Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker amassed 40 tackles, broke up 10 passes and hauled in two interceptions last season, leading the Bulldogs in the latter two categories. For his career, those totals jumped up to 116, 24 and seven, respectively.
Yet compared to the rest of sport, these were relatively low statistics and far from the typical numbers of an elite NFL prospect. It became a topic of conversation at the NFL Combine at the beginning of March.
But with two brief sentences, Baker set the record straight.
“That’s a good thing,” Baker said of his production. “There was a reason why teams didn’t throw my way.”
By several accounts, Baker was one of the best defensive players in college football last season, earning first-team All-America honors from several media outlets and winning the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation's top defensive back. He's considered to be a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, with some analysts believing he'll end up with the Redskins.
Baker, a three-star recruit, has sought to prove himself as an elite defensive back since his high school days in Miami and has always yearned to cover opponents' No. 1 wide receiver. Playing under Georgia coach Kirby Smart gave Baker that opportunity. The Bulldogs' scheme, like many NFL teams, is predicated on man coverage. Against some of the country's top wideouts, Baker thrived.
“They missed the boat big time,” Baker said. “Oh, it motivated because I knew I was one of the tops in the nation and didn’t have a chance to show it because I didn’t do all of the camps. But now, I’m here.”
As a freshman and sophomore with Georgia, Baker did not see much of the field. He played in nine games over his first two seasons before winning the starting job as a junior in 2017. Baker made his presence felt that season, becoming one of the team's defensive standouts and helping lead Georgia to the national championship. After seriously considering declaring for the draft, Baker elected to stay for his senior season to further prove himself.
“I want to face the best receiver every weekend," Baker said. "When I get up that’s the first thing on my mind, facing the best receiver. I want to show my talent. He wants to show his talent. It’s man on man, that’s what I like to do.”
According to Joe Marino of The Draft Network, Baker “improved every year in college, culminating with a dominant senior season. His blend of ball skills, press technique, route anticipation skills and awareness combined with modest fluidity and long speed make him best served to function as a press/zone corner. Baker is an extreme competitor which shows up in how he tackles, battles at the catch point and plays off contact. Given his limitations in off-man coverage, Baker is a scheme-specific prospect but represents top-end ability for a team in search of what he does well. Baker should be an impact starter in press/zone.”
Take a look at photos from Sunday March 4, 2019 at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine. Photos from NFL.
Baker believes he succeeds as a cornerback because of his physicality. He said he models his game after Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson and Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who are both known to be physical. Baker utilizes this strength when pressing and jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage.
“That’s just me being tough,” Baker said. “That just comes from my upbringing in Liberty City, Miami. That’s just how we are, we are bred. Just me not being scared and being fearless on the field.”
At the end of last season, Baker made the "hard" decision not to play in the Sugar Bowl to avoid the risk of injury. Knowing his NFL potential, it was a decision his coaches and teammates agreed with.
"They wanted me out there with them," Baker said. "But they understood I had bigger things."