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Competitiveness, Football IQ Boost Waller

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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Dave Holcomb features Virginia Tech cornerback Jermaine Waller.

No matter how good a player is in college, nothing is guaranteed from season to season. Furthermore, college players are entitled to nothing at the next level.

That’s the harsh reality Virginia Tech cornerback Jermaine Waller is facing this offseason as he enters the 2022 NFL Draft.

Two and a half years ago, Waller and fellow defensive back Caleb Farley made up one of the top cornerback duos in college football. But after an injury-plagued 2020 season and inconsistent 2021 campaign, Waller sees himself on the NFL draft bubble a week prior to the 2022 Draft.

The Virginia Tech cornerback will have to hope his strengths, including his competitiveness, football IQ and length give him an opportunity to compete for an NFL roster spot this fall.

Waller doesn’t have to dig too far into his college game tape to showcase an example where he can make a major impact on the field. Waller recorded four interceptions in the first five games last season. One of those picks came in a 17-10 upset victory against North Carolina and another was a pick-six versus then No. 8 Notre Dame.

The disappointment wasn’t necessarily that Waller didn’t continue that interception pace, but that he played poorly at times in October and November last year. Draft analyst Joe Marino wrote “his game became inconsistent as the season moved along, especially against Miami.”

Waller played quarterback in high school, so he’s obviously athletic. But NFL analyst Lance Zierlein writes that Waller doesn’t have a big frame or speed, which could be part of the reason he’s inconsistent.

“His competitive nature shows up on tape, but he lacks the size and strength to handle big receivers and the short-area quickness to stay connected to shiftier targets,” wrote Zierlein.

Standing at six-feet tall, Waller has the height to be a competent corner in the NFL. But he needs to grow more into his body, as he weighs only 180 pounds.

Without the natural skills of strength and speed, right now, Waller needs to rely on his competitiveness to succeed. To his credit, he seems to be aware of that fact.

“My competitiveness within myself,” Waller responded when 7News sports anchor Scott Abraham asked the cornerback how he can make an impact in the NFL. “Going to Virginia Tech helped me grow up a lot on and off the field. I’ve learned about football from a larger scale.”

That football IQ he acquired from Virginia Tech is another attribute he’ll have to use to make an NFL roster. Zierlein complimented Waller’s intelligence in coverage, but Marino was more critical.

“Waller’s processing skills reveal a mixed bag of results,” Marino wrote. “There are times where his recognition and positioning is outstanding while there are other instances where his inability to anticipate routes leads to breakdowns in coverage.

“Overall, I like his versatility, but he needs to find more consistency with his execution.”

Clearly, Waller is a bit of a project for any NFL team that acquires him this spring. A summer of lifting weights and working on developing consistency could allow the young cornerback to make major strides.

He sounds like a prospect that will benefit from professional coaching and around-the-clock training.

The question just becomes whether an organization finds enough positives in Waller’s game to roll the dice on him. Zierlein placed the Hokies defensive back in the “candidate for bottom of roster or practice squad” tier on his 2022 NFL Draft rankings.

To have a chance at success in the NFL, Waller will likely have to be one of the hardest working rookies at his team’s training camp. It would help if he is also the most competitive cornerback on the field.