INDIANAPOLIS – Growing up in Philadelphia, Nasir Adderley once took a trip with his Pop Warner football team to Canton, Ohio.
And there it was.
“I saw his bust and saw his jersey,” Adderley said at the NFL Scouting Combine, referring to his relative and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Herb Adderley. “It was very cool seeing my last name there as well.”
The younger Adderley is making no promises about his own Canton shrine someday, but he is on the verge of entering the NFL as one of the top prospects at defensive back in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Back in Pop Warner, Adderley hadn’t met the family’s Hall of Famer yet, but he was aware of him. His grandfather Nelson, a big influence in Adderley’s young life who played at Ohio State and in the Canadian Football League, was Herb’s first cousin.
Nelson introduced his grandson to football but died before Adderley reached high school. Then Adderley’s freshman year, he connected with Herb via phone, and the two have been close and in steady contact since.
Herb, the Packers’ first-round draft choice in 1961 who played cornerback on all five of Vince Lombardi’s title-winning teams that decade, made a point to maintain the relationship and support Nasir along his football journey.
“He sent me videos when I started talking to him, and I was watching Lombardi, all the great players he played with, his pick-six in the Super Bowl,” said Adderley, who eventually visited Herb’s house while on his official recruiting visit to the University of Delaware and saw all the championship rings, too.
“It was so great to see his playmaking ability, his physicality, and I saw some similarities in my game.”
A versatile defender who excelled at both cornerback and safety at Delaware, Adderley (6-0, 206) is being touted as a second-round pick who could slip into the first round in late April.
If that happens, he’ll become the first FCS player drafted in the first round since QB Carson Wentz from North Dakota State in 2016, and the first defensive player since Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie from Tennessee State in 2008.
The rise up draft boards stems in part from a strong week at the Senior Bowl, where the second-team FCS All-American proved he could go toe-to-toe with all the major college prospects.
His week in Mobile, Ala., looked even better when it leaked he was battling a high ankle sprain initially sustained midway through last season. The push through the injury to perform at the Senior Bowl set him back in his training for the combine, so Adderley is not doing any on-field drills this week in Indianapolis but will perform a full workout at his campus pro day later this month.
“The small-school thing has never been an issue for me, and I think a lot of these teams are seeing that as well,” Adderley said. “I’m confident in my ability.”
Taking the more difficult FCS route to the NFL was his own doing. Early on during high school he didn’t take his studies seriously, so Adderley wasn’t heavily pursued by FBS programs because it was assumed he wouldn’t qualify academically.
In time, he buckled down, and by his junior year he was making the honor roll. Eventually, schools like Wake Forest and Syracuse got back in the recruiting mix when it became certain he’d clear academically.
But by then, Adderley had visited Delaware, loved it, and felt it was the right fit. The school had produced its share of NFL players – QB Joe Flacco, defensive back Mike Adams, guard Gino Gradkowski and linebacker Paul Worrilow, to name a few – so at that point, Adderley wasn’t looking back.
“I put myself in a big hole,” he admitted. “It was looking like juco was probably going to be my route. I just had to grind. It was frustrating getting called out of class only to know that I’m coming back without an offer.
“It made me who I am today. That’s a lesson I needed to learn, and I’m grateful I learned it at an early age and was able to turn it around. I had enough time to make a change and get to a dream school as well.”
Primarily a safety in high school, Adderley switched to cornerback as a freshman at Delaware and credits his elder mentor for helping him through the switch.
Two years later, he flipped back to safety and intercepted nine passes over the 2017-18 seasons, putting him in the spot he is now. All the back and forth played off itself, in a sense, building a set of all-around skills that’s highly attractive.
“I never played corner before I got to Delaware. It was new for me, and (Herb) helped me out tremendously in terms of my alignments, what to look at, knowing where my help is,” Adderley said. “That transition was a lot smoother because of him.
“It’s a different perspective looking from the outside, as opposed to being at safety and seeing the whole picture of things. Because if you’re at right corner, you’re not going to see the splits of a tight end or other receiver on the back side. But once you see that whole picture, then film study becomes a whole lot easier.”
Where Adderley plays in the NFL will be up to the team that drafts him. Safety and nickel corner are the most likely spots, based on what Adderley’s heard from all the teams he’s interviewed with in Indy.
“They like my versatility,” he said. “These teams want guys they don’t have to take off the field. They want guys who are all three-down players.”
Adderley is actually a four-down player, having worked on various special-teams units at Delaware, extra duty he relished. He played gunner on the punt team and both covered and returned kicks, bringing one back 92 yards for a score last year.
Green Bay has an obvious need at safety and could certainly use help on special teams. While Adderley acknowledged it “would be a very cool story” to get drafted by the Packers, just like his cousin, Adderley’s hometown Eagles are a personal, emotional draw as well.
Has the Hall of Famer weighed in?
“One thing about him, he’s never tried … he wants it to be my story,” Adderley said. “He wants the best for me.
“I was just texting with him before I got out here, and he’s extremely excited for me. He’s so supportive, and it’s a blessing to have him in my corner.”