Comeback Candidate: Scouting Report and Expectations for CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
Background & Stats:
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu may have been a 7th round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, but his talent suggests he should’ve been so much more. Had it not been for a brutal knee injury during a practice session the December before the draft, he was almost assuredly going to be a first-round pick. He was an All-Pac 12 selection each season from 2012-2014, a consensus All-American and a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award. He accumulated 48 passes defensed, nine interceptions and eight forced fumbles at the University of Oregon. The damage to his knee had teams understandably worried and sent his draft stock into a downward spiral; until, of course, the Cleveland Browns pulled the trigger with the 241st overall pick on draft day.
Now a year later, the Browns decided to waive Ekpre-Olomu this past weekend. After a year of rehabbing in Cleveland, the young corner is finally approaching 100%, and will have a chance to prove it in Miami after the Dolphins claimed him yesterday. If he can regain the form that he consistently displayed in college, Miami may have added a gem to their otherwise weak secondary.
You won’t be considered a first-round talent unless you have a vast skill set to offer a franchise. Ekpre-Olomu’s arsenal had so much to offer as a prospect, that scouts still projected him to be at least a fourth or fifth round option for teams looking at long-term secondary help, even after the injury. While I will discuss his attributes on the field soon enough, I don’t think we should overlook his intangibles either.
He plays with such an unparalleled motor, and possesses a tenacity and sense of leadership that is hard not to love as a football fan. Due to this combination, it is hard to believe that he won’t find a way to succeed in the NFL despite failing to appear in a game in his rookie season. While proving that he is still capable of playing at a high level will be key in proceeding in his career, I truly believe that his locker room presence and perseverance is what will make him well worth the time of the Dolphins’ coaching staff.
Now onto his actual game: put simply, the man can play. He is undoubtedly physical, but unlike many of his younger peers, he consistently displayed the instincts and intelligence necessary to be a force if placed into the right situation. He showed that he could play man coverage in college, but does his best work in off-zone schemes, in which he can more easily keep plays in front of him. He is very quick and has impressive hip fluidity, which allows him to excel in these various coverages:
He is great at tracking the ball as well, either while it is in the air or while it is in the backfield. This allows him to often break on plays and show off his physicality against ball carries, both against the pass and in run-support. He is a strong tackler and consistently takes on bigger players:
While his athletic ability pre-injury was nothing to scoff at, it was his unbelievable effort that allowed him to succeed in man-coverage. He has experience playing both in the slot and on the outside, and uses physicality to take on bigger players. His above-average ball skills, as depicted by his turnover numbers at Orgeon, were quite obviously helpful as well:
Ekpre-Olomu knows how to use little aspects of the game, like using the boundary and jabbing his opponent in press-man, to his advantage. He should only continue to improve in these regards. In addition, although he can take too many risks at times, his ability to read the eyes of the quarterback and jump routes makes him a human highlight reel when the play goes his way. Overall, Ekpre-Olomu was a very strong prospect when healthy and offers an ample amount of versatility to be moved around the defense if need be. He provides has substantial upside for a seventh round pick, let alone a waiver claim. If Ekpre-Olomu truly is as close to full strength as he says he feels, he could undoubtedly return to the field and provide some strong play for the Dolphins’ depleted secondary.
At this point, and maybe for the foreseeable future, durability will be Ekpre-Olomu’s biggest enemy. It is not in any stretch of the imagination easy to overcome a setback to the extent that Ekpre-Olomu suffered with his injury. While Ekpre-Olomu has insisted that he is making progress in his recovery and is near full-strength, there has to be a reason the Browns chose to release him after almost a year of rehabilitation. Could the injury still be more of a problem than he is letting on? A relatively healthy Ekpre-Olomu would be worth taking the chance on, but if the period of recovery continues to drag on, he may not be quite that useful for a team looking for immediate improvement on the defensive side of the ball. It is ultimately these concerns that could prevent the former Duck from reaching his fullest potential.
In addition, while his toughness may suit him well in the NFL, his size certainly won’t. At 5’9, 194 pounds, he will never be counted on as a top corner or even a likely option on the outside. This isn’t to say that he won’t be able to find a role. It simply implies that his upside, while substantial, is also limited to a point.
It seemed as if in college, Ekpre-Olomu relied almost too much on his motor to make plays. However, at the pro level, he really needs his technique to catch up to his effort. It will allow him to play with better body control, which would make him better suited for the nickel corner position he is already destined for, and avoid unnecessary penalties too:
Ekpre-Olomus’s status will ultimately become a wait-and-see game. It is the only way to tell how his knee holds up, the only way to see how he responds to the game speed and level of competition and, perhaps most importantly, the only way to determine how his play develops under the guidance of NFL coaching.
How He Fits in Miami:
Please let me know if there is a better fit for Ekpre-Olomu. I’m not trying to guarantee superstardom or even success for that matter; he has been faced with so much adversity up to this point alone. However, this partnership just makes sense. The Dolphins aren’t expected to contend next season, and have a hole at the nickel corner position. This would give him an opportunity to work on rehabbing his knee without being pressured to succeed right away.
The partnership between the young defensive back and new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is also intriguing. As a former secondary coach, Joseph should be just the man to bring the best out of Ekpre-Olomu. He knows the necessary tweaks in technique, and will look to enhance the tools that are already in place. Based on the ringing endorsements given by Joseph’s former players, I don’t see much of a reason not to be excited about Ekpre-Olomu’s chances to learn under a coach like Joseph.
Above all else, Joseph is expected to employ a defense that perfectly fits the strengths of the second-year player. With zone coverage schemes and plenty of blitzes on the horizon, Ekpre-Olomu should be placed into a situation that best hides his weaknesses and, in turn, allows him to shine.
This is all contingent on his health of course. There is no way to know if his knee will hold up, or even guarantee that his stature doesn’t lead to durability issues as he proceeds through his career. With that said, let’s not forget what it took to bring him to Miami. The Dolphins are simply picking up his 4-year, $2.337 million deal. Not only is this extremely cheap, but also if it doesn’t work out they could just as easily release him. An easy way to evaluate a move is to determine if the reward outweighs the risks, and in this situation it isn’t even a question. If things align correctly, watch out: this could turn out to be one of Miami’s best moves of the 2016 offseason.