The last few months have been a thrilling ride for Antonio Phillips.
The former Ball State cornerback earned an All-MAC selection to cap off his senior year and then led his Cardinals to an triumphant upset over undefeated Buffalo for their first MAC championship in 24 years. Two weeks later, Phillips rode off into the sunset with a piece of history, steering Ball State’s defense to a 34-13 Arizona Bowl victory over unbeaten San Jose State — Ball State’s first bowl win in program history.
In both of those critical games pitted against ranked opponents, Phillips utilized his playmaking ability to come up with a turnover. He perfectly read Nick Starkel’s eyes in the first quarter of the Arizona Bowl to take an interception 53 yards the other way and hand Ball State an early 7-0 lead. Fueled by Phillips drawing first blood, the Cardinals’ secondary would finish with four picks on the day to blanket the nation’s 19th ranked passing attack.
Ball State draws first blood in the #ArizonaBowl!— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) December 31, 2020
Antonio Phillips reads the eyes of Nick Starkel and takes the pass all the way for a pick-six!
Extra point no good, but it's still a 6-0 lead early. pic.twitter.com/ebzw8vlK1o
While nearly every starter from the 2020 MAC champions is running it back in Muncie, Phillips has his sights set on greatness at the next level. He declared for the draft on January 2 with eyes fixated on becoming the first Ball State defensive back selected since Justin Beriault in 2005. Phillips already has an NFL connection in his bloodline as the former Ball State Cardinal is the cousin of current Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Markus Golden.
When looking at Phillips’ skill set, no play defines him better than his fourth quarter MAC Championship Game interception. On a deep ball which fell right into the pocket of Buffalo wide receiver Antonio Nunn, Phillips’ eyes remained focused the entire time and he aggressively snatched the ball at the perfect moment. His vision and physicality when defending are his two greatest attributes that will play into his favor on draft weekend.
Phillips finished his four years at Ball State — three at the top of the depth chart — with 137 tackles, eight interceptions, 18 pass deflections, and two All-MAC appearances.
The 5’11”, 193 pound corner was one of eight MAC player to land an NFL Combine invite. However, his workout was delayed due to undergoing a microdiscectomy (which is surgery on a patient with a herniated lumbar disc to remove pain). Still, Phillips overcame the minor and setback and scheduled his own personal pro day, sending a YouTube video displaying his defensive back skills, speed, agility, and flexibility to all 32 NFL teams last week.
Scouts have praised a multitude of qualities in his game including his long arms, technique in zone coverage, and ability to crash inside and make an impact to stop the run game. Areas for improvement include learning to play at a faster speed and change directions on a dime at a quicker rate. Save for his senior season, Phillips’ availability in college was often hampered by injuries which may have affected these aspects of his game.
Ball St CB Antonio Phillips has the size, length, and physicality to play outside in the NFL. Like most physical corners, he will get penalities - but the aggression and confidence is shows to create the PBU here are needed for the position. #SnapScout21 pic.twitter.com/h3H0RsXyVC— Chad Reuter (@chad_reuter) November 30, 2020
The cornerback remains an applaudable pickup for teams looking to boost their zone coverage with a physical ballhawk. He’s mastered defending the boundary, but it is possible that he initiates his NFL career as a nickel or dime cornerback in addition to a likely role on special teams. Guided by his spectacular vision, the Ball State product should hear his name called on day three of the draft, ranging from rounds 5-7. Then, Phillips will put the icing on a spectacular 5-month run which featured a conference championship, bowl victory, and All-MAC selection.