2020 Draft Profile: Jeff Gladney Invites 'Best Man Wins' Mentality

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INDIANAPOLIS — Imagine how frustrating it must be for a big wide receiver to line up against a 5'10" cornerback and have a terrible day at the office.

That is the reality for many opponents who have lined up against Texas Christian's Jeff Gladney, who at 5'10-2/8" and 191 pounds is often smaller than the player he's lining up against.

What helps make up for the size discrepancy?

For starters, Gladney's mind doesn't know that he's not a 6'1", 205-pound defensive back. He's tough, and he plays like it.

"I play bigger than my size. Most receivers don't know that," Gladney told reporters on Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "They think they're gonna come out there and bully me, but that doesn't go down."

Gladney also has deceptive length, as he has arms almost 32 inches long and a wingspan of over 6'3". That length and leaping ability completely makes up for what he lacks in height.

He's also plenty crafty and experienced as a four-year starter, starting 44-of-50 career games. In that time, he totaled 146 tackles (6.0 for loss), 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble, five interceptions and 43 (!) pass breakups.

According to Pro Football Focus, Gladney had more career forced incompletions on third down (19) than any other cornerback in the 2020 draft class.

Gladney really came into his own in 2018, earning Second-Team All-Big 12 honors. According to PFF, he was No. 1 in the conference in lowest opponent passer rating allowed (46.9) with a minimum of 200 coverage snaps, and also No. 1 in the conference in only surrendering one reception per every 16.5 coverage snaps.

His aggressive style of play endeared onlookers again in 2019 as he was named First-Team All-Big 12.

Over the course of his collegiate career, Gladney has become a student of the game.

"I got a lot of playing time under my belt in four years," Gladney said. "Got smarter, way smarter. I'd say that's the biggest part."

Gladney will craft a specific gameplan for the stud receivers he's lining up against. He's very adaptable and doesn't just throw his fastball, so to speak.

"Studying film and watching what receiver I'm playing, some guys like handsy corners and some guys don't," Gladney said of his approach in press-man coverage. "So if you're a guy who don't (like handsy cornerbacks), I'm really gonna use my hands a lot then. If you're looking for that type of fight at the line, I'll try to mix it up and maybe not throw as much. It just depends on who I'm going against."

Whoever the opponent is, Gladney is just as comfortable getting up in their grill in man coverage, or playing off a bit and using his instincts to jump passes. He can also play in any spot in the lineup, left or right boundary, or the slot.

Gladney relishes the opportunity to face off with an opponent's top receiver.

"I just like being up in somebody's face. I feel like that's mano y mano, we right there together, so the best man wins," Gladney said. "I knew I was going up against some of the best. We would help each other out, putting each other on film."

His hand fighting is very effective, throwing receivers off of their rhythm and subsequently affecting the timing with the quarterback.

In coverage off of the release, Gladney shows quick feet, and he backpedals very quickly. His hips flip seamlessly.

He has really good instincts in coverage whether to pick up the receiver or sniff out the screen pass, likely attained from his four years of starting experience.

Gladney won't just mix it up and get physical with pass-catchers, though. He wants to set a tone in the run game as well, and he'll fire upfield to disrupt flare routes as well.

"I feel it's very important," Gladney said of the importance of being physical. "In the run game, I love showing up, that's part of my game, so I try to maximize all of that."

With the ball in the air, there aren't many who are more aggressive than Gladney. He uses his length to his advantage and will poke his hand in to bat away the pass ad evidenced for having 40-plus pass breakups over his career.

While there are other areas of Gladney's frame and play style that compensates for his lack of size, it would likely be an issue at times against elite big men like Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, etc., though he'd likely have his fair share of impact plays as well.

At times, he can give up a little too much cushion, and can be a little slow to react to a receiver's comeback route.

"Just cleaning up my technique at the line," Gladney said of some of the areas he'd like to improve upon. "Like my footwork, making it better."

FIT WITH THE COLTS

Cornerback isn't that pressing of a need for the Colts — they have a young nucleus of Kenny Moore II, Rock Ya-Sin and Marvell Tell III — but it's one of those positions that is typically always being tweaked to ensure you're never in a dire position due to injuries or poor play from others.

Similar to offensive line and pass rushers, cornerback is always a need for every team, every year.

For the Colts, starting cornerback Pierre Desir has two years left on his contract, but is currently 29 years old. This is also a pivotal contract year for fourth-year corner Quincy Wilson.

Gladney could provide versatility as a traveling outside-inside corner, who is also tough against receivers and the run game, and he can event rush the passer on occasion. He's similar to Moore II in that sense.

Gladney is confident, but humble and has a good head on his shoulders. He served on the TCU football program's leadership council and was a candidate for national Senior CLASS award, which is awarded to an NCAA Division I senior student-athlete with notable achievements in the classroom, community, character and competition.

By selecting a player like Gladney — especially if he's available near the middle of the second round — the Colts can get ahead of having a need at cornerback in 2021 by adding yet another competitive playmaker.

With his confident attitude, toughness, desire to face top talent and willingness to be physical against the run and passing game, Gladney seems to fit the Colts' defensive culture very well.

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