With the 2014 NFL Draft only a few months away, we reached out to some of the draft prospects we believe the Green Bay Packers could target in May. The first two weeks of the NFL Draft Q&A series have provided some interesting insight in these players’ lives and how they perceive their strengths and weaknesses as a player. Today, we kick off the third week of player Q&As with Duke defensive back Ross Cockrell.
In his four seasons at Duke, Cockrell tallied 12 interceptions and a school record 41 pass breakups. Cockrell was not only an exceptional cover corner for the Blue Devils, but he also was a true leader on defense and helped build a Duke football program that saw its first bowl game appearance in school history this past season.
In his past two seasons at Duke, Cockrell earned first-team All-ACC honors and was an honorable All-American mention by Sports Illustrated for his five-interception, 13 pass break-ups, and 71-tackle performance in 2012.
Cockrell may fly under the radar a bit in this year’s draft class but the Duke prospect is a highly talented defensive back that looks to turn some heads with his 40 time at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis this weekend.
Cockrell could be a player the Packers target in the draft come May, so I got in touch with him and we spoke over the phone last week.
Q. Tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and what led you to be a defensive back?
RC: I spent most of my life in Charlotte, N.C. I’ve been playing football ever since I can remember. It’s something my dad and I did a lot, like playing catch in the backyard. I started playing organized football when I was seven or eight. I started out playing running back and corner as a kid. In high school I played receiver and cornerback, and then I got recruited as a defensive back and that’s what led to me playing defense.
Q. How did you end up at Duke?
RC: Duke was the school that recruited me the hardest. They were the school that I knew I would get a great education from, but I also believed in Coach Cutcliffe and the plan he had for changing the program. I wanted to be part of something special.
Q. You had a productive career at Duke. You recorded 12 career interceptions and set the school record in pass break-ups with 41. What does it mean to you to leave your mark on school history?
RC: Honestly, it means that I had a tremendous career individually, but better than the individual goals is what we were able to accomplish this last year. My last year at Duke we were able to go to a bowl game. It was the first time we were ever able to do that as a university. One thing Coach Cutcliffe always told us is leave a place better than you found it. I felt like I was able to leave Duke and their football program in a much better place than when I originally arrived.
Q. How will you transfer the success you had in college to the NFL?
RC: One thing that I’ve learned through college is that nothing comes easy. You have to work through the process. The process of what it takes in being an elite player. The process of what it takes to being a starter and contributor as a rookie, and eventually an all-pro caliber player. That’s what I want to be, and you have to work towards that.
Q. Who was the most challenging receiver you had to defend in college?
RC: This year I played against Mike Evans from Texas A&M and Kelvin Benjamin from Florida State. Those were probably two of the most physical receivers I’ve played against all year.
Q. What did you do on the field to keep them from impacting the game?
RC: I used my technique. They’re both guys who are over 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. They’re the types of receivers you’ll see more often in the NFL. When you’re playing against a guy as athletic and talented as they are, you have to be technically sound at the line of scrimmage and when you’re playing press coverage. When you’re off you got to really zone into your keys.
Q. For those of us who haven’t seen you play at Duke, define your game. What type of defensive back are you and what are some of your strengths at the position?
RC: I’m a cover corner, and I’m about six-foot. I have some length, and I like to use that at the line of scrimmage to play press coverage. I have played the majority of my time in press coverage, and I would say I’m a physical corner. I like to get my hands on receivers and dictate where they’re going to go and not let them run me all over the field. When I’m in off-coverage I try to use a slow backpedal, so I can get a read on the quarterback. Whether it’s going to be a quick three-step drop or they’re going to run deeper routes, I try to watch the stem of the receiver as well. I try to get a beat on whether the receiver’s going to be running an inside or outside route.
Q. In your opinion, what is the most underrated part of your game?
RC: One of the most underrated things is my speed. I don’t feel a lot of people would see me as a speedster or see me as somebody that can keep up with receivers downfield. I’m hoping to disprove that at the combine.
Q. Watching you play, I was impressed with your closing speed. You react fast to plays and close in on the ball well. Do you think people don’t know that about you or overlook this part of your game?
RC: I think they do. Part of it may be just because Duke football really hasn’t had a lot of national recognition, and I think there’s some misconceptions about the type of players and athletes Duke football can recruit.
Q. What are you looking to prove at the combine then? Is there a certain time you want to run the 40?
RC: I think I’ll at least run a 4.4. Hopefully, a sub 4.4 though. I hope that will get people’s attention. Because you know as well as I do that there is a premium placed on size and speed for defensive backs. The guys that can have a combination of both are guys that are going to move up, and that’s just the nature of the business.
Q. I see you as an underrated guy at the position. Somebody people will know more about after the combine. Do you have any idea right now where you might be drafted, or do you even care about that at this point?
RC: At this point, I don’t know. Just to be in this position I’m extremely happy and blessed. I take it one day at a time and work as hard as I can. Hopefully, a team likes me and takes me as early as possible, but I’ve had a lot of teammates that have been undrafted free agents and had great careers. Just to have the opportunity and the chance to play, I’m blessed to be here.
Q. Do you think posting a better 40 time will put you on more people’s radar, or do you think they will know you better the more film they watch on you?
RC: I hope the more film people watch on me the more they like me as a player. I think I’ve made some good plays while at Duke and helped the program get a lot better and to win more games. However, you do have to be fast because everybody is fast in the NFL. I definitely have to run a good 40 time. It’s something that I’m working on now with my training here in California.
Q. What are some other things you’re working on improving besides your 40 time before you get drafted in May?
RC: I want to get bigger and stronger, especially in my upper body, so I can be better able to compete with the bigger receivers in the NFL and make sure my body can be ready for training camp and a 16-game season.
Q. The Packers will probably looking to the draft to help improve their secondary. How would you feel if Green Bay drafted you in May?
RC: I would be very happy. To go play with a Super Bowl contender every single year is definitely something I would want to be a part of. I know the Packers have a lot of history and to be part of that history, similar to like it was at Duke, it would be a great thing.
Q. If they did draft you, what kind of player and teammate would they be getting?
RC: They’d get somebody that shows up to work early and who leaves late. The kind of guy that works hard every day and just wants to do the best he can every single day without worrying about anything on the outside. That’s something I try to bring to the table. I’m a very hard worker. I like to refine my craft and football is my craft.
Q. What could you bring to their defense?
RC: They’ve been known for having a secondary that creates a lot of turnovers, and that’s something that I would want to add to. I want to be the kind of guy that gets the defense off the field on third down, whether it’s a pass breakup, forcing a fumble, or getting that interception that gets the offense back on the field. I’m also a guy that can play several positions. I’ve played a little safety and on the inside as a nickel corner over the slot at Duke, and my versatility is something I can bring to the defense.
Q. What could you learn from veterans there like Tramon Williams?
RC: One of the things I’ll take away from the veterans is how to prepare for NFL games and how to study an opponent. That’s something I obviously lack because I have a lot of inexperience. Those older players will be able to help me in my transition from the college to the NFL.
Q. What are some goals you will set for yourself in your first year in the NFL?
RC: In the first year, I want to be a starter. I want to be a contributor on the defense. I want to be somebody that can make plays. Somebody that will help the defense improve statistically and in terms of how we perform on the field. I’m somebody that can play a lot of different positions, and I’d like to contribute wherever I can, whether it’s corner, safety, or nickel back.
Q. Who have been the major influences on your life and have helped you get to this point?
RC: The two most major influences on my life are my parents. They’ve been instrumental in helping me grow and become a man. They’re two people that have been examples for me and have showed me how to work and how to put my best foot forward on all occasions. Without them, I don’t know where I’d be.
Q. When you’re away from football, what do you like to do in your free time?
RC: One of my favorite things to do is I like to sit down and watch movies. I’m a pretty big movie buff. One of my favorite movies is Lincoln. I try to see as many movies as I can. I’m a pretty laid back guy. I just like to go to the theater and enjoy a good movie. I also like to watch college games and see what the players around me are doing and how they are performing.
Career college stats
• 2013 – 46 tackles, 2 TFL, sack, 12 PBUs, FF, and 3 INT
• 2012 – 71 tackles, 4 TFL, sack, 13 PBUs, FF, 5 INT, and an INT return for a TD
• 2011 – 56 tackles, TFL, 9 PBUs, and an INT
• 2010 – 60 tackles, 7 PBUs, and 3 INT
Film on Ross Cockrell
Ross Cockrell against Miami: 5 pass breakups and a tackle
Ross Cockrell against Florida State (2012): 7 tackles, pass breakup, and a forced fumble