Hometown: Damascus, Md
High School: Damascus HS
A 4-star prospect who could've played either offense or defense, Phelps was recruited as a CB by the Hoos. He was ranked the #7 CB and #135 overall player in the nation by ESPN. Rivals ranked him the #19 S prospect in the nation and Scout ranked him the #37 WR in the nation. Phelps had over 20 scholarship offers, but chose his parents' alma mater. His father, Gary, played for the Hoos in the early 80s.
To put it plainly, a guy who is rated that highly by three different scouting services at three different positions is a versatile player. Most people, however, thought he would pair with classmate Demetrious Nicholson as top notch cover CBs who could completely shut down an oppositions' passing game. While Nicholson was a starter from day 1, Phelps took a while to come on. He saw action in every game during his true freshman season, but almost exclusively on special teams. He had 4 tackles that year.
During fall camp last year, Phelps was moved to S and won the job out of camp. He started every game, and finished with 48 tackles, 0.5 TFLs and 3 passes defended. Phelps, unfortunately, had a season that is better remembered for the plays he didn't make than for anything he did make.
Phelps was beaten by TCU on a long TD pass when he cut in front of the WR but couldn't make a play on the ball. As the last defender, Phelps can't let that happen. Phelps was also repeatedly victimized against the run. He isn't really a big guy, but was used as the SS in a lot of situations and was often stuck in one-on-one battles with bigger RBs. He often lost those battles.
As a former CB, his strength as a S is in coverage. The TCU play mentioned above was one memorable example, but he actually did some nice things in pass coverage. When asked to cover a TE or RB out of backfield, Phelps is more than capable. He's also capable of playing a deep zone, and has the range to be the deep man in a Cover-1 defense.
Phelps is a 4.4-4.5 guy, which is good speed for a 6-foot tall DB. He's added a good 10-15 pounds to his frame, which should make him more effective as an open field tackler. It'll also help him when engaged with a blocker.
One of the reasons for fans' frustrations with Phelps is that he seems to have a very long leash. He made a lot of mistakes last year, but nobody else really saw any action. When he left the Virginia Tech game with an injury, Rijo Walker stepped in and seemingly outplayed Phelps. But as soon as spring practice began, Phelps was back with the first team. One wonders what the staff sees in Phelps that the fans do not see.