While the Detroit Lions’ draft class received underwhelming reviews from some fans and the national media, no pick was more controversial than their second-round choice, where they selected Florida cornerback, Jalen “Teez” Tabor. Immediately following the pick, we asked you to grade the Teez selection, and with more than 1,200 votes tallied, over 40 percent of you gave the pick a “C” or lower.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as far as immediate reactions are concerned, considering how the national media incessantly harped on Teez Tabor’s slow 40-time at the NFL Combine, and even slower time at his pro day. We now know that the slower time at both his pro day and the combine could have been a result of him tweaking his hammy, per Tabor himself.
Numbers certainly matter, and trend analysis tells us that it’s very rare for a defensive back who tested as slow as Tabor to succeed at the next level, but there are always outliers, and if you ask me, Teez is a special breed.
As general manager Bob Quinn has mentioned, play speed is more important than timed speed, and when you turn on the film, Teez looks closer to 4.55 speed than 4.72 speed (what he ran at his pro day).
*Stats courtesy of sports-reference.com
Over the past two seasons new Lions CB @_31Flavorz has surrendered a passer rating against of just 35.5 (2nd in class).— Brett Whitefield (@BrettWhitefield) May 1, 2017
Those are some very impressive numbers and metrics for Tabor who had a fantastic career for the Gators. Teez also recorded a pass breakup or interception on 27 percent of balls thrown into his coverage, per Pro Football Focus’ Brett Whitefield, which was good for first in the entire draft class.
Numbers aside, the production and the tape don’t lie when it comes to Teez. Simply put, when you throw it in his direction, you’re taking a major gamble. Teez is the dealer, and you just doubled down with his ace showing.
Tabor’s mother had five words for those criticizing her son’s speed: “Press play, watch the tape.” So that’s exactly what we’re going to do. Time to press play and watch the tape.
Bob Quinn himself has publicly stated that he would like to add playmakers on both sides of the ball. Only three teams had fewer takeaways (14) than the Lions’ defense last year, so adding a play-making CB like Teez was clearly in the cards for Quinn.
Teez is a master at understanding situational football and route recognition. In the play above, he knows exactly where the ball is going from the time it is snapped and undercuts the tight end on the short out route for a pick-six.
Instincts and Ball Skills
Here’s an example where the Gators are lined up in a zone-based defense (Cover-3). The strong safety (No. 7), is responsible for the curl/flat, while Teez is responsible for the left third of the field and ends up caught in between two routes, forcing him to make a challenging decision.
This is an extremely tough task to ask from your CB, but Teez does a remarkable job of taking away the deep route and transitioning to the underneath route once the ball is in the air. He showcases his ball skills once again by high-pointing the ball and breaking up the pass.
Even on the rare occasion that Teez gives up a catch near his vicinity, he is almost always able to pop the ball loose for an incompletion. His eyes are constantly fixated on the football and his 28 passes defended in three years equals the sixth-most in the SEC since 2005. He has the best ball skills of any cornerback in this draft class, and it doesn’t take very long to realize it when watching the tape.
On third-and-6, Ole Miss whips up a designed screen to Laquon Treadwell and Teez is there to stop the play for a loss. Before the quarterback has even turned his body toward Treadwell, Teez is already on his way to meet the intended target. That just goes to show you how prepared and how much tape Teez watches in the film room before game day. His burst and long speed may be lacking big time, but he makes up for it with his anticipation and quick closing speed.
Interestingly enough, Treadwell called Teez the best corner he ever faced in college back in February of 2016.
Let me add a little bit of context to this play first. So, on the previous play, second-and-goal, Teez undercut a route and had the ball go straight through his hands for a missed interception. He was visibly upset, as any defensive back would have been. So what does Florida State do? They go right back at him in hopes of crushing his spirit and kicking him while he’s down, but Teez ain’t havin’ it. His footwork is flawless, and he manages to mirror the receiver’s movements before breaking up the pass and forcing a field goal try.
If nothing else, Detroit may have two of the most confident and poised outside corners in the NFL with Teez and Darius Slay.
Can He Press?
This isn’t a perfect example that exhibits Teez’s work in press-man, but it does help bring home a point that I’d like to establish right now: Teez is much better seeing the play in front of him than having his back to the ball. In press, his hands and his footwork are actually very good. He consistently times his jams correctly and stays in the receiver’s hip pocket throughout the play, while leaving the receiver little room along the sideline.
We haven’t seen Teez beaten by the deep ball in press coverage up until now, but I’d still consider that a big question mark moving forward because these are bigger and faster receivers that he’s going to be lining up against at the next level.
When it comes to technique, Teez is one of the worst form-tackling defensive backs in the entire class. He’s a pure ankle diver and often lowers his head prior to contact.
According to PFF’s draft guide, Tabor missed 16 tackles on 110 attempts over the last three years and his tackling efficiency was ranked 91st in 2016. That’s not very good. On the positive side of the spectrum, this is something that you can work with and is coachable, because while his technique is awful, Teez is not someone who shies away from contact. Take these plays against Alabama in 2015 for example:
In the first play, Teez gets his soul crushed by Calvin Ridley on a reverse sweep. Just two plays later, he is out for revenge and gives Ridley a shot of his own near the sideline. Teez is definitely not what I would consider to be a pile inspector and is a willing tackler despite his deficiencies.
There are a few more negatives to Tabor’s game, but not many. Although I haven’t seen him bite for a double move once in 14 games watched, plenty of scouts and draft outlets have knocked Teez for being overaggressive and getting beat by the occasional double move, so I would be remiss to not mention it. He also has a habit of getting overly physical and grabby at the top of routes while in off-man coverage, and while he didn’t get flagged very often in college, it’s something to keep an eye on at the next level in case the officials are less lenient.
Outlook for 2017
This selection makes a lot of sense for Bob Quinn and the Detroit Lions, and I’m not surprised that they decided to take one of the best ball-hawking defensive backs in the draft to address their need for a defensive playmaker. Teez Tabor has his shortcomings, especially in the run game, but I strongly believe that he will bring plenty more positives to the Lions’ defense than negatives.
Teez fits perfectly in defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s bend-but-don’t break scheme that requires his corners to play mostly off-man coverage and give up some cushion between their assignments. It’s not easy to come into a defensive scheme like Detroit’s without already understanding how to play off-man (see: Darius Slay’s rookie year), but Teez already has the inside track in this case.
Some will suggest that Tabor’s best position may be as a free safety in the NFL, but I have to disagree. I don’t believe he has the range of a center fielder, and I think you have to keep him where he is most comfortable, which is as an outside corner.
Like all rookie cornerbacks, Teez is going to have a steep learning curve when transitioning to the next level and it’s unlikely that he will beat Nevin Lawson out for the No. 2 cornerback job right away, so I encourage fans to temper their expectations. With that being said, I expect Teez to become the eventual starter opposite of Darius Slay at some point during the upcoming season and most likely before his sophomore year.