Alex Okafor DE Texas #80
Size/Athleticism: Definitely looks the part. He’s tall and well built, but lacks the elite athleticism to put him at the top of this draft class. His straight-line speed is adequate in short burst (much better than his 40 time indicates) but he isn’t quick. Easily slowed down by traffic and struggles to work his way around offensive linemen even when he isn’t engaged.
Run Defense: Does an adequate job holding up at the point of attack. He struggles to shed blocks at times, but he holds his ground. Doesn’t make a ton of plays in pursuit unless he has a free path to the ballcarrier. He isn’t very quick in tight spaces, and struggles to maneuver through traffic. Even when he’s not engaged, just working his way through the bodies on the field slows him down considerablly.
Pass Rush: Sort of a ‘tweener in terms of his pass-rush skill set. He’s not explosive enough to be a speed edge-rusher, but he’s not strong or physical enough to excel as a bull rusher. He gets the job done with a combination of both, but he’ll need to refine his technique in order to excel in the NFL.
Versatility: Played a nice mix of linebacker/end depending on the defensive formation. Should have no problem playing in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. Some experience dropping in coverage, but he gets lost easily. Struggles to move fluidly while keeping track of receivers in his zone and his eyes on the quarterback.
Intangibles: Voted 2012 team captain.
Durability: Slowed by an ankle injury in 2012. Didn’t work out at combine due to a hip injury suffered at Senior Bowl.
Comments: Okafor isn’t an elite pass-rusher, but he has the skill set to develop into a well-rounded lineman. How good he becomes will depend on how dedicated he is to refining his technique, because he lacks the elite raw tools to guarantee him a starting job at the next level. I wouldn’t count him out as a potential future Pro Bowler, but it will take some time to develop him. He reminds me a little bit of Justin Tuck, and could become that type of player with work.
Shamarko Thomas SS Syracuse #21
Size/Athleticism: Thomas is much shorter than the average NFL safety, which will hurt him in certain situations. However, don’t question his toughness. He is extremely physical, especially considering his size. His blend of speed and strength gives him the tools to help make up for his lack of height.
Coverage: Has the quickness and speed of a cornerback. His footwork is inconsistent in man coverage, but he makes up for mistakes with his speed. If he could limit his false steps, he could legitimately be viewed as a potential cornerback prospect. Demonstrated his skills in man coverage by lining up one-on-one against Robert Woods multiple times as a senior against USC.
Ball skills: Height limits his ability to fight for jump balls, but his leaping ability makes up for it to an extent.
Run support: Does not back down from mixing it up at the line of scrimmage. He’ll dive right into the linemen and try to use his lack of size to his advantage to slip through unnoticed. Willing to take on much bigger ball carriers head-on, and capable of delivering some big hits. His lack of size actually works to his advantage in certain situations, because he can launch himself at the ball carrier and deliver all of his force on a small area, increasing the likelihood of jarring the ball loose. Athleticism makes him extremely valuable in the open field. He can match many receivers and running backs in quickness and doesn’t get juked often. Even without support, he can make an open field tackle.
Intangibles: Elite leadership skills and work ethic. You’ll be hard pressed to find a player who pushes himself hard off the field than Thomas.
Durability: Missed 2 games with an undisclosed injury as a junior.
Comments: Thomas’ lack of size definitely causes doubters to question his ability to excel at the next level. And while I’m not certain how he’ll make the most impact at the next level, I guarantee he will find a way to make himself valuable. He’s an impressive player on and off the field and he will do whatever it takes to carve out a role for himself in the NFL.
D.J. Swearinger FS South Carolina #36
Size/Athleticism: Strong overall build with nice blend of size and athleticism. His well-rounded skill set makes him an extremely versatile safety.
Coverage: Experienced in zone and man coverage. Does a nice job playing the center field role. He keeps his eyes on the quarterback while remaining aware of the receivers in his zone. He’s very patient in zone, and doesn’t over-commit in any direction and rarely incorrectly guesses in an attempt to jump a route. Played some cornerback early in his career.
Ball skills: Impressive leaping ability. He’s physical and can battle for jump balls. Doesn’t have great hands, but he’ll come down with an occasional interception.
Run support: Does a great job stepping up and plugging holes at the line of scrimmage. Can deliver the big hit, but he’s also a very reliable wrap-up tackler. Consistently takes correct angles in pursuit. Does a really nice job corralling the receiver in open space, especially on screens or quick passes in the flat. Impressive closing speed. He isn’t exceptionally fast, but he has a quick first step and has a great burst in short distances.
Intangibles: Suspended by NCAA for one game for an illegal hit.
Durability: Slowed by a foot injury in 2011 and missed spring practices due to the injury.
Comments: Swearinger in an incredibly physical and versatile safety. He can play either safety position and will fit perfectly into a scheme that likes to use interchangeable parts in the secondary. There are some concerns about his foot injury which has lingered over the past two seasons, but he battled through the injury and has otherwise been durable throughout his career.
Johnathan Cyprien SS Florida International #7
Size/Athleticism: Built like a prototypical strong safety. Straight-line speed is very average, but he plays much quicker than his 40 time indicates.
Coverage: His speed hurts him in coverage at times. He reacts quickly, but when the offense stretches the field he sometimes simply lacks the closing speed to make a play. Shows elite awareness on the field and an ability to read the quarterback. Struggles in man coverage. He lacks the foot quickness and overall agility to stay with receivers and tight ends. In man coverage, he’s often playing catchup and rarely is able to turn and locate the ball.
Ball skills: Does a nice job reading the quarterback in zone coverage and putting himself in position to make plays. He’s a physical defender who can battle for jump balls.
Run support: Willing to step up and battle at the line of scrimmage. Occasionally used to blitz, and doesn’t back down from engaging with offensive linemen. Hard hitter who can jar the ball loose. Surprisingly inconsistent tackler, especially considering his size. He can deliver the big hit, but he’s very inconsistent in wrapping guys up and slides off a lot of tackles.
Intangibles: Four-year starter. Plays with confidence, but he’s overaggressive at times.
Durability: No known issues.
Comments: Cyprien has potential as a strong safety, but there are obvious limitations to his game. He isn’t as versatile as most safeties in today’s game. More and more teams prefer interchangeable parts in the secondary, and Cyprien is a true strong safety which could limit his interest from teams. He has the skills to excel in a very specific role, but he will be a liability in coverage at times. While he should be viewed as a future starter, he isn’t a perfect fit for every scheme.
Matt Elam S Florida #22
Size/Athleticism: Nice blend of size and speed. He’s a hard hitter who can make receivers think twice about coming across the middle.
Coverage: Capable of lining up in man coverage over the tight end. He does a nice job in press coverage and can frustrated tight ends at the line of scrimmage who expect to be able to overpower a much smaller safety. In consistent in his technique in zone coverage. He turns his back on the quarterback too often, and struggles to recover. He seems to struggle with the multitasking of paying attention to the receivers in his zone while also keeping an eye on the quarterback. Lined up over the slot receiver a lot in college, but he lacks the fluid athleticism to cover most slot receivers in the NFL.
Ball skills: Hands are inconsistent but he’s a great athlete who can put himself in position to at least get a hand on the ball.
Run support: Loves playing the run. Willing to stick his nose into the middle of the action and won’t back down from battling with the big boys at the line of scrimmage. Has the ability to be a reliable wrap-up tackler, but he is far too aggressive. Goes for the big hit far too often, and has a reputation as a bit of a head hunter. He will definitely rack up the fines at the next level if he doesn’t change his style of play. He also misses too many tackles as a result of his desire to lay out the ball carrier, rather than simply bring him down.
Intangibles: Elam is a borderline dirty player who had dealt out more than his fair share of helmet-to-helmet hits which will draw flags and fines in the NFL. His future team will need to work with him on his style of play, or else he will become very familiar with Roger Goodell.
Durability: No known issues.
Comments: Elam has the raw skills to play either safety position, but he’s much better playing closer to the line of scrimmage in the strong safety role. He will immediately make an impact in run support, and has the tools to develop into an adequate coverage safety. His aggressiveness is definitely an asset, but he will need to keep it under control or he will hurt the team with penalties and potentially a suspension down the road.