Dallas Cowboys: The Curious Case of Nahshon Wright (a film breakdown)

Nov 14, 2020; Seattle, Washington, USA; Washington Huskies wide receiver Terrell Bynum (4) runs for yards after the match against Oregon State Beavers defensive back Nahshon Wright (2) during the fourth quarter at Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 14, 2020; Seattle, Washington, USA; Washington Huskies wide receiver Terrell Bynum (4) runs for yards after the match against Oregon State Beavers defensive back Nahshon Wright (2) during the fourth quarter at Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /
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: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

Athletic Ability

His pro-day measurements and RAS (relative athletic score) were certainly underwhelming, but Wright doesn’t look deficient of athleticism on tape. His long legs help provide him with good foot speed which he uses to keep receivers from beating him deep. He displays solid foot quickness and change of direction which he can use to mirror the quickest receivers the PAC-12 had to offer. His balance was solid as he consistently displayed the ability to jam and mirror receivers without losing his base footwork.

With an athlete of Wright’s stature, explosiveness and short-area quickness are always general concerns. Logic tells us it is easier for a smaller person to flip one’s hips and change directions within smaller areas. When said taller person also has incredibly long and lean legs, the ease with which he tries to change direction is heavily compromised. His testing numbers were indicative of an adequate change of direction and that seems to translate pretty seamlessly to his tape.

Lastly, his acceleration through route stems and breaks are somewhere in between solid and adequate, but depending on the scheme he plays in these concerns can be easier to deal with. In all, Wright is a better athlete on tape than suggested on paper albeit it only being a marginal difference.

Play Speed

As previously mentioned, a tall cornerback trying to play off coverage looks a bit clunky no matter the intellect of the defensive back. Wright, who isn’t super explosive, displays adequate play speed in off coverage. Even though he read and reacts to the wide receiver well, having to move a tall frame that doesn’t carry much weight and core strength immediately off a break is pretty hard considering the shorter receivers he covers break much quicker.

However, Wright is a different man in press coverage. He has the quickness at the line of scrimmage to play through receivers’ releases and the acceleration and foot speed to play through the stem and break. In man coverage, his ability to quickly read and react to WRs combined with good usage of speed turns and general hip flips allows him to successfully mirror wide receivers. In zone coverage, his good awareness for route combinations allows him to seamlessly switch between receivers in his zone and he has the acceleration and foot speed for good transition quickness to reduce throwing windows.

Because Wright displays good football IQ, the concerns with his play speed are largely a reflection of his athletic ability. But, his play speed in press coverage hint at a larger point that we will discuss later. (It is also probably something you know the answer to)

Mental Processing

Wright possesses good football IQ. Oregon State’s defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar’s greatest influence hails from the creative Wisconsin defense, known for their multiple fronts, nickel base personnel, and extensive zone coverage. Wright, as a result, lined up as an outside linebacker, cornerback, and safety.

In zone coverage, he was an outside cornerback or safety in Cover 2, Cover 3, Cover 4, and Cover 7. He was required to cover a deep half, deep third, deep quarter, and the flat zone of the field. He displays good mental processing and instincts in the deep third and deep quarter of the field to recognize route patterns while keying the quarterback so he knows where to overlap routes.

He can be susceptible to allowing hole shots while covering the flat zone because he doesn’t always communicate with his deep safety to switch, but he does seem to anticipate route combinations just as well closer to the line of scrimmage.

Competitive Toughness

If you are familiar with Wright’s background, you likely know his brother, Rejzohn Wright, was a star character in the popular Netflix reality show Last Chance U in season five. His brother was known for smack-talking opposing wide receivers; I wish I could say his talk lived up to his success. (He wasn’t bad, he just talked too much)

Without audio, we obviously can’t tell if the older Wright shares any similarities with his brother, but on the football field, there are pretty clear glimpses of good physical and mental toughness. Wright is very specific about when he jams in press coverage; part of this might be due to his athletic shortcomings, but he does seem to jam strategically.

Most receivers aren’t as tall as him; in fact, several that he faced this season were noticeably shorter. While these players were more explosive and stronger than him, his continued use of jams prevented targets to receivers as games progressed. He would pick up receivers outside and in the slot and he was incredibly comfortable hand fighting everyone.

Wright cannot help being so tall and long so it’s a good thing that he is willing to be physical even against receivers of his height that are comfortably larger than him. Remember he is barely 190 pounds…

(Also if his phone call with Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones wasn’t indicative enough, he’s pumped up!)

Play Strength

This is an area Wright will get better in as his NFL career progresses, but as it currently stands, he has solid play strength. I know this may be a shock considering his current stature, but his solid balance combined with his solid upper body strength seems to be good enough to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and tackle ball carriers without a full wrap-up.

The obvious holes in his game are he can’t blitz because he doesn’t have the power, he struggles to disengage from receivers blocking him, and he can be knocked down while hand-fighting receivers in route stems. There were definitely stronger defensive backs available, but Wright provides a starting template the team can work with as opposed to some of the others.