Maryland Football Film Breakdown: CB Ja’Quan Sheppard

Maryland lost a pair of starting cornerbacks to the 2023 NFL Draft in Deonte Banks and Jakorian Bennett, but cornerbacks coach Henry Baker dipped into the transfer portal to add another experienced starter opposite of senior Tarheeb Still.

The spotlight is on Ja’Quan Sheppard, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound cornerback transfer from Cincinnati.

Ja’Quan Sheppard is a 6’1 195 pound senior cornerback transfer from Cincinnati. The spotlight is on him to become Maryland’s new lockdown corner in 2023. Hailing from Zephyrhills, Florida; Sheppard saw the field sporadically when he began his collegiate career back in 2019, mainly sitting behind current New York Jet cornerback Sauce Gardner. Once Gardner departed, Sheppard stepped up as he posted 33 solo tackles and 10 pass breakups in a solid 8-3 season for the Bearcats last fall.

Sheppard elected to hit the transfer portal in December where he took an official visit to College Park, ultimately committing to Maryland over UCF before enrolling in January. Sheppard avoided an injury scare during the spring game and will lead Maryland’s cornerback room heading into the fall.

The first trait that jumps off the page is Sheppard’s aggression and physicalness. He isn’t afraid to tackle and, frankly, is very good in open field tackling. You have to appreciate this from secondary players, especially corners. It can really help stop outside zone run plays and add an extra layer to your run defense. Maryland has always struggled with tackling in open field so Sheppard can really help in this aspect. This first play has Sheppard blow up the running back in the open field. Sheppard (#5) runs around like a bowl in a China closet to make plays in the open field.

The next play you can see Sheppard chase down Arkansas quarterback, KJ Jefferson. Jefferson is one of the best scrambling quarterbacks in the country and Sheppard pursuits and takes him down with ease. This play caught my eye the most out of any play I saw even though it is so simple, Sheppard is in a man up, cover 3 zone responsibility. This means he basically has his man one-on-one until he can pass him off and play his deep third. He has a lot to think about on this play, including reading KJ Jefferson. He reads run very early and jumps on it. He contains very well and is not afraid to tackle the 6-3 246 lb quarterback. This is a strength from Sheppard and I attached some more plays below to see his tackling ability. It is impressive how he moves around in open space and is a great tackler.

Now with all of that said, how is he in coverage? To no surprise after watching him make tackles in the run game, he is also a very physical corner in coverage. He had some flaws in coverage as he was very grabby and got penalized often. That comes with the territory of being a physical man corner.  This clip I think personifies how he plays defense against wide receivers. Sheppard is basically holding the receiver the whole way, not necessarily because he is beat, but it is just how he plays. Be prepared for a lot of defensive pass interference calls with Sheppard.

In this next clip, Sheppard is holding again and turning and looking for the ball early. This is easily his biggest weakness. This usually allows for his receivers to beat him but his pure physicalness can make up for it sometimes.

There are some positives to Sheppard’s pass defense. He is relatively fast so he can keep up with receivers and not allow for a lot of separation. His physical nature usually has him glued to his opponents and not allowing much room for them to make a play. Something I wanted to point in these next clips is his pass breakup ability. Sheppard uses his wingspan to his advantage as his ball skills are excellent. He is constantly reaching out his arm to break up passes. Since Sheppard was almost always in man coverage this is an important ability to have. These are the types of plays I expect him to make when he is charged with covering some of the best receivers this country has to offer.

Sheppard also has almost a signature move in his arsenal. He uses his physical skillset to push opponents out of bounds in midair if he has been beaten. This is a sly play that usually does not get called if the player catches the ball. It is a heads up play from Sheppard and is a unique way to play defense.

A final play I wanted to showcase was Sheppard’s sack on KJ Jefferson. It shows the tenacity that Sheppard plays with. He is not afraid to come off the edge on a corner blitz. His tackling skills are on full display here and I would love for defensive coordinator Brian Williams to dial up some DB blitz packages for Sheppard.

Overall, it’s easy to fall in love with Sheppard after watching his tape. He is everything I want in a cornerback. He is undeniably physical, a tremendous tackler, can play man-to-man coverage, and is not afraid to make tackles in the box. Now, there are the concerns with penalties and being too physical in coverage. It is a major concern for mine as he will be facing the like of Marvin Harrison, Emeka Egbuka, and Cornelius Johnson. Penalties can become very frustrating (especially with how Big Ten referees treat us) however, Sheppard is going to be laying massive hits to become a Terps fan favorite. Combining Sheppard with Beau Brade in the secondary could make this the most physical secondary the Terps have seen in a while and boy do I like the sound of that. Replacing to pro-caliber corners in Banks and Bennett is a tall task, but I think Sheppard has what it takes to fill the shoes in the secondary to become a great corner in the Big Ten.

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