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Titans Free Agency 2017: Stephon Gilmore

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A former top 10 pick in his prime at the Titans biggest position of need is likely hitting the market in a few weeks. What should we know about Stephon Gilmore?

NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Stephon Gilmore is the prototype modern NFL #1 corner from a physical standpoint. He stands 6’-1” tall, 190 lbs with long arms and runs a 4.40 40 time. He absolutely looks the part. Since being drafted at #10 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, he has mostly played like a #1 corner as well. His 62 passes defensed over the past 5 years is good enough for 10th in the NFL during that timeframe. Despite making his first Pro Bowl in 2016, he may end up on the market when free agency opens.

Obviously, the Titans need help at corner. You already knew that, but I broke down some stats here if you want to get a feel for exactly how bad this help is needed. Gilmore could be one of the top targets for the Titans to improve at the corner position in 2017 so lets get to know him a little better.

The Stats

  • Age: 26 (will turn 27 on 9/19/2017)
  • Height: 6’-1”
  • Weight: 190 lbs
  • College: South Carolina
  • Experience: 5 years

Drafted in the 1st round (#10 overall) in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Bills

Stephon Gilmore Career Stats.csv

Year Team G GS Comb PDef Int
Year Team G GS Comb PDef Int
2016 Buffalo Bills 15 15 48 12 5
2015 Buffalo Bills 12 12 36 18 3
2014 Buffalo Bills 14 14 46 6 3
2013 Buffalo Bills 11 9 35 10 2
2012 Buffalo Bills 16 16 61 16 1
TOTAL 226 62 14

Gilmore was a starter from day one as a rookie in Buffalo and played pretty well. He only picked off one pass, but managed 16 PBUs and 61 tackles in what was largely considered a successful season.

2013 was the worst season of Gilmore’s career. He suffered a wrist injury in preseason play that required surgery and caused him to miss the first 5 games of the regular season. After he returned he played 2 weeks with a club on his right hand and was largely hampered by the injury throughout the season as he complained of weakness in his right hand even after getting the cast off.

The next two years saw Gilmore return to his top form. His 2015 season saw him finish as a top 10 corner in the NFL according to PFF recording 3 interceptions and 18 PBUs on the season.

Coming in to the 2016 season expectations were sky high for Gilmore, but he struggled at the start of the season getting burned over the top for several big plays. He did manage to earn him his first Pro Bowl nod though, largely on the strength of his 5 interceptions (Pro Bowl voters are suckers for interceptions, just ask 2013 Alterraun Verner). However, after going back and watching his 2016 tape I came away very underwhelmed. We will get in to that a little more later.

Draft Profile

Here is what NFL.com had to say about Gilmore going in to the 2012 NFL Draft:

STRENGTHS

Gilmore has impressive footwork for his size, which he uses well in a shuffle-shuffle-bail technique at the line of scrimmage. Although this isn't considered the most efficient technique, Gilmore makes it work, allowing him to use his huge frame to mirror and cut off receivers early in their routes. He is a natural cover man who can jam at the line and stay with a receiver in his hip and use his strength and length to make plays on the ball and finish plays.

WEAKNESSES

Gilmore loses a lot of his fluidity when working in zone or off-man, and his eyes slow his feet in that he doesn't diagnose routes as quickly and will get his feet stuck in the ground prior to breaking. Gilmore was able to rely on size, strength and athleticism to cover in college, but he will be exposed by the technically sound veteran receivers in the league. He will struggle when forced to work within specific schemes that don't allow him to play freely.

How Gilmore Fits the Titans

Gilmore has the best pedigree of any of the current crop of free agent corners besides possibly Morris Claiborne. His physical abilities are unquestionably on par with the elite corners in the NFL, but he has yet to put it all together on a consistent enough basis to become one of the best of the best.

One of the pluses to Gilmore’s potential fit with the Titans is that he is coming from a defensive scheme that is pretty similar to Dick LeBeau’s defense. The Rex Ryan Bills were an aggressive 3-4 and often left their corners on islands in man coverage.

I went through a lot of tape from 2016 on Gilmore and found it more difficult than I expected to put together a set of GIFs that showed him making good plays. In fact, I had to go back to his 2015 games to find the guy that looks like a #1 corner and former top 10 pick. Here is one of those great plays from 2015 that helped land Gilmore among the top 10 in the NFL according to PFF. He’s in press man coverage and mirrors Marvin Jones step for step before making a textbook play to reach around and poke the ball away as it arrives. This is top 10 corner stuff.

NFL Gamepass

Here is a pick he made against the Giants in 2015. He reads the route, breaks on the ball and beats the receiver to his spot to come up with the interception. Again, excellent.

NFL Gamepass

The problem is that I wasn’t able to find very much that looked like that in 2016, but there were a few bright plays. Let’s take a look at those before we get in to the negative. Here is a nice play on a crossing route where he sticks in DaVante Parker’s hip pocket the whole route and then reaches around to bat the ball down.

NFL Gamepass

Here is one of his 5 picks from 2016. He does a great job here in press coverage staying in receivers pocket and then running the route for him once he sees him start to break. Again, this is the stuff that makes Gilmore tantalizing.

NFL Gamepass

Here is a perfect example of how all interceptions are not great plays. He gets credit for the pick here and while that’s great for his team, the process does not reflect the results in this case. Gilmore is beaten badly on the route and his receiver is wide open, but a miscommunication between Carson Palmer and John Brown lead to an easy pick for Gilmore despite him being out of position.

NFL Gamepass

There was a lot of really bad moments for Gilmore in 2016 though. He often just looked lost out there. On this play he completely loses track of his receiver when he turns his head to look back for the ball and gives up a big play.

NFL Gamepass

Here is the worst play I saw in my review for a couple reasons. First is obviously the missed tackle. He goes for the knock down instead of wrapping up, but that’s not the most aggravating thing about this play. Watch what he does after missing the tackle. Does he get up pissed off and try to go make the play? Nope. He just lays there and watches as his teammates give up another 20+ yards. If he hustles back up and tries to chase the ballcarrier down there is a good chance he gets him before he turns back in and saves all that YAC. I can’t stand that kind of stuff and based on what I know about Mularkey, Robinson, and LeBeau I can’t imagine that would go over well with them either.

NFL Gamepass

Watching Gilmore’s 2016 tape was a red flag for me. There were several games where he appeared to be lost or even disinterested. That could, at least in part, be due to some of the turmoil going on in the Bills organization last season that has been widely revealed in the months since Rex Ryan was fired. The Buffalo News had a great article that outlined what went wrong for the Bills defense in 2016. Much of what they pointed out was that the Bills struggled mightily defending the pass early in the season which later led to Ryan calling fewer blitzes for fear of leaving his secondary exposed in coverage. The TNF game against the Jets in Week 2 was particularly bad for the Bills secondary as they were manhandled by Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, and Quincy Enunwa on the way to a 37-31 loss in which they allowed Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw for 374 yards. That sounds a lot like the way the Titans secondary performed when they were left exposed during the season.

Despite what was by almost all accounts a down season for Gilmore, he is apparently still asking for top 5 cornerback money which would put him in the $14-15M per year range.

Buying what I saw on tape from 2016 for $14-15M per year seems like a terrible investment. While there is no doubt that Gilmore is among the most physically talented corners in the NFL, it doesn’t seem like he is either willing or able to maximize his abilities on the field consistently. Based on those factors he would be at the bottom of the top group of free agent corners to me behind Bouye, Johnson, and Ryan. Maybe he could return to his top form from 2015 and prove me wrong, but that just seems like too big a risk for me when there are other seemingly safer options available.

Previously covered Free Agents in this series:

A.J. Bouye

Trumaine Johnson

Logan Ryan

Eric Berry

Kenny Still

Dont’a Hightower

Brandon Williams

Alshon Jeffery

Bubble Boys (players on the roster bubble)