The Swiss Army Knife You Didn’t Know You Needed
The Arizona Cardinals are on the clock and as we inch closer to April 25th, the media begins to separate perceived superstars from the pack. This separation allows for the generic football fan to label a player either a “franchise-altering superstar” or a “bust.” You’re not going to find those buzzwords on Student Union Sports in line with any agenda. We’re not Mel Kiper by any stretch of the imagination, but we all have two eyes and a burning passion for football.
Out of Arkansas State, we have Justin Clifton, another four year guy who hasn’t been getting a ton of exposure, but probably should. His versatility was very impressive as he played in a couple spots and was productive. A guy who possesses the physical tools and has the right mind set who could be a very good starter in the near future.
Weight: 213 lbs
*appears he did not participate at the combine*
- Clifton was a linebacker recruit coming out of high school according to 24/7 and it shows. Comparing to other college defensive backs, his physicality sticks out like a sore thumb. He definitely isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, and will even engage with offensive lineman and win. He is very good at block shedding, finishing a play, and does a lot things you expect to see from linebackers.
- His coverage abilities is on par. Nothing ground-breaking, but he does have next-level abilities. He read routes and be right with the receiver the entire way. Arguably his best trait revolves around his zone discipline and awareness.
- His intellect and ability to read and react are also strong parts of his game. Whether be pre-snap or post-snap more times than not he’ll be able to know where the ball is going and gets there in a hurry. He can change direction on a dime whether be in pass coverage or engaging a blocker. What Clifton lacks in speed, he makes up in acceleration and angles.
- Has pretty decent footwork and hip fluidity. Can work on his backpedal speed, but other than that he has some pretty quick feet, good balance, and keeps his feet under him.
- His versatility is probably his biggest asset when it comes to the draft. As stated, he was a linebacker recruit and was lined up a few times as a linebacker, but mainly played DB at Arkansas State. He primarily played in the slot or some variation of the slot while at Arkansas Sate, but he could honestly translate to strong safety and be effective too. He has the tools where he is a very physical player and will get his hands dirty. And he is not a liability in coverage. So you can plug him in the slot or at Safety and have some packages at linebacker. That’s hard to pass up.
- Not a big fan of the criticism, but I would understand why people would knock him for this. Clifton doesn’t have the film to prove he’s good in coverage. To be more specific he played in coverage a lot. But he was hardly ever targeted and mainly covered routes that were checkdowns or routes on the backside. Most routes where less than 10 yards–outs, arrows, swings etc. From the few times–at least the ones I saw–where he covered deep patterns he did alright. Given the rest of his game I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that if you test him more he will still be productive.
- His aggressiveness is something that I really enjoyed, but it did bite him in the butt a few times. He could over-pursure leaving the cutback open, he would get sucked in on play action or read option, and would sometimes not breakdown properly which lead to a few whiffs and moves put on him. This didn’t happen in bunches, but something he can still improve in.
Clifton is not far off from being a legit starter in the NFL. Staying discipline on the fundamentals is big for him. He is pretty decent at the fundamentals and is more times discipline than not, but he will really have to tighten up on that front. Physically he is everything you are looking for. He is strong, aggressive, and is as tough mentally as they come. A craftsman with a commitment to perfection.
Another thing is that he should be placed in one position and stay there. Repetition is key, so if he is practicing in three different position that’ll definitely take reps from his main job and stunt his growth. I think strong safety is his best fit even he has never really played there. He certainly has the tools for it and I think it would benefit the defense more if you used his aggressiveness and physical demeanor at some other position rather than the slot.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Green Bay Packers
- San Francisco 49ers
- Arizona Cardinals