This year’s Draft Class is brimming with talent. Just about every position has a few players that have been in the limelight since the end of the 2017-2018 college football season. Lately, as mock draft season has come into fruition undervalued players are on the rise. Senior North Carolina cornerback M.J. Stewart recently became a name to consider two months before draft day.
Analysts have begun to look into Stewart’s draft stock after he appeared in the first round of Todd McShay’s most recent Mock Draft for ESPN. McShay listed the Patriots as a possible team to select the 6’0″ and 205 pound cornerback with the 31st pick in April. This came after Stewart’s exceptional play during the Senior Bowl in late January.
“Given his Super Bowl controversy, it certainly appears New England will part ways with Malcolm Butler. Spending an early pick on a CB makes sense, especially with Stephon Gilmore on the other side. Stewart is underrated and an experienced player, with adequate height (5-10) and very good top-end speed. He’ll also support the run” writes McShay.
Before the Senior Bowl M.J. Stewart ranked 31st in cornerbacks in the 2018 Draft Class by Walter Football.com. He was ranked low due to failing to intercept any passes in his senior season. In Stewart’s four year stint at North Carolina he racked up 199 tackles, three sacks, three fumbles, six interceptions, and 44 passes defended. He did not pick passes off frequently but he did well with defending them. In his senior season alone Stewart recorded 12 pass breakups, 45 tackles (five for a loss), and two sacks. He finished the 2017-2018 season as the top ranked player at UNC, as well as earning All-ACC First Team reps.
M.J. Stewart finished the 2017 season as the highest graded player in Chapel Hill. pic.twitter.com/tzuZVNfZ9P
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 8, 2018
— Carolina Football (@TarHeelFootball) December 5, 2017
The highlight of M.J. Stewart’s play is his press coverage. Stewart locks down receivers from the line of scrimmage to ten yards behind him. Stewart keeps pace with every assignment. He might not have the height, but he can use his strength and speed to muscle his way ahead of a receiver to make a play. Even when it seems like he is beaten on a play Stewart uses his quick hands to pull passes out of the receiver’s hands for an incompletion. Upon watching his highlights, I think it’s insane that Stewart hasn’t been more highly touted. His stats might not jump out at analysts and scouts, but he does not fail at single coverage whatsoever.
If I were to compare M.J. to two star cornerbacks in the NFL they’d be Richard Sherman and Josh Norman. Like Sherman, he thrives at taking receivers out of plays right out of the gate. In press coverage they both do an exceptional job at keeping receivers at the line of scrimmage, and they both punish quarterbacks if they force a pass toward them. They both ballhawk in deep routes as well. Stewart also can hit like Josh Norman. In the event that he lets up a completion he will let the receiver feel his frustration. He is able to bring players down extremely well despite his size and frame.
M.J. might not be too exciting on paper, but his film makes up for it. To me he is a viable option for the Patriots, maybe just not in the first round. Whatever team he lands on he has the potential to make a splash as one of the NFL’s next premier defensive backs.