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The biggest strength and weakness of Tyson Campbell’s game

Syndication: Florida Times-Union Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

Going into last Saturday’s preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, I was most excited to see George Pickens (a favorite second round target of mine, and everyone else on Jags Twitter, about four months ago). The former Bulldog tore up training camp in Latrobe, PA before torching the Seattle Seahawks in his rookie preseason debut, but Pickens managed only two catches for six yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

I was hoping to rewatch the game and see Tyson Campbell locking down Pickens. That did happen, but only kinda, because the two rarely lined up across one another. Pickens only earned one target against his former collegiate teammate and it came on a shallow crossing route that Campbell promptly blew up.

The second-year cornerback showed off impressive closing speed and physical tackling on an earlier play from the game as well.

Campbell boasts the athleticism and aggressiveness necessary to be a #1 NFL corner, and as twitter user @keanukarg has often said, swagger and confidence are vital tools for elite cornerback play.

However, Campbell showed some familiar concerns in his regularly programmed matchup with Pittsburgh’s true alpha receiver, Diontae Johnson. The Pro Bowl wideout consistently beat Campbell with literal hand-to-hand combat.

The Steelers scored a touchdown to close the first half on a Johnson red zone slant. Jacksonville played a basic Cover 1 Rat man coverage and Campbell played with inside technique to take away the middle of the field.

Johnson took the outside release given to him before dropping his shoulder and darting around Campell to break inside. The latter got turned around and tried to run Johnson’s route for him, but by the time he looked back for the ball, six points were already added to the scoreboard.

Where Campbell went wrong was allowing Johnson to smack his hands away as the ball was mid flight. It knocked him off balance just enough for him to lose a grasp of where Johnson was, which would have made it easier to play the ball or at least finish through hands to try to force an incompletion. Campbell instead ran to where he thought Johnson was heading, and while he wasn’t technically wrong, a clean smack and well-placed throw resulted in a touchdown. Playing defense is hard as shit.

The good news is Campbell’s lacking ability to fight off receiver’s hands and make a play on the ball is really the only flaw that I see preventing him from ascending to a Pro Bowl-level of play. The bad news is that as we just saw, it could mean the difference between an incompletion and a touchdown on otherwise sound coverage, and it’s a recurring problem.

Here’s another example of Campbell playing Johnson tight before allowing some late separation (albeit this play was called back for Offensive Pass Interference on Johnson):

Here’s another one, this time from last season:

But just like Campbell’s main issues have continued, so has his biggest strength: physicality. Here’s a play from that same 2021 game against that same All-Pro receiver.

The former 33rd overall draft pick doesn’t turn 23 until next March and is sure to get better with more experience and coaching over time. If/when he figures out these last levels of his game, Tyson Campbell will be getting the same hype every week as preseason George Pickens.