USA TODAY Sports
The Steelers have two safeties who are over 30 years old with no replacement on the roster. Both Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu missed at least one game in the 2012 season. The Steelers could look to the 2013 Draft for a eventual replacement. John Cyprien could be that guy. While some have pegged him as an in the box safety I don't think that is accurate to his play.
Prior to Senior Bowl week, Florida International University's John Cyprien's story was that he was just another player from a small school trying to prove he had what it takes to play at the professional level. This was despite the fact he totaled 93 tackles, a forced fumble; five passes defensed and had four interceptions in 2012. With two of the top senior safeties deciding not to partake in the Senior Bowl Cyprien seized his opportunity. Showing drive and a physicality not common in collegiate defensive backs Cyprien was voted as the best safety during the week of practices by scouts in attendance. However, John Cyprien still has to fight off the labels of a "small school prospect" and "in the box safety" while trying to prove he may be the best safety in this draft class.
At 6-foot 209 pounds John Cyprien looks the part of an NFL safety. On film he stands out among the less talented rosters common for smaller schools. Cyprien has decent speed for a safety but impressive footwork in his drops. To increase his playing speed Cyprien is able to read the QB's eyes incredibly well and has good instincts. Cyprien is no stranger to man coverage; he was often asked to cover receivers in the slot in redzone situation and looked good doing so. What sets Cyprien apart from a lot of his peers is his physicality. He is not afraid to make a tackle in the box or punish a receiver over the middle. He is also a very good tackler for a defensive back. The following play highlights John Cyprien's ability in the run game.
In this play Cyprien recognized the play as a run, and reacts quickly. He found the gap in the blocking and hits the running back in the hole at full speed. He wraps up and is able to make the tackle for little gain. This is one of many examples of Cyprien's ability in the run game. He was moved around a lot at FIU and was used in the box more than anywhere else because of this.
Reading and reacting is just as important as physical speed for most safeties. John Cyprien excels at this. He understands his keys and plays off of them. When he sees the play he will plant his foot and accelerate towards ball carrier or intended target. Below is only one example of this.
This play shows Cyprien's ability to read the QB eyes and react to the play in front of him as well as his physicality. In the play you can see the quarterbacks head turn to the running back in the flat and he starts his throwing motion. Cyprien sees this as well plants his foot and accelerates at full speed towards the target. When he meets the target he understands he lays on the hit. His aim is low and he wraps up to prevent the ball carrier from breaking the tackle. The result is a physical hit that drops the offense for a loss.
With so little deep coverage snap scouts are hesitant to believe Cyprien can play out of the box. While he may not possess elite speed Cyprien has the ability to read routes, break on routes and play the football in the air. The following highlights this ability.
In this play we see Cyprien ability to cover. Once he sees the QB about to release the ball he breaks on the route from the right hash. Getting to the receiver quickly he is able to play the ball and land with both feet in bounds to get the interception. This play not only flashes Cyprien's recognition but confirms he is fast enough in coverage and has good enough ball skills to be effective in coverage as a professional. Cyprien had four interceptions this season but on tape he was move impressive seemingly always on top of the receiver in an instant. This leads me to believe Cyprien has the skills needed to cover in the NFL.
The biggest weakness in Cyrpien's game seems to be his lack of elite level speed. On tape he looks fast enough to play deep coverage in the NFL. Cyprien is still trying to fight the "small school" label as well. The thing that is probably hurting Cyprien's stock the most is his lack of film showing him in deep coverage. FIU played him in the box to help out the run because of his physicality. This led people to question his coverage ability since they haven't seen it on display. Despite being a good tackler for a DB he could improve in this area as there are times he will lunge at the ball carrier instead of breaking down. Cyprien will also need to work on his pad level when hitting a receiver. He was flagged a few times for the dreaded helmet to helmet penalty that seems to follow any physical player.
Overall the FIU safety John Cyprien helped his stock at the Senior Bowl against better competition. He showed scouts he had the ability and the drive it takes to be successful at the next level. Right now Cyprien is seen by many as the third best safety in the draft class. If he can answer the questions about his speed at the combine by running a sub 4.5 forty yard dash don't be surprise to hear Cyprien being described as the best safety in the draft. On the other side of that his stock could fall if he doesn't look fast enough in drills at the combine. Despite what happens at the Combine, John Cyprien's tape tells the story of a player who can start at the next level and make an impact as a strong safety.