Football / Sports

Utah's Keith McGill finds big model in Chiefs cornerback

After a junior season in which he played only five games at safety because of a shoulder injury, Keith McGill's coaches at Utah turned to the film of a former Ute -- and current Chief -- to show McGill what he could do if he moved to cornerback.

"I was playing safety up at Utah, and nobody really threw the ball my way," McGill said. "I was kind of just back there roaming from sideline to sideline. After the year ended, the coach was like 'Hey, we've got to get you involved, so they sat me down and showed me five to 10 minutes of Sean Smith and his transition from receiver."

McGill, who checks in at 6 feet 3 and 211 pounds, could not deny his physical similarities to Smith, who is listed at 6 feet 3 and 215.

"They showed me how he started out and how I started out," McGill said, "and I was pretty glad that we were kind of the same."

McGill, a junior-college transfer who had only 12 tackles and a pass breakup in 2011, sat out 2012 while recovering from a shoulder injury. He returned with a vengeance at his new position last season, when he logged 37 tackles, 12 pass breakups and an interception.

Now, thanks to the success of Seattle, which rode a group of lanky, aggressive cornerbacks to a Super Bowl victory, big corners such as McGill are now en vogue, though such NFL personnel men as Chiefs general manager John Dorsey have always preferred big corners.

"Ever since I've been in the league, size has mattered at the cornerback position," said Dorsey, a former linebacker. "I go back to the days of guys like Mike Haynes, Emmitt Thomas. To me, those were like real corners. To me, size makes a difference."

McGill, who is expected to be an early to midround pick, credited coach Kyle Whittingham and his staff at Utah for helping him make the transition, and noted their past experience with Smith only helped their efforts to develop him.

"I think they kind of harped on some things with me that they didn't with him because they were kind of feeling it out with him," McGill said. "After the year, I think they said if (they) could have had him for maybe a year or more, they probably could have turned him into somebody great."

That's not to say McGill thinks lightly of the 26-year-old Smith, who signed a three-year contract with the Chiefs before last season. As McGill noted, Utah did win the Sugar Bowl in Smith's last season, and he did go in the second round, and McGill counts Smith among the big corners he looks up to, along with Seattle's Richard Sherman.

"They're showing not only the National Football League but also the world that big guys can move," McGill said. "It makes it that much easier of a transition for guys like me."

While being tall can cause problems for big corners, who tend to be less agile than smaller corners, McGill, who ran a 4.51 40-yard dash and also had an impressive 39-inch vertical jump, knows his technique is key if he's going to make it at this level. He said his coaches at Utah drilled that into his head.

"They said if you play lower than your opponent, then you have the leverage on him," McGill said. "The big thing for me is getting low, not only from the start but coming out of breaks and making tackles."

McGill is confident in his press-man technique, but when asked about defending smaller receivers, his mentality mirrors that of Smith's, who has admitted that facing small guys is harder than facing big guys.

"I watch a lot of film and I know my speed," McGill said. "I know if somebody's there that's 160 pounds, there is only one thing he can do and that's run fast and catch the ball, so I tend to back up depending on down and distance.

"When I go against a smaller guy I kind of know he's gonna be a little quicker than me and may accelerate faster than me, though I definitely don't downplay my athleticism. But when I see a bigger guy, I smile and say 'OK, who's better?' I see it as more of a competition with a bigger guy because it's one-on-one."

INSIDE the 2014 NFL Draft: cornerbacks

Top 10 prospects for the Chiefs

Name;Ht.;Wt.;Evaluation

1. Justin Gilbert;6-0;202;Oklahoma State; Looks the part -- great athlete with long arms and great timed speed and recovery skills. Excellent ball skills (seven interceptions in 2013). Playmaker. Talented kick returner. Durable. Inconsistent technique and tackling. Not particularly physical. Needs to be coached up but has the talent to be top-notch cover corner.

2. Darqueze Dennard;5-11;199;Michigan State; Good athlete. Short arms. Fluid enough. Physical in coverage. Plenty of experience playing press coverage. OK in run support. Solid ball skills -- competes when ball is in the air and knows how to knock the ball away. Good instincts. Can be too grabby. Durability a concern. Needs more experience in zone. Excellent intangibles.

3. Kyle Fuller;6-0;190;Virginia Tech; Has NFL bloodlines. Long arms. Physical and aggressive. Willing, reliable tackler in run support. Flashes good ball skills -- can break on the ball and make plays. Has a closing burst. Good awareness and instincts. Has experience playing nickel. Excellent intangibles. Needs to get stronger. Has dealt with injuries this year. There's some disagreement about his press-man coverage ability.

4. Bradley Roby;5-11;194;Ohio State; OK size. Very good athlete. OK arm length. Good fluidity and agility. Can stick with receivers downfield. Willing tackler in run support. Solid ball skills. Inconsistent in coverage last season. Technique, instincts and focus must improve.

5. Pierre Desir;6-1;198;Lindenwood;Great size. Looks the part of a press-man corner, though his technique needs a little work. Long arms. Good athlete, though timed speed and agility isn't elite. Great hands and ball skills. Good intangibles. Durable. Might need time to adjust to speed of NFL after playing small-college football. Willing and capable against the run.

6. Jason Verrett;5-9;189;Texas Christian; Undersized with short arms but plays the game hard and is competitive. Great athlete -- has the athleticism, speed and feet to stick to receivers. Great instincts and solid ball skills, though he can be overpowered by bigger receivers. Shows a closing burst against the run and can occasionally deliver a big hit. Has proven to be durable but has played through injuries. Profiles to be, at worst, a very good nickel corner, though his size makes his long-term durability an issue.

7. Keith McGill,;Utah;6-3;211; Great frame and length. Has experience at safety. Displays good timed speed for his size. Ball skills and range are solid despite limited ball production. Agility is only OK. Is an inconsistent tackler. Is not terribly physical. Needs to be coached up -- technique is inconsistent. Is old for a rookie (25). Has had durability concerns. Does not have great vertical speed.

8. Bashaud Breeland;5-11;197;Clemson; Good athleticism with fluidity. Good length for his height. Competitive. Missing too many tackles but is willing in run support. OK instincts. Has decent range. Has some ability in press coverage.

9. Stanley Jean-Baptiste;6-3;218;Nebraska;Great size and length. Has the tools to play press-man. Has flashed ball skills and physicality in coverage, though he needs to be more consistent. Former receiver who is very raw. Needs to be coached up. Old for a rookie (24). Needs to be more consistent against the run.

10. Dontae Johnson;6-2;200;North Carolina State; Played a lot of off-man coverage but has the height you want in a press-man corner. Also has very good athleticism for his size. Versatile -- has played safety and nickel. Does not have great vertical speed -- fast guys can run past him. Only has three career interceptions. OK tackler. Instincts are solid in coverage. Needs to get stronger. Inconsistent footwork. Is a developmental guy who needs to be coached up. Work habits need to be investigated.

All evaluations and rankings are based largely on multiple draft profiles -- thanks to NFL.com, ESPN.com, CBSSports.com and DraftNasty's 2014 NFL Draft Manual -- interviews with draft analysts and the author's own film evaluations. Measurements and testing results are from the combine and pro days, according to the resources listed above and NFLDraftScout.com.

What the Chiefs look for: General manager John Dorsey has always liked big outside corners. They fit well in defensive coordinator Bob Sutton's man-heavy scheme, which includes a healthy dose of press coverage. Six-feet tall is around the cutoff point for outside corners, but arm length matters, too.

Chiefs' needs: The Chiefs have an expensive duo at cornerback in Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith. Smith, 26, must be more consistent but is still young enough to improve. Flowers, 28, is still in his prime, but he's short (5-feet-9), expensive and isn't an ideal fit in this scheme, though he is a good player. He showed that much in the loss to Indianapolis in the playoffs, when he went head-to-head with T.Y. Hilton in the nickel and more than held his own. Speedy free agent Chris Owens is also expected to play nickel corner. Second-year pro Marcus Cooper has the length and ball skills to thrive in this defense, but he must clean up his technique and continue to develop. Young journeyman Ron Parker made plays in his limited action last season and could get a harder look this offseason. With all that said, the Chiefs could use more juice, athletically, at this position, and it will soon become a position of need if they decide to move on from Flowers at some point.

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