No. 128: DJ Swearinger, No. 36, South Carolina, Safety
In the South Carolina backfield for 2011, DJ Swearinger was "the other guy" who was making plays. He wasn't the first-round draft pick, Stephon Gilmore, who was a lockdown corner. He wasn't the freakish talent at the Spur position that is DeVonte Holloman.
No, Swearinger was just the Gamecock safety who finished second on the team in tackles and found a way to be around the ball all the time.
The kid is a heck of a football player. His biggest strength is in his ability to read plays and react accordingly. He has a nose for sniffing out ball-carriers; hence the 80 tackles in 2011. As the strong safety, he's comfortable getting down into the box, reading run and then attacking the football.
He's a phenomenal tackler. He wraps up and gets the ball-carrier on the ground every chance that he gets and, in today's football, that's not always the case—especially from defensive backs.
In watching him play, there may not be a better, true in-the-box safety in the nation. His teammate Holloman is a better talent, better athlete, TJ McDonald at USC has more range and is a better physical specimen, but Swearinger is the best buzz-down safety in the country.
He covers the flats well, is a solid fit to man on tight ends and he has the speed to get to running backs out of the backfield.
The reason a lot of folks don't know a lot about Swearinger is he is not the rangy, ball-hawking safety that people have fallen in love with. For this rising senior, the area he needs to improve is his defense in the back end. Doing a better job of reading quarterbacks and then letting their shoulders take him to the football in a hurry when he is operating in the hole or the deep half of the field.
He is hampered a bit by how frequently he slides down to the box and his aggressive mentality, but adding this facet to his game would truly make him one of the nation's best all-around safeties.
Swearinger's game is going to improve. With the loss of Stephon Gilmore, the Gamecocks will be playing without one of the nation's best cornerbacks and that means the safety job just got a little bit more difficult. Linebackers Antonio Allen and Rodney Paulk are also gone, so expect Swearinger's role to pick up in many different ways.
He'll have to be more active in the passing game; breaking up passes and getting his hands on more footballs. In the run game, expect him to remain active in the box. He is a stud, a football player's football player at the safety position.
He'll be a leader on this Gamecocks team, pushing for the team lead in tackles and, with a good season, he has a chance to be an All-SEC candidate.