CB R.J. Stanford (Douglas C. Pizac/AP)
R.J. Stanford is less than two weeks away from jumping into one of training camp's most heated battles. To set the stage for his plight, we analyze the Utah product in a three-part series. In part one, we talk to Brian Swinney, the publisher of UtesRecruiting.com.
The Carolina Panthers tabbed R.J. Stanford in the seventh round (No. 223 overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft. After beginning his collegiate career on the offensive side of the ball, Stanford switched to defense and recorded 120 tackles, 12 pass breakups, four sacks and an interception during his final three seasons at Utah.
For more, we check in with Brian Swinney, the publisher of UtesRecruiting.com.
Michael Lombardo: R.J. began his career at Utah as a running back and didn't become a full-time starter on defense until his senior season. Does he have enough seasoning to challenge for an NFL roster spot?
Brian Swinney: R.J. has 4.3 speed and it is legit 4.3 speed. That alone should get him a roster spot. Despite not starting full time until his senior year, he did play in all but one game (52 out of 53) in his career at Utah. He saw the field a lot, so he's plenty seasoned.
ML: He spent a lot of time at Utah as a nickel back. Will that be the best fit for him in the NFL, given his lack of height (5-foot-10)? And if so, how big an advantage will he have because of his experience playing on the interior of the secondary?
BS: Nickel coverage fits his game at the moment while he continues to learn the cornerback position and develop himself technically. He has the ability to be a cover corner down the line, but if you put him up against a guy like Larry Fitzgerald right now, he's going to be overmatched. He's just not ready to handle an above-average receiver at the moment. Until he has more experience in practice going up against NFL receivers, anything other than nickel coverage is not a good idea.
ML: He was also involved on Utah's special teams. Talk about his special teams contributions in Utah. Is this his meal ticket to a roster spot in the Big Leagues?
BS: Initially, R.J. is going to have to make an impact on special teams to make the roster. With his height deficiencies, that is what is going to get him on a team before he can prove his worth as a corner. The Utes did not use him to return kicks, but with his speed, elusiveness and history as a ball carrier, he has the ability to. In coverage, he'll be one of the first guys down the field.
ML: It's surprising to see a player with one career interception get drafted. What else is there in R.J.'s game that stood out to NFL scouts?
BS: R.J. didn't pick off a lot of passes for a few reasons: He played in the same backfield as safety Robert Johnson, who was an interception machine. Johnson picked off a few passes over the years that Stanford would have had himself had Johnson not stepped in front. Second, teams didn't throw at Stanford. They generally kept away from him, which surprised me somewhat. His hands aren't great and he did drop a few would-be INTs.
ML: Utah has sent some very versatile players into the NFL recently, from Eric Weddle to Koa Misi. Does R.J. offer some of that same versatility? If so, how?
BS: Not many people are as versatile as Eric Weddle, but Stanford offers more than most. He didn't return kicks in college, but with his speed and elusiveness, he has the ability to. R.J. will definitely show what he can do on special teams, both in the return game and in coverage. He'll come in and run an end-around and can turn it into positive yardage. As far as a corner, he's a very good zone defender and an above average man-to-man defender. The thing about R.J. is that he is willing to do whatever it takes to get on the field and help the team win. He'll play whatever position or take whatever role the coaches give him. If he needs to punt, he'll do it.
ML: Where will he need to show the most improvement if he's going to have a lasting career in the NFL?
BS: R.J. isn't the most technical guy in the world. He has great speed and good instincts, but is going to need some time to hone his footwork, backpedaling and man-to-man coverage skills. They're adequate, but definitely need work if he's going to stay in the league.
ML: Are there any current or former NFL players you would compare him to?
BS: Stanford reminds me somewhat of Terrence McGee in Buffalo. I also see a little bit of Charles Tillman of the Bears in him.
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