Film review: Scouting new Lions cornerback Desmond Trufant
Over the next couple of weeks, we're planning on taking a closer look at several of the Detroit Lions' key offseason additions. We will watch tape from three 2019 games for each player and provide a brief scouting report to better familiarize you with the new additions prior to the 2020 season.
Player: Cornerback Desmond Trufant
Age: 29 (Sept. 10)
Measurables: 6 feet, 190 pounds, 31 1/4-inch arms, 4.38-second 40-yard dash, 37.5-inch vertical
Experience: Trufant started parts of all four seasons at the University of Washington, earning the job a few games into his freshman year. From there, he developed into one of the country’s best corners as a senior, earning first-team all-conference honors.
Trufant was selected in the first round (pick No. 22) of the 2013 draft and spent his first seven seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. He started every game his first three seasons, appearing in his first and only Pro Bowl in 2015.
He’s missed 15 games the past four seasons, with a shoulder injury costing him seven games in 2016 and a broken forearm sidelining him seven games last year. For his career, he’s started 97 games, recording 13 interceptions and defending 79 passes.
Tape studied: Vs. Philadelphia (Sept. 15), at Houston (Oct. 6), vs. Tampa Bay (Nov. 24)
► Trufant is equally adept playing man or zone coverages, as well as lining up tight pre-snap or 8-10 yards off. Even in close quarters, he isn't overly reliant on his hands, leaning far more on his footwork to mirror opposing receivers.
Not surprisingly, that technical proficiency has helped him keep penalties in check. Impressively, he wasn't flagged once in nine games last season. In our review, he only got away with grabbing a receiver once, after hooking three-time All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone.
► Trufant still has top-end long speed to keep up with downfield routes, but it's his quickness and agility that really stand out on film. His ability to change direction and accelerate allow him to close cushion as well as any cornerback.
That ability to accelerate and close space also shows up when driving on short routes.
► While he came into the league utilizing a more traditional backpedal, Trufant now uses the shuffle technique developed by Alabama coach Nick Saban in the early 1990s, when he was the Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator.
At the snap, Trufant turns his body 90 degrees toward the quarterback and shuffles through the initial steps of the receiver's route. Whether he needs to turn and run with the receiver or break back toward the line, he exhibits fluid hips through his transitions.
► Trufant intercepted three passes in the three games we watched, taking advantage of a trio of bad throws. Against Tampa Bay, he read quarterback Jameis Winston's eyes while dropping back in zone coverage and jumped a post route intended for Mike Evans.
Against the Eagles, playing tight man coverage, Trufant conceded an outside release to receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, before turning and staying stride-for-stride down the sideline with inside position. As the receiver turned his head, Trufant is in position to locate the ball, as well. Pressure from a blitz forced quarterback Carson Wentz off his spot and to attempt a deep ball while on the move, resulting in an underthrown ball Trufant was in perfect position to snag.
Although playing different types of coverage, both plays showed a good use of eye discipline to make the play.
► Although he gets away with it more often than not because of his closing speed, Trufant often bites on a false step on the receiver's initial release, causing him to spin the wrong way, giving up early separation on those routes.
► The route that troubled Trufant the most was a flag/corner pattern against speed receivers. He got caught multiple times overcommitting toward the middle of the field and was beat for a couple of big gains when the receiver broke back toward the sideline, away from potential safety help.
Houston's Will Fuller (4.32-second 40-yard time) got Trufant on this route and later on a double move, resulting in a 44-yard touchdown.
► While it doesn't match the scouting report coming out of college, Trufant seems allergic to contact in run support. An adequate open-field tackler when defending receivers, he doesn't pursue running backs with anything close to the same vigor.
How he fits in Detroit:
Atlanta, under head coach and former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, played a mix of man and zone coverages, with Cover-3 being the preferred choice of the latter. While the Lions play a healthier percentage of man-to-man compared to the Falcons — which is better to maximize Trufant's skills — the team also mixes in plenty of Cover-3.
Because of an ineffective pass rush, the Lions struggled to defend crossing routes in 2019. If that continues to be the case, Trufant's change-of-direction quickness and closing speed should be a good asset to limit the damages from these patterns.
Earlier in his career, Trufant would travel with the opponent's best receiver, similar to the way Darius Slay had for the Lions in recent years. But in recent seasons, Trufant has primarily played one side of the field (the left in 2019). With Jeff Okudah on board, the Lions shouldn't need Trufant to travel, but there's reason to believe he'd be capable of doing it if asked.