Cornerback. Wide receiver. Kick returner. Punt returner.
Darius Phillips played just about everywhere in his four years at Western Michigan. And the playmaker earned a selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, becoming the 170th overall pick to the Cincinnati Bengals. The fifth-round pick is the second Western Michigan player drafted this season, one day after Chukwuma Okorafor was claimed by the Steelers in the third round on Friday night.
Despite being listed as a cornerback, Phillips scored a total of 14 touchdowns during his tenure in Kalamazoo. As an electric return man, he carried five kick returns into the end zone and brought back one punt for six as well. He finished with five career interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, including three in his masterful 2016 season. Phillips also finished with one fumble recovery touchdown and two receiving touchdowns during his freshman season, when he played wide receiver.
His 12 career non-offensive touchdowns are an NCAA record.
In 2016, Phillips led Western Michigan to a MAC championship, a New Year’s Six Bowl, and finished first in all of college football with 263 yards off of his four interceptions. He was an All-MAC selection all four years as a Bronco, landing a spot on the First Team defense in his junior and senior seasons. The quick-footed return man was recognized as the conference’s Special Teams Player of the Year in both 2016 and 2017, notably launching his senior season with a kick return touchdown in Western Michigan’s near-upset against USC.
In his combined three seasons as a cornerback, Phillips recorded 127 tackles and two sacks. Tackling is the portion of his game which requires the most improvement at the pro level, but his quickness and his ability to read quarterbacks is unquestioned. He has a knack for blanketing receivers to deflect and intercept passes and once he gets the ball, he’s as dangerous as anyone.
The Bengals currently line up Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson III as their starting cornerbacks, but Phillips could potentially see playing time in nickel or dime packages in his rookie season. It’s also likely the Bengals utilize him where he made the biggest name for himself in college — as a return man. Phillips’ combine 40-yard dash speed checks in at 4.54 seconds and is more than capable of fielding kicks and punts at the professional level in about four months.
Follow Phillips’ pro journey at Cincy Jungle, SB Nation’s home for all Cincinnati Bengals coverage.