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Film Room: What Does Nick Cross Bring to the Colts?

The Colts made an uncharacteristic move last Friday, trading a 2023 third round pick and a 2022 5th round pick to move up for Maryland safety Nick Cross. What does Cross bring to the Colts?
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The Indianapolis Colts made a surprising trade up on day two of the 2022 NFL Draft. General Manager Chris Ballard, known more for his trade downs, opted to send a 2023 third round pick (and a 2022 fifth round pick) for the 96th selection in the draft.

The Colts went on to select Maryland safety Nick Cross with that pick. The use of a future pick to secure the young safety speaks volumes as to how high the team viewed Cross in this class. This wasn't a move to just add a quality depth player, this was a trade to add their future starting safety.

Cross, 20, was one of the youngest players in this past draft class. Despite declaring as a true junior, Cross saw plenty of playing time in his shortened college career. He appeared in 29 games for the Terrapins, starting in 21.

For his career, Cross finished with 134 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks, five interceptions, 10 pass deflections, and three forced fumbles. He earned Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors in each of his final two seasons for his efforts.

In today's film room, I dive into the play of this talented safety and discuss why he is a perfect long term fit in Gus Bradley's defense.

Size/Testing Numbers

Height: 6'0"

Weight: 212 pounds

Arm Length: 31 1/2 inches

Testing Numbers: 40 Time: 4.40 seconds /Bench Press: 21 reps / Vertical Jump: 37 inches / Broad Jump: 130 inches / Short-Shuttle: 4.21 seconds / Three-Cone: 6.85 seconds

Coverage Ability

Nick Cross is a special athlete that has the versatility to play as a single-high safety or as a traditional strong safety around the line of scrimmage. While many may point to his range over the top as a gigantic selling point, I was fairly impressed with his ability in man coverage/in shorter zone assignments.

Cross has some issues with his vision and overall ID'ing on the backend, but he excels when he can plainly see his assignment in space. He has the size and tenacity to match with tight ends in man, and he has the speed and quickness to match with smaller receivers.

This play is a good example of what he brings in coverage. He recognizes his man (the fullback) shoot up the sideline on the wheel route. He calmly closes space in a hurry, stays physical throughout the route, and forces the incompletion on the sideline.

While his range in the open field is impressive, he is a much smoother mover when he is given simpler reads to make. This play below is an excellent example of what I mean by that.

Cross drifts back in a two-high look after the snap, meaning he only has to stay over the top on the short side of the field. This limits the scope of what he has to read on the play, which gives him more confidence to break on what he is seeing. He sees the tight end break outside on the corner route, and he effortlessly closes ground to make the pass breakup.

Cross has loads of potential as a single-high safety, but he will need time to get comfortable with making reads back there. The best role for him early on may be as more of a strong safety/nickel hybrid in the snaps he will play this season.

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Movement Ability

Just to reiterate what I mentioned above, Cross is a special athlete. It is rare to see a player of his build close space like he does. The flashes on film of his lateral ability and his ability to move over the top are truly remarkable.

This next clip isn't anything special, but I wanted to use it to show how agile Cross is in his transitions. The outside cornerback is passing off his receiver to Cross on this play, so he has to be ready to move with whichever route the receiver breaks off to run.

Cross confidently stays light on his feet and transitions smoothly downhill when the receiver begins to break inside. Again, this isn't a flashy clip or anything, it just illustrates how clean his movement ability is for a 212 pound safety.

Now if we want to talk about special plays, well we have those too. Cross mostly lined up as Maryland's deep safety, and he showed some elite flashes of range and ball skills over the top.

His best career moment, arguably, came against Penn State. This should have been a big completion for the Penn State offense, but Cross makes an incredibly rangy play to snag this interception. This play right here showcases what he could be in the NFL.

Tackling/Ability in the Box

Cross will be wrongly pegged as a free safety purely for his athleticism, but I would like to push back on that a little bit. While his best long term fit could be as a deep center fielder, he has the ability to be a good strong safety out of the gate.

Cross is a well-built player that is not afraid to fly downhill and hit. He is a good form tackler that excels at shedding blocks in the open field. This clip below showcases both of those attributes quite well.

Cross can contribute to this team right away with his ability to play the strong safety/box safety position. Should he beat out three-year vet Khari Willis? Maybe not, but he should at least have a chance to compete for snaps this offseason.

Just imagine having a player with his movement skills in the box with this defense. We could see so many creative blitz calls with his speed, like this one against Michigan shown below.

The Bottom Line

Nick Cross is a freaky athlete that could very well be the Colts' free safety of the future with his range and fluidity. In year one, however, I think his best fit would be as more of a rotational box safety in this defense.

Cross is a well-built player that is versatile enough to play all over a defensive backfield. In Gus Bradley's scheme, this is what a strong safety needs to be. Last year Johnathan Abram logged 566 snaps in the box, 269 snaps at slot corner/corner, and 119 snaps at deep safety in Bradley's defense. This is a role that Cross can excel at early while still developing his overall instincts and play recognition ability.

I'm not advocating for him to replace Khari Willis in the starting lineup, but I do think he should get a shot this offseason to see what he can do there. Cross is a valuable part of this team's future, but I also think he can be a factor in year one for this team.

Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachHicks2.

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