While he hasn’t gotten the publicity that other cornerbacks in the 2014 NFL Draft class have gotten, Missouri‘s E.J. Gaines is certainly one of the most exciting prospects who will enter the NFL next year. One of the reasons for the general lack of talk about Gaines thus far has been his lack of flashiness; as opposed to players like Justin Gilbert and Jason Verrett, who have had six-interception seasons, Gaines only has seven picks in his entire four-year career at Mizzou. However, he makes up for it with superior coverage ability, and if there’s anyone in this draft class who has a chance of being a shutdown corner like Darrelle Revis in his prime, it’s likely Gaines.
Perhaps the most attractive quality with Gaines is the reliability factor that he provides. In all the tape that I studied, I had to go back to his sophomore year to find an instance of him giving up a big catch. He usually plays about 12 years off the receiver, and he does a great job of controlling his space so that the receiver is unable to break away. In addition to his value as a pass defender, Gaines is up there with Oregon‘s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu as the best run-defending corner in this class. He’s a very solid tackler and he plays hard to the whistle, always making an effort to get into the play whether the ball was thrown to his man or not.
There are a few minor concerns with Gaines. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, and while he is by no means considered “small” for a corner, he may not be attractive to teams like the Seattle Seahawks, who target big defensive backs. In addition, Gaines hasn’t really been asked to play much press coverage while at Mizzou. It’s possible that he may not be as effective if he plays significantly closer to the line of scrimmage. Finally, Gaines doesn’t have fantastic acceleration ability, and he’s a bit more of a liability when he covers receivers in the slot.
Gaines hasn’t been included in first round mock drafts until recently, but now he stands to make a big jump off draft boards in the lead-up to the selection meeting in May. If he performs well in workouts, Gaines is certainly a guy who has a chance to go on day one.
- Though he isn’t flashy, does not get beat or give up big catches
- Excellent in man coverage
- Great run defender
- Good tackler
- Plays bigger than his 5-foot-10 frame
- Can play effectively on both the left and right sides
- Has held strong against two elite receivers in 2013, Texas A&M‘s Mike Evans and Vanderbilt‘s Jordan Matthews, and didn’t give up any big gains to either one
- Not much of a playmaker; only has seven interceptions over four seasons
- Hasn’t really been tested in press coverage
- Acceleration isn’t great
When he’s been healthy, Gaines has been dominant during 2013. After injuring himself against Georgia, Gaines missed the Tigers’ contests against Florida and South Carolina. Despite this setback, Gaines had a career year, registering four interceptions, the highest single-season total of his four year college career. He really broke through in Missouri’s season finale versus Texas A&M, when he limited star receiver Mike Evans to four catches for eight yards. He’ll get one final chance to prove himself in Missouri’s matchup with Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl next month.
2014 Draft Projection: First Round