Every year it seems that a few quality cornerbacks slip through the draft cracks, even at a position at which so many NFL teams are desperate to find help. A candidate to be on that list is Villanova CB Malik Reaves, who was a second-team all-CAA defender who likely would have received more attention had more opponents thrown his way.
Reaves had only four interceptions in his career, but two came last season in which he ranked fourth on the team in tackles despite missing two contests. He was a big part of a Wildcats defense that allowed a mere 16.1 points per game and nearly pulled a massive upset of Temple. The 6-foot, 200-pound Reaves also started the majority of his games over four seasons and is regarded as a rugged tackler and feisty cover man.
PFW caught up with Reaves for a few minutes to talk about his draft preparation. Although he was invited to the East-West Shrine Game (and played a lot there — see below), Reaves couldn’t parlay that into a Senior Bowl or NFL combine invitations. Reaves talked about growing up a Jacksonville Jaguars fan, seeing "fake' Philadelphia Eagles fans coming out after winning the Super Bowl, his physical style of play and wanting to visit Bora Bora one day.
PFW: You were born and raised in Jacksonville. What made you go to school near Philly?
Reaves: Overall, my parents were big on education. I wanted to go somewhere where I could get a good education and still compete in football at a high level. I took a visit there and it was just a perfect fit for me. I had five visits, but I took only that one. I committed and stuck with it.
PFW: Villanova didn’t produce a single NFL draft pick from Howie Long in 1981 to Brian Westbrook in 2002. But the school had two draft picks last year, including a second-rounder in Tanoh Kpassagnon. How has the program been able to raise its visibility and how much do you think that helps your chances of being drafted?
Reaves: Well, first of all, this school — football and otherwise — has helped me mature. I admit I was a little immature when I arrived. I didn’t want to make mistakes, and that helped me mature as a man. I developed social skills here. Football-wise, I learned what a brotherhood was. I learned how great coaches help you. They worked hard, and we did too. We learned how to be leaders for sure. If you’re not vocal, then just lead by example. Always be accountable to your brothers. That’s the biggest thing this program has done for me.
PFW: Not just Kpassagnon and Villanova, but FCS players seem to be getting a lot more love and opportunities these days. Carson Wentz, Jimmy Garoppolo, David Johnson — the list goes on. Do you think there’s less of a stigma against the players at the lower level now?
Reaves: I mean, the SEC schools are always going to be at the top. The FBS players get seen first, get seen the most. But at the same time, I think scouts are seeing that if you can play, you can play … no matter where you played your college ball. They’ll find you. These coaches and scouts are smart; they know how to go out and find somebody. It keeps building up for FCS players. Every time an FCS player makes an impact, it keeps adding up. At our level, at least what I could tell [at Villanova], we were not doing it to be flashy or show off. You know you have to go out and grind and work hard to get where you want to get. You’re not on TV every weekend, so you have to put in the time to get noticed, But they’ll see you when you’ve proven yourself enough.
PFW: I know you’re training down in Florida now, but were you in Philadelphia for the Super Bowl or the celebration afterward?
Reaves: No, I missed it, but I saw it on TV. I was there this past Saturday though, and people were still hyped about it. Still wearing their championship gear all over. I mean, a lot of fake Philly fans came out of nowhere. A lot of them. [laughs]
PFW: You had better be careful there. They might not have your back anymore.
Reaves: Oh, definitely. And they deserved it. A lot of suffering there for a long time. Hey, I am a Jaguars fan. We haven’t even had anyone in the Hall of Fame yet. We have a different type of suffering.
PFW: How tense was it watching that AFC championship game?
Reaves: I thought we were going to win it! I was talking to a Pats fan, and he asked me, ‘Were you scared watching the game?’ I said, ‘I was excited watching the game.’ People see the Jaguars are the real deal now. I don’t know if we’ll get the credit, but oh well. It was just Tom Brady doing his thing.
PFW: As a Jags fan playing the position, you must spend a lot of time watching Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye.
Reaves: When I watch Jalen Ramsey play … he’s just a ballplayer. He can talk trash, and he doesn’t just talk trash, he goes out there and he backs it up. To me, he’s as good as there is. [Minnesota Vikings corner] Xavier Rhodes is my absolute favorite. But Ramsey is next and Bouye is probably top five in the league in my mind. His coverage skills are crazy. I might like Ramsey more, but I probably watch more of Bouye. He’s so nice with his footwork and he can still read the routes and get his hands on a guy. I used to love studying him before games. I get little tips from him, just how to use your feet and play the ball. But I love both. And I don’t think Aaron Colvin gets enough love. He’s a baller.
PFW: You’re a fan of Rhodes and Ramsey, and it seems like you want to play that physical brand of football yourself. Is that fair to say?
Reaves: When I watch them, I see a lot of hard tackling, a lot of press-man coverage, a lot of contact — good contact. When I watch those two, it’s easier to translate what they do in terms of what my game is. But Ramsey is such a physical freak. Only a few guys can do what he does.
PFW: If you could ask a scout to watch one game tape that you think was your best over your career, which game would it be?
Reaves: I would probably go with University of Maine [in 2017]. My motor was extra hot that game. It’s always hot, but that game it was even more. I was just seeing things so well that game. I ended up getting two turnovers. They were on our 2-yard line in a strange formation, and I saw the quarterback tap his center, so I knew it was a run. So I took it in my head to blitz the C-gap and just reached in and tapped the ball out. My teammate [Jaquan Amos] took it like 103 yards [actually 99] for a touchdown. We were in cover-2 most of that drive and the next series we were in it again. I had seen what they were doing. There were two choices — [one was] a quick out — and I just jumped [the] No. 2 [option]. I saw No. 1 dance, so I knew where it was going. Everything was just clicking that game. I could see things happening before they did. No disrespect to [the Maine coaches], I just knew it.
PFW: You were invited to the East-West Shrine Game. How do you think you performed there?
Reaves: Through the week of practice, I feel I showed people who I was … that I can play the game at any level. I feel like I made some good plays out there. I think I played well and had a great week of practice. I earned a lot of reps because two of our corners went down. So I played a huge amount of reps.
PFW: Were you disappointed that you were not able to parlay that into a Senior Bowl or NFL combine invite?
Reaves: I try not to sit there and say, ‘Oh, I wish this happened,’ or ‘I wish I could have done this and that.’ But it gives you more of a fire. It makes you want to give between 105 percent to 200 percent [effort] and show what they’re missing out on. I want people to see what they might miss out on.
PFW: OK, here are a few fun quick-hitters … as a Jaguars fan, can you say that the color teal is cool now?
Reaves: Yeah, when I was young, I played Pop Warner and we were the Jacksonville Jaguars. I wore teal from age 6 to like 11. We were white and teal. I love those colors. I still have some of those old jerseys, too.
PFW: I hope you don’t still fit into them.
Reaves: No, I definitely don’t.
PFW: Favorite sport other than football? Either to watch or play.
Reaves: I don’t know if kickball is considered a sport.
PFW: We will accept that answer.
Reaves: OK, then kickball, and I love dodgeball, too. As far as sports I understand the best, I probably would go with basketball. I am a Lebron [James] fan. I love watching him perform. He makes me watch a lot of basketball than [I otherwise would]. I watch baseball sometimes. My teammates are big soccer fans, so I am getting more into that. Tennis is all right, too. When I was on a summer field trip as a kid, I beat a few guys in tennis who [went on to be] professionals. I am not even a golf fan, though.
PFW: If you can make a Pro Bowl one day, they play dodgeball there, you know.
Reaves: I am going to be the last one standing.
PFW: What is your dream automobile? Money is no object.
Reaves: If I could just go up and get a car and not think twice about it? I’d probably get a [Mercedes-Benz] G-Wagen and make it matte black. I’ll put some all-black rims on there, all-black tint. With white interior.
PFW: Best class you took at Villanova.
Reaves: I was a sociology major, so I didn’t take communications classes or anything like that. But I would probably say my public speaking class. I hated for the longest time to talk in front of people. Or maybe my acting class. We would get in front of people and perform. We had to make scripts for ourselves. You had to have it memorized. You had to make yourself someone else. It allowed me to talk in front of people without being jittery and moving my feet and hands while I did it. I am not nervous in front of people now.
PFW: Where do you most want to visit one day before you die?
Reaves: Definitely Bora Bora. I just love the way that water looks. I look at pictures of it all the time on the Internet. Most people might say Dubai, but I am a Bora Bora person. I just want to be somewhere with my shirt off all day.
Sign up for our free draft newsletter and receive exclusive stories like this one in your inbox every weekday morning.