Fifth of five-part series on the five position needs of the Falcons for the 2019 NFL draft. Today: Cornerbacks
Southwest DeKalb High wrestling coach Keith Johnson saw a football diamond in the rough.
Rock Ya-Sin, was a dynamic wrestler who won Georgia state championships as a sophomore (145 pounds) and junior (152 pounds).
Johnson coaxed Ya-Sin to work out with the football team. The move set off a circuitous route to the NFL draft, which is set for Thursday through Saturday.
“I just told him to try it,” Johnson said. “He was a wrestler, and wrestling was only going to take him so far. Wrestling helps you with discipline.
“He already had the discipline. He’d already won state twice. Let’s try football and give him another avenue.”
Ya-Sin wasn’t a big football fan, but the coaches were impressed.
“The football coach came to me and said, ‘can we have him,’” Johnson said. “I said, you can have him as long as you don’t get him hurt.”
Ya-Sin shined his senior season in football and finished second in the state in wrestling.
“He was an All-American in wrestling,” Johnson said. “He had a lot of scholarships in wrestling, (Division I) scholarships. When he started in football. I was telling the coaches about him, but the college coaches were passing him up.”
MORE FALCONS DRAFT ANALYSIS
Part 1: Wide receiver/returner — Find a returner in backyard
Part 2: Defensive tackles — Team needs talent
Part 3: Safeties — Position is back in heavy demand
Part 4: Defensive ends — Bolster meek 37-sack pass rush
Ya-Sin had offers from Presbyterian, Hampton, Tennessee State and Norfolk State. What really impressed Johnson and Ya-Sin was that Presbyterian assistant coach Tommy Spangler, who since has been named the head coach, came to a wrestling match.
“That’s unheard of to see a football coach come and watch a wrestling match,” Johnson said. “(Spangler) said, ‘that boy is tough.’ He really liked Rock. It was a warm atmosphere, so he went on to Presbyterian.”
Ya-Sin played three seasons for the Blue Hose and continued to develop his football skills.
“They went to a non-scholarship conference,” Ya-Sin said. “So, I transferred to Temple, and I was immediately eligible. I played my senior year at Temple University.”
Ya-Sin was a big hit at Temple early. His work ethic in the weight room impressed his teammates.
“I just came in and worked every day,” Ya-Sin said. “I attacked everything that we were doing. Weight room, conditioning, mat drills or whatever we were doing, I attacked. I went hard and earned the respect of my teammates and my coaches. They voted for me to have a single digit.”
At Temple, if you get a single-digit jersey, you’re considered basically a captain. There he played for new Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins.
“Coach Collins is a great coach, a great man,” Ya-Sin said. “He made me into the player that I am today. He’s a great man. I can’t say enough about how I appreciate the time he spent with me and what he’s taught me.”
Collins won’t be surprised when Ya-Sin’s name is called.
“He was absolutely amazing,” Collins said. “The last seven, eight years as a defensive coordinator and (defensive backs) coach, I’ve been blessed to coach a bunch of first-rounders. A bunch of early second-rounders and Jim Thorpe award winners, and I would rank Rock Ya-Sin up there at the top with any of them.”
Under Collins, Temple went 8-5 and earned a trip to the Independence Bowl with Ya-Sin heading the defense.
Collins believes his skill-set project well in the NFL.
“First of all, he’s got amazing physical ability,” Collins said. “He’s a high 4.4 guy (in the 40-yard dash), low 4.5 guy. Tremendous length, speed and his physical stature is as impressive as anybody’s in the game. But the thing that sets him apart is his work ethic and how tenacious he is.”
The Falcons let go three of their top four cornerbacks this offseason and are heavily scouting the cornerbacks in this draft. They met with Ya-Sin.
“You don’t hear about a lot of corners who were state champions in wrestling,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “It such an unusual (combination.) You’ve heard about a state champion sprinter or (that a player) was a point guard.
“You hear that kind of toughness and physicality that he has. … Meeting him, what an impressive guy and what he’s done in such a short time.”
The Falcons were impressed that Ya-Sin could make the jump from Presbyterian to Temple.
“What a good opportunity for him to take advantage of that and really go for it and apply it,” Quinn said. “He kind of keep getting better. He’s definitely a prospect who’s shown on tape that he’s going to handle some good jobs in the NFL.”
Ya-Sin takes the same mentality that he learned from Johnson in wrestling onto the football field.
“Just the competitive nature of going out there and going against a guy,” Ya-Sin said. “There are no excuses. You can’t blame it on anybody: win, lose or draw. It’s you versus another man.”
Ya-Sin ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds and lifted 225 pounds 18 times on the bench press at the scouting combine. He had an explosive vertical jump of 39.5 inches.
Ya-Sin was named first-team All-American Athletic Conference and emerged as one of the risers in the draft.
His physical style of play and the size to thrive in man-to-man coverage has impressed NFL teams.
“His outstanding performance against Buffalo and their flashy QB quarterback-wide receiver duo of Tyree Jackson and Anthony Johnson grabbed the attention of NFL evaluators with Ya-Sin recording two interceptions (one overturned due to a penalty on a Temple teammate), among a handful of eye-popping plays,” wrote Ric Serritella in NFL Draft Bible. “He finished with 47 tackles for the Owls in 2018 with two tackles for loss, leading the team and ranking among conference leaders with 12 passes broken up, as well as two interceptions.”
Johnson is not surprised that Ya-Sin is set to join an NFL team.
“He had a toughness about him,” Johnson said. “When he came out of for wrestling, we just made him tough. Then he just trusted the wrestling coaches.”
Johnson predicts success for Ya-Sin in the NFL.
“He’s very humble until he gets on that mat or on that football field,” Johnson said. “Then he turns into a whole different person.”
CORNERBACK DRAFT PROJECTIONS
First day (Round 1) – Greedy Williams (LSU), Deandre Baker (Georgia), Rock Ya-Sin (Temple), Byron Murphy (Washington) and Lonnie Johnson (Kentucky).
Second day (2-3) – Trayvon Mullen (Clemson), Julian Love (Notre Dame), Armani Oruwariye (Penn State), Joejuan Williams (Vanderbilt), Jamel Dean (Auburn), Justin Layne (Michigan State), Kendall Sheffield (Ohio State).
Third day (4-7) – David Long (Michigan), Isaiah Johnson (Houston), Hamp Cheevers (Boston College), Iman Marshall (USC), Corey Ballentine (Washburn), Saivion Smith (Alabama), Kris Boyd (Texas), Jimmy Moreland (James Madison), Jordan Brown (South Dakota State), Jamal Peters (Mississippi State), Sean Bunting ( Central Michigan), Derrick Batty Jr. (Kentucky) and Derrek Thomas (Baylor).
Georgia prospects: Baker, Ken Webster (Mississippi, Stockbridge High), Blace Brown (Troy, Cherokee) and Montre Hartage (Northwestern, Crisp County).
SEC: Rashad Fenton (South Carolina), Keisean Nixon (South Carolina), Ryan Pulley (Arkansas), Chris Westry (Kentucky).
ACC: Mark Fields (Clemson) and Michael Jackson (Miami).