If you happened to walk into the room and look at the screen at the right moment, with no context, you might think Paulson Adebo is a wide receiver if you were seeing No. 11 play for the first time.
When the ball is in the air, and his eyes are on it, the cornerback is a playmaker. He never guesses or panics when the ball is in the air, he instead times and breaks on throws like a wide receiver. The third-round pick’s a ballhawk, and seeing his mentality and approach to the game makes it easy to understand how he had eight interceptions during his final two seasons at Stanford.
When he’s playing at his best, Adebo puts together stretches and games that make him look like a first-round talent. His upside is evident, but cornerbacks are often defined by their low moments and inconsistencies as we all know. The Saints are hoping they can minimize those and maximize Adebo’s special traits.
After the draft ended, New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis praised Adebo’s game but noted the rookie would need time to develop. Most third-round cornerbacks do. The good thing is, Adebo’s positive traits are easy to identify and evident throughout his film.
You can’t fake Adebo’s production. He posted eight interceptions and 30 passes defended in 22 games while at Stanford (he sat out last season due to Coronavirus). Adebo played 850 snaps in coverage over two seasons and got thrown at 135 times. He surrendered 74 receptions for 862 yards.
Many of his best moments came when playing in zones or off coverage. Adebo said he prefers playing press coverage and locking down his receiver, but he often looks most in his element when he can sit back in coverage, read the play and break down on the ball.
Still, Adebo can play press coverage and often does it well. He knows how to use his length and strength to get a solid jam on a receiver. He plays with good speed and can hang with receivers down the field. He accomplished both tasks on an out route against Arizona that he intercepted after appearing as if he lost the rep when the receiver broke outside. Adebo also shows a high degree of patience when mirroring receivers in coverage, which should benefit him well in the NFL.
Adebo played about 200 reps of press coverage over the last two years. He gave up 33 catches for 415 yards with three interceptions. He had about 500 plays where he didn’t play press and surrendered 41 catches for 447 yards with five interceptions. Stanford mixed up its coverages but primarily played Cover 1 and Cover 3 with some Quarters coverage looks mixed in. All of those looks could work for him in New Orleans, especially since there are some variations within Cover 3 and Quarters that would allow Adebo to play however he is most comfortable.
Adebo’s 2019 game against UCF featured a handful of rough moments. He got beat twice on double moves for long gains and then missed a jam near the goal line that should have resulted in a touchdown. Adebo had an interception on a similar route against Arizona, so this isn’t a fatal flaw. Still, a faster receiver might be able to get open by forcing Adebo to slow down and get back up to full speed quickly.
The other thing that stood out about Adebo is that sometimes he struggled to stick with his receiver at the top of their route. This happened a few times against USC when he seemed to overpursue a hitch and allowed his receiver to get open.
The Saints can help Adebo maximize his game and become the best version of himself. His ceiling is high, and he does have the flexibility to cover the slot as well as play outside. The rookie could become a very good starter, and it isn’t unreasonable to think that he could contribute rather quickly if a lot of things go right. But there is some stuff to clean up and the team might need to figure out the best way to use him.
For a third-round pick, New Orleans found an intriguing option with a lot of upside. You can’t ask for much more from a cornerback from this range, and it’s easy to envision a scenario where Adebo might have gotten selected a little higher had he played last season and ironed out some of his rough spots.