After a very impressive Senior Bowl and a strong NFL Scouting Combine performance, Robert Alford has been given some attention on youtube in the last month, meaning we can finally say something meaningful about his NFL prospects and how he fits the Seahawks. Alford was linked to the Seahawks in the past couple months, over at rotoworld, if memory serves.
What’s interesting about that rumor (which I will post when I find it) is that Alford is not likely to be a late round pick, unlike most of Pete Carroll’s other investments at the position. Alford ranks 105th on Tony Pauline’s big board (about halfway between our 3rd and 4th rounders), and pre-combine there was a lot of talk that suggested he was a “lock” for the second round. Then again, a lot of the round two hype was pre-combine when Alford was expected to run in the 4.2s, which he didn’t. Still, Alford could be a surprisingly early pick in an unpredictable corner group. Would Seattle take a corner at #56? That seems unlikely, but with needs being toned down by a strong free agency, Seattle legitimately has the option to go corner early should they choose.
Alford’s game is antipodal in its extremes- almost like a cornerback version of Bruce Irvin. He is one of the better coverage corners I’ve ever scouted, and is excellent at tracking the ball carrier in run support. Unfortunately, he’s miserable at making open field tackles or finishing sacks despite showing promise as a blitzer. For a guy that presses at the line like he’s 6’2″, he tackles like he’s 5’6″.
Southeastern Louisiana used Alford mostly in press. Alford gets a great press at the line and he can often sustain it for many yards down the field. Once he releases that press, he has excellent ability to stay in the hip pocket of the receiver. He has a good sense of knowing when to look back for the football. Alford played at a low level of competition, but receivers struggled to shake his coverage even slightly. Alford knows how to look for the football and overall I’d give him close to the highest grade possible in press/man coverage, with the only caveat being his level of competition.
Alford also shines in zone, showing some of the best polish and instincts I’ve seen in a good while. When he releases a receiver, he continues to move with a plan in mind. There is never indecision in his zone coverage. Once he drops a target, he’s already drifting to the next logical one, standing close enough to jump the route on a poor throw. I really can’t stress enough with words how instinctive and polished he looked while doing this, the term “natural” comes to mind.
Alford explodes in short areas and would be a nice tool to have on corner blitzes. His instincts at tracking ball carriers is way up there- roughly on par with Manti Te’o. He knows where runners are going almost before they know it themselves.
It’s so disappointing then that Alford struggles with missed tackles and bad angles in close spaces. In a lot of ways, you could compare his run support to Zaviar Gooden: shot out of a cannon, but sometimes that velocity causes him to blow by the target.
Alford ran an official 4.39 forty at the combine, one of just five corners to do so. Alford’s speed translates on the field, though more in the short area than in the long one. Alford nearly returned a kickoff for a touchdown during the Senior Bowl but was caught from behind by Desmond Trufant, despite the fact that Trufant was only one hundredth of a second faster on his track forty. That hints at Alford’s field speed being a notch lower than his track performance.
Teams tested Alford in cushion coverages, and to my eye he seemed far less impressive. Then again, I never really liked conservative cushion coverages and always felt they put the defensive back at a disadvantage on anything other than a deep ball, and Alford isn’t going to be burned on the deep ball. Seattle would use him in press and in zone, and he looks excellent in both of those.
While Alford’s ability to finish a tackle worries me greatly, I remember the philosophy this front office goes by. They are always looking for special players who’s best football is still ahead of them. Alford’s issues certainly seem coachable, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if he was coached out of them in year one. In terms of size and coverage ability, he has some similarities to Walter Thurmond, who is outstanding when healthy. Alford has that competitive edge that you know Pete Carroll loves. You always have to be careful when a player is linked to a team- it being lying season and all. That said, I’ve seen enough to think that Seattle’s rumored interest in him is probably genuine, even if he doesn’t physically impose the way that Browner or Sherman can.