Louisville' free safety Calvin Pryor certainly looks the part.
Although he came in a bit shorter than 6-foot-2, a size somehow he missed by three inches at the NFL Scouting Combine, his stature and strength are easily apparent on film. His comfort and perceived enjoyment of contact is what sets him apart from his competitors, namely Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
But is he worth the 15th pick in this draft?
If you told him "no," you wouldn't do it before you ran a route into his zone.
One of his biggest strengths, outside of strength, is his ability to make that zone extend to pretty much half the field. Pryor has excellent closing speed, and a desire to get to the ball.
On this play against Cincinnati, Pryor shows a deep half responsibility, and adjusts to a three-deep look after the slot receiver shifts into the backfield. It doesn't take long for Pryor to identify the guard and the center slipping down field to set up a screen pass.
Pryor fights his way back after a midrange drop and slips past the blocker before the pass his even caught, and makes the tackle-for-loss on the running back.
It's a great play by Pryor, showing his awareness, athleticism and open-field tackling ability - three keys to play free safety in Dick LeBeau's defense. Awareness and the ability to take proper angles are probably the two biggest traits. Those are things oftentimes established in film study, and reviewing Pryor's tape during the 2014 season, he always looked prepared. At the risk of being on-the-nose, he looked like a Steelers safety. He doesn't play with a lot of emotion but he oftentimes appeared to be playing at a more intense level than those around him. He stands out in that he has no qualms whatsoever about sacrificing his body for the sake of the play, and with it, his team.
In this play against Rutgers, Pryor is on the line in a run-supporting formation - something he was asked to do often in 2013. At the snap, he immediately penetrates the backfield, and the fullback has one job as the lead playside blocker - stop Pryor.
He fails. As the adage goes, the low man wins. Pryor immediately sees he's going to have to take on the fullback, giving up around 40 pounds in the process. Pryor sees the angle of the running back and immediately rushes to get inside and beneath the blocker, negating his size advantage. Pryor is basically on the ground when he makes a hit on the ball carrier, bringing him down for a loss. That kind of run support just isn't seen out of high-end safeties, and it's what stands Pryor apart as a player in this yaer's draft.
He comes with some downside, though. For his aggression, he can sometimes approach ball carriers a bit too out of control, and sacrifices leverage for speed - losing the war for the sake of the battle.
This play is a good example of that, and obviously one he wishes scouts didn't see. Pryor sees the play developing, and has the running back dead-to-rights after what would have been a nice but manageable gain. Pryor rushes to the spot of impact and gets sloppy from a technique standpoint. His shoulders aren't square, and the running back simply burns past him to the outside, causing Pryor to whiff on the tackle.
While Pryor caused three fumbles in 2013, mostly due to the savage nature of his hitting power, he had two interceptions and didn't really display great ballhawking characteristics. While those traits aren't commonly associated with Steelers free safeties over the last decade and change, they're nice traits to have in the 15th overall pick. They are also a part of the reason some may put Clinton-Dix ahead of Pryor in terms of predicting which safety will be first off the board in May.
He is still an outstanding run-supporting safety, and showed enough against the pass in terms of coverage to see why many are projecting him to be a first round pick. Don't be shocked if the Steelers drafted Pryor, but it seems more likely he'd be someone they'd take in a trade-down scenario into the 20s.
- Khalil Mack is the best defensive player available
- Terrence Brooks a rangy and athletic free safety
- Jordan Matthews is not a one trick pony
- Senior Bowl Day 2 recap
- Ra'Shede Hageman, explosively strong and quick
- C.J. Mosley smart and athletic, will be high pick
- Mike Evans locates ball well, limited route runner
- Dennard a good, not great, cornerback