Calvin Pryor, Louisville (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
The New York Jets have huge needs at the cornerback position, but with the 18th overall pick, they followed a wise notion and went instead with the best defensive back left on the board in the person of Louisville safety Calvin Pryor. Pryor is a perfect Rex Ryan defender -- mercilessly tough, unafraid to take risks, and technically proficient.
Strengths: Pryor has tremendous field speed, and he’s able to use it to great effect in all areas of his game. There are times when you simply wonder how he got from here to there so quickly. When he breaks out of coverage to run support, he flies to the ball and is a willing and violent tackler. Sifts through trash pretty well and doesn’t give up on plays — even if he misses the tackle the first time around, he’s a good bet to help pick it up later. Understands angles and leverage as a tackler. When he is asked to cover half-field, he does so with ease — his sideline-to-sideline speed is as good as anyone’s in this draft class at any position. Will move seamlessly from the line to linebacker depth to the back half, which allows him to keep his eyes on his assignments and avoid over-correcting. For such a fast player, Pryor doesn’t get fooled often.
In coverage, Pryor can mirror everything from short angle routes to comebacks to deep vertical concepts, and he has an excellent sense of when to break for the ball. Plays slot receivers very well because of his tenaciousness and agility, and he can break outside to cornerback positioning in a pinch. Has the vertical length and timing to stick with receivers bigger than him, even on jump balls. Sneaks in and breaks on routes as you would expect a better cornerback to do. Legitimate center-field defender on deep posts and other vertical concepts. Comes off the line like a scalded dog on blitzes and can bring a lot of pressure when put in that position. Gives full effort on every play — you just don’t see dropoffs on his tape.
Weaknesses: There are times when Pryor’s size works against him — he will get blocked out of plays, and as aggressive as he is, he may want to peel back a bit and understand that he’ll make even more plays if he avoids contact at times as opposed to putting himself in disadvantageous situations. And he’ll have to watch his physical style of tackling when he hits the NFL, because officials are conditioned to overreact at the best of times.
“I’m just going to be myself and stay aggressive and play like my hair is on fire.”
That’s what Pryor said at the scouting combine when asked how he’d go about things in the NFL, and it’s hard to imagine him doing anything else. He has few obvious flaws, and the little things that show up are eminently correctable. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of his play is that he strikes a perfect and rare balance between new-school coverage artist and old-school kamikaze. The Jets scored big with this pick.
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