MOBILE, Ala. – There’s a question about Nasir Adderley that wouldn’t escape him at the Senior Bowl this week, and it wasn’t just how he established himself as one of the NFL draft’s top defensive backs despite a lower level of college competition, or whether he’ll play safety or cornerback in the NFL.
The question was about his last name. And the answer is, yes, Adderley is related to Herb Adderley, the Hall of Fame defensive back. He is Nasir’s grandfather’s cousin.
That name is significant in the NFL. And it’s significant in Philadelphia, where before Herb Adderley starred for the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys, he played for Northeast High. Nasir Adderley grew up in Mount Airy before moving to Chester County to attend Great Valley High School. He turned into a top NFL prospect at Delaware. With three months to go before the NFL draft, the 6-foot, 195-pound Adderley is a potential first-round pick and determined to add to the way the Adderley name is viewed in Philadelphia.
“I want both of us to hold a legacy,” Nasir said. “That family, they take care of their business – they do the right thing on the field and off the field.”
"It means a lot to me for him to keep the name going, especially as a defensive back and the historic career I had in the NFL, after so many years for the name to come up again, because nobody else named Adderley has played in the NFL,” Herb said by phone Friday night.
Nasir’s first football influence, though, wasn’t Herb – it was Herb’s cousin, Nelson, who is Nasir’s grandfather and an accomplished player in his own right. Nelson played at Ohio State and in the CFL. Nelson helped raise Nasir, who grew up in a single-parent household. Nasir’s mother, Ria, is a retail-store manager who sometimes needed help getting her son to football practice. Nelson would take him, stay for practice, and work with his grandson afterward.
The first time Herb saw film of Nasir was during Nasir’s high school career, when he played wide receiver. It looked familiar.
“I thought it was myself because he resembled so many of the things I did when I was in high school playing offense,” Herb said. "I saw his instincts and his natural athletic ability, and I say, ‘all he has to do is learn the basic fundamentals of the game,’ which I can help him with.”
Herb maintained a relationship with Nasir, and it grew after Nelson’s June 2008 death.
"I would be just as proud if he was my son,” Herb said.
Ria said Herb wouldn’t overstep, but he would also help with advice and guidance. Herb said “there’s no one in the world who can help him out more than me" because of their family connection. (It helps to be a Hall of Famer, though.) At that time, it wasn’t about the NFL. The goal was to go to college. But as Nasir progressed -- and especially when he moved to defense in college -- Herb realized how good Nasir could become. The two remain in constant communication, even speaking on Monday night before Adderley’s first Senior Bowl practice. The message was to make the most of the opportunity and that he belongs in this stage.
“It’s all about him; I try to stay in the background as much as possible because it’s about him,” Herb said. “I had my time. It’s his time. … I always tell him, ‘Whenever you get a chance and you’re alone by yourself, give yourself a pat on the back.’ I said, ‘you did it.’ Everything I suggested him to do, he did it and did more. He’s where he is now not because mainly of me, but mainly because of himself having the ability and the IQ to do it.”
Although Saturday’s all-star game gives him a chance to compete against major-college competition, Nasir didn’t need to be in Mobile to appear on the radar of NFL teams. NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout with the Eagles, ranked Adderley as his 27th overall prospect in April’s draft and predicted that he would go in the first round.
“He’s an extremely talented guy – two years at corner at Delaware, two years at safety – excellent feet, excellent hips, you see the corner skill in his play,” said an NFL personnel executive who has scouted Nasir throughout the year. “That’s kind of where the league is going – safeties that can play like corners. You’ve seen how the passing game has developed the last few years. You have to have guys, not just your corners who can move like that, but all your guys who can move like that. Highly productive on the ball. … Kid’s a high-level competitor and a great kid.”
Nasir’s versatility is an asset. The Eagles search for safeties who have cornerback backgrounds, and with the proliferation of defensive substitution packages, teams seek defensive backs who can play in different spots. Nasir can help at safety, slot cornerback, and outside cornerback. He wouldn’t need to come off the field and can adjust depending on the opponent’s formation – an attribute that will only raise his stock.
“There are very few guys that can play both corners, strong or free safety, or cover a slot receiver,” Herb said. “Nasir can do all of that."
Herb can offer a monologue about how to play the position, with discussion about backpedaling, reading the wide receiver, knowing where the help on defense is, and how to play the ball. “Everything I told him, I did,” said Herb, who didn’t move to defensive back until he reached the NFL.
Nasir showed off his ball skills this week, but that’s been a constant throughout his college career. He had four interceptions for the Blue Hens last season and 11 since 2016. One of those interceptions was a one-handed, Odell Beckham Jr.-like catch that made ESPN’s Top 10 highlights. Herb, who had 48 career interceptions in the NFL, always told Nasir to “treat the ball as if it’s mine.” Nasir said he’s made a routine of working on his hands.
His football prowess started when he played Pop Warner for the Enon Eagles. At the time, he was one of the smallest players on the field. But when Ria worried, other parents told her that “he’s fast and tough; that’s all you’ve got to worry about it.” Nasir’s growth spurt came in his junior year, when he started to excel for Great Valley. However, poor grades early in high school kept major programs from offering scholarships.
“It really just woke me up,” he said.
Nasir determined to improve his grades during his senior year, when he made honor roll.
“He realized it on his own, and to me that’s more powerful,” Ria said.
He was born exactly on his due date – May 31 – and Ria said he’s “been on point ever since.” By Nasir’s senior year, Ria realized the potential he possessed. High-major programs started calling again. Wake Forest offered him a scholarship. Syracuse wanted him to visit. But he had already committed to Delaware, and that’s where he planned on going.
Nasir studied health behavior science at Delaware, and he has interest in becoming a trainer after football. His predraft workouts include a practicum at EXOS, which has a renowned sports-performance training department where top prospects prepare leading up to the combine.
But he doesn’t need to focus on an alternative plan yet; he appears poised for an NFL career. If Nasir goes in the first round, it would be the fourth consecutive year a Philadelphia-area native went on the draft’s first night. Eli Apple (Eastern Regional), Will Fuller (Roman Catholic), Haason Reddick (Haddon Heights), Mike McGlinchey (Penn Charter), and D.J. Moore (Imhotep) have all gone in the first round since 2016.
Nasir takes pride in his connection to the Philadelphia football community – “If you look at any Philadelphia football player …we’re going to have that grit,” he said – and he was excited to reminisce about joining his friends on Broad Street for the Super Bowl parade, and admiring Brian Dawkins and the Eagles secondary when he was a kid.
He also knows what his last name means in Philadelphia football. Nasir wants to be next.