Calvin Pryor played high school football at Port St. Joe High School, starting at both running back and safety. He wasn't regarded as a top prospect coming out of high school, rated as the 31st safety by Rivals.com.
Yet by the start of his freshman year at Louisville, Pryor was already a major part of the defense, playing in all 13 games and starting the final 7. He has proved to be very durable in college, playing in all but one game.
Pryor was all over the field, totaling over 200 tackles and 9 forced fumbles. While he technically played FS at Louisville, he often played around the line of scrimmage in run support. This isn't to say Pryor didn't play deep safety as well. It just shows his versatility, as he has experience playing both roles, sometimes at the same time (We'll see this in the film).
Pryor has a unique frame, standing at 6'3 tall and weighing around 210 lbs. His projected 40 time is in the 4.5 to 4.6 making this a scenario where the NFL combine will probably impact his draft stock a little more than it should. On the field Pyror has great straight line speed, as he is able to come down from a deep position to crash the line in a hurry. What worries me a bit is his ability to change directions quickly in run support and coverage.
I think Pyror has the physical versatility to play both safety positions, and watching him on the field has me leaning towards SS. His large frame should allow him to put on 5-10 pounds if he wants to and play the position like Kam Chancellor. Chancellor is also a big safety in the 4.6-4.7 range, so physically, Pyror has the tools to excel in that role. If a team wants to ease him into playing FS, they have the option of starting him out closer to the line in sub packages, similar to what the Pats reportedly had planned for Adrian Wilson before his injury.
In terms of more nuanced stats like bench press, vertical jump and cone drill, those won't be available till Combine/Pro Days. So we'll move on to film, and instead try to assess his strength, explosiveness, and quickness from game action.
Calvin Pryor vs Kentucky (2013) (via Aaron Aloysius)
1. (:09) Neither team has run a play from scrimmage, yet Pyror is already flying down the field. He's over pursues the KR, but does force him to change direction.
2. (:16-:35) On the next two plays, Pryor crashed down to the line from his deep safety position and plays run, attacking the LOS in Spikes-esque hit-or-miss fashion. It's easy to critique his lack of direction or proper angle to the ball carrier, but it's possible his assignment was to use his speed to attack the line and free up others to make the tackle.
3. (:47) There's no doubting Pyror's motor. He never quits even when the play is already behind him or on the opposite side of the field.
4. (1:02) This is an interesting play. Louisville disguises their defensive look till the the snap, showing 2 deep until the corners back off and the LB, manned up with the slot WR, steps up to blitz the QB. Finally, Pryor moves up to line up in front of the slot WR. All four WRs run go routes. While it does look like Pryor overplays his man and gets beat down the field, he was probably sitting in a hook zone expecting his teammate Hakeem Smith to be there over the top. That's one instance in which Pryor, the free safety, is really in more of a strong safety role, playing an intermediate zone. Meanwhile Smith, officially listed as a strong safety, is playing deep down the field.
5. (1:08-1:35) The next few plays have Pryor playing deep down the field in a traditional Free Safety role. Not much to see except Pryor's constant pursuit of the ball carrier.
6. (1:47) Whoops. Pryor over pursues and gets juked. It wasn't his assignment by any means, but he is expected to mop up the play and minimize YAC.
7. (2:05) Notice how a lot of Pryor's positive plays have been closer to the LOS? Once again, Louisville is mixing things up, bringing Pryor closer to the line in zone coverage. Pryor has good closing speed and breaks up the play.
8. (2:24) Louisville comes out with 8 in the box, with Pryor as a glorified linebacker. Good reaction to assist #2 in the holding the ballcarrier to a short gain and preventing the first down.
9. (2:55) There's the short-yardage package again with Pryor lined up at LB. The play is designed for him to set the edge, and when he realizes it's play action, he goes after the QB. He shows a nice burst, going around two blockers to pressure and reroute the QB.
8. (3:18) This is just another example of Pryor being lined up in an unconventional way, in this case shadowing the slot receiver while Hakeem Smith is in more of a traditional FS role down the field. The same applies at (4:37) and (4:47) as the Cards were deploying a nickel or dime look up 27-6 in the 4th quarter.
9. (3:54) Pryor commits inside so early and with so much aggression, that the RB is able to easily cut outside for a big gain. It's a fixable problem, but I think Pryor would just be better off using his aggressive style closer to the line of scrimmage.
10. (4:16) Then that happens. If that isn't a safety version of Brandon Spikes, I don't know what is.
#25 Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville vs UCF '13 (via SportCutups)
1. (:00-:26) Pryor has a rough start to the game, first getting beat to the edge and then getting blindside blocked while chasing a ball carrier. On both plays, it looks like Pryor gets beat but he really doesn't have a great path to the ball to begin with, so I won't fault him too much.
2. (1:10) Through all the big hits, this might be the play of Pryor's college career. Great concentration to make the one handed catch, even if it wouldn't count in the NFL.
3. (1:38) Pryor initially reacts as if it's a pass play, but once he recognizes it's a run he crashes down in a hurry, sizes up the ball carrier, and makes a phenomenal tackle. If Pryor could show this sort of patience on a more consistent basis, he has the potential to be a solid fundamental tackler, not just a big hitter. With the right coaching he just might reach it.
4. (2:00) Similar to #4 from the Kentucky video, with Pryor sitting in a hook zone across from the slot receiver. This time the receiver sits down on the route instead of streaking downfield.
5. (2:10) Big hits. Something the Pats sorely lack in the secondary.
6. (2:57) Pryor shows good speed to the ball and nice anticipation of where the running back would end up, instead of taking the direct angle to the ball carrier, which would have likely resulted in him getting blocked. Solid play.
7. (3:10) This play is similar to #7 in the last video. Pryor shows good anticipation again, and this time shows good range to swat the ball instead of last time when he used a hit to break up the play. Pryor's angles to the ball were a lot smarter vs UCF than Kentucky.
8. (3:20) Pryor is the single high safety in a Cover 1 Blitz. I don't fault him too much for the big gain. It was simply a good play call that would beat that defense 9/10 times without quick pressure or perfect coverage by the corners. It's tough for a safety to get all the way to the sideline when he has the entire deep part of the field to worry about.
9. (4:05) Another play where it's hard to judge Pryor. He is blocked by the pulling lineman at the last second and some might say he took a bad angle trying to make the big play. However, the entire defense is backed off their matchups, making them easy pickings for the blocking lineman. There wasn't really another option for Pryor on that play.
10. (5:47) This was the play that ruined Louisville's undefeated season. It's unclear if Pryor missed his assignment in man coverage or if both he and #19 thought they were on the WR in the flat. Either way, it looks like a miscommunication. One thing that a film study can't show that a pre draft interview can is smarts. Does a player have what it takes to understand his assignment while anticipating what the defense is doing? It's one of the things that the Pats value in Steve Gregory, but its hard to assess something like that only from tape.
Pryor's tape hints that his best fit is at strong safety. He has the size and speed to cover most tight ends and lay the wood on receivers over the middle. I wish the film showed a bit more of his skills covering deep down the field, which I still consider a question mark simply because of the lack of available footage (He always seemed to be making plays around the LOS). It's entirely possible he wasn't thrown at much.
He is a solid run defender, though he does struggle with taking the proper angle and over pursues when covering a long distance. He reminds me a lot of the late Sean Taylor, who did play both FS and SS at different points in his career. Taylor was one of the greatest hitting safeties of all time and stood at around 6'3 and 210 lb, running a 4.51 40.
Pryor's projected 40 is a little higher than some of the top FS in the game such as Earl Thomas and Devin McCourty, but he did show good speed on tape as well as solid ball skills in the UCF game. Overall, his strength as a hitter and experience playing in the box leads me to believe he could play either position. I simply have him as a better fit at strong safety.
I think Pryor would be a good fit for the Pats across from Devin McCourty. With Aqib Talib locking down his side of the field and McCourty taking care of the deep zones, the Pats would be able to utilize Pryor's versatility in a big way. He could be free to cover tight ends in Cover 1, play as a traditional safety in Cover 2, or roam the middle of the field in a Cover 3.
At this point, it doesn't look like Pryor will fall to the Pats at 29. There are plenty of safety needy teams in a class that is lacking in depth at the position. Right now, I envision Pryor being taken in the early-mid twenties. He would be a good fit with Green Bay at 21 or Cincy at 24.
The Pats could choose to address the position with a veteran through free agency a la Rodney Harrison in '03. I could also see them sticking with the current trio of Gregory/Harmon/Wilson alongside McCourty. Personally, I hope the Pats choose to improve the position in some way, as Gregory in particular was mediocre for much of 2013, grading out at 40 in PFF's Coverage rating and 26 in run defense while recording 0 interceptions and 1 deflection. Overall, If Pryor does slip to the Pats at 29, I would consider it a solid pick.