As Day 3 of the 2021 draft rolled along, there was a run of Defensive Backs late in the 5th round. Washington, Denver, Indianapolis, and ultimately Las Vegas picked a DB from picks 163-167. The last of these was Illinois slot CB Nate Hobbs who wasn’t high on many radars going into the draft. Now, through 6 weeks, Hobbs is the top rated rookie CB by PFF and one of the best graded slot corners in the league.
How did he fall through the cracks to the 5th round? He was the 25th CB taken in the 2021 NFL Draft and not someone who was thought to crack a starting lineup as a rookie. Personally, I had him all the way down at CB42, a clear miss on my part by any metric.
The scouting report on Hobbs coming out of Illinois was a bit dichotomous. A 4-year starter for the Illini, his play was marked by being a physical presence who could tackle well. He played in the slot at points, but was primarily used his last two years as an outside corner. That was clearly not his strong suit.
During his senior year, QBs throwing to Hobbs’ coverage had a 118.9 passer rating, the worst of his career. He often was caught flat footed after a jam and got beat by better receivers. He wasn’t without talent though with solid speed and long arms, there was real potential. But, the lack of consistency combined with a stiff back pedal and some mental mistakes led me to have him far down my list.
The Raiders have been incredible smart about how they have used Hobbs to play to his strengths. He is in his ideal position: the slot. This takes a lot of the consistency problems away as he can jam in the slot and follow through inside. Hobbs is also showcasing much more fluidity and faster reaction times than he did in college.
Playing against many smaller receivers is working to his advantage. The physicality and arm length is pushing them off of routes and into uncomfortable territory. Hobbs is a unique slot corner who has enough athletic ability with his size to match up against typical slot WRs. He eliminates timing routes so his technique issues aren’t a problem.
Hobbs was a miss for me, and looking like a big one at that. Hopefully he can continue to have success and prove that 3rd day picks can make an immediate big impact in the NFL.