Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor, and Jimmie Ward are generally regarded as the three best safety prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft class, but opinions vary on where to rank those three prospects. Clinton-Dix has been viewed as the top safety prospect for quite some time, but there are some who believe that he isn’t worth a first-round pick. Interestingly enough, one of those three safety prospects is usually touted, whereas the others aren’t viewed as first-round options. There are also varying opinions on where they fit best in the NFL. For example, some people view Clinton-Dix as someone who can play at either FS or SS, whereas others don’t think he’s good enough in coverage to play at free safety, and there is also plenty of debate regarding where Pryor will play in the NFL.
I decided to break down some of his tape on Draft Breakdown, which is the best do-it-yourself scouting site on the planet. Heck, I think it’s the only one of its kind, and that’s what makes it truly revolutionary.
Pryor is obviously a very aggressive player, and he does an excellent job of reading rushing plays. During the game against the Miami Hurricanes, there were a couple of times where Pryor saw the play develop and quickly diagnosed the run before making the tackle, and there are times when he showcases the run-stopping prowess that teammate and LB Preston Brown does. That’s incredibly impressive at the safety position, and there isn’t a better safety in run support. While a safety’s most important job in the league today is to cover, Pryor deserves plenty of bonus points for his work stopping the run.
Early on in the game against the Connecticut Huskies, Pryor had a downright vicious tackle for a minimum gain in which he quickly got to the ball-carrier on the left sideline before delivering a vicious hit. You can watch the play as it develops below, again, courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com.
Pryor doesn’t get any bonus points for recognizing the play or anything since there were a crowd of Louisville players swarming towards the rusher, but he deserves plenty of praise for the hit. He displayed excellent technique on that play, and it takes a great deal of speed and downhill run-stopping ability to make that kind of a high-powered tackle. The official called Pryor for an unnecessary roughness penalty, but that doesn’t affect his evaluation on that play.
Not long after the penalty, Pryor forced a fumble after lining up as the single-high safety on a run up the middle. The ball-carrier was about to notch a first down, but Pryor lowered his shoulder and the impact of the play helped lead to the ball spilling out of the rusher’s hands. That’s yet another example of the kind of game-changing hits that Pryor is capable of making, and his game is reminiscent of Donte Whitner’s in that way.
Throughout the UConn game, Pryor displays an almost innate ability to track the rusher in the backfield as he moves laterally before accelerating downhill with an uncanny amount of burst. Most safeties are praised for their instincts in coverage- praise that Ward is familiar with- but Pryor displays terrific instincts in run support.
Not everything Pryor does in run defense is perfect, though, and his aggressiveness does sometimes lead to a lack of discipline, and this isn’t a new knock against him. He would do well to cut down on some of his missed tackles, but the most frustrating mistakes he makes in run support occur when he commits too much to the play by overrunning a lane. Pryor overpursues at times, which leaves him vulnerable when he is wrong about the direction of the run, and it can cause him to take himself out of plays, thus clearing out space that he previously occupied on defense. It’s a fixable mistake that plenty of other young safeties make, but it’s one criticism I have of Pryor’s game; there are times when he needs to be more patient and wait for the back to make his cut. But in general, this isn’t a frequent issue with Pryor, but rather a lapse in concentration and a concern for him to address that will make him an even better prospect.
Below is an example of him shooting through the wrong gap, as he overcommits to defending the B-gap, helping to give Storm Johnson a vast swath of space to work with on the right side. Had Pryor simply stayed back and read the play instead of shooting the gap upon the snap, he wouldn’t have been pushed inside by the UCF right tackle, thus weakening the downfield pursuit on the right side of the Louisville defense and presenting Johnson with an easy opportunity to use his top-notch talent and gash the opposition.