With the release of Thomas DeCoud and the subsequent lack of an immediate replacement signing, many have suggested that the Falcons will give this year's crop of rookie free safeties a hard look come draft weekend.
Atlanta would of course be looking for a day-one starter or someone who could start soon, assuming no one else signs via free agency, and unfortunately there are only couple of guys I could see coming in and starting as rookies out of this year's class. Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the name most know. But there's another potential first-round player deserving of equal attention, if not more:
Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Weight: 207 lbs.
40-yd dash: 4.58
Bench reps: 18
Vertical: 34.5 in.
Broad: 116.0 in.
2013: 75 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 3 INTs, 4 PDs, 2 FFs
2012: 99 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 2 INTs, 5 PDs, 4 FFs
Note: I watched cut-ups of three games from his junior season - UCF, Kentucky and Cincinnati. So we've got a variety of styles and talents to base his performance against.
(+) Has the body type you'd want in a rangy free safety: long with enough height and a strong build
(+) Great closing speed; he really flies around the field and matches up well with wideouts and tight ends
(+) Strength is a definite plus, noticed whether he's taking on a blocker or laying the wood in the open field
(+) Shows great burst when coming up to play the run or when used as an occasional blitzer, strong lower body
(-) Lateral agility could stand to improve; can get out-maneuvered in the open field at times
(+) Knack for jumping routes and getting his hands on the ball or quickly hitting the receiver thereafter; has the potential to become a real ball-hawk in the NFL
(+) Made one particularly jaw-dropping interception in the corner of the end zone - extended his body, plucked it out of the air and got his foot in-bounds for the turnover
(+) Excellent anticipation and ability to read where the play is going; seems to always be around the ball
(+) Good sense of depth and route awareness when dropping back
(+) As previously mentioned, he can dish out the big hit on guys in space and really has that "enforcer" mentality; very physical
(-) Sometimes plays a little too recklessly, like a toned-down version of Florida's Matt Elam
(-) Footwork could also use some refinement
(-) Bit on play-action in a couple of instances
(-) Used almost exclusively as a zone defender; man coverage is something of an unknown
(-) Range is good, but maybe not better than Clinton-Dix
(+) Louisville had no qualms lining Pryor up in the box or even near the line of scrimmage, which speaks to his abilities as a run defender
(+) Excellent downhill attacker (5.5 TFLs as a safety last year) and can slice his way through traffic to the ball
(+) For the most part, took the right angles to the play
(+) Will fight through blockers or at the very least make himself a handful for them
(-) Tackling technique could use some work, too often simply throws himself into the ball-carrier and occasionally had a few bad misses in the open field
(+) Overall, a heady defender and one that plays with plenty of intensity
(+) Accustomed to success; was part of one of the best defensive units in the nation at Louisville
(-) Was suspended for the team's senior game for "violating team rules" last season
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix might be the best free safety in this class right now, but I believe Pryor has the higher ceiling and could potentially develop into an All-Pro caliber player.
While playing the run and attacking from inside the box are both strengths for Pryor, it cannot be overlooked how his diverse skill set could allow him to blossom in the NFL. His instincts are excellent, he has the physical tools you want and he simply flies to the play. Just as important for the Falcons: Pryor brings an edge and a nasty that Mike Nolan's defense could use.
Some have cited the big hits as a potential issue in the NFL (read: fines), but I don't believe that will be the case. Those are things you can coach out of a player, as are Pryor's other issues: tackling form, footwork, agility and learning more complex defensive systems. His lack of man coverage experience is not much of an issue if Atlanta uses him as a free safety, and paired with William Moore the team could have some serious hit power in the secondary.
The big question, of course, is not if the Falcons should want Pryor: I think there's no doubt he would fill a need and could start from day one. But most have Pryor expected to go in the late-first round, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him go earlier than that, especially considering where Kenny Vaccaro (15) and Eric Reid (18) went in last year's draft. That might leave the Louisville product out of play for the Falcons just based on draft position.
Still, I would be thrilled to see Pryor in a Falcons uniform.
What do you think about Pryor and how he'd project in the NFL?