speedy receivers on deep routes should give us a good idea whether he will be ready for pro playing time or if he needs more development.
Change of Direction/Foot Speed:
The one area in coverage that Desir was inconsistent was in defending curls and routes where he must plant his feet in his back-pedal and run forwards in coverage. His lack of foot speed may hinder his ability to cover these routes. However, in college, he was mainly beat on these routes when playing loose on receivers which is not his strong suit. If Mike Pettine is smart, he will use Desir in a press scheme to feature his physicality rather than his movement in space.
On the play below, Desir commits the cardinal sin in coverage, allowing the receiver to cover the necessary yardage for a first down without ever being in position to affect the receiver’s catching ability. Considering this is a fourth down in the fourth quarter, allowing this catch is inexcusable. Looking at his footwork, Desir does a good job back-pedaling, but he continues and allowing a cushion despite him having the advantage in athleticism which should allow him to play tighter. When he needs to plant and come forwards, Desir does a good job, but in the NFL, this will be an open throw-and-catch all day.
Inconsistent in Run Defense, But a Good Tackler:
Desir’s effort in the run game is inconsistent to say the least. Sometimes he will lack any conviction and not fight off a receiver’s block quickly enough to make a play. Other instances, he does a great job fighting across or going under a block to make a tackle. This inconsistency forced me to leave it out of either a positive or negative. As a tackler, Desir is of the new-school thought process: dive at his knees and hope he goes down. He is fairly consistent as an ankle grabber and a knee-diver, but whether this will work on the Ray Rice’s of the world is another matter.
On this next play, you will see Desir playing patty-cake with a receiver and not fighting off a block very well. As a cornerback, he must protect the sideline, never letting someone get outside, but he should use his length to push the blocker inside and keep an outside leverage. Instead, Desir allows the receiver to put his hands on him and just dances from right to left. At the NFL, he will need to use his size and strength to better fight off blockers.
As a Division II defensive back trying to make a career in as a professional football player, Pierre Desir must fight an up-hill battle, something he has done his entire life. Considering Desir, at the age of nineteen, worked a part-time job, went to school, and played football at an extremely high level, spending his days working for a spot will be nothing new. With all the adversity in his life, fighting to win a spot on the Cleveland Browns will be right up his alley.
After watching Desir on film, I am excited to see how his game translates to the pro level. With he and Gilbert coming into camp, expect more turnovers than in prior years as their ball skills will be as good as any of their veteran teammates’. While lacking a top 40-yard-dash time, Desir’s speed on tape showed that he has the ability to play fast on the field, although he may not transition this from a division two level to the pros. The doubters of Desir have always been wrong, though, and he will attempt to fight for a starting spot in the NFL, an opportunity that most thought would be an unachievable dream.
Film via Draft Breakdown; Image via ClevelandBrowns.com