I've been watching video on draft prospects since the season ended and had thus-far only jotted down notes about each. I decided to go back and re-watch them for the second, sometimes third time, and put the notes down into paragraph form. Nick and Trevor, as well as others, do a great job with the draft coverage, so this is just another opinion added to the mix!
Justin Gilbert is a polarizing draft prospect. If you've read enough, chances are you've seen both glowing reports as well as scathing criticisms. There's little doubt that he's got athleticism, posting an official 4.37 second 40yd dash time to go along with a 126" broad jump at the combine, but he's far from a finished product.
I've watched eight games from 2013, twice in fact, and they could really all be the same game. You don't see much difference in Gilbert from game-to-game. He is what he is, or rather, he was what he was. I say it that way because I think he can change, for the better. Most of his issues are with poor technique, as is often the case with college players, most often because they're so athletic, often more so than anyone else on the field. This means they aren't always coached-up as well as they could be because, well, they don't need perfect technique to win. I suspect this is partially the case with Gilbert, or that he just knew he could get away with being sloppy.
He's fast, game-fast, not just track-fast. When he turns and runs down the field, nobody is beating him in a foot race. He's also got a burst to the ball when he sees he has a shot at the play, usually on overthrows or when he's read the play ahead of time. Once he has the ball in his hands, either on an INT or in the return game, he's fast up the field with it, too.
Gilbert is relatively fluid in the hips and generally has an OK pedal, although choppy at times. He looks like he could play press-man quite well if he got more instruction on hand usage and footwork at the next level. He played mostly off coverage (over 77% of the time according to Rotoworld) where he could either read the play or simply use his speed to run down the field.
When he knows the ball is coming, he's adept at tracking it and coming up with the catch. His closing speed and experience in the return game seem to benefit him here.
First and foremost is Gilbert's footwork. It needs major work. He looks choppy, especially in his transition from pedal (or often times, shuffle) to turn, and equally so when asked to plant and drive. Drastic change of direction doesn't seem to be his strength at this point, such as going from running down the field to stopping and coming back toward the ball. He posted a very average time in the 3-cone drill, as well.
He likes to flip his hips and run way too early at times, too, probably because he's realized his technique is such that he needs the extra time. He will in-turn give up a fair amount of short breaking routes laterally or back toward the QB as a result. He also has a tendency to guess on the route a bit, opening his hips up one way, then struggling to recover if he guesses wrong.
He'll need work tackling, too. Now, before you say "49ers corners have to tackle", yes, they do, but you can teach someone to tackle. You can't teach them to be 6'0" 200lbs., have long 33 1/8" arms and run 4.3 speed. Of course he'll tackle should he come to San Francisco, but it will take some coaching.
His technique needs a serious overhaul, but he's gotten away with it for so long and has made many highlight-reel plays on tape...so most people may not notice it's poor. Ed Donatell is the DB whisperer as Jim Harbaugh is to QBs, though. Gilbert has coveted measurables and shows flashes when he puts it all together on a given play. His help in the return game would be welcome, too.
The tape says he may have a rough rookie year, but has potential to be pretty good. I'm souring on the idea of taking him in the mid-first round, though someone probably will. If he falls to 30, I'm OK with it, but not jumping up and down. In the 2nd I think you're starting to talk about a real value with what he brings to the table, though there's likely a fat chance of that happening.