Nick VanHoose, CB
School: Northwestern | Conference: Big Ten
College Experience: Senior | Age: 22?
Height / Weight: 5-11 / 190 lbs
Projected Draft Status: Late rounds or undrafted
NFL Comparison: Joe Haden
Nick VanHoose has a case for the most underrated defensive back in the 2016 draft class. Named an All-American honorable mention by Sports Illustrated, VanHoose was on the Associated Press' All-Big Ten first team in 2015, but he missed the end of the season and Senior Bowl with a torn ligament in his finger. Even if he manages to get healthy in time to work out for teams before the draft, his stock isn't likely to soar much. The Combine, and similar pre-draft exercises, is when players with ideal measurables thrive and those who look just average on paper see their stock drop. VanHoose will fall in the latter group, as he is not especially big or fast, and despite no glaring physical weaknesses, he won't blow scouts away with his physical attributes.
What he does bring is a resume featuring 192 tackles (including 9.5 for a loss), eight interceptions, 30 passes defended and two forced fumbles over 44 games in a four-year career at Northwestern. Part of that resume includes playing all 12 games (but not the Outback Bowl, due to injury) for the No. 8 defense in the country.
- The man is a coverage machine. He was the second cornerback on his team, behind Matthew Harris, but he was actually rated higher by Pro Football Focus, which rated him the second best cornerback in the Power 5 conferences the week before the final game of the regular season.
- The Harris-VanHoose duo was one of the top cornerback pairings in the country, and they had their work cut out for them. Throughout the 2015 season, Northwestern played quarterback Christian Hackenburg of Penn State, holding him to one of his worst performances of the season, and Kevin Hogan of Stanford, forcing perhaps his worst game of the year. In 2014, Northwestern played Hackenburg again and Jared Goff of Cal, meaning VanHoose has experience against three of the 2016 draft's top quarterbacks.
- He is the rare lockdown corner who also gets production. Over the past two seasons, he's picked off five passes (and returned one for a touchdown), defended 23 passes and forced a fumble.
- While it's somewhat fluky, this is an impressive statistic nonetheless: In 2014, VanHoose blocked three kicks. It's unlikely he'll ever put up numbers quite like those again, he's definitely got good instincts.
- Not only is he a wicked smart player, he's also no slouch in the classroom. He was named an Academic All-Big Ten four straight seasons.
- VanHoose has very average measurables and will almost certainly not improve his stock in drills such as the 40-yard dash, bench press or vertical/broad jump. He is also slightly undersized and that's an ever-increasing detriment, but by no means a crippling weakness.
- He's not a great tackler, in terms of technique or ability. With some work, he could improve to at least an average level, but he is unlikely to ever turn that into an area of strength. His instincts are excellent, however, so he'll manage to make plenty of tackles even as he also misses a fair share.
How He Could Fit on the Redskins
If it's not perfectly clear, I'm quite enamored with VanHoose. Cornerback is generally considered one of the hardest positions to transition from college to pro at, and it's unlikely the Northwestern standout will have much of an impact as a rookie. But he's a player who could surprise a lot of people and make his way onto the 53-man roster in his first season, and while his tackling needs work, he offers plenty of value on special teams and in practice. He would do well to spend a year under somebody like DeAngelo Hall, an undersized veteran cornerback. If for no other reason, VanHoose is worth a late-round flier because you know he won't cause any trouble. He's going to be a good locker room guy, and if he's called into action on short notice, he might be able to stand his own based on a strong quality of play in college and undoubtedly picking up the playbook quickly.