INDIANAPOLIS — Although the Indianapolis Colts' cornerbacks were a position of question entering 2018, they wound up being one of the team's best position groups by season's end. However, similar to pass rushers, teams can never have enough quality cover men.
And although there is no consensus top corner in this year's NFL Draft, one of the few that often grabs people's top ranking is Deandre Baker of the Georgia Bulldogs.
At 5-11 and 193 pounds, with 32-inch arms and a 77 ⅛-inch wingspan, Baker has adequate size and good length for the position. He is constantly making plays on the ball, and his long reach helps get to passes as well as veer receivers off their route.
Baker has the makings of a shutdown corner, proving capable of following top receivers and playing both boundaries on the field. He flips his hips in a hurry to stick to the receiver when they take off downfield, and he has good enough deep speed to not get burned.
Baker's closing speed is also a big plus in his game, as he gets physical at the point of attack and often lays a hard hit on the receiver or dislodges the ball.
"I like to be physical. Jamming receivers to put them off their route, and things like that," Baker told reporters on Sunday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
But physical attributes aside, some of the best corners can get an edge simply by having a confident, dominant mindset. Baker checks those boxes, too.
"Week in and week out, I want to face the best receiver. I get up and that's the first thing on my mind, facing the best receiver," Baker said. "I want to show my talent, he wants to show he's talented. Just man on man, that's what I like to do."
With his blend of speed, fluid movement skills and leaping ability, Baker could potentially bring a presence both as a ballhawk and someone who can take away half the field for the opposing passing game.
At the top of the class, this isn't a great group of tackling cornerbacks. Although it's not a big part of Baker's game, he is a more willing tackler than many others. He's not all that aggressive as a tackler, but he knows he has to do it.
Baker could, however, have more urgency as a tackler in the run game. His technique in that department also needs some work, as it often looks like he's winging it.
Even though he had the opportunity to enter last year's draft, Baker decided to return to Georgia and continue developing as a player. Being in head coach Kirby Smart's defense another season also helped prepare him for this chance in the NFL.
"I never second-guessed staying. I know I gained a lot last season," Baker said. "There was a lot of (areas) I approved in, so it helped me overall.
"The system we played in at Georgia was pretty similar to most NFL teams," Baker explained. "Knowing the playbook and knowing all the versatile things that we did in the secondary, in this transition to the NFL, it helped me."
FIT WITH THE COLTS
The trio of Pierre Desir, Kenny Moore II and Quincy Wilson was a solid one for the Colts in 2018, especially as the season progressed. Not to mention, Jalen Collins, who ended the season with the Colts on their practice squad and is back this offseason, has been a quality starter in the league as well.
Desir, an impending free agent, is expected to test the free agent market, which means there's a chance he might not be returning.
Baker brings the speed, athleticism and toughness that the Colts covet all over the field, but especially with their defenders. Although Baker states he played in man coverage about 85 percent of the time in college while the Colts primarily operate from zone, the trio of Desir, Moore and Wilson all successfully made the transition from man corners to zone corners when the Colts changed defensive schemes in 2018.
With how often NFL defenses operate out of sub-packages (the majority of the time), having several capable outside corners is a necessity. This is especially true for the Colts, who face Corey Davis and DeAndre Hopkins twice, Keenan Allen, Mike Evans, Tyreek Hill, Julio Jones, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Michael Thomas in 2019.
Baker could certainly help provide some much-welcomed coverage and potentially the occasional takeaway in these difficult matchups.