After a busy first two days of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns began Day 3 with a trade, moving up in the fourth round to pick No. 126. With that selection the Browns continued to upgrade their defense, picking cornerback Howard Wilson from Houston.
The Browns struggled mightily in the defensive secondary last season, so the pick of Wilson helps fill a huge weakness on the roster. At Houston last year as redshirt Sophomore, he posted 54 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, 10 pass breakups and five interceptions in 13 games.
Wilson’s career, however, will be delayed after breaking his kneecap in his first practice with the Browns. What initially looked to be a devastating injury has since turned into a potential healing timetable that looks like he will miss only a portion of his rookie season.
Nevertheless, what are the Browns getting in their newest cornerback? In this week’s film room, we will take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of Howard Wilson. Roll the tape!
At 6-foot-1, Howard Wilson has a good combination of length and athleticism, as you can see in the three plays above. In the first play against San Diego State, Wilson is lined up on the right side of the field in man coverage. The San Diego State play is a simple comeback route. Wilson reads the play well and breaks on the pass quickly. He is able to tip the pass, using his length to reach high to tip away from the receiver. He then shows great athleticism to land quickly and dive back at the receiver to once again use his length to tip away the pass, this time to the ground.
In the second play versus Tulsa, Tulsa’s quarterback scrambles around, looking to throw the ball down the field. He decides to unload the pass into the endzone to a potential open receiver. Wilson uses his size to reach around the receiver and knock the ball away from the receiver and cause an incompletion. His size was a big factor in reaching the ball in the play.
In the final play versus Tulsa, Wilson is in man coverage, covering a receiver who is running a post route. Wilson lets the receiver get inside of him, giving the quarterback what seemed like an open window. Wilson is able to close quickly on the receiver and leap with impressive athleticism to get in front of the receiver and reach the ball first. He uses his length to reach for the ball and get his hands on it before the receiver could have a chance at it. His combination of size and athleticism was on display on this play. At 6-foot-1, Wilson has really good athleticism to move smoothly all over the field and explode into the air to deny passes. This combination is a big part of his game.
Change of Direction/Closing Speed
Probably the biggest strength in Howard Wilson’s game is ability to change direction and close incredibly fast on the play. Here are three examples of this strength. In the first play against Cincinnati, Wilson is covering in off-man coverage against the receiver running an out route. The receiver cuts to the sideline after just a few yards, leaving Wilson a lot of room to make up. Wilson is able to cut immediately to the receiver when he quickly sees the quarterback winding up to throw. He smoothly changes directions and explodes to the receiver, reaching the receiver when he is still in the air, which allowed the Houston corner to push the receiver out of bounds of an incompletion.
In the second play versus Tulsa, Wilson is lined up on the outside against the designed receiver screen pass of Tulsa. He reads the play very quickly, exploding in front of the intended receiver to pick off the pass. His closing speed on the play was incredibly quick.
In the final play versus Cincinnati, Wilson is on the right side of the field in off-man coverage against the receiver running a short sitdown route. There is a lot of space between the receiver and Wilson when the receiver sits down after running a couple yards down field. Wilson reads it well, allowing him to change directions quickly. He then uses his explosion to close on the pass and get in position to be in front of the receiver to tip the pass away for an incompletion. Wilson has the ability to change directions smoothly and at a moments notice. He pairs that ability with explosive closing speed, which makes him tough to get away from no matter the pace he gives a receiver.
Willingness, Toughness and Effort in Run Defense
Howard Wilson is a factor against the run game, showing willingness, toughness and effort to help stop the run. Here are three examples of this ability. In the first play versus San Diego State, Wilson is lined up on the right side of the field where the designed run play by San Diego State is about to go. Even before the running back receives the pitch and starts to run to the right behind his blockers, Wilson shoots up field to the line of scrimmage. Wilson shows toughness in the play by selfless blowing up the lead blocker on the play, causing the runner to hesitate just enough so Wilson’s teammates can reach him for tackle. The cornerback’s hit against the lead blocker was key to stopping the run play.
In the second play against San Diego State, Wilson is once again lined up on the right edge of the defense. The San Diego State runner begins to run to the left, but is stalled, causing him to cut back to the right where he has just Wilson to beat to get a touchdown. The runner heads to edge, but decides to cut back to the inside of Wilson. Nevertheless, Wilson is able to get a hold of the runner and bring him down for stop. He showed off his ability to tackle in space, one on one.
In the final play versus Oklahoma, the Oklahoma play is in complete scramble mode. After the quarterback scrambles around and fumbles, the running back picks up the fumble and decides to try to go across the field to find open real estate. The runner looks to have the edge, but Wilson shows his explosive closing speed to shoot up field and deliver a big hit on the runner to make the stop. Wilson was aggressive with good effort and willingness to throw his body at the runner to stop the play. Wilson may not be the biggest and best tackler in the world, but he shows the effort, willingness and toughness to be a factor in run defense.
Howard Wilson adds impressive ball skills to his game, giving him big play ability to change the game with one play. Here are examples of his ball skills. In the first play versus Cincinnati, Wilson is lined up in off-man coverage on the left side of the field. The quarterback throws a jump ball pass to the receiver Wilson is covering. The pass is a 50/50 ball and Wilson wins the battle. He shows his strong leaping ability, good size and solid hands by outreaching the receiver for the ball and bringing in the interception. In the second play versus Cincinnati, Wilson is lined up in coverage on the left sideline. He is assigned to cover the outside receiver, but he reads the quarterback well, breaking off his man to undercut the receiver running a short out route toward the sideline. Wilson cuts up field and gets in front of the receiver. He makes a very good catch after reaching for the pass that was outside his frame. He then heads up field for a pick six.
In the final play against Texas State, Wilson is covering the receiver along the right sideline. The Texas State quarterback scrambles and throws a low pass to the sideline where he believes only his receiver can reach it. Wilson is able to dive in front of the receiver and reach the ball before it hits the ground, bringing in the interception. He showed of his hands and athleticism to make this acrobatic catch. In his college career, he had nine interceptions, including five interceptions last season. His ball skills make him a playmaker on the defensive side of the ball.
At 6-foot-1, Howard Wilson lacks bulk to his frame, weighing in at just 184 pounds, and he does not have great strength in his game, which in part hurts his tackling. Here are examples of his lack of bulk and strength and his inconsistent tackling. In the first play against San Diego State, the offense is running a run play up the gut of the defense. The runner breaks through the line, running through a tackle attempt at the line of scrimmage. Wilson comes over from his spot on the right edge of the defense to meet the runner a couple yards down field. The corner had the runner lined up, but Wilson uses just his arms to try and bring down the runner. The back was able to break through his arm tackle and continue down field. Wilson’s lack of strength hurt his ability to drag the runner down.
In the second play versus Cincinnati, Wilson is lined up near the left sideline. He originally is covering the outside receiver, but he switches assignments with the other corner when the inside receiver runs a short out route towards his spot. The quarterback hesitates, allowing Wilson to close on the receiver and be able to deny the pass. But, he is unable to deny the pass or rip the ball away from the receiver. The receiver, Nate Cole, is a 6-foot-1, 210 pounds. Cole’s size and strength allowed him to box out Wilson and hold onto the ball when tried to rip the ball away from Cole. Wilson did not have the strength to deny the pass. The corner also had a hard time bringing down the receiver by himself, never really bringing the receiver down on the play.
In the final play versus San Diego State, Wilson is on the left edge in charge of keeping the run play from getting around the edge. Wilson is able to get to the line of scrimmage and be in position to stop the run play from getting around the edge. He is completely twisted out of the way by the lead blocker, letting the runner to win the edge and continue down field. Wilson did not have the strength to get away from the blocker and make a play on the runner. Wilson must add more strength to his frame, so he can handle the bigger and stronger players of the NFL. His lack of bulk and strength hurts his ability in coverage, in run defense and as a tackler.
Overaggressive/Eyes in Backfield/Deep Route Coverage Technique
Howard Wilson can be overaggressive as a player, keeping his eyes in the backfield too much and showing questionable technique against deep routes by receivers. Here are three examples of this problem. In the first play versus Cincinnati, Wilson is lined up on the outside along the right sideline. The Bearcats run a double reverse flea flicker with the running back handing it off to the receiver who then hands it back to the quarterback to throw it. Wilson is faked out by the run like most of the rest of his teammates. He continued to keep his eyes in the backfield too long, even when the receiver did not hide his intent well that he was about to be pitch the ball back to the quarterback. He let the running back run right past him before he finally turned his eyes back to coverage. Had Wilson kept to his assignment of coverage and not keeping an eye on the backfield for too long, he could have reacted quicker to the running back going past him and not allow him to get open down field.
In the second play against Tulsa, Wilson is lined up on left sideline in off-man coverage versus the outside receiver. The receiver runs a simple streak route down field. Wilson handles it wrong. When the receiver gets to Wilson, Wilson is too flat-footed and tries to push the receiver off course more than trying to turn and go with the receiver up field. He lets the receiver run right past him and get open for a possible reception, but luckily the pass went elsewhere. In the final play versus Cincinnati, Wilson is lined up on the outside by the right sideline in off-man coverage versus the outside receiver. The receiver runs a fade route with the quarterback pump faking when the receiver fakes inside before shooting back up field. Wilson once again keeping eyes too much in the backfield, causing him to bite on the inside and let the receiver open to fade down field. He is let off the hook by an inaccurate pass. Wilson plays very aggressively, which is not bad, but he can be too aggressive, which can lead to him overplaying the play and getting beat in coverage. He needs to focus more on his man and less on the backfield. Also, he must fix his deep route coverage technique because he far too many times lets people behind him because he is playing the short routes.
Health and Starting Experience
The final weak spot in Howard Wilson’s game is his health and his lack of starting experience in college. Yes, the cornerback played a full season last year, but he missed all but three games in 2015 when he tore his ACL. His health is still a question, especially after he broke his kneecap in the first practice for the Browns. He will miss a portion of his rookie season due to this injury. He must answer the question of whether these injuries are just unlucky or a series of troubling health problems that could hamper his career. Because of the injury in college, Wilson lacks a lot of starting experience, starting just 16 games in his college career. The Browns are getting a player who still has a lot of things to learn and work on with little experience to fall back on in college.