With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
40: Jonathan Cyprien, SS, Florida International
We continue this year's series with Florida International strong safety Jonathan Cyprien. Lightly recruited (at best) out of North Miami Beach High, Cyprien had two collegiate offers: Western Michigan and Florida International. He chose to stay closer to home and play for the Panthers, and he'll now follow former teammate and current Indianapolis Colts speed receiver T.Y. Hilton into the NFL. Hilton was able to make a pretty big splash in his rookie year, and in the right system, I think Cyprien could have an equivalent impact at a different position. Though he excelled against weaker competition, and some evaluators will ding him because he didn't always deal with stronger offenses, there's enough tape of his abilities against bigger programs (Louisville, Rutgers, Maryland, Texas A&M) to ease some of those concerns. In addition, he blew it up during Senior Bowl week -- Cyprien was obviously there to prove a point, and he left Mobile as the best safety in the group in the minds of many.
How will his skills translate to NFL success? At 6-foot-0 and 217 pounds, Cyprien has the valuable ability to play front-half and back-half coverage with relatively equal aplomb, which makes him an interesting chip in today's more advanced defenses. In addition, his experience in the slot makes him a potential every-down defender. You want versatility? In 2012, he led his team in tackles (93) and interceptions (four). You want durability and dependability? How about 45 collegiate starts in four seasons? Some NFL teams will devalue any player who doesn't light it up for one of the big schools, but as the only small-school player in this year's Shutdown 50, he's certainly transcended that stigma around here.
Pros: As a back-half pass-defender, Cyprien displays estimable speed and covers a lot of ground to make plays. Anticipates the ball well in the air, and will converge in a hurry. Runs from sideline to sideline to keep deep sideline receivers from making bigger gains after the catch. Has the potential to be an outstanding route-jumper. Big hitter in space who is exact with his tackling form when converging. Comes down from center field of in halves in two-deep coverage to make impact tackles on receivers after catches between the seams, and will force turnovers when doing so. Aggressive tackler, but not reckless -- doesn't spear with his helmet and makes an effort to use his arms and his shoulders. Good wrap-up tackler when he does it. Has the turn speed and awareness to defend back-shoulder fades and other boundary passes. Defends the slot well enough to come down in sub-packages -- would be ideal in "big nickel" three-safety packages like the New York Giants run.
As a box player, rushes aggressively off the snap for run fits and blitzes. A physical player who would be even more effective if he can learn to avoid blocks from much larger players -- you don't get extra points in the NFL for the ability to take hits as a safety -- the point is to deliver them. Hits gaps on running plays with authority and tackles with more "weight" than he actually has. Quick enough in curl/flat coverage to defend screens and swing passes effectively, as well as running quarterbacks. Doesn't seem particularly susceptible to play action -- doesn't bite on everything he sees. Quick enough off the line and at linebacker depth to be effective in lag blitzes.
Cons: As well as Cyprien tackles at times, he tends to dive too often, and I've seen far too many defenders get their lunch eaten when they try that stuff in the NFL. He may get a few highlight hits that way, but he'll also miss wildly on some plays at the next level of competition, and he'll probably also get a few extra penalty flags (warranted or not) from the Roger Goodell Safety Squad. Needs to square up in space. Doesn't always turn his head in coverage and is thus susceptible to taller receivers jumping on timing throws.
Doesn't have "burner" speed to cover throws of 15 yards or more consistently, though he does have decent recovery speed. Tends to get handsy with receivers when a little more spatial awareness would serve him well -- Cyprien uses his receivers to get his own bearings a bit too often. Strength of competition argument is negated, but not eliminated by his level of play -- questions will remain regarding his ability to adapt to the finer points of the NFL until he's able to erase them. Needs to get quicker with fast-twitch against foot fakes, especially off the line -- I can see the NFL's more practiced receivers toying with him for a while until he figures that out.
Conclusion: Had Cyprien gone to a bigger school and played against better competition every week, I think he'd be a universal first-round prospect, and right up there with the Kenny Vaccaros and Matt Elams of the world. For those interested in isolating attributes on tape, as opposed to blathering on about how many SEC schools a kid has faced, Cyprien may well already be there. I saw enough during Senior Bowl week to tell me that on the biggest and most important stage he'd been on to date, Cyprien did everything he possibly could to show that he belonged in the big time. Mission accomplished.
The Goldson comparison applies to the former Washington and San Francisco 49ers standout safety who recently signed a free-agent mega-deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In particular, Goldson's 2009 NFL season (his third), in which he made 94 tackles, forced three fumbles, and grabbed four interceptions, is the same kind of season(s) Cyprien could have at the next level if he cleans up a few things and lands on a team that will let him maximize his abilities as a pass defender who can play both front- and back-half coverage, and stay on the field for nickel and dime responsibilities.
NFL Comparison: Dashon Goldson, Washington Huskies/San Francisco 49ers (2007-2009)
More Shutdown 50:
#50: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State | #49: John Jenkins, DL, Georgia | #48:Cornellius "Tank" Carradine, DE, Florida State | #47: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State | #46: Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse | #45: E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State | #44: Margus Hunt, DE, SMU | #43: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson | #42: Kyle Long, OL, Oregon | #41: Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State
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