From a size and speed standpoint, there are few 2008 prospects that would better fit the type for newer Seattle cornerbacks than Indiana's Tracy Porter. The 5'11", 188-pound Porter was known for his ball-hawking skills -- he picked off 16 passes in his collegiate career, second in team history, and six in his senior season. "I've always wanted the ball in my hands so I did whatever I could to get the ball in my hands," Porter said at the 2008 Scouting Combine. "Playing defense, you don't get many balls your way, but when the ball comes, you have to seize the opportunity and I think I did a great job of that."
However, it was his performance at the 2008 Scouting Combine that really started turning heads on a national level. Porter put up a 4.37-40 yard dash on the RCA Dome track, and proved his agility by tying with Oklahoma's Marcus Walker for the best 20-yard shuttle (10-yard area) time among defensive backs. He finished behind only Dominique Rogers-Cromartie in the 60-yard shuttle (20-yard area), proving that his deep speed matches his short-area quickness.
Indiana's Pro Day on March 5 allowed Porter another chance to impress, which Is exactly what he did, running in the 4.3-4.4 range and displaying good hands in drills.
His vertical hops come from a longtime love of basketball -- more well-known for his hoops game at Port Allen High School in Louisiana, Porter played football in his junior and senior seasons only, Still, he was good enough to gain All-District honors in his senior year. "The coaches tried to get me out for football since my freshman year. I turned them down and said I wasn't a football guy. One day over the summer, my friends and coaches were asking me over and over to come out. I decided to go out for seven-on-seven over the summer and performed well, so I said I might give it a shot."
One of two Indiana players to start as a true freshman in 2004, Porter played in seven games and grabbed three interceptions before a broken clavicle ended his season. He found his feet further in 2005 and 2006, and enjoyed a breakout year in 2007. Six interceptions, 83 tackles and a first-team All-Conference selection later, Porter proved that he was a well-rounded player with a commitment to better tackling. His run-stopping ability is one reason that he's seen as a second-round-to-later pick, but work is being done.
"My cover skills and my speed," he said, when asked about his best attributes as a player. "I have the ability to stay with the receiver, running deep routes and short routes, and I have the skills to cover them as well. Hands on receivers is by far my best attribute."
Porter ended his college career in the Insight Bowl, as the Hoosiers grew into a winner through his time at Indiana. "My freshman year, there wasn't a real winning attitude at the school," he recalled. "My sophomore year is when Coach (Terry) Hoeppner and his staff came in and turned the program around. We won more games each year we were there. My freshman year we won three, then four, then five. This year we won seven and went Bowling. I definitely think we improved as a team, and I got better as an individual."
Then, it was on to the Senior Bowl, where Porter impressed in practices and in the game. His speed, agility and quickness in backpedaling and turning to cover were all noted by analysts.
Now, with the draft quickly approaching, the next question for Tracy Porter is, where is the best fit for him? Could he shine as a nickel reserve in the Seattle secondary and perhaps in special teams as well? He was, after all, a dangerous punt returner -- averaging 13.6 yards per return over the 2006 and 2007 seasons -- and his ability to play tight coverage at times is a trait noticeably missing from Seattle's secondary over the last few years.
Porter said at the Combine that Indiana played a lot of quarters coverage -- a scheme that splits the coverage zones into fourths and afford cornerbacks less safety help than the traditional Cover-2 defense -- and that this has allowed him to refine his solo coverage abilities. It's a scheme that favors quick-reacting defensive backs.
According to former NFL scout and current Scout.com Senior Analyst Tom Marino, tackling is still an issue with Porter, though his other skills are solid. "He is fast, has good feet, quick supple hips and can run with people down the field," Marino said of Porter. "The big problem I saw is that he flat out won't hit anybody. He is a poor tackler. He has very good skills but I also didn't think he competed for the ball in flight. Punt return ability is a plus. I see him as a late first-day guy with a chance to develop into a starter in time. A lot of coaches say cover skills are what matter, but somebody has to tackle out there. If not, you better have the skills of Deion Sanders!"
He may not be at that level
-- may not ever be -- but Tracy Porter will find a place in someone's secondary,
and he does fit the profile of cornerbacks Tim Ruskell has put on his draft
boards. Does it all add up? We can but wait and see…
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, and he writes NFL previews for the New York Sun. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.