Does Teez Tabor Have What It Take To Make It In The NFL?
When they Lions selected Teez Tabor in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, they were picking a very accomplished player. Teez Tabor was named to the first team All-SEC team twice in his collegiate career. He was a known ball hawk in college, recording eight interceptions in three seasons along with 28 passes defended. He can even tackle a bit – he made 104 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and four sacks over his Florida career.
All of this sounds great, and it is. But the issue with Teez Tabor is a startling lack of speed. It is very rare for a player as slow as Tabor to have such a successful career in college football. It is even more rare for a player with Tabor’s speed issues to play in the NFL. This article will look at Tabor’s speed, play style and Detroit’s defensive scheme to decide just how much of an issue Tabor’s speed is.
The 40 Yard Dash
The 40 yard dash is arguably the most talked about NFL combine drill. A tenth of a second can be the difference between being a first round selection and being picked on day three or going undrafted. For a cornerback, like Teez Tabor, it is usually expected that the 40 yard dash is completed in around 4.5 seconds. Anything less is really good. Anything more is alarming to scouts. Cornerbacks need to be very fast in order to cover the speedy receivers in the NFL.
At the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, Teez Tabor ran a 4.62 second 40 yard dash. This was the second slowest time of all participating cornerbacks. To make matters worse, Teez Tabor ran an even slower 4.77 second 40 yard dash at his pro day. Tabor claimed earlier this offseason that these slow times were due to a hamstring injury, but for a cornerback to run that slowly is very alarming nonetheless.
It appears as though Tabor’s speed has already been an issue in his professional career, as he has struggled mightily at Lions training camp. He has been beaten deep multiple time by Jared Abbrederis just in the first few practices.
Tabor’s Collegiate Career
Teez Tabor was a star in college football. After playing as a backup in his Freshman year, he broke out in his Sophomore and Junior seasons, earning a selection to the first team All-SEC team in each of the seasons. According to Pro Football Focus, Teez Tabor allowed a cumulative quarterback rating of 42.6, meaning he was extremely effective at covering receivers. He decided to enter the NFL after his Junior season at Florida. Here are some of the ups and downs of his collegiate career.
Florida’s defense ran a lot of zone coverage throughout Tabor’s time there. This is the biggest area where Tabor excels, for a few reasons. One is that he is very instinctive: he has a great sense of how a play will develop and what routes all of the offensive players are running.
Another reason Tabor excels in zone coverage is because it masks his speed issues. When Tabor is just responsible for one part of the field rather that running stride for stride with a receiver, his speed doesn’t really matter. Here are a couple examples of good zone coverage from Tabor.
On this play, Florida is running a cover two defense. Teez is the outside cornerback, so he is responsible for covering the short pass. Tabor initially does a good job of covering the receiver, but the receiver goes deeper than Tabor’s zone. Tabor then immediately recognizes the running back running a wheel route out of the backfield and makes a break for him. Teez steps in front of the pass and scores an easy defensive touchdown.
Florida is playing a cover three defense on this play, so Tabor’s responsibility is the deep pass. Tabor has two receivers in his zone, and the Florida State quarterback tries to fit a pass into the underneath receiver who ran a corner route. Tabor comes up and does a fantastic job of breaking up the pass, hitting the receiver hard and getting his hand on the ball and ripping it out.
Man coverage is where Tabor is much more inconsistent because he is required to run step for step with wide receivers. Speedy receivers definitely have the ability to beat Tabor when he is one on one with them. Here is a play where Tabor does a good job of man coverage, and one play where he gets beaten badly.
On this second and goal from the five yard line, Teez Tabor is in man coverage with the outside receiver. The receiver attempts to fake out Tabor with some stutter steps, then runs a slant route. This doesn’t shake Tabor at all though, as he has no problem keeping up with the receiver. The quarterback tries to fit the ball in, and Tabor does a great job of jumping the route, defending the pass and nearly coming up with an interception.
This play is probably the worst play from Tabor’s entire career up to this point. He is one on one with a Tennessee wide receiver. The wide receiver fakes likes he is going to run a slant, then gets to the outside and goes deep. Tabor is completely caught off guard by this and slips. Tabor is unable to recover and the receiver gets wide open deep for an easy touchdown. This is an example of a play where Tabor’s speed really hurt him, if he was faster he probably could have recovered and at least prevented the touchdown, maybe he even would have been able to break up the pass if he possessed even average speed.
There is no doubt that Tabor has good coverage skills and great instincts. The question marks are all concerning whether or not his coverage ability will even matter because of his speed issues. But when watching Tabor’s college game tape, there is no denying that he has very good coverage skills.
The Speed Of Cornerbacks Around The NFL
Teez Tabor’s speed is a big obstacle for him to overcome, but he would not be the first NFL cornerback to succeed despite having less than ideal speed. Richard Sherman ran a comparable 4.56 second 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine. Josh Norman ran a 4.61. Malcolm Butler also ran a 4.62 40 yard dash during his pre draft workouts.
It is by no means common for slow players to become successful NFL cornerbacks, but it is certainly not outside of the realm of possibility. There have been several players with comparable speed to Teez Tabor who had good or even great NFL careers.
The Teryl Austin Defense
Teez Tabor is going to be groomed to be the second outside cornerback in Teryl Austin’s defense. Tabor likely won’t see a lot of time on defense this season, but he is the future of the outside cornerback spot opposite of Darius Slay. The question is, how much of a fit is Tabor in Austin’s defense?
2014 was Teryl Austin’s first season as the Lions defensive coordinator. It was easily the best defensive season for Detroit in recent memory. A big part of the reason it was such a good defense was not only because of the emergence of Darius Slay at the top cornerback spot, but because of the signing of Rashean Mathis as the second cornerback.
Rashean Mathis was 34 years old during the 2014. Although he ran a 4.45 second 40 yard dash before he was drafted, that was back in 2003. Mathis was significantly slower for all of the 2014 season. However, he was still an extremely effective player through playing lots of zone coverage, off coverage, and getting safety help from Glover Quin.
Tabor will fill the same role that Mathis did. Because of the nature of the Lions defense and the role they have for Tabor, his speed should never be much of an issue. He will play a lot of zone and off coverage, just as Rashean Mathis did before him. Tabor will even have the benefit of getting help from Glover Quin, as Quin recently signed a contract extension through 2019.
Teez Tabor is an extremely talented cornerback. He is great at covering receivers in zone coverage, adequate in man coverage and specializes in creating turnovers. He has what it takes to be a future starter in the NFL.
What Tabor must overcome is his 4.62 (or 4.77 if you go by his pro day) second forty yard dash time. His speed does not mean he can’t be a good cornerback in the NFL, but it does mean it will be much harder for him to become one.
The success of Teez Tabor in the NFL will be dependant on his ability to understand his own limitations. It may take Tabor time to learn how to cover NFL receivers.
Teez Tabor will not be a starting cornerback on the Lions this season. The Lions currently have a more than capable second cornerback in Nevin Lawson. Lawson is set to hit free agency next season though, so 2018 is likely when Tabor will get a real chance to prove himself.
Teez Tabor has all the potential in the world and could develop into a great cornerback. But at the same time, us Lions fans can’t pretend like his speed will not be an issue. The truth is, none of us will truly know how big of an issue his speed is until he actually plays in some games this fall.