Welcome to the 11th article in the “Focus in” series. Today we’re taking a look at former Kentucky cornerback Brandin Echols. We’ve already touched on a number of players and you can read those by clicking the names below. As always I hope you enjoy and if there is a prospect you’d really like covered, then drop their name in the comments below.
I wasn’t overly familiar with Brandin Echols when his name was called, with the 200th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Kentucky product was off to the Big Apple. So I’ve gone back and looked at a lot of Kentucky games to try and get a handle on the type of skills he’ll be bringing to the Jets. Lets just all the way back first.
Born in Memphis Tennessee, Echols would end up attending Southaven High School in Southaven Mississippi. As well as playing football, Echols also lettered in basketball and track. On the football field he played a myriad of roles, appearing as a running back, wide receiver, defensive back and returner. During his senior season, he rushed for 906 yards, had 406 receiving yards and 12 total offensive touchdowns. He also had one INT as a defensive back and four touchdowns as a returner.
With that kind of resume in his senior season, it wasn’t surprising to hear that more than one FBS school were interested. However, due to his grades, he didn’t receive an offer so he enrolled at Northwest Mississippi Community College. Head Coach Benjy Parker loved the grit when watching Echols in high school:
“The first time I saw Brandin was in high school and he was playing quarterback and they’d snap it to him and let him run,” Parker said of his first impression of Echols. “He kinda got gimped up with an ankle the night I watched and he’d get right back up and kept battling, kept battling and kept battling so I saw first hand he was a really good athlete.”
Echols attended Northwest Mississippi with the intention to play as a receiver but after a spate of injuries, he was asked to move to the defensive side of the football and his defensive backs coach Jonathan Webster said that “he didn’t love” that idea.
“At first, when I switched, I did not think I’d accomplish anything because I played receiver all my life. When they moved me to defensive back, I had very low confidence because I did not know what I was doing out there” said Echols
The Northwest Mississippi coaching staff needed Echols to buy in as it quickly became apparent that he had a natural feel for the position. Having played wide receiver for so long he knew how to read their moves and his instincts separated him from the pack:
“After about a day or so of coaching him in my mind, I was like, Dang, this kid has some juice,” Webster said. “If he were to buy into this thing, he could legitimately have a future.”
The decision to move to the defensive side of the ball paid off. Echols had 3 interceptions and 5 pass breakups in his first year to go with 34 tackles. In 2018 he went one better recording 6 interceptions, 12 pass breakups and 49 tackles, including 3 for a loss.
“He was hands down the best corner in our league,” Webster said of Echols’ two years at Northwest. “I’ve been fortunate enough to coach some good ones. I’ve had several that have gone on and played Division I football. I’ve had one that’s gotten drafted that came out of here but from a skill set, Brandin athletically was as talented or more talented than any corner I can think of that’s been through this league in a long time.”
After two years in community college, he was ready to make the step up and he received considerable interest from FBS schools across the country. Oregon State, Minnesota, Houston, Memphis and Ole Miss all extended offers, however it was Kentucky that landed Echols, and it was in large part due to their unwavering commitment to Brandin:
“When Kentucky first started recruiting me, they always stayed in contact with me. Others would offer and then stop communicating. Not Kentucky. They were always on me. Playing in the SEC was always my dream when I was watching football in eighth or ninth grade. So this is really a dream come true for me.”
When Echols landed in Lexington for spring ball in 2019, the expectations were sky high. Not only was he being asked to make a step up from JUCO to SEC football, but he needed to contribute straight away. He had two years of eligibility left and a lot to prove to NFL teams who were thinking of taking him.
Kentucky in 2019 were led by Mark Stoops who was in his 7th year with the team, but the defense was under Brad White who had been promoted to the position by Stoops. The WIldcats had lost a lot of talent from the 2018 defense, so the 2019 unit was young, energetic but inexperienced. Despite this they didn’t allow 30 points to any opponent all season, they ranked 13th in scoring defense and 21st in total defense.
Echols made an instant impact, appearing in 13 games. He didn’t come down with an interception in 2019 but he did make 54 tackles (2.5 for a loss), have 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles and 9 passes defended. For his first year in SEC football and only 3rd year playing cornerback, that’s a good statistically year.
Heading into the 2020 season, PFF rated Echols as the best returning WIldcat defender saying:
“The Wildcat is one of the 10 best press-man corners in college football, where he’s allowed just eight catches on his 23 targets for 99 yards. He’s a sticky corner and is difficult to beat in contested situations. On those plays, he’s allowed just six catches while forcing 12 incompletions.”
The Wildcats defense was nothing short of exceptional in 2020. UK’s defense ranked in the top six of almost every defensive statistical category, including leading the league in pass defense (224.6) and turnovers forced (22). Echols gained his first interception but recorded just 2 pass defenses as teams starting to avoid him, In 24 games for Kentucky, he allowed just 4 touchdowns into his coverage and posted elite workout numbers at the Wildcats pro-day including a 4.35 forty yard dash.
After graduating in December 2020 with a degree in community and leadership development, Echols will be hoping to make a statement with the Jets. He’s fast and physical and will instantly prove valuable for Brant Boyer and his special teams unit, but he also has the potential to develop into a very good cornerback, probably at nickel. He reads the play well in zone and plays physical when in man, and his speed and burst make him a dangerous Blitzer off the edge.
After being drafted by the Jets, he was asked to describe the strengths of his game:
“The strength of my game is my physicality, my speed, my football IQ, my jump, I’m going to start utilizing my jumping ability a little more”
I’m excited to see what Echols becomes.