For four years, Nick VanHoose was a reliable and productive cornerback at Northwestern. He was a low three-star recruit out of high school, but developed into one of the Big Ten's better defensive backs, earning second-team All-Big Ten status as a senior. What he lacked in athleticism, he almost always made up for with intangibles.
However, in the NFL, cornerbacks are expected to withstand any type of route and matchup with uber-athletic receivers. Without the size or speed of his similarly performing peers, VanHoose is at a disadvantage. But his instincts and ball-hawking ability could help make him a coach's favorite in due time. VanHoose played primarily in a quarters scheme at Northwestern, so a team that runs the Tampa 2, or any zone scheme, could be a perfect fit for VanHoose.
VanHoose didn't participate in Northwestern's Pro Day due to personal reasons, so he doesn't have workout times or measurables outside of height and weight.
- For a guy who isn't notably fast or quick, VanHoose's college numbers speak for themselves. With eight interceptions in his four seasons at Northwestern, VanHoose made a lot of big plays (in the form of picks or pass breakups) in important moments — this season, all three of his interceptions came in NU wins decided by seven points or fewer.
- VanHoose is really tough to challenge between the hashmarks. He's adept in coverage in the slot on shorter routes where positioning and anticipation might matter more than pure speed. When opposing quarterbacks stare down their receiver over the middle, VanHoose pounces.
- The speed. VanHoose is not a burner, and if he makes an incorrect initial ready, his athleticism doesn't allow him to recover against explosive wide receivers. He had a lot of trouble with Ball State's Jordan Williams, who had eight catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns. He'll have to prove he can hang with NFL receivers that are both bigger and faster.
- Though he improved throughout his career, he's poor against the run. Against run-first teams like Iowa, he was at times a liability when trying to come up and make plays at the line of scrimmage.
- No pro day. While we don't know exactly why VanHoose didn't participate in Northwestern's pro day, it certainly won't help him in the draft process. Thirty-one of 32 NFL teams sent representatives to Evanston on March 8, and VanHoose wasn't able to make an impression — either good or bad — on any of them, which is a missed opportunity for a guy on the fringe of getting selected.
What are immediately clear from VanHoose's Northwestern highlights are the big plays he made, whether they were in coverage, the running game or special teams. He also always seems to be in the right position to capitalize on mistakes by the offense, such as when he picked off an off-balance Tommy Armstrong and ran the pick back for a touchdown. It's hard to teach those types of instincts.
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ESPN and CBS' projections of VanHoose differ greatly, as one pegs him as the 28th best cornerback in the draft and the other has him as the 59th best CB available. But, Pro Football Focus is very bullish on VanHoose, saying that "he may be one of the most underrated prospects in the draft," mainly due to PFF giving him the highest coverage grade (+17.7) in the country in the 2015 season. It's fair to say experts can't seem to agree on VanHoose's pro stock.
While VanHoose isn't a flashy athlete and won't blow anyone away at first sight, he's a very smart football player with great ball skills who has the potential to be a very good contributor to a zone-heavy defensive scheme. His intelligence could allow teams to pilot him in a variety of roles in the secondary.
The projections are all over the board, so it's hard to tell if he's a lock to be drafted or not, but there's an outside shot he's Northwestern's third — or second, or first — draftee this season, and a better shot he becomes valuable to a team in the next few seasons.