Over the next few weeks, we're breaking down each of the Jets' 2018 draft picks in detail. Today we move on to look at Tulane cornerback Parry Nickerson.
The 23-year old Nickerson is listed at 5'11" and 179 pounds and the Jets selected him with the 179th overall pick in the sixth round. He had 16 interceptions in his college career.
When Nickerson arrived at Tulane, they already had an NFL prospect at cornerback in Lorenzo Doss, who did indeed go on to play in the NFL, although he is yet to make his first NFL start. As a true freshman, Nickerson was thrown into the fire in his first game due to a Doss ejection and responded with seven tackles and a forced fumble. However, he also suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Having received a medical redshirt, Nickerson returned from his knee injury as a redshirt freshman and responded with six interceptions as teams targeted him in an effort to avoid Doss.
His sophomore year was not as good as he had no interceptions, although he did register a career high 51 tackles and added eight pass-breakups and a fumble return for a touchdown.
As a junior he made dramatic improvements, holding quarterbacks to a completion percentage of under 50 when targeted and picking off four passes. Then in his senior year, he again had a completion percentage of less than 50 when targeted, adding six interceptions.
In the offseason, he played in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and attended the scouting combine, although he couldn't finish his workout because he pulled his hamstring running the 40-yard dash. NFL.com rated him as a mid-round pick heading into the draft.
Let's take a closer look at what Nickerson brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study and divided into categories.
As you can see, Nickerson lacks size and length but ran an extremely fast 40-time at the combine despite the hamstring pull. His bench press was also above average.
At his pro day, Nickerson completed the rest of his workout but his explosiveness and agility numbers were below average.
Due to his lack of size, Nickerson is expected to take on a slot role at the pro level, although he played almost exclusively on the outside in college. On the rare occasions he was targeted while in the slot, he held up well though and his skill-set would seem suited to such a move, even though his agility numbers were not great.
Nickerson has good positional sense and impresses with an ability to anticipate his receiver's route and stay on him through the break. His footwork seems smooth and he doesn't panic when the ball is in the air.
He has good closing and recovery speed and can stay with his man on deep balls, rarely - if ever - getting beaten over the top. The longest play he gave up in college was a 58-yarder where he missed a tackle underneath but then the safety also missed his tackle 15-20 yards downfield. On downfield throws he has given up, they've tended to be of the type where the quarterback throws it up for grabs and Nickerson locates it late or gets outmuscled at the point of the catch.
Here's an example of him not falling for the attempted double-move, staying on his man and breaking up the pass down the field:
However, on this play he does fall for the double-move initially and isn't able to recover in time to get back into position, leading to a Robby Anderson touchdown:
His recovery speed is impressive here, as he is badly beaten at the line of scrimmage, giving up a clean inside release, but manages to get back into the play to make a play on the ball. However, a better pass there probably goes for a big gain:
On the whole, his coverage numbers have generally been really good, especially over the last two years, where his completion percentage when targeted is below 50 and he's only been beaten for two scores, as opposed to six in his first two full seasons. Nevertheless a few players have given him troubles, notably FIU's Thomas Owens, who racked up over 150 yards and a touchdown last year and Tulsa's Keyarris Garrett who had eight catches on him for over 170 yards and a score in 2015.
In the FIU game, Nickerson gave as good as he got, coming up with a jump ball in the end zone for an interception. Also the touchdown Owens scored was while Nickerson was covering on the other side. However, he did allow a few big plays.
Garrett, who has been with the Carolina Panthers but did not play for them and is currently without a team, exploited the fact Nickerson was playing too far off him to register some big plays.
Nevertheless, Nickerson has also faced some NFL-level talents and more than held his own. He did a good job on Tre'Quan Smith - a third-round pick for the Saints this year, holding him to two short catches and also picking one off. He has also fared well against second-round pick Anthony Miller in match-ups over the past three years, breaking up the pass both times when Miller was targeted against him in this year's game. Then you have Anderson, who caught three passes in five targets against him in 2015, but was well-covered overall.
Despite being undersized, Nickerson likes to get physical with the receivers he is targeting. He is employed at times in press-man and also will make contact with the receiver within five yards of the line of scrimmage. However, he's done a good job of avoiding penalties. After being called for five in his first two full years, he has just one over the past two years and none in 2017.
One issue Nickerson has at times is that he struggles to get off blocks on the outside or down the field. This can be an issue on outside runs and receiver screens.
As a tackler he can come up fast and level some big hits like this one:
Nickerson broke up 31 passes and intercepted another 16 in college, meaning that he made plays on the ball at a rate of more than one per game. Some of those interceptions are really impressive, as he went up over a receiver to bring the ball down.
Here's one where he is trailing the receiver with safety support inside, leaving him in perfect position to make a play on the ball:
Nickerson's lack of ideal length can be an issue when trailing a receiver, leaving well-thrown balls out of his reach even if his positioning is good. His small hand size can be an issue too. Although he's made some impressive interceptions, Nickerson will juggle his catch at times, although he will usually show good concentration to still come up with the ball. He had this one go off his hands for a completion though:
He even almost lost the ball on this fumble return, again just about managing to recover and regain possession:
Despite playing on the outside where a lot of cover corners don't find themselves to be involved much against the run, Nickerson does show a willingness to participate, which will be even more important if he moves inside.
Unlike some cornerbacks, he remains alert to the threat of a run and reacts to it, rather than just focusing on his coverage responsibilities. Here's a play where he stays at home to get in on the stop. Even though he doesn't make a clean tackle, he prevents the runner from getting outside and slows him up enough for his teammates to make the play:
As noted, he can get stuck on blocks sometimes too, though.
Along with his coverage numbers, Nickerson has made improvements in his tackling efficiency over the past two seasons. He almost halved the number of missed tackles he had in his junior and senior years compared to his first two full seasons.
Earlier on in his career, he had a tendency to dive in low rather than wrapping up and he doesn't seem to do that as much in the film from the last two years. He's also stronger, which means that you don't see plays like this one from Garrett in that aforementioned 2015 game any more:
Here is evidence of Nickerson's range and effort in pursuit as he chases down a receiver from behind and strips the ball away to not just prevent a big play but also to cause a turnover:
His closing speed is displayed here as he immediately hits the receiver on a short pass to keep it to a short gain:
Nickerson has a good chance to be a solid contributor on special teams. Unlike many cornerback prospects, he played on special teams even when he was starting, recording five tackles on special teams last year.
Here's an example of Nickerson in kick coverage, deftly hurdling a couple of bodies to prevent a big return:
Nickerson also got some work as a punt returner, which makes some sense as he has shown good open field instincts as a return man on defense. Unfortunately, it did not go well. Nickerson basically fair-caught everything, except for this punt which he muffed into the end zone for a Houston touchdown:
Nickerson also had this impressive field goal block in college. It's rare you'll see anyone with the kind of speed off the edge to block a kick cleanly like this:
Blitzing is something Nickerson hardly ever did in college and he did not register a sack, although he had a couple of pressures. However, it could be something he is really good at, based on that kick block above.
Nickerson seems to have good awareness and doesn't get caught up in his coverage assignment. He also generally does a good job of locating the ball, although there are occasionally times where he doesn't have time to get his head turned.
Here is an excellent read where he comes off his man to blow up a screen pass with a solid open field tackle:
There didn't appear to be any obvious blown coverages or mental errors from Nickerson.
Nickerson is an energetic and demonstrative corner on the outside. Don't be surprised to see him bust out a Kyle Wilson finger-wag at times.
He's done well to come back from his injury and has led by example on the Tulane team. He's a gritty and competitive player on the field and has no character concerns.
Nickerson's knee injury in 2013 was apparently something that concerned teams during the pre-draft process with some showing concern for his long-term outlook. He had a risky procedure to transplant cartilage into his left knee to replace the existing dead cartilage and there was said to be a chance it would end his career.
However, he came back saying the knee felt better than ever, immediately intercepting a pass in each of the first two games of the following season. Running 4.32 at the combine also would have put to rest many teams' concerns. Nevertheless, it's possible this might shorten Nickerson's career, but hopefully it won't limit him in the short-to-medium term.
Nickerson also had an arm injury in 2016, sustained on the play where he muffed the punt for a touchdown against Houston. He missed the rest of that game and all of the next one.
As noted, he pulled his hamstring running the 40-yard dash at the combine.
Nickerson lacks the ideal length Todd Bowles tends to covet in his starting boundary corners, which is again why it makes more sense for him to try and make it as a slot corner. The Jets have confirmed he will work both inside and out in camp.
His only former teammate on the current roster is Cairo Santos, who was Tulane's kicker in Nickerson's freshman year when he hurt his knee.
Nickerson was a player we were very familiar with over the past few seasons and seems like a potential bargain for such a late pick.
The knee is a concern, albeit one which hopefully won't limit Nickerson until later on in his career. There's also the challenge of getting used to playing in the slot, which might take some time to adjust to, slowing his path to being a full-time contributor.
However, if he can thrive in that slot role, he should be an excellent replacement for Buster Skrine over the next few years bringing the kind of playmaking ability and disciplined coverage the Jets' secondary has been looking for since Bowles took over.