Amani Oruwariye has the potential to be the next star for the Detroit Lions
With the eighth pick of the fifth round in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions select… Amani Oh-Rue-War-Ee-Aye, cornerback from Penn State. The crowd goes wild and fans erupt in cheers like the Detroit Lions have won the Super Bowl. Why? The Lions drafted a young star who will help them do just that.
Amani Oruwariye is one of the top corners in this year’s draft class, and over the course of this article, we’ll go over what makes him a great fit for the Lions defense, and why this is a pants-free moment for Lions fans.
First, let’s start off with some of his weaknesses that caused the Penn State corner to slip as far as he did, before getting into all the positives that really endear him to Lions fans.
The first thing that really stands out as a negative for Amani Oruwariye is that he doesn’t really have any one elite trait. His balance is almost a fault, as he’s so well-rounded and good at everything, that he isn’t really great at any one thing. He’s good in man, good in zone, pretty physical, a good athlete, etc. etc. but none of those adjectives start with great or elite. Most teams typically look for players who fit their specific scheme, and from there are willing to take negatives that don’t really factor into their plans for that player.
For example, take player A, who is one of the best man cover corners in the class, an elite athlete, but struggles in zone coverage. A team who runs a lot of man coverage will fall in love with that player because they’d be more willing to overlook his deficiencies in zone for his elite man trait that fits their scheme at a high level.
On the other hand, take player B, someone who’s an elite zone cover corner who hits and tackles, but hasn’t really shown a lot of experience in man coverage. A team who’s zone-heavy that values physicality from their corners is going to fall in love with that player and take him high, even if he struggles in man because he’s an elite player in zone coverage.
Now, take player C, a player who’s an elite athlete with great size, however, he may have injury concerns. The upside of someone like this if he’s able to stay healthy to develop his technical skills to some teams, particularly with good coaching staffs, could drive them up boards. This leaves more balanced players to fall down boards and slip through the cracks, allowing Oruwariye to fall to the fifth round.
Another weakness of Oruwariye’s is that he still has some work to do as a pass rusher and run support technician. He’s very physical (more on that later) and has the willingness to both hit and tackle, however he doesn’t have a pass rush move set that allows him to beat offensive tackles off the edge in corner blitzes, and he occasionally struggles at times with his block-shedding in the run game. He’s physical enough to be able to shed blocks, it’s about teaching him how to do so with technique and hand usage, rather than fighting through guys.
Additionally, he also struggles a bit at times with his tackling technique. As mentioned above, he’s a physical and willing tackler who loves to hit and knock down opposing ball carriers. On the other hand, he still needs to develop the tackling consistency in terms of technique, making sure he wraps more often than lunges, and brings guys down rather than trips them up. Hopefully, this is something that he will develop quickly in camp with the team and will continue to grow with a coaching staff that loves to emphasize tackling from the cornerback position under the guidance of head coach Matt Patricia.
Another weakness to his game is that he tested better than he looks on tape in terms of athleticism. His play speed is a little bit slower in a live game setting than it is in shorts, however, this isn’t really as big an issue as it’s been made out to be. He’s still a good athlete who doesn’t often get burned, but he’s not a great athlete like his testing might suggest, and he’s not really the elite athlete that teams like their corners to be in as many cases as possible.
Now that we’ve covered the areas he needs to improve on with the Detroit Lions next season, it’s time to take a look at some of the things that make him a special player, and why he could be the next great Detroit Lions corner in a long lineage at the spot.
The first of which is his versatility. A word that Lions fans should be very familiar with by now, Oruwariye is one of the most, if not the most, versatile corner in the draft. The best part about it though is how the word “versatile” is, in an odd way, “versatile” in its usage when it comes to Amani Oruwariye. He’s versatile in terms of what kind of coverage he can play, he’s versatile with his ability to cover different types of receivers, he’s versatile in regards to which side of the offensive he lines up against, and he’s versatile in terms of being able to rush the passer (though unrefined), play the run (again, needs some improvement, but willingness there), as well as cover.
He can do everything from day one, while not at an elite level, at a starting-caliber level, for the Detroit Lions. If one week the Lions play, for example, the Minnesota Vikings, he has the versatility to cover both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, two receivers who can win a variety of ways against a variety of coverages, simply because he too can win in a variety of ways from various types of coverage on both sides of the field.
Another strength to Oruwariye’s game is that he has a lot of the mental traits that should help him find success in the NFL. He’s a player who really looks on tape as if he’s done his film work about the opposing offense, and can adjust on the fly to any offensive formation or set that the opposition comes out in, and he’s seen it before. He’s able to communicate well with his teammates and adjust quickly at the highest level and he does a really fine job of ensuring his defensive teammates are put into positions to succeed. Being a student of the game in the classroom is something that Matt Patricia emphasizes, and this regime loves players that continue to grow and develop every day through hard work. Amani Oruwariye is someone who can continue to do that. He also has a chip on his shoulder from being passed on by so many teams in the draft, which should only add to his energy in camp and during the pre-season, as well as beyond.
Additionally, he’s a guy who plays with a great motor and toughness. He’s very physical at the catch point, at the point of attack as a run defender and passes rusher, and he finishes plays. While he does need some technical work still, the willingness to stick his nose into plays and take down blockers of all sizes from running backs to big offensive linemen is certainly something the coaching staff will love about him as soon as they get to see him in pads. This will make him a fun player to watch for Detroit Lions fans this year and beyond.
One more positive to really emphasize about Oruwariye is something that really doesn’t have as much to do with him as it does the opposing teams, but is still worth focusing on and pointing out. I was watching some film of Dwayne Haskins trying to cover him, and knowing I was high on Amani Oruwariye at that point, I wanted to see how often Haskins and Ohio State’s offensive coordinator at the time and now head coach Ryan Day would go after him. Ohio State has a lot of different weapons, and all of them have completely different strengths. One guy is a route runner, another a burner, another a size guy, another more elusive and agile who can make plays after the catch, etc. So I really went in wondering how they were going to attack Amani Oruwariye knowing his balance and ability to cover different types of receivers.
Well, the answer was they didn’t. Ohio State deliberately game-planned against Oruwariye and avoided him as much as they possibly could. They put different players opposite him, found no luck. They targeted him just twice in coverage that game the entire first half, and Oruwariye went 2/2 against Haskins, with a pass deflection and an incompletion in tight coverage that Haskins ended up missing. It didn’t matter who he was matched up with, Oruwariye was solid in coverage against all their different receivers, on both sides of the field, at all three levels, and at all areas of the field from end zone to end zone. Going to the second half? The same thing. He was only targeted one single time, a play that broke down once potential first-round pick in next year’s class Yetur Gross-Matos got pressure, but Haskins was able to escape and scramble drill. After covering for a whopping six seconds, Oruwariye gave up a bit of separation to Ohio State’s number four receiver, and he ended up making a contested catch that Oruwariye wasn’t able to break up. This was especially telling at the end of the game.
Ohio State’s final passing snap that day was a two-point conversion that would’ve put them up by three with one final drive left for Penn State’s offense. It’s a zone call, Oruwariye quickly backs up to take out the back left corner of the red zone. Simple enough of a call. Ohio State sends their biggest bodied pure receiver at around approximately 6’5″ on a route that would take him right into that spot. What does Dwayne Haskins do? Doesn’t even look at him. Symbolized the entire game in one play. In a red zone look for a two-point play, the offensive team needing to get it to a guy who can come down with a contested catch against tight coverage, Ohio State’s biggest receiver on the field doesn’t even get a glance in single coverage, instead Haskins ends up throwing it into double coverage on the opposite half of the field. Ohio State would still end up sneaking out of Happy Valley with a win by one, but it was what didn’t happen that game through 40 passing attempts that really flashed.
Game after game, other teams went out of their way to throw it away from Oruwariye. When they dared try him, they found limited success. The respect that he earned from offensive coordinators across the big ten was remarkable. He will hopefully earn that same level of respect at the NFL level as a Detroit Lion as well.
Amani Oruwariye’s Fit With The Detroit Lions
Overall, Amani Oruwariye has the potential to be the perfect number two cornerback opposite Darius Slay as early as next season. He has the ball skills, athleticism, physicality, mental traits and coverage ability that the Lions have needed at CB number two for the last several years, and pairing him with Darius as both a mentor and a partner could give the Lions something special in the Motor City that the team hasn’t had in a generation. He will have to beat out Rashaan Melvin in camp for the spot, and it may take him into the regular season to do so. However, when he gets his chance to start, expect big things for the young player. Him alongside other young players like Tracy Walker and Will Harris should be fun to watch for a long time with a solid young corps in the secondary for years to come.
Hope you all enjoyed this scouting report on the Lions’ rookie! Don’t forget to follow @C_Robbins_ on Twitter, as well as leave your thoughts in the Detroit Lions subreddit! For those looking for more film on him, I covered three of his games on YouTube here.