Under the Microscope: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu


Since 2012, when he was just a true sophomore, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has been talked about as one of the best cornerbacks in college football. For a number of reasons, such talk was and is still warranted, but that does not mean he translates as well to the NFL. Before taking that statement out of context, know that Ekpre-Olomu still has a place in the NFL, just not where he has been projected to.

At a generous 5’10” and 195 pounds, which is obliviously a small frame for a cornerback, especially with the recent obsession with lengthy corners, Ekpre-Olomu may not survive against NFL receivers in terms of physicality. His size alone will turn some teams away entirely, like the Green Bay Packers.

Though, athletically, the veteran Oregon Duck will turn heads. His straight line speed, as well as lateral speed, not only allows him to keep up with receivers down the field in man coverage, but makes him a terrifying intermediate to deep zone player because of how many yards he can cover in so little time.

In this play, Ekpre-Olomu displays killer instincts that, when coupled with his speed, makes him a terror for quarterbacks. With Ifo in a loose zone like this, he is able to identify where the ball is going, break on it, and make a play. Granted, had he been two inches taller, this is an interception, but it would be silly to bash such a great play in any way.

When allowed to play freely in space like this, Ekpre-Olomu can cover a huge radius. Laterally, he flows well, and when he gets going, his north/south speed is impressive. That being said, Ekpre-Olomu is lacking in one area that he’s often gotten praise for, and it also makes him a shaky shallow zone corner. His explosion out of breaks is uninspiring. It is not bad, but he does not possess the elite quick twitch that, say, Jason Verrett or Brent Grimes have. At Ekpre-Olomu’s size, having that kind of quickness when firing off to break on curls/outs is necessary, but he doesn’t have it.

In relation to his poor north/south breaks, Ekpre-Olomu’s reactions are slow when forced to play shallow coverage. Now, do not get that mixed up with his instincts. Instincts come when players are allowed to be free, which is not the case in most shallow coverage situations. In these cases, Ekpre-Olomu too regularly waits until the ball is coming out of the quarterback’s hand to do anything.

On this play, Ekpre-Olomu looks to be in a Cover 2 “Sink” coverage. He realizes that someone is going to go over the top of him, but at the same time, he does not want to abandon the shallow “out.” The Senior conrerback takes too long to make a decision to go back up top and the Washington State receiver hauls in the catch. Granted, the safety covering that half was no help, but still. Playing him shallow is a misuse of his talent. Let him roam.

Luckily, Ekpre-Olomu thrives in many other areas of coverage. His hip fluidity when mirroring receivers is superb, more specifically when his back is to the quarterback. When following routes like posts/corners/deep comebacks, Ekpre-Olomu has no issue turning his body around in a quick, controlled manner. Fluid movement skills like his translate to zone coverage too because even if he is playing a deep half, flipping his hips on corner routes and such will be needed.

To refer back to Ekpre-Olomu’s instincts, that trait does not only apply to his keen ability to know where the ball will be in general, but where also to where it will be directly in relation to the receiver. At catch points, Ekpre-Olomu still wins more often than someone his size should because of how well he understands when/where his hand(s) need to be to disrupt a pass. From the timing of his jump to when he reaches for the catch point, everything about Ekpre-Olomu’s approach is precise. So long as he can stay clean before the catch is about to happen, he will win at catch points in the NFL.

Of course, that is IF he can keep clean. Ekpre-Olomu has yet to prove that he can consistently hold up against physical play. Often, receivers will get physical with Ifo at the route break, giving them just enough room between himself and Ifo. And, as said before, Ekpre-Olomu does not have the type of immediate closing speed to make up for the lost ground in these situations. Considering how easy it is for receivers to make this happen, one has to be worried about Ekpre-Olomu consistently playing cornerback in the NFL.

To no surprise, the lack of physicality hurts Ekpre-Olomu as a run defender. There are flashes of him dancing around blockers to make a play, but more times than not, he gets locked up and pushed driven away from the play. Though his job is definitely more about what he can do in the passing game, whether he be at cornerback or safety, size will be an issue when trying to play the run.

Obviously, playing cornerback in college will lead people to believe that his NFL role is at cornerback, but it is not. As one of the examples of Justis Mosqueda‘s theory of moving more defensive backs to a more fitting position, Ekpre-Olomu is best fit as a free safety, where he can roam the field and make plays. There, his instincts and speed to cover an absurd amount of the field will be put to best use.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is a tough comparison, but Tyrann Mathieu fits the bill better than anyone. The size, the athleticism, the instincts, and the transition to safety would all be similar. Mathieu has better vertical ability, but as stated, the comparison is not perfect, as many aren’t.

In regards to value, Ekpre-Olomu could be a first-round player if a team considers him as a roaming safety. If they force him to play cornerback, his value drops to the third round almost solely because of how poorly he handles physicality on routes. Though, regardless of position, some team will fall in love with his speed and natural instincts and likely select him in the first round. Many may not agree, but it would be hard to fault a team for valuing those traits a lot, especially considering how well he excels there.