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MOBILE, AL - January 31, 2024 - Auburn Defensive Back Nehemiah Pritchett (#1) during Senior Bowl practice at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, AL. Photo by Austin Perryman Photo by Austin Perryman

Auburn Draft Profile: Why Nehemiah Pritchett’s size, speed and versatility could make him solid value on day two

AUBURN, Ala. (EETV) - This year’s Auburn prospect list for April’s NFL Draft is headlined by Nehemiah Pritchett, a four-year starter at corner for the Tigers. The senior cornerback was expected by some to declare for the draft after a solid 2022 season but chose to return to the plains. 

Despite Pritchett’s start to the season being delayed due to injury, he picked up where he left off, providing Auburn with a reliable CB1 for the second half of the season. In nine games, Pritchett started primarily as the right-side corner for the Tigers and recorded 18 tackles and 1 interception.

While just 2 tackles per game and one total interception might not seem impressive on paper, playing corner is much more than what you see in the box score, a principle that Pritchett makes abundantly clear when you turn on the tape. 

Right away it’s clear that Pritchett has prototypical size for his position, coming in at 6’1” with long arms that he displays excellent control of in press man sets. That size and length combination allow Pritchett to disrupt receivers’ release patterns, which in turn throws off the timing of the entire play. The modern prototypical NFL corner is taller, longer, and faster than ever, and Pritchett displays all of these traits in spades

That ability becomes especially noticeable when a corner is covering a team’s number one receiver as Pritchett often did. Opposing quarterbacks targeted him less than three times per game, and when they did he allowed a QB rating of just 58.8 and a catch rate under 50%. Pritchett’s long speed also means that if he does get beat initially, he has the speed necessary to recover and get back in many plays where other corners would be beaten for long touchdowns.

However, don’t think Pritchett is just limited to a press man scheme. His fluidity and speed in his backpedal make him extremely talented in off man and zone coverages as well, and his explosiveness out of that same backpedal means he rarely gets beat deep. Because of this versatility, Pritchett projects best to teams that frequently run both man and zone, such as the Raiders, Buccaneers, or Packers.

Pritchett’s skill in both zone and man also makes him adept at match coverages, which is a kind of hybrid coverage where a corner will go into their zone drop and then adjust their depth based on the routes in their area; a scenario in which Pritchett’s good instincts, quick trigger to the receiver, and fluid backpedal are especially beneficial.

Unfortunately, that elite backpedal can turn into a weakness for Pritchett at times, as he will relax into it at times, giving up too much ground early and leaving chances for offenses to find success against him by attacking the short areas of the field on quick routes. Then, once a receiver has the ball, they can expose Pritchett’s biggest weakness: tackling.

Pritchett does not have NFL-caliber tackling form. It’s that simple. He will often dive at ankles, fail to wrap up, or hesitate and miss on a move from a ballcarrier. These issues in the open field are the main thing driving Pritchett down boards, especially for teams that prefer to allow opposing offenses to dink-and-dunk and focus on protecting against the intermediate and deep levels of the field.

The last major knocks against Pritchett are his wiry frame and lack of ball production. Though he is extremely long, his lack of a more filled-out form leads to concerns about whether or not he can truly stack up against big, physical NFL wideouts that excel in jump ball scenarios. 

As for ball production, Pritchett only recorded three total interceptions in his four years as a starter. Though box scores aren’t as important for corners, that is still a concerningly low number and might draw NFL teams in the direction of players like Missouri’s Kris Abrams-Draine or Oregon’s Khyree Jackson who have more ball-hawking talent. 

Pritchett projects as a day two pick with an upside in the mid second round if a team is particularly high on him. Keep an eye on the Raiders especially, as they need athleticism in their secondary and have never been afraid to reach down the board and outside of conventional wisdom. Overall, Pritchett’s scheme versatility and proven capability as an experienced starter will be attractive to NFL teams, and he should be able to develop into a solid starter for whichever team chooses to select him in this year’s draft.

The NFL Draft takes place April 25-27 in Detroit, Michigan.