Zack Sanchez, CB, Oklahoma Sooners
Year: Redshirt Junior
Hometown: Fort Worth, TX
Experience: 3 Year Starter
40yd dash: 4.48 (unofficial, from Pro Day)
Broad jump: 116 inches
Vertical: 35.5 inches
20yd. Shuttle: NA
Bench Press: 19 reps
Zack Sanchez came to Norman in the summer of 2012 as a 3-star cornerback recruit. Despite his track record of production in high school (9 interceptions his senior year), he redshirted in 2012. He won the starting job next to Aaron Colvin in 2013 and never looked back. He had an up and down year that season, being the most inexperienced player in the secondary. The next season, the roles were reversed, as Colvin left for the NFL and Sanchez took his spot as the #1 corner, mentoring freshman cornerback Jordan Thomas. In 2015, the secondary took a step forward on the strength of the plays made by Sanchez and the consistent blanket coverage provided by a now battle-tested Thomas.
Sanchez’s 2015, while his best statistically speaking (7 interceptions, 7 passes defensed, 45 total tackles in 11 games), was by no means a season without its low points. He started the season well against lower quality non-conference opponents, but gave up over 80 yards in two consecutive games vs Tulsa and West Virginia. He then put together several more very good games before injuring his ankle on the first play of the game (a pass breakup) against Texas Tech. He missed the following two games, returning in time for OU’s conference game vs. Baylor. His ankle clearly still bothering him, he gave up a touchdown and was bailed out on another play by a drop in the end zone, although he did record an interception. In the next week against TCU, he played 59 minutes of incredibly good football, giving up only 4 catches for 24 yards on 7 targets with 2 interceptions. He gave up a goal line touchdown in the last minute of the game that could have allowed TCU to tie the game, but was bailed out by the defense’s stand on the 2 point conversion attempt. The following week against Oklahoma State, Sanchez looked like a completely different player, giving up 204 yards and 2 touchdowns on 9 catches to the Cowboy receivers. He somewhat redeemed himself in the bowl game against Clemson, making a key interception in the end zone to end Clemson’s chances of scoring right before halftime.
Sanchez has polarized OU fans for the three years he’s started for the Sooners. Some love him for the splash plays he makes, while others hate the big plays he gives up as well as his early-career struggles with tackling. Sanchez does some things very well and other things very poorly. Overall, he has held up to the high pressure of being a starting corner in the offense-driven Big-12. His perception as a playmaker is accurate, but to label him as a shutdown corner would be far from the truth. The highly aggressive nature of his game is the reason for both the interceptions he makes and the touchdowns he gives up.
Injury Report: (known injuries, games missed)
Missed nearly three full games in 2015 with a high ankle sprain suffered on the first play of the game against Texas Tech. Tried to come back a week too soon and was slightly hobbled against Baylor. Was back to full health in the following game against TCU.
What Sanchez lacks in size, he makes up for in straight line speed. Although he was timed at 4.48 in the 40 at his Pro Day, he plays faster than that, with the kind of speed required to hang with top-level college receivers. However, this speed does not always translate to his play. First, when backpedaling, he is often slow to break on shorter routes, although once he is headed downhill, his closing speed is better than average. Secondly, when flipping his hips from his backpedal to run down the field with a receiver, the transition is less smooth than ideal, which can slow him down enough to let the receiver run by him. Third, his agility and lateral movement skills are good but not great, meaning good route-runners can give him trouble. Where his speed is most apparent and best utilized is when he plays tight coverage and can simply turn and run with receivers down the field, or when breaking on underneath routes in zone coverage.
Man Coverage: 3.5/5
Despite his lack of size, Sanchez performs best when playing tight man coverage. His top-end speed and great acceleration and recovery speed allow him to play tight with less fear of getting beat deep, and getting his hands on receivers allows him to stick tightly to them without worrying about more complex footwork in off-coverage. However, problems start to arise when Sanchez plays off-man coverage. He is extremely susceptible to double moves, especially sluggo routes, and will often leave wide receivers streaking open down the sideline after biting on the fake.
Zone Coverage: 3.5/5
Sanchez has some of the same issues in zone coverage as he does in off-man coverage. When playing a deep zone such as Quarters or Cover-3, he is still at risk of giving up deep completions from double moves, although in theory he has the speed and ball skills to be an effective Cover-3 outside cornerback. When playing underneath zones such as the flats in Cover-2, he can be as aggressive as he wants without running too much risk of giving up a big play. However, he will occasionally overreact to the quarterback’s eyes and abandon his zone to jump a route in a different zone, with mixed results.
Against the Run: 2.5/5
No player in recent Oklahoma football history has been more maligned for their tackling ability than Zack Sanchez. Ironically, he has actually performed respectably against the run in his 2nd and 3rd seasons, taking on blocks well and setting the edge on screen passes. He has also occasionally been used as a blitzer from the short side of the field on early downs, occasionally making tackles in the backfield. While it would be a stretch to call him a good tackler, he is not nearly the run game liability that some claim. His size is not a limitation in his run defense, as he is very strong for his frame.
Impact Play Ability: 4.8/5
Sanchez has 15 interceptions, 3 of which he returned for touchdowns, in 36 career games. His gambler’s mentality leads to frequent big plays when jumping underneath routes, and his impressive ball skills allow him to track deep balls and win jump-ball situations better than many wide receivers. He has plays where he looks like he’s reading the receiver’s mind and knows exactly where he wants to go, and will make a quarterback pay for making a decision a split second too slowly.
Sanchez plays with an obvious lack of discipline. For whatever reason, he continued to jump short routes aggressively with total disregard for the possibility of a double move, perhaps because he trusted his athleticism and recovery speed to bail him out. There were several plays throughout the season where he looked like it was his first game ever playing cornerback.
Sanchez possesses physical tools that, if coached well and put in the right scheme, could lead to him being an effective third corner at the NFL level. He is not close to being mentally ready to play in year 1, but this could be a blessing in disguise as it will give him time to gain a few pounds in an NFL weight room. He is better in press coverage than in off coverage, and his aggressiveness will both lead to interceptions and touchdowns. Despite his flaws, there will be plenty of teams who will value his deep speed and ball skills enough to make him a mid-round pick.
If drafted by the Packers:
Sanchez does not necessarily fit the mold of bigger cornerbacks that Ted Thompson prefers. However, if Sanchez were to be selected by the Packers, he would have the opportunity to sit for a year behind Shields, Randall and Rollins, and without Hayward on the roster, Sanchez would provide young depth with upside at a relatively low cost. Packers CB coach Joe Whitt is one of the best position coaches in the league, and getting a year’s worth of practice reps without the pressure of playing immediately may be the best thing for Sanchez. If Whitt could turn Sam Shields from a raw receiver convert to the top-15 corner he is today, Sanchez could have a similar career trajectory, although his path to playing time is not very clear unless he can learn to play in the slot in dime packages.
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