When it comes to the cornerback position, Chidobe Awuzie of the Colorado Buffaloes has pretty much done it all.
Left, right, outside, slot, free safety, strong safety, linebacker, all of it.
Yes, you read that right: the 202-pound, 5’11-7/8” Awuzie has lined up at linebacker, too.
“I was actually like 190 (pounds) when I played that,” Awuzie told the media at the NFL Scouting Combine in early March. “My junior year when I did play linebacker, I matched up a lot with tackles, guards, and I had to bow up and I think I did a pretty good job of that.”
For a team like the Green Bay Packers, who like having the ability to move their defensive backs around in numerous places, that versatility is a big bonus, and Awuzie has it. “Teams really don't know where to put me at right now,” he said. “You put me on the field anywhere I'm going to make plays. That's been great that I can kind of be a jack-of-all-trades for teams.”
The cerebral aspect of the game is a strength for Awuzie, and he was clear and articulate in discussing the differences between playing outside and in the slot:
I have keys and tendencies depending on the splits whether I'm press or not (on the outside). I can go on for days about my technique but basically a lot of that goes with my preparation during the week, trying to figure out what this receiver does and what can I anticipate.
(In the slot) nothing really changes. You've still got to prepare really hard. But now you've got keys in the backfield now when you're in the slot with the running back, with the linemen, you've got run reads, pass reads, where the running back's going, if he's trying to take out a linebacker for a slant window. So, there's a lot more keys in the slot I would say.
In that respect, Awuzie sounds like a ready-made replacement for Micah Hyde, the ultra-versatile former Packer defensive back who signed with the Buffalo Bills in free agency.
Even in their measureables, Awuzie and Hyde match up pretty well, with Awuzie coming out ahead in several key components of the Combine’s physical testing. Though similarly sized - Awuzie was 1/8-inch taller and 5 pounds heavier than Hyde at their respective Combines - the Colorado prospect beat Hyde by significant margins in the 40-yard dash (4.43 vs. 4.56) and broad jump (11’ vs. 10’1”) while coming in with narrow advantages in the other drills. Only the 3-cone drill leans towards Hyde, and even then only slightly (6.78 vs. 6.81).
Although Awuzie did not rack up big interception numbers, recording just three in his career and one as a senior, it is his other stats that illustrate his impact. He picked up four sacks in each of his final two seasons, blitzing both from the slot and the corner. He also recorded double-digit tackles for loss in 2015 and had 11 pass breakups in 2016, while adding a trio of fumbles over the course of his career.
Adding to Awuzie’s potential fit in Green Bay is his comfort level with playing the press-man coverage that Dom Capers prefers, and doing so on the outside as well as in the slot. “That suits me well,” he remarked in Indianapolis; “In Colorado we played a lot of press-man.”
Awuzie is largely viewed as a second-round draft pick, though a few mock drafts have seen him sneak into the very end of round one and one mock even placing him in the top half of round one. CBS Sports currently has him as a fringe first/second round pick.
Wherever he goes though, Awuzie is ready for anything the NFL can throw at him. “Whether it's against a 6-6, 300-pound lineman or a 5-9, blazing speed receiver, I'm always going to try to win that matchup.”
With that attitude in mind, Packers fans should be happy if the Green and Gold turn in a card with Awuzie’s name on it this April.