Diamonds in the Rough: Colorado’s Secondary is Draft’s Best-Kept Secret (Part 3/6)

I told you so.

Those were the last four words of Part 2 of my cornerback analysis series last April, which detailed why Colorado’s wings could be the hidden gems of the 2017 NFL Draft. I was right: both Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon rose to starting status and made significant impacts in their first year for their respective teams. Of course they were slept on, with both prospects left waiting to hear their name called late on day two. However, their contributions on the field heavily rewarded those willing to take a chance on them.

Despite this undeniable success, it seems nothing has changed in a year. Colorado still remains largely off the map in terms of ranking among universities that produce the high-level defensive backs. So here I am again, writing yet another article on some amazing and dreadfully underrated prospects residing in the Rockies. Maybe I’ll convince you all this time around.

I’m talking about 2018 draft hopefuls Isaiah Oliver and Afolabi Laguda. They’re version 2.0 of an elite Colorado Buffs secondary called the “Money Gang” by its members. And both should be getting more attention than their draft stocks reflect. Oliver, a cornerback, is currently projected to go in the second round while Laguda, who plays safety, could slip into the later rounds on Day 3. Each prospect’s college stats are below:

Oliver: 61 tackles, 3 interceptions, 25 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble
Laguda: 171 tackles, 2 interceptions, 11 pass deflections, 3 forced fumbles

Oliver is the more-well known prospect of the two, and largely considered as one of the draft’s top cornerbacks. He’s ranked at #3 in my top 15 list. His measurables are incredible: he showcases an eagle-like wingspan with 33″ arms, which allows him to easily disrupt a receiver’s catch radius and knock the ball away. Isaiah’s combination of next-level size and speed make him a matchup nightmare. He’s excellent at pinning the receiver to the sideline and his polished technique, as well as complete cover skills, should attract the attention of numerous general managers.

One of the most desirable traits Oliver possesses is the “island ability” in coverage that scouts love at the next level. By using his lengthy frame to box out receivers and jam from a distance at the line, Oliver can completely erase a receiver and prevent him from contributing to the passing game. His impressive range also allows for a wider margin of error. This is important because Oliver primarily plays in press coverage, which typically allows for only a very small margin for error. He reminds me of Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie at the next level.

FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, file photo, Colorado defensive back Isaiah Oliver, right, defects a pass intended for Texas State wide receiver Elijah King in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Boulder, Colo. Oliver has proven to be a standout performer in the Colorado secondary and also happens to be a rising decathlete in track and field. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Colorado defensive back #26 Isaiah Oliver, right, deflects a pass intended for Texas State wide receiver Elijah King in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Boulder, Colorado. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Laguda hasn’t gotten the same amount of media coverage as his teammate, but he is still pound-for-pound a solid football player. While he didn’t receive an invite to the NFL Combine, he impressed scouts at his pro day and landed workouts with the Atlanta Falcons. Like Oliver, Laguda has the right length and frame to succeed at the next level. His versatility in almost any scheme should enhance his draft stock. He should also bring strong leadership skills and desired toughness to the franchise that selects him.

Earlier this month, I was able to sit down and have a short Q&A session with Afolabi about his personal draft process, Colorado’s program, and more. Our conversation is below:

How have you prepared for the draft and how would you describe the process?
I’ve just been learning how to become a professional athlete. I’ve put in countless hours to learning the actual position of safety. I worked on my flaws like eye discipline, coverage techniques, and understanding different schemes and football specific situations. The process has been stressful because it’s made to point out all your negatives, but everyday I work on trying to complete my game.

You recently had your second workout with the Atlanta Falcons. Describe what that was like getting feedback from coaches at the next level.
Any workout with a professional team is helpful. I feel like the more the better. I get to receive up close and personal coaching from the best in the business. Every coach has their own swag and edge they bring, so I try to soak up as much as I can and do me at the same time.

What do you think of your current draft projection? Does it motivate you?
I mean, I know I can play! I just didn’t produce enough to be tagged as a top 100 player. I understand that. When we get into camp though, that’s when we are gonna see who’s a baller and who’s not. So I guess you could say I use it as motivation.

What made you choose Colorado and what was the experience like at that university?
Colorado has some of the best facilities in the country. Mike Macintyre was building a program. And I had great experience.

Recently, Colorado’s program has had names like Chidobe Awuzie, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Tedric Thompson excel at the next level. You played three years for the Buffs. Based on your time there, what separates Colorado’s defensive back program from the rest of the country?
Can’t forget about Kenneth Crawley. We are an extremely talented group, including Isaiah Oliver. The only reason people don’t respect us because we are just getting Colorado back on the map. What makes us unique is the bond we all set out to accomplish in 2015 when I enrolled there, which was to see all 6 of us in the NFL. As individuals, we’ve worked hard to develop our game. And as a group, we’ve showed love and support to see it through. That’s why we are the money gang.

What do you think is a trait that sets you apart from the rest of the safety class?
My strengths are I can do everything play in the box, play man to man, play in the MoF. Very few safeties can do that in this class.

What is the one thing you most want an NFL head coach to know about you?
I’m a flat out competitor. I will work for whatever, no hand-outs are necessary.

Who were your favorite NFL players growing up?
Sean Taylor and Eric Berry. NO QUESTION!

If you could intercept any quarterback currently playing in the NFL, who would it be and why?
Tom Brady! Because to be considered the best, you have compete against the best.

One of your nicknames is “Agent Uno” and you wear no. 1. Is there a story behind that?
Agent Uno was just because when I’m on the field, I’m tryna be a silent assassin like James Bond. -@FizzyFo1

In short, Colorado may be the draft’s best kept secret for now, but I expect the program to grow as players like Oliver and Laguda build upon their collegiate success and translate their play to the pro level. Do you agree? Tell me what you think on Twitter at @Snack_TimeFS or drop a comment on this article down below.

To view my rankings for this year’s defensive back class, click here. To view my take on the ongoing debate over whether Minkah Fitzpatrick or Derwin James is the top safety prospect, click here. To view my database complete with strengths, weaknesses, draft projection, and player comparison for 2018’s top cornerbacks and safeties, click here.

Cole Topham is the lead editor for snacktimefantasy.com and covers the MLB and NFL. He enjoys watching his opponents suffer as he defeats them week after week in his fantasy football/baseball leagues.

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