There was nothing prototypical about Kam Chancellor when he entered the NFL out of Virginia Tech in 2010, but now, after three productive seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, he's become a prototype of his own.
From 2006 to 2009 with the Hokies, Chancellor recorded 207 tackles and snagged six interceptions as a strong safety in Frank Beamer's defense.
He measured in at 6'3'' and 231 pounds at the 2010 Scouting Combine and did 22 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press and ran a slow 4.69 in the 40-yard dash—you know—the over-hyped drill that skyrockets and plummets draft stocks on an annual basis in Indianapolis.
Later, at his Pro Day—when numbers are almost always mysteriously better than combine figures—Chancellor ran a 4.59 and 4.60 in the 40, which essentially confirmed the thoughts of many evaluators that he simply wouldn't be fast enough to thrive as a safety in the NFL.
Although the tape showed a unique play-maker who thumped against the run and certainly wasn't a liability in coverage, teams were afraid to use an early selection on him.
After all, it is human nature to be tentative when introduced to the unconventional that could set the bar for the new norm or could self-destruct.
Maybe the "oversized" safety would be better off adding some pounds and playing outside linebacker. Or would shedding weight in hopes of increasing his speed morph him into a contributor at strong safety?
No one was quite sure.
In the 2010 draft, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll bypassed USC's premier safety specimen Taylor Mays—comparable in size but faster than Chancellor—with the No. 14 overall pick to take exceptionally rangy free safety Earl Thomas.
Although it'd be a while, that somewhat shocking decision ultimately set the table for Chancellor to be grabbed by Seattle.
The fifth round is about the time in which most NFL organizations are willing to take some risk with prospects, and that's when Chancellor was picked, No. 133 overall, immediately following the St. Louis Rams selection of Illinois tight end Michael Hoomanawanui.
After seeing extremely limited action as a rookie, here's how Chancellor has fared with the Seahawks:
|Overall Grade||Pass-Rushing Grade||Run-Stopping Grade||Pass-Coverage Grade|
|2011||+14.1 (5)||+1.5 (8)||+4.3 (12)||+11.7 (2)|
|2012||+6.2 (17)||-1.1 (46)||+2.2 (20)||+5.4 (12)|
|2013||+6.1 (12)||-0.5 (26)||+3.8 (7)||+4.5 (13)|
Pro Football Focus
During the 2013-2014 playoffs, he was PFF's highest-rated safety at +12.6 and received the highest coverage grade at +8.6.
In the Super Bowl, he was credited with 10 total tackles, two pass breakups and reeled in the first Peyton Manning interception.
His first quarter hit on Demaryius Thomas on a two-yard drag route set the physical tone for the rest of the game—it was a vintage Chancellor read-and-react thud.
Bleacher Report Lead Writer Matt Bowen, a former NFL safety, explained the dynamics of the play and highlighted Chancellor as the "robber" in Seattle's Cover 1:
Chancellor has emerged from being dubbed as a "too-slow" safety and became one of the truly special players at his position because of how he's been used in Seattle.
Of late, the Seahawks have done a tremendous job placing their players in situations that highlight their strengths. The coaching staff hasn't been particularly stubborn with anyone, tailoring the scheme to individuals' specialties rather than living by the age-old theory of fitting individuals into an entrenched scheme.
Seattle's defense faced 474 rushing attempts in 2011, and Chancellor was on the field for 398 of them (83.9 percent) per PFF.
Of those 398 run-play snaps, he started 144 of them within eight yards of the line of scrimmage, for a not particularly high 36.2 percent. However, he made 18 solo tackles and two assists on those run plays "in the box" and didn't miss a tackle.
After Chancellor demonstrated that run-plugging acumen, which shouldn't have surprised anyone, he became more involved in the Seahawks' run-stopping efforts.
In 2012, he was on the field for 333 of the 368 run plays his defense faced (90.4 percent), per PFF. He played within eight yards of the line of scrimmage on 181 of the 333 rushes, which equated to a percentage of 54.4, one of the highest in the NFL for the safety position.
Chancellor missed only three tackles while taking down the ball carrier 25 times when he lined up "in the box."
This past year, he was on the field for 383 of the 422 running plays the Seattle defense saw (90.7 percent) and, at the snap, Chancellor was within eight yards of the line of scrimmage on 265 of those plays which was a robust percentage of 69.2.
But the Seahawks haven't necessarily been forced to "hide" him in coverage. In fact, his size and speed combination match up exquisitely with the influx of hyper-athletic tight ends that have become one of the league's hottest trends.
Since 2010, only eight tight ends ran the 40 yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine timed faster than Chancellor's 4.59 although an abundance measured in taller than 6'3'' and more than 231 pounds.
He possesses outside linebacker height, length and bulk as well as safety speed, cover instincts and experience—a deadly blend that helps him match up and run with seam-splitting tight ends.
Essentially, Chancellor's "tweener" attributes, which were likely the main reasons he wasn't picked until Round 5, have elevated him to being widely regarded as the premier hybrid strong safety.
Here's a look at how the Seahawks' defense has played against some of the NFL's elite safeties since Chancellor's arrival as a full-time starter in 2011:
|Vernon Davis, 49ers||2011, Week 1||5||47||0|
|Tony Gonzalez, Falcons||2011, Week 4||7||56||1|
|Jason Witten, Cowboys||2011, Week 9||4||71||1|
|Vernon Davis, 49ers||2011, Week 16||4||54||0|
|Jason Witten, Cowboys||2012, Week 2||4||48||0|
|Jermichael Finley, Packers||2012, Week 3||4||60||0|
|Rob Gronkowski, Patriots||2012, Week 6||6||60||0|
|Vernon Davis, 49ers||2012, Week 7||0||0||0|
|Vernon Davis, 49ers||2012, Week 16||1||27||0|
|Tony Gonzalez, Falcons||2012 Divisional Round||6||51||1|
|Vernon Davis, 49ers||2013, Week 2||3||20||0|
|Tony Gonzalez, Falcons||2013, Week 10||3||29||0|
|Jimmy Graham Saints||2013, Week 13||3||42||1|
|Vernon Davis, 49ers||2013, Week 14||2||21||1|
|Jimmy Graham, Saints||2013 Divisional Round||1||8||0|
|Vernon Davis, 49ers||2013 NFC Title Game||2||16||0|
|Julius Thomas, Broncos||Super Bowl XLVIII||4||27||0|
Pro Football Reference
Now, those stymying efforts can't be credited to Chancellor alone. Football's the ultimate team sport and many teammates took turns covering the game's finest tight ends.
But it should come as no surprise that Seattle's stingy performances against opposing tight ends have coincided with the ultimate tight end stopper on the field.
From traditional passing formations on "passing downs," the Seahawks have allowed Chancellor to lock onto huge targets down the seam in man coverage and roam in short zones to locate and attack crossing routes.
Because of his 6'3'', 231-pound frame, he's been the ideal eighth man in the box to halt the run next to linebackers K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner, Malcolm Smith and, in the past, Leroy Hill.
Due to his exceptional versatility, Chancellor doesn't need to be substituted out of the game in any situation. In 2013, Earl Thomas was the only Seattle defender who played more snaps.
(Playing with a center fielder like Thomas undoubtedly helps Chancellor and gives him more freedom.)
In a league that's obsessed with passing, the utilization of ultra-athletic tight ends and springy running backs, he's found a home.
Kam Chancellor will inspire future "tweeners," as he has gone from overlooked fifth-rounder to the NFL's preeminent do-it-all hybrid safety/linebacker.