Despite the fact that he had only started one game prior to his junior season, Minnifield looks poised to follow former UVA cornerbacks Chris Cook and Ras-I Dowling as an early NFL draft pick. Dowling played behind both early in his career, starting only one game despite seeing action in 24 after redshirting in 2007. During that time Minnifield posted a combined 54 tackles and four interceptions, while also serving as the team's primary kick returner (1,002 yards).
Expected to form a shutdown duo with Dowling last season, Minnifield instead emerged as a force of his own. As Dowling was limited for much of the year with injury, Minnifield began drawing opponents' top receiver. Starting all 12 games, Minnifield posted 48 tackles and showed a penchant for turning passes his way into interceptions, recording six -- good for second in the ACC and seventh in the country.
If he can follow up his breakout 2009 season with another strong campaign, Minnifield could prove one of the country's top cornerbacks and join his former teammates as top 40 picks.
Man Coverage: Well versed in press and off-man coverage. Generally gets an effective punch on the receiver at the line of scrimmage, staying square and riding him throughout the first few yards to throw off the timing with the quarterback. Resorts to a bail technique quickly, as he doesn't have elite top-end speed, making him susceptible to big plays over the top when he misses with his jam (USC). A bit high in his back pedal. Appears to have the loose hips to turn and change directions.
Zone Coverage: Alert defender for zone concepts. Understands the holes in the zone and keeps his head on a swivel. Is quick to jump from his responsibility towards the football once it is thrown, putting him in position to make plays. Strong, secure open field tackler.
Ball Skills: Competitive corner who times his leaps well in jump-ball situations. Long arms and good hand-eye coordination to slap away the ball just as it arrives. Possesses good hands for the interception, typically turning passes in which he has a reasonable chance at making a play into turnovers. Saw time as Virginia's punt returner. Possesses lateral agility to elude and quick acceleration when on the return, though his straight-line speed is questionable.
Run Support: Quality run-support cornerback whose physicality and instincts might cause some teams to view him as a potential safety convert. Quickly reads run, slipping past receivers and attacking the line of scrimmage. Not afraid to mix it up with the big boys at the point of attack. Good effort laterally and in pursuit downfield.
Tackling: One of his better traits. Breaks down well when in the open field against elusive athletes. Closes on the ball-carrier in a hurry, making a clean, sure tackle. Technically sound tackler who lowers his shoulder into the ball-carrier with good hit-lift-drive form.
Intangibles: Good bloodlines. Father is a former Pro Bowl cornerback Frank Minnifield, who played for the Cleveland Browns from 1984-1992. Versatile player who played a variety of roles at Henry Clay HS. Served as a wide receiver, running back, cornerback, quarterback, kickoff returner, kicker, and punter."
Is a naturally balanced corner who exhibits the ability to sit into his drop, stay compact with his footwork and cleanly click and close out of his breaks. He exhibits a natural burst when attacking throws under him, doesn't waste much motion out of his breaks and keeps his base down well throughout.
Is also very fluid when asked to turn and run, exhibiting the ability to smoothly open up his hips, locate the football and show "plus" ball skills in all areas of the game.
He has a tendency to get a bit upright on his transition taking away from his initial burst, however, he possesses good closing speed vertically and looks like a legit 4.4 guy who takes good angles to the throw and can make plays down the field.
Feels his cushion well in off man, is patient in his drop, trusts his own footwork and is quickly able to flip and run, running with receivers vertically and tracking the ball well.
Improved his overall technique vs. press man as the year went on. I still want to see him get a bit stronger and be a bit more patient off the line, as he has a tendency to open up the gate prematurely and give up initial leverage.
However, he improved on his punch and does a better job staying low off the line and not getting overextended into contact, which was a problem with him earlier in the year last season.
He exhibits a good feel in zone coverage, displays a natural feel reading routes develop around him, clicks and closes cleanly out of his breaks and exhibits the burst and length to get his hands on a lot of footballs. Is a willing tackler who isn't afraid to attack downhill and stick his face into a ball carrier.
He takes decent angles and generates a little explosion because of his burst., but he isn't real physical into contact. He gets a bit high into contact, more of a drag down guy only, and despite doing a solid job wrapping up, he isn't a real jarring hitter.
Will struggle to fend off blocks on the edge vs. physical receivers and just needs to continue to get naturally strong through his lower half.
Impression: A talented corner who can bend, re-direct, maintain balance out of his breaks and make plays on the football. However, had a tough go as a senior giving up a lot of plays and having a tough time maintaining balance when trying to locate the ball vs. bigger receivers. A potential starter only."
Shows timing, anticipation and coordination to get his hands on a lot of throws and is a good leaper with the ability to highpoint interceptions.
Inconsistent combatant at the line, rises in his pedal and struggles with burners (average closing burst and recovery speed) but has NFL bloodlines, is passionate about the game and works at his craft."
Minnifield's strength is in zone coverage where he can use his quickness and body control to make a play on the ball. For a corner who is only listed at 185 pounds, he plays with a lot of grit and power. To rise up draft boards, though, Minnifield will need to get better in man situations. His jam is suspect and he can be beaten over the top.
Bold Prediction: Minnifield will be the best zone coverage cornerback among seniors in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Games Viewed: (all 2010) USC, Florida State, North Carolina, Miami
• One of Minnifield's best assets is his body control and ability to adjust and make a play on the ball.
• Excels in zone situations where he can use his instincts and quickness. Shows a good amount of range when playing off his man.
• Will need to work to get better at man coverage.
• May not have the best quick-twitch movements and gets beaten on comeback routes by receivers who can plant and move quickly.
• Deep speed may be suspect. If Minnifield can't win at the line of scrimmage in man, he can be beaten over the top by fast receivers.
• Is a solid, willing tackler, though he doesn't have the most strength.
• Plays with a lot of hustle against the run. Takes good routes to the ball and has a lot of heart to make plays.
• Has been used at Virginia's punt return man."
Instinctive cover corner with good balance + body control; also has outstanding ball skills and picked off 6 passes last fall despite being slowed by an anle injury the final month of the season; better in zone than man coverage;
Has sub-4.5 speed, but isn’t all that quick and doesn’t find the ball that well running away from the pocket; not very big, but will come and support the run defense; son of former Pro Bowl CB Frank Minnifield of Cleveland."
Does a nice job in press coverage... Great ball skills... Good hands... Good instincts... Does not miss assignments... At his best in zone coverage... Reads and reacts well... Has really emerged as a prospect this season...
Had three interceptions in his first three games... A threat on interception returns... Very good in run support... Fills the lane... Very good at getting off blocks... Nice wrap up tackler... Hard hitter... Will not miss open field tackles...
Solid punt return skills... Good work ethic... Solid leadership skills... Hard worker... Studies a lot of film and knows his opponent well each week.
Negatives: High backpedal... Needs to improve his transitions out of breaks... Lacks a second gear... Can be a little slow changing direction... Would not hurt to add a little bulk to his frame...
Could be having a big year with Dowling playing on the opposite side and having more opportunities... Lacks experience... Junior year is his first as a starter... Tore his ACL playing basketball as a senior in high school"
Through nine games this season, Minnifield has 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and two interceptions. He no longer returns kicks and punts simply because he is too valuable an asset for the Cavalier defense.
Minnifield has good size for his position, standing at 6'0'' and 185 pounds. He generally runs in the 4.4s in the 40-yard dash and has been clocked as fast as 4.38 from that distance.
The Lexington, KY native also has a great vertical leap, so he can play even bigger than his size suggests.
Minnifield has a superb nose for the ball and is a big hitter, however he can sometimes get sloppy with his fundamentals and miss tackles. He works well in zone coverage but it remains to be seen if he can be a man-to-man shutdown corner at the next level."