INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts rookie Marvell Tell III is in the middle of transitioning from collegiate safety at USC to cornerback now in the NFL, and if what we’ve seen on the field so far is any indication, then the move is going well.
Tell III and the Colts played their first preseason game of 2019 Thursday against the Buffalo Bills, and the rookie defensive back graded out with a standout performance, making Pro Football Focus’ 2019 NFL Preseason Week 1 "Team of the Week."
“CB MARVELL TELL III, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
88.8 Overall Grade, 23 Defensive Snaps
A fifth-round draft pick out of USC, the 91st-ranked player on the final PFF Big Board made an impressive start to his Indianapolis Colts career. On the field for 10 snaps in coverage, Tell didn’t allow a reception despite being targeted twice and also came away with a pass breakup.”
Tell III’s grade of 88.8 against Buffalo is the fourth-highest grade among all NFL cornerbacks currently this preseason, and the highest among all rookie corners. Although Tell III was given of grade of 62.6 in the run game, his coverage grade was a 90.2.
As mentioned, he was targeted twice but allowed no completions and had one pass breakup. He was also credited with three special teams snaps on the kickoff coverage unit.
Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus has been impressed with Tell III's ability to learn a new position on the fly so far through training camp.
“He’s doing well, he’s doing well," Eberflus said on Sunday. "When you switch from safety to corner there are a lot of nuances, a lot of techniques and fundamentals that he has to learn. We are working with him day-to-day on that.
"Then we have to learn what his body can do. What can he do personally? Then who is he covering? And then what can he do? So you have to look at all the variables there. He’s starting to learn that and that’s an experience. He has to go through the experiences of that," Eberflus continued. "That’s why having Cleveland in here and having him cover different wideouts on our squad is so important — and him really knowing himself as well as he knows the opponent he’s going against.”
Tell III's supreme athleticism allows him to hang with receivers downfield, and he can close in on them in a hurry on short to intermediate routes. Tell III's length (6-foot-2 with an 80-inch wingspan) allows him to break up passes that many other cornerbacks wouldn't be able to reach.
He is also getting comfortable enough at this point to take more chances when defending the ball, firing in to break up pass attempts.
Since last Thursday's game, in Sunday’s practice, Tell III broke up a pass along the left sideline that resulted in fellow defensive back Rolan Milligan intercepting the pass off the deflection. On Monday, quarterbacks were wary about throwing downfield in Tell III’s direction because of his tight coverage. He still managed to break up a pass attempt thrown in his direction early in practice.
Confidence and mental toughness is a big factor in the performance of a cornerback — especially a young one — and it looks like stacking these quality performances on top of each other is resulting in Tell III starting to become the cornerback prospect the Colts hoped he would be when they selected him in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft.