General manager John Idzik threw a bit of a curveball on the first night of the draft when he elected to use his top pick on yet another defensive player, safety Calvin Pryor.
There is no doubt that the "Louisville Slugger" is an upgrade in talent of what the Jets already have at the position, but figuring out a role for Pryor as a rookie is anything bit a clear-cut process. After all, while safety may not have been an area of strength for the Jets, it was hardly a weakness—the cornerback position is where the Jets needed the most help.
Still, if he is used correctly, Pryor could help strengthen a Jets secondary that was abysmal against the pass last season by Rex Ryan's standards, ranking 22nd overall in the category.
Pryor has a lot of talent, but he is not quite an all-around safety at this point in his career—he will need to be used in specific roles to bring out the best in him without exposing his weaknesses. First, let's take a look at what Pryor does well and how the Jets can fit him into their scheme.
Pryor has earned a reputation for being an enforcer largely through his physical style of play as well as his play against the run. He is capable of coming downhill from a deep safety position to make big stops against the run that few other defensive backs would have the instincts, skills or courage to do so without getting burned.
Pryor's aggressiveness was on great display against Rutgers in 2013, shooting down from deep in zone coverage like a missile to wrap up ball carriers, preventing extra yardage:
Dawan Landry was at least adequate in run support, and the Jets did rank third overall in this area, but having a player like Pryor on the back end will wrap up more than just running backs. As the gif showed, Pryor can contain slants and screens that got the best of the Jets' cornerbacks last year.
Plus, the bonus of having an intimidator on the back end cannot be measured with yards. These players set a new mentality of intimidation in the secondary, which is something the Jets lacked in the secondary in 2013.
Pryor may not get to every single pass before it is completed, but he will be sure to lay a huge, clean hit when he gets a chance:
Strengths: Roaming the Line of Scrimmage
What made Pryor such a visible, active player was the fact that he would love to roam near the line of scrimmage. Combined with his long dreads, it was difficult to find much of a difference between Pryor and Troy Polamalu.
At times, Pryor played more like a linebacker than a safety, unafraid to take on offensive tackles and guards—and win the leverage battle.
On this play, not only did Pryor read the play before the snap (evidenced by how he moved before the line of scrimmage), but he got underneath the tackle to make the stop on the running back—a feat that would have been extraordinary for a linebacker, never mind a safety.
As valuable as it is to have a physical, instinctive safety, it is difficult to carve out a specific role for Pryor as a rookie. No sane team would give him free reign like the Pittsburgh Steelers usually do with Polamalu—Pryor has to earn that type of trust with his play first.
In the meantime, what the Jets can do is keep him out of dangerous situations in coverage, where his flash plays tend to erase his inconsistencies against the deep pass.
Weaknesses: Man Coverage
There are two reasons why the Jets should rarely, if ever, use Pryor in man-to-man coverage. For one, they already have a more than adequate tight end-coverage specialist in Antonio Allen, who did an admirable job on Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham last season.
Second, to be frank, Pryor can be a flat-out liability when asked to run with tight ends for an extended period.
Pryor flashes when coming downhill, but moving laterally and flipping his hips to turn backward are not his forte.
This play may only look like a harmless out route, but it reveals a lot about Pryor's inability to cover. He is very stiff in his movement and is caught looking in the backfield. Only the sideline prevented this from being a much bigger gain after the catch.
Against NFL tight ends that are much more athletic than anything he saw at Louisville, Pryor will be eaten alive in coverage over and over. Until Pryor proves he can be more dependable in this area, the Jets have little reason to give Pryor man coverage responsibilities, especially with Allen on the roster.
Weaknesses: Deep Pass Instincts
Pryor has good instincts when it comes to coming up against the run to make big stops, but the tape tells a much different story when referring to Pryor's ability to read and react to a quarterback's eyes (or a receiver's routes) when deep in coverage).
Pryor tends to mask a lot of his mistakes by unloading big hits, but a big reason why he is able to land so many big hits is because he was late to the completion in the first place, allowing the passes to be made that should have never been attempted.
On this play, Pryor is the only man in deep zone coverage, suggesting a Cover 1 scheme. For some inexplicable reason, Pryor elects to shadow a perimeter receiver covering a curl route, allowing a tight end to get wide open over the middle.
Pryor is able to use his speed to make the tackle to save the touchdown, but a more adequate throw would have led to an easy touchdown for Rutgers.
This is a classic example of Pryor making a mental mistake to allow a big play, but he is getting credit for making an impressive tackle from so far away.
Where Does Pryor Fit?
Pryor has a lot of quality traits to work with, but signs point to Pryor struggling in coverage, both man and zone, when he gets to the NFL. The good news is that many of his issues are mental, which, unlike speed and physicality, can be fixed in the NFL.
For now, Pryor fits best as an in-the-box specialist who can be a part-time nickel linebacker (he often lined up at linebacker at Louisville in such situations). With time, he can be given more Polamalu-esque freedom, roaming the line of scrimmage to make big-time "splash" plays that "normal" safeties would not be capable of making.
The issue with this role is the Jets already have an in-the-box specialist on the roster in Landry, and they don't plan on taking him out of the starting lineup anytime soon. Landry also doubled as the primary deep safety with Allen assuming the man-coverage responsibilities.
Because the Jets used a first-round pick on Pryor, they will likely give him every chance to start over Allen. As well as Allen played at times last season, the Jets were reluctant to fully unleash him—in fact, he was benched in favor of Ed Reed halfway through the season.
Assuming Pryor is the starter, it makes the most sense to keep Landry in his current role as the primary deep safety and move Pryor into a more in-the-box role. Depending on how each player reacts in their new situation, they can make adjustments as the season goes along.
No matter how the Jets decide to align their safeties on opening day, figuring out Pryor's role will be a constant work in progress all season long. For the Jets, they must balance what is best for Pryor's development versus what is best for the Jets to win games in the immediate future.
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