Round 6: North Carolina CB D.J. Stewart – 5-11, 198 – 4.52 – Senior
Previous pick: Tennessee State DE Ebenezer Ogundeko
This might be a little low for Stewart, but there is a good chance NFL teams sleep on him for a myriad of reasons. The first of which is his size, as he’s less than 6-feet tall. The second of which is his speed, as Stewart will likely not break the 4.5 mark in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine and his pro day. And finally, Stewart didn’t record an interception in his final two years with the Tar Heels.
But the reason why teams like Tampa Bay should take note is because he does a lot of things right. The first job of any defensive back is to prevent the receiver from catching the ball, and his 41 pass breakups are a North Carolina career record. When the ball is in the air, chances are Stewart isn’t allowing it to be caught by the receiver he’s defending against.
Stewart does have good hands and has shown he can intercept passes, evidenced by the six career picks he does have from his first two years at North Carolina. But in addition to good hands that can swat away passes or pick them off, Stewart has tremendous footwork that allows him to mirror receivers off the line of scrimmage and break on the ball at the top of the routes. He has the ability to turn and drive on the ball in man or zone coverage and is a pretty complete cornerback.
Martin’s North Carolina Career Defensive Stats
2017: 45 tackles, 12 PBUs, 5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks
2016: 66 tackles, 11 PBUs, 3.5 tackles for loss, 3 FR, 2 FF
2015: 62 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 4 INTs, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 FF
2014: 26 tackles, 4 PBUs, 2 INTs
Stewart had a very good week in Mobile, Ala. at the Senior Bowl and was named the practice player of the week for the defensive backs in attendance, which is quite an honor. In the Senior Bowl game, Stewart had two tackles and two pass breakups for the victorious South squad, in addition to returning three punts for 24 yards.
The Bucs need another cornerback with size, tenacity and physicality, and Stewart brings all three to the table. The jury is still out on 2016 first-round draft pick Vernon Hagreaves III, who may be best suited to play nickel defense, and 2016 fourth-rounder Ryan Smith, who endured a lot of growing pains in his first action as an NFL cornerback. The Bucs hope to re-sign veteran Brent Grimes, but at age 35 he’s not a long-term answer at the cornerback position, but Tampa Bay hopes Stewart can be.