Former Western Michigan cornerback and return specialist Darius Phillips may not have been one of the most talked about players coming into the draft, but he could make a major impact as a rookie on the Bengals’ roster.
Phillips is electric with his hands on the ball and a playmaker on special teams the likes of which the Bengals have never seen.
Phillips has a pretty impressive resume. He scored 14 touchdowns in his college career. Two were offensive touchdowns from his freshman year as a wide receiver. Five were interception returns.
One came on a fumble recovery. Five came on kickoff returns and one came off of a punt return. Phillips has scored five defensive touchdowns and four special teams touchdowns over the last two seasons.
Phillips is a playmaker. He played defense for three years at Michigan and in that time accumulated 12 interceptions and three fumble recoveries. He had interceptions against notable quarterbacks such as Sam Darnold, J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones, and Logan Woodside.
Phillips has excellent speed. In the clip below, he catches the kickoff on the right side of the field. This is a left return on which he was able to successfully make it all the way across the field and get the edge. This play resulted in a touchdown.
Having the speed to get to the edge is not the only thing that makes Phillips a great returner. He understands his team’s kick return strategy. He knows where blocks take place and where he should be looking to take the return.
Phillips has excellent vision and once he is in the hole makes very subtle movements that set up blocks. In the first clip against USC, he makes very minor adjustments and avoids any would-be tacklers on his way to a touchdown.
The second clip is a touchdown against Michigan State where he runs straight up field setting up a pair of blocks before he cuts to the outside.
Once in the open field, he understand how to thwart potential tacklers and get in the end zone. He can often do it with pure speed, but in the first clip below, he gradually leans toward the sideline, which throws off the angle of the player in the best position to make the play.
In the second clip, he alters his speed, which throws the potential tackler off balance and causes a missed tackle. Both plays result in touchdowns.
Phillips had success as both a man and zone defender in college. In the clip below he is in man coverage without deep help behind him. If he undercuts this route and misses the interception, it is likely a touchdown for the offense. He has the speed and guts to undercut routes and go for the big play, and the skill to make the play.
Once Phillips gets the ball in his hands on defense, it is like a whole new play starts. He gets upfield, sets up blocks, and makes great cuts; all of the same things he does on kickoff returns. The following two plays start differently.
One is a kickoff and one is an interception. The plays look very similar once Phillips has the ball in his hands. Both plays have the same result: a Phillips touchdown.
Phillps demonstrates his knack for making plays once again here. Phillips was the first defender to make contact with the ball carrier and once his teammates arrive to help on the tackle, he gets is hands on the ball and rips it out. Not surprisingly, he returns this for a touchdown.
Considering what a dynamic playmaker he is with the ball in his hands, the Bengals should create opportunities for him on offense. He could play a handful of plays per game on offense and be given touches on screens and reverses, or could receive the ball from center as a wildcat quarterback.
The clip below shows him scoring a touchdown on a quick screen as a wide receiver in his freshman year at Western Michigan.
Darius Phillips is an incredible return specialist who demonstrates that skill any time the ball is in his hands. Phillips needs to be the Bengals’ kick and punt returner immediately, but hopefully he will be able to contribute in other ways as well.
Philips creates big plays and touchdowns and players who can do that need to be given every opportunity to do so.