Just how talented is Gerod Holliman, the hottest name in the draft?


Prior to November, I hadn’t even heard Gerod Holliman’s name come up in the conversation of the 2015 NFL draft. I had seen it on the interception leaders chart on ESPN, but that only means so much. It wasn’t until that he was a finalist for the Bednarik Award that I started to see his name being thrown around.

Now, there’s a good reason for that: He’s a redshirt sophomore. But with the way people are discussing him, he’s made out to be a future All-Pro player. NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks compared him to a “young Ed Reed” the past week. A few days before the article, I was emailing Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, who also made the Reed comparison, noting “that might be crazy.”

We had two people who I highly respect comparing a player to one of the best of all time, plus he qualified for what essentially is the defensive Heisman Award. I had to watch him.

In a not-so-great safety class, my thoughts coming in were that he could be the riser of the year, like redshirt sophomore Greg Robinson was in 2013. Remember, Robinson really didn’t hit the draft scene until Mel Kiper Jr. went to bat for him in mid-November.

Here’s a little background on Holliman: His true freshman season, he injured his shoulder three games into the year and took a medical redshirt. His redshirt freshman season of 2013, he started a couple of games at cornerback. Now playing mostly a middle of the field safety role, he’s netted 13 interceptions on the season, two shy of a D1 record, and has some thinking Heisman.

On footage, though, he has some flaws. While he’s got a solid frame at around 6’0” 200-pounds, he doesn’t exactly play the most physically. He’s very fast, closing in on targets quicker than most safety prospects, but he’s timid when entering contact or filling gaps. It’s odd. Someone with the speed that he possesses should be able to establish dominance on the football field with violence. Instead, he gets to his assignment quickly, but when it’s time to square up a man and make the hit, his impact isn’t unlike a swinging pillow’s.

I don’t think I can co-sign the Ed Reed comparison for that reason alone. Reed was a pigskin-snatching ball-hawk and an incredible athlete, but the dude could hit, too.

Maybe due to the shoulder he injured in 2012, he’s gotten into a bad habit of playing soft through violence. With the new rules in football, it’s made it harder on defensive backs to play in the run game. Their shoulders are now their shock pads, and as Jason Verrett has shown us, when they become damaged, they keep coming up. Maybe Holliman is just trying to preserve his health? It’s odd seeing someone so talented play so scared when it’s time to get physical.

When it comes to coverage, though, he might be one of the best safeties in the nation. He’s able to force quarterbacks to move to different reads by staying in the pockets of deep targets.

Overall, he’s an interesting, yet frustrating, prospect. You wish he could put it together in the tackling game, but he’s clearly doing enough in the passing game to warrant a draftable grade from teams this spring.

I wouldn’t totally rule out the move of a Nnamdi Asomugha type transition for Holliman. Against Boston College, he was still playing some cornerback, and he looked good. Maybe we should be looking at him as a cover corner as opposed to a limited safety prospect. I mean, could you imagine if someone draft Asamugha to play safety, and he never played a down of corner in his NFL career just because the University of California decided to play him on the back end of the defense?

It’s early, but even though some are thinking about Holliman going to New York for the Heisman, I’m not sure he should be totally sold on going to Chicago for the coming draft. A year to sort out what he wants to be, corner or safety, would probably be good for the sophomore.

In the end, a one-year wonder who isn’t very physical in the run game could have him draw comparisons to David Amerson, not Ed Reed, from team scouts.


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