Taking Tankersley: Meeting Miami Dolphins’ 3rd Round Cornerback Cordrea Tankersley
Dolphins fans and analysts alike have been criticizing Miami’s sieve-like defense for the better part of the last two seasons. It appears that someone in the front office has been listening. The team ascertained the services of pass-rusher Charles Harris and linebacker Raekwon McMillan in the first and second rounds of the draft respectively. Then, the team opted to address concerns in the secondary by drafting Clemson cornerback Cordrea Tankersley in the third round. While Tankersley certainly has much growing to do, he fits the defensive back mold that Vance Joseph shaped before leaving the defense in the hands of Matt Burke.
Cordrea Tankersley is no small-school standout. This man is in the NFL because he bested NFL level competition at one of the toughest positions in sports. The former Clemson Tiger was a very large part of Clemson’s back-to-back championship runs, specifically last season’s exciting victory over Alabama. He was even Clemson’s highest graded defensive player during the NCAA championship (per Pro Football Focus). While winning isn’t the most objective measurable in the world, it’s hard not to like a guy that elevates his game in big moments. Either of his two interceptions in the ACC conference championship against Virginia Tech are clear examples of this:
At 6’1” and 200 pounds give-or-take, Tankersley is well… a tank by cornerback standards. He’s a big boy to say the least and has no problem bullying smaller receivers. His large frame makes him an ideal press cover corner on the outside. If he improves his fluidity and agility in coverage, he could develop into a serious nuisance for all but the strongest wide receivers.
Tankersley also has very impressive ball skills. He won’t follow the shutdown corner mold, but he won’t have to if he continues to take the ball away. Over the last two seasons, Tankersley snagged nine interceptions, including a pick six. His combination of soft hands and an aggressive playing style make him a danger to quarterbacks that make the occasional errant throw. Look no further than his 2nd interception against Virginia Tech to see what I mean:
He lacks technical polish but has experience playing zone, man, and press coverage. While zone may not be his forte, his high ceiling makes him a very interesting lump of clay for the Dolphins’ defensive coaching staff to mold over the next few seasons.
Most of Tankersley’s weaknesses are fairly standard and should improve with coaching. He currently lacks the hip fluidity and change of direction ability needed to be a consistent starting cornerback in the NFL. He often relies too much on his physical dominance instead of technique, which will not serve him well against top-tier NFL wide receivers.
He’s fast, but not that fast. His lack of technical polish is further exacerbated by inconsistent recovery when he is beat. He is susceptible to deep balls overhead, especially against quicker wide receivers. His footwork is pretty clean, but when he does lose the battle at the line, you’d best hope your safety is in an advantageous position:
He also needs to clean up his penchant for holding and pass-interference. He gets carried away by his aggressiveness and is too grabby with the opposition. Considering Adam Gase’s no-nonsense approach with penalties, Tankersley will need to watch where his hands are more carefully from now on.
Finally, he needs to improve in run-support. He is laser-focused on the opposing wide receiver but often loses track of the ball in the ground game as a result. He too often has his back to the ball-carrier. He also needs to wield his size more effectively as a tackler. Luckily he has Byron Maxwell, who is excellent in run-support, as a guide.
Fit with the Dolphins:
Outside of Byron Maxwell, Miami has nothing but questions at cornerback. Even though the secondary has pieces like Reshad Jones, young defensive talent like Xavien Howard and now Cordrea Tankersley need to make a name for themselves if Miami is to take the next step. Tankersley should compete for the nickel spot immediately, and he could actually become the starter across from Maxwell if injuries mount up. If the team switches to a more aggressive, man-based scheme under Burke, I can see Tankersley being involved heavily. He certainly has a world of work ahead of him, but I don’t think the adjustment will be as difficult as some say it will. Tankersley brings a tenacity and aggressiveness that the Dolphins covet in the secondary, so he will be given every opportunity to succeed sooner rather than later.