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Old 04-09-2013   #7
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Default Re: Greg Cosell 2013 draft thread

Cosell’s Take: The safety switch, Part 2

In this context, the first safety I watched was Kenny Vaccaro of Texas. What initially stood out was how much he was utilized as a slot defender. He played significant snaps of man-to-man on wide receivers, including West Virginia’s Tavon Austin. Vaccaro was not the least bit overmatched versus Austin. There were many snaps in which he locked on, and stuck. He even ran down the seam with him. Vaccaro played man over the slot in every game I evaluated. Overall, he was very good at it.

Keep in mind that Vaccaro is 6’0”, 215 pounds. That’s very good size for the position. He was a smooth athlete with excellent movement skills. Not only did he display the ability to play man-to-man versus wide receivers, he also was utilized as a deep safety, both in single high coverage and 2 deep shells. In those situations, he was both fluid and active in coverage, and aggressive playing downhill in the run game. He always pressed to the ball, and demonstrated sideline-to-sideline range with outstanding play speed and a reckless attitude. He showed explosion as a tackler with natural pop. Overall, I saw Vaccaro as a multi-dimensional safety with an expansive skill set and no physical shortcomings that would limit defensive coordinators.

Then I put in the tape of Florida's Matt Elam. What a difference in body type! Unlike the long Vaccaro, Elam is short and very compact, less than 5-foot-10 and 208 pounds. But again, what immediately was apparent was he also aligned over the slot in Florida’s sub-packages, playing man-to-man just like Vaccaro. In the base defense, he played both single high and 2-deep. It was not hard to like Elam. He was active, aggressive and competitive. He covered, and he hit, with striking ability and force. He flashed explosive traits as an athletic and physical defender with multiple and interchangeable attributes to play effectively both in the box, and deep. The one concern, and it returns to what I discussed earlier, is man coverage versus tight ends. That’s where his lack of height comes into play. Elam is one of several players whose draft position I am anxious to see. Will teams see him as a Bob Sanders type player whose overall impact outweighs his potential coverage limitation? My guess is, yes.

With that in mind, my two favorite safeties to watch on film were Jonathan Cyprien of Florida International, and South Carolina’s DJ Swearinger. They likely won’t be the first two safeties drafted (although you never know), but that’s not my point. And by the way, they both will be NFL starters and quality players, maybe even as rookies.

Let’s start with Cyprien. The first thing I noticed when I plugged in the tape was his size and muscle definition. His dimensions are very similar to Vaccaro’s, but Cyprien just looks bigger and more defined. I said to myself, He’s a big dude. What really stood out was he played the game fast, with velocity, passion and tenacity. There’s no question there were times he was over-aggressive and reckless, although overall he played with an efficient mix of ferocity and control. Given his height – over six-foot – and his physique, he exhibited surprising (to me, anyway, since I had not seen him on television and knew little about his game before my tape study) athleticism, with excellent change of direction and closing speed.

Even as a deep defender, Cyprien showed a very smooth back pedal, with the ability to plant and drive with burst and speed. I must admit I did not expect that. And his range as a single high safety, with his size and stride length, was outstanding. He made an interception against Louisville that was as good as any I have seen this off-season breaking down college tape. He back pedaled as the single deep safety, at the same time reading quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater kept his head in the middle of the field, just as he was taught. Then he turned and delivered to the right sideline, about 20 yards down the field. Cyprien showed tremendous anticipation, range and speed to get to the boundary and make the interception. It was an extraordinary play.

I could see Cyprien becoming the best safety in this draft class three or four years down the road. If not, how about Swearinger? Forget about the 40 time. Those who focus on his timed speed miss the overall package. This kid played fast and decisively. There was a snap to his movement. He trusted his eyes, and he attacked aggressively. He showed excellent balance and body control breaking down to tackle in space. He competed with an edge. I loved his playing personality. He was clearly the tempo-setter for the South Carolina defense.

Here’s why I believe Swearinger transitions very well to the NFL. He played every position in the Gamecocks’ secondary. He has significant experience at safety, both deep and in the box, slot corner and outside corner. He played man-to-man against Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter both outside and in the slot, and he ran with Hunter. You know what really stood out when he played man, especially over the slot; he understood how to play to his safety help over the top. He undercut routes, taking away the throwing lane for the quarterback. That’s great awareness. I do not often see that with college defensive backs.

Swearinger’s position versatility fits the NFL game. You don’t have to project. It’s all there on tape. With the myriad responsibilities that safeties now must perform, and that coordinators need them to execute to game plan a fully dimensional defense, the adaptability of a player like Swearinger is critical in the constantly changing world of NFL offense.
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