By the time the Chiefs' pick in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft finally came up, I felt like I'd watched roughly 746 players get drafted already -- about 90% of them playing wide receiver. Naturally, WR was the position I most coveted in this particular draft. That's just how my life works. I should've been rooting for us to draft a punter; there would've been a run on them in the 2nd round. I guarantee it.
Also off the board was Terrence Brooks, perhaps my favorite safety in the entire draft. It seemed like there was a chance he'd fall to the Chiefs in the third (which would have been a steal), but then stupid Ozzie Newsome drafted him. I hate Ozzie Newsome now. We are enemies for life. I imagine this won't have much of an impact on his daily activities, but I think it's important he be put on notice.
The point is that when the Chiefs came on the clock, there really weren't a ton of prospects that I was EXCITED about. There were guys I liked, sure. But none that I was all aboard with. Then the Chiefs pick came, and it was CB Phillip Gaines. And I said, "Huh, a corner. All right."
I knew nothing about Gaines prior to the draft, so with a clean slate I started investigating him. Some interwebbing and 3 games reviewed (via Draft Breakdown) later, I've got some opinions that are almost certain to be wrong.
Phillip Gaines: Stats and Otherwise
The first thing that pops out about Gaines is his combine results. He ran a 4.38 40-yard dash, with his low time clocked at an insanely fast 4.31. That is BURNING. Absolutely burning. His speed isn't limited to striding, either. He was also the second best performer at the combine in the three-cone drill (6.62 seconds), and was in the top five in the 20-yard shuttle (4.04 seconds).
So we know he's both fast AND quick. Both are good things at corner, if I recall. (Hot take alert!)
In many cases when you have a cornerback who is quick, you're dealing with a guy who is 5'11" or shorter. Not so with Gaines, who measures in at a hair over 6-feet tall. He's not huge, but he's not small either, though he's a little light at 193 pounds.
Gaines has some impressive stats, per Rice's school page. He was All-Conference USA in both 2012 and 2013, which is impressive even considering the lower level of competition. I'll focus on his 2013 season statistically so we don't go too far down a stats rabbit hole.
Targeted 40 times, allowing 13 receptions. That's a 32.5% completion percentage allowed, a very solid number.
Gaines was credited with 9 passes broken up as well as 4 interceptions in 2013. Which means that he defended as many passes as he allowed to be caught. I'm not sure I've ever seen a stat like that (again, though, it's important to note that this is C-USA, not the NFL). Really, really impressive. He was additionally named team captain both in 2012 and 2013. Looks good on paper.
A little gem I uncovered during my search of Gaines is a video of all 17 (SEVENTEEN???) of his pass breakups during the 2012 season. Obviously, the highlight bias exists here but it's worth watching anyway.
We can only learn so much looking at stats and highlight tapes, though. So with that in mind, let's examine what film is available on Gaines.
Phillip Gaines: Game Tape
Gaines has three games available via Draft Breakdown: Marshall, Mississippi State, and Louisiana Tech. Not exactly powerhouse schools with elite wide receivers, but all we can do is look at what's available. Three games is enough of a sample size to get a few insights into Gaines, regardless of level of competition. So take everything I say knowing I understand the, "Yeah, but it was Conference USA" response to everything.
First things first. Gaines is fast. Really, really fast. In the three games I watched, I didn't see him get outran once. I don't think it ever even appeared to be close. Receivers ran multiple deep routes on Gaines and he was consistently right in step with them, or even ahead. He turns and runs really, really smoothly with WR's.
I could show you roughly 60 gifs that look exactly like that. He generally played right up on wide receivers, would provide some contact early (though I wouldn't call it an actual press most of the time), then turn and run step for step with receivers. You could see why quarterbacks weren't successful in testing him, or why they would have thrown elsewhere. Receivers weren't getting any separation on deep routes.
His athleticism serves him well when receivers manage to gain separation due to solid route running, too. You can see in the following clip that his quickness (yes, quickness is different from speed) allows him to recover and break up a pass when the receiver got away.
Gaines is beat on that play. Now to be a fair, a faster throw would mean a completion. However, a corner who isn't as speedy/quick as Gaines gives up yardage there.
On the flip side, you're probably noticing that Gaines did not intercept that pass. Even though that would've been a relatively tough catch, now is as good a time as any to confirm what you've heard elsewhere; Gaines does not have good hands. Yes, he had four picks last year, but he could've had 10.
We can look at that one of two ways. One way is to bemoan missed opportunities. The other is to be impressed that he's able to get himself in position to knock down that many passes. Since I'm a guy with a sunny disposition, I'm going to choose the latter. It'd be nice to see him get a little work with the jugs machine, though.
But really, are you going to be THAT upset if you see a lot of pass breakups from Gaines, even if a few of them could have been picks? A corner's number one job is to prevent passes from being completed, and Gaines is very good at doing that. He's also more than willing to go up and fight with the wide receiver for the ball, even if it doesn't usually mean he's going to catch it. The end result is rarely the receiver winning and coming down with the ball.
One part of the tape on Gaines that surprised me is that Rice would occasionally use him as a blitzer. This surprised me, because Gaines is most definitely NOT a physical player (more on that later). However, because he has so much speed he can get to the quarterback impossibly quickly on a properly called blitz. When it works, it works REALLY effectively.
Another aspect of Gaines that I really liked in the limited film available is that he seems to have very good awareness of what's going on around him in coverage. That's likely why some scouting reports talk about his potential in zone coverage. When you combine his awareness of where the quarterback is looking with his speed, you end up with plays being made. His awareness and speed allow him to make a pick (yes, he DOES catch it sometimes) on this play.
In that play, Gaines has such an easy time keeping pace with the WR that he's able to watch the quarterback while running. He sees the throw goes up, and runs the ball down as if he's the WR on the play (he also displays how smoothly he can turn his hips, a major plus in coverage). He does a nice job tracking the ball down on the run and gathers the pick. A really heads-up play that makes me understand why some people are calling for Gaines to get a shot at free safety Here's that play from another angle.
On a long side note, I'm not really a fan of the "Hey, let's take a player who plays X position and try him at Y, just for fun" mindset. However, in this case I can understand it. Gaines has elite speed and displays solid awareness of where the ball is going. It's easy to picture him being a single-high safety with that particular skill set. I really doubt it happens, but ... dat speed. So much speed. I think I'm talking myself into calling for MOAR of Gaines at free safety, but since I've promised to stop cursing our players with that particular schtick (I blame myself for what's happened to poor Cyrus Gray), let's move on.
One bad side to Gaines that I mentioned briefly earlier; he's definitely not a run support corner. He lacks physicality when blocked and can be manhandled by receivers. He also doesn't really throw himself into the play to make tackles. Brandon Flowers, he's definitely not. It's probably the most easily apparent hole in his game. He's going to need to be more physical beyond the line of scrimmage if he wants to make an impact at corner.
It's worth noting that he's not completely unwilling to play physical. This next clip shows he'll make a big hit in coverage if the opportunity presents itself. It's also another play that demonstrates his awareness in coverage, as he hammers a receiver who isn't even his man.
Gaines stays aware of what the quarterback is doing and is able to make a nice break on the ball/receiver. It's another play that one could argue screams "safety," but again, such a switch is (per Andy Reid's quotes on Gaines) unlikely.
One thing that he needs to be cautious about is getting burned by a pump fake. A good pro QB is going to see that Gaines likes to watch the quarterback and use it against him. It didn't hurt him in college, but Manning will throw 500 yards on a guy who bites on fakes.
It's been said before, but it's worth repeating; three games of tape (and non-all-22 tape, at that) and one highlight video doesn't paint a complete picture of a player, and Gaines was going up against guys that were about half as talented as what he'll be seeing in the NFL.
Still, though, there's a lot to like about Gaines. His combination of speed, quickness, and fluidity is something you don't see all that often. When you combine that with his awareness on the field the potential is there for an exceptional corner. And yes, the material for single-high safety absolutely exists (I have no idea why I keep bringing it up when there's maybe a .1% chance of it happening. I just love the stir the pot, clearly). I can see him pushing to see the field immediately, although depth at corner is going to make that a challenge for him.
You know who he really reminds me of on tape? Marcus Cooper. Same solid size, lanky build, and exceptional combination of speed/quickness/fluidity. Where Gaines seems to have Cooper beat (at least against college competition) is his knowledge of where to be at all times. Now, I'm not saying he's going to take Cooper's snaps (I personally think Cooper is going to be a very, very good CB sooner rather than later), but that's who he compares to more than any of our other corners.
In my perfect world, Flowers/Smith/Cooper/Owens AND Gaines all play so well in training camp that Bob Sutton is forced to find a creative way to get Gaines on the field by giving him a shot at single-high safety. This would free up Husain Abdullah to play close to the line of scrimmage on passing downs, which would free up Eric Berry to play, you know, safety. The odds of all this coming to pass are approximately 7,903-to-1, but a guy can hope.
The more likely scenario is that Gaines sees the field in small doses this year and takes on a much bigger role next year with the (anticipated by many) departure of Brandon Flowers. But in the meantime, I feel much better about our secondary depth than I did a month ago, and that playoff loss reminded all of us (in excruciating, mind-melting fashion) how important such depth can be. And really, in a division with Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning, you can never have too many secondary players with elite speed.
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