Abdurrahman Ibn Ya-Sin, also known as ‘Rock’ Ya-Sin was given his nickname by his high school wrestling coach. The former two-time state wrestling champ didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school. While he was very talented in high school, recognized as a two-time county and all-region selection in Dekalb County for football and an Honor Roll member, the late start to his football career really cost him a lot of looks from big colleges. He went on to play ball at Presbyterian College for three seasons, but the school became a non-scholarship program, so one of his coaches at Presbyterian sent his tape to Coach Geoff Collins, who was the head coach at Temple, and he immediately offered Rock a scholarship. The Georgia native’s mental toughness, built through his wrestling background, would be tested because making the jump from FCS to FBS was going to be a challenge.
But Ya-Sin’s drive and competitiveness never wavered. He quickly earned the respect of his teammates and coaching staff. Eight months is all it took for him to earn the coveted single-digit jersey number handed out to the “nine toughest players on the team.”
Rock went on to have a really good senior season, racking up 13 pass deflections and two interceptions and only allowing 264 yards on 32 receptions, per SportsInfo Solutions. Ya-Sin was invited to the Reese’s Senior Bowl, and his competitive nature stood out, as he and alpha receiver Deebo Samuel were the highlight matchup every day during the 1-on-1 portion of practice.
That type of competitiveness, along with his wrestling background and non-traditional path to the NFL, likely put him on the map for the Buffalo Bills and Head Coach Sean McDermott. Ya-Sin continued his assault on the pre-draft process by putting up some great numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine, minus his three-cone drill time.
His 7.31-second three-cone time is well below the universally accepted 7-second threshold. A slow time in this drill generally indicates a corner’s inability to change direction. Ya-Sin’s time falls well above GM Brandon Beane, Assistant GM Joe Schoen and Director of Player Personnel Dan Morgan’s drafted or signed player pool average of 6.93 seconds. The worst three-cone time by a player signed or drafted by those three on record was Xavien Howard, a very good corner who was drafted in the second round by the Dolphins.
So when Ya-Sin’s pro day came on March 18, he stated he wanted to show “the fluidity in [his] hips.”
Well, it seems like the Bills wanted to get a closer look at him doing just that because when Ya-Sin lined up to start his drills, Bills defensive backs coach John Butler put him and his teammates through the workout.
Even though Ya-Sin doesn’t fit the Bills’ typical drafting tendency for corners because of his unusually high three-cone time, when you look at his film, he is a solid fit. Sure, you will see Ya-Sin struggle with change of direction from time to time, specifically in two scenarios. One is when he is in soft press man coverage. He is very reactive to the release, which he is absolutely is supposed to be. It’s just that being in soft press is not advantageous for a cornerback, especially one like Ya-Sin who excels when his hands are on the receiver. In this clip, you will see a few reps where the receiver attacks the short arm or 1-2 yards outside of the player. This gets Ya-Sin to open up or kick-step in the opposite direction the receiver is going to break.
The other situation where you will see his change of direction and feet go haywire is at the top of routes. Even though he has a great understanding of how to maintain leverage of the receivers within the coverage scheme, at times his athleticism can be attacked. On this snap, he is in off zone coverage and as the receiver gets to the top of the route, Ya-Sin is thinking that he is going to be running an out route because of the condensed split. The receiver sells it well, and as he is slightly breaking to the sideline, Rock opens up and prepares to flip his hips to break on the out route. Unfortunately, the receiver hooks the route up and Ya-Sin is caught in transition. At this point, he should plant off of his left foot and drive on the ball.
The former wrestler is not afraid of competition or of being on an island by himself in man coverage, and that mental toughness goes a long way as a corner. Corners are going to be attacked and give up plays from time to time, but they must keep their confidence. Like wrestlers, corners must be able to perform in high-pressure situations, and Ya-Sin has shown he can handle them, especially on critical downs. The offense is faced with a 3rd-and-6 situation and they target Ya-Sin. On the snap, he kick steps and opens his hips to the sideline because the WR declared an outside vertical release. He uses his hands to disrupt the route and maintain leverage. But as the receiver breaks inside, Ya-Sin quickly flips his hips to stay with the receiver. His reactive athleticism here is much better than prior clips because he is using his hands to help delay the break in the route while he opens his hips. The movement is fluid, and he stays on the up-field shoulder so he can work to the inside when the ball is delivered. It’s thrown to the back shoulder, but his body control and tracking are on point and he breaks the pass up.
In 2018, Ya-Sin was targeted seven times in the red zone and only allowed three receptions for 3.14 yards per attempt. Here he gets matched up against Buffalo’s Anthony Johnson in 1-on-1 coverage on 4th-and-3, and he comes up with an interception.
Later on, the Bulls go for a two-point conversion and he again shuts down the play and takes it the distance. Unfortunately, it was called back.
I really like how he attacks the ball. Even when he is not exactly in the receiver’s pocket, Ya-Sin knows how to separate the WR from the ball at the catch point. Below, you see him waste a couple of steps and realize that the receiver has some separation because of the throw and placement, but he stays in the match. He attacks the ball and punches it out with his left hand.
The mental approach wrestlers abide by, corners must also have. “There are no excuses,” states Ya-Sin, “you can’t blame it on anybody, win, lose or draw. It’s you versus another man.” His athleticism and mental approach are exactly why Temple left him in man coverage a lot. He was tasked with locking down the isolation wide receiver typically aligned on the backside of these 3×1 routes, and even though he had surrendered plays earlier in the game, Ya-Sin didn’t back down.
While he may struggle to consistently keep his hips down when backpedaling, it isn’t something that he will need to do a lot of. In the Bills’ scheme, the corners are either asked to execute a motor-mirror technique or bail technique. They aren’t asked to stay in their backpedal long — only until the receiver declares his release like you have seen him do in several clips. Defensive Backs Coach Butler and HC McDermott like to protect against the deep pass, so they use the “Saban shuffle” technique when they drop into their zone coverages.
Ya-Sin has shown that he can keep his hips down and shuffle almost as fast as a receiver can run.
This is something he did routinely in 2018 and even showcased it versus top tier competition at the Senior Bowl. His body control, zone eyes on the QB, and ability to compete at the catch point are some of the best in this class.
Ya-Sin was in man coverage 72.5 % of the time in 2018, per SIS, but I believe that his struggles with changing direction may scare heavy man coverage teams off. That’s why I think teams like the Bills will try to use him more in zone, then sprinkle in some man coverage.
Ya-Sin’s physicality, body control while in a bail-shuffle technique, ability to click and close on the ball, and separate a receiver from the ball will be highly regarded by the Bills. Add in the competitive and mental toughness exhibited, and you have a player that HC McDermott is likely to welcome with open arms.
His reactiveness to releases will cause him to surrender some passes in the quick game, but he will not back down or lose aggressiveness. Even some of those false steps and the grabbiness down the field that led to penalties can be cleaned up, in my opinion. His tackling was consistent, and he racked up 49 tackles because of it, but his tackling technique needs to be cleaned up.
Overall, I believe Rock Ya-Sin is a late second, early third round pick who will excel in schemes that put him near the line of scrimmage where he can use his hands to disrupt receivers or play bail coverage to shuffle and keep everything in front of him. Press zone schemes like Seattle, Atlanta, Jacksonville, and even Buffalo, to a degree, would be perfect for Ya-Sin. These teams could put him in press and have him in man coverage or put him into a bail technique, so if the quick game shows, he can drive on the ball without having to worry about a glitch in fluidity or change of direction. Once his technique is refined, he could be a steady starter in the league for many years to come.