Thakarius Keyes has not received much buzz this deep into the pre-draft process, though a lot of that probably has to do with the fact that he played for Tulane, not a school that produces much NFL talent. Despite that, Keyes has a lot of the traits you want in a cornerback, most notably length and twitchy athleticism to go along with solid man-coverage skills. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up going significantly earlier than expected in the same vein as Sean Bunting last year who was another small school player with practically no buzz that went in round two to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (though I don’t think he’ll go even close to THAT early), so let’s dive into why.
Thakarius Keyes is a lengthy corner standing at 6’1, 202 lbs with 32 5/8” arms. While he was invited to the combine, he only participated in the vertical and broad jumps where he recorded a 36.0” broad (#11 CB), and a 126.0” vertical (#11 CB). He hails from Laurel, Mississippi where he didn’t play football until his junior year and was also a star basketball player leading his team to a 27-5 record and a state title as a senior.
While Keyes appeared in games in all four of his seasons at Tulane, he only started his junior and senior years. As a junior, Keyes recorded 33 solo tackles, 5 assists, 38 total tackles, 1 interception and 9 deflections. As a senior his tackles went slightly up, with 35 solo, 12 assists, 47 total, to go along with 1 interception and 4 deflections.
Man-to-man/Press coverage: Keyes displays crisp footwork at the LOS and fluid hips allowing him to stay on base and mirror receivers throughout their release. He does need to be more aggressive in his jabs which are rather weak at this point, but regardless his overall press coverage ability is his greatest attribute.
Here he is in turn and run coverage against fellow 2020 prospect James Proche back in 2018.
Another rep in press-man, this time against a shorter route.
Off-man: Tulane had Keyes play a healthy amount of off-man, and just like his ability in press, he’s solid here as well.
Here he is not targeted, but shows quick feet at the LOS and fluidity when opening his hips, though he could be a little lower in his stance when opening to turn and run in case the receiver cuts inside (being upright would make it tougher to flip his hips and break back inside quickly.)
Playing around 8 yards off-ball, sticky coverage downfield forces the receiver towards the sideline for an incompletion.
Ball Skills: Keyes is aggressive playing the ball and uses his length well in this regard. He may not have much ball production (only 2 career interceptions) though that is mostly due to quarterbacks staying away from him.
Could of took a better angle to the ball but uses his length to reach out and bat the ball away.
Covering a drag route here, a step behind but uses length to reach out and knock it away (hard to see since the pass is so fast)
Not sure if he’s lined up way off at corner or at safety here. Displays solid ball-tracking ability and times his jump perfectly to make the interception.
The not so good
Weak jab: While Keyes thrives in close-man/press coverage, his jab at the line is weak despite the fact that he has the length and size to knock receivers off balance in their release.
No aggression behind his jab. The receiver ended up blocking for the bubble screen so it didn’t matter but of course Keyes didn’t know that.
Overly aggressive: Despite not being aggressive enough in his jabs at the line, Keyes tends to get a little too aggressive with receivers downfield. The NFL rules go totally against defensive backs so this could be a problem if not cleaned up.
Within 5 yards, but likely would of gotten called with the hold here. This is only one play but a thing you see a lot from him.
Untested in zone: Tulane did not run a lot of zone looks so that part of his game is a big question mark.
Tackling form: Keyes is definitely willing to come up in run support, but his tackling form needs to be cleaned up. He often goes for the big hit leading with his shoulder or dives low for an arm tackle which makes it easy for ball carriers to bounce off of him.
Taking on blocks: Again, he doesn’t shy away from contact but definitely needs to get stronger at the point of attack. He uses his length well playing the ball, his length should be utilized in this regard as well. He needs to gain strength either way, but if he uses his length and extends at the point of attack he should have no problem shedding smaller receivers.
Keyes is an interesting day 3 prospect. This is a deep cornerback class so he has fallen under the radar but teams that like big, man-to-man corners may have their eyes on him.
Athletic, lengthy corners are usually more valued even if raw, though I see him going in rounds 5-6 and securing a roster spot through special teams play coupled with his upside as an outside corner. That may not be early, but he’s currently projected to go undrafted.
Matt Forte was the last productive player to come out of Tulane back in 2008, can Thakarius Keyes be the next?