Fear. Pain. Intensity.
The New York Jets made Louisville safety Calvin Pryor their first-round pick for a number of tangible reasons, but the intangible ones are just as important to head coach Rex Ryan. Pryor's aggressive style of play and his skill set both play directly into Ryan's core beliefs on football and on what makes a player a fit with the Jets.
Ryan believes Pryor is the kind of player who can change the momentum of a game, but there's a little hit-or-miss to Pryor's on-field playing style, figuratively and literally. At times, he is a calculated, heat-seeking missile over the middle. Sometimes, though, his heat sensors get fried from all the excitement and he suddenly fires wide of his target or draws penalties for illegal hits.
If he can harness his aggression, the New York Jets' first-round pick will not be a waste. There will be ups and downs for Pryor, just like any rookie, but the important thing is that we see more and more consistency.
He has all the tools. Now, it's just a matter of using them correctly. He hits far more often than he whiffs, as pointed out by Bleacher Report Jets featured columnist Ryan Alfieri:
When watching Pryor, the quality that stands out the most is his closing speed. Explosive off his first step, Pryor can cover a lot of ground in a hurry and harness his speed into a huge hit. He knows how to lower his shoulder and deliver a strong blow without getting caught whiffing. His timing and ball skills make him even more dangerous as a potential game-changer in the back end of a defense.
Against Cincinnati, Pryor floated into the deep part of the secondary before the play. He quickly read the screen, and that closing speed was on display. First, he slipped the block of the pulling guard. Then, he lowered the shoulder, laid the hit on Cincinnati running back Ralph David Abernathy IV, and drove him backward and out of bounds.
It was a tone-setting hit, and Louisville's defense held Cincinnati's offense to just seven points in the first half of that game.
With a quick trigger and a nose for the ball, Pryor can change the momentum of a game with his hits. But he whiffs on a tackle or takes a poor angle and is caught out of position too often.
Central Florida running back Storm Johnson took his first carry for 17 yards, most of those as a result of Pryor overpursuing the play. Had he settled down and taken the right angle, instead of aiming to make a big hit, he might have stopped this run far short of its final result.
The Jets didn't draft Pryor so they could reign him in—Ryan made that pretty clear in the video above—but there's a way to bring the boom and play with that level of intensity without putting the team in jeopardy. With Pryor on the field, there's the potential for a game-changing play, but that potential could swing in either direction and take the momentum of the game with it.
Make no mistake, those lapses in judgment did not define him—otherwise, he would not have been a first-round pick.
His playmaking ability isn't limited to an enforcer role, although that is a large percentage of it. He doesn't make many plays on the ball, but he certainly knows how to find the football. Once he gets there, he's shown the ability to make a game-changing play.
Pryor made one of the biggest plays of the game on this one-handed interception off UCF quarterback Blake Bortles. He extended his arm out over his head, preventing the ball from reaching the target, tipping it to himself and grabbing it all while tapping both feet barely in-bounds.
Scouts have questions about his ball skills, but he may be able to deflect and/or intercept more passes if he is less focused on laying the hammer after the pass arrives.
He'll have to master his man coverage technique, as he was rarely asked to cover slot receivers or tight ends at Louisville and mainly manned the deep coverage responsibilities. He may never develop into a dependable defensive back in man coverage due to his stiff hips and overall lack of speed.
His ability to deliver huge hits in the running game and cover sideline to sideline as a deep safety will allow him to play both the free and strong safety positions. He has flashed enough ball skills to potentially develop into a playmaking safety regardless of his role.
As for what that role will be, it could go either way. Young up-and-coming safety Antonio Allen was unduly thrust onto the bench last year in the wake of the signing of Ed Reed. Perhaps the Jets will work Allen back onto the field in his customary role as the strong safety since he is a bit better in man coverage than Pryor is.
The Jets also still have veteran safety Dawan Landry on the roster. He played a mix of free safety and strong safety last year, so perhaps the Jets can utilize the versatile skills of both Landry and Pryor to have an interchangeable duo of safeties.
The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Rex is always mixing things up, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see a three-man rotation that puts all three men to use in specific situations.
There's no question that Pryor can lay the wood to anyone carrying the ball, but he'll have to round out his game and become more consistent to be worth the first-round pick. If the Jets are going to be able to count on Pryor as their lone deep safety, there are a few words of advice he should heed in the meantime: Play smarter, not harder.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots correspondent for Boston.com.
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