Louisville had an athletic, hardnosed defense under Charlie Strong and one of the biggest names on the team was Calvin Pryor, one of their safeties. Pryor was athletic and had impressive burst and speed who worked as an enforcer in the passing game and could basically give the Cardinals the ability to play like they had a fourth linebacker in addition to a deep safety.
For the NFL, Pryor’s athletic ability and strength is impressive but he was inconsistent at the collegiate level because of technical issues. He can fly around the field but needs to be better in terms of breaking down and making sure he hits the target rather than just trying to make home run hits. The potential is there for Pryor to be a starter in the NFL, but it will take a good amount of development and a change in his approach for him to be successful. Pryor is worth a late round pick but could conceivably go undrafted because he is so unrefined in his technique, but should have his opportunity to make a roster next season.
Vitals & Build
Pryor is listed at 6’2” 208lbs and really has a strong build, looking the part of an NFL strong safety. He has impressive burst and top end speed. Pryor demonstrates functional strength and power. His agility is more of a question mark but largely because of how he plays rather than a lack of quickness seemingly. Nevertheless, he should test well in workouts. His potential is making the most of what he already has, which is largely a matter of technical improvements.
Pryor’s tackling is awful in terms of technique. He constantly runs at opponents and launches himself at them often leading with his head hoping to make the biggest hit possible. Not only is it dangerous and could get him seriously injured because he is leading with his head, but it is also awful in terms of results. Pryor misses more tackles than he makes and is often missing the target and either only getting a small piece of them or missing completely.
At times, he will wrap up and not lose the tackle, but he is almost always tackling with his feet off of the ground. He does not break down to make tackles and just runs at them as hard and fast as possible and goes for big hits.
There are definitely examples where he lights opponents up and connects for the home run hit, but the overall impact is minimal and the results are mediocre at best. He is not remotely reliable and is a bad bet in the open field.
Pryor is willing to help as a run defender, running hard downhill as soon as he diagnoses the run. He is able to cover a good amount of ground and is able to attack gaps and can get to the linebacker level fast enough to give a sense of having an extra player at that level.
His instincts are somewhat of a question mark and he can have trouble seeing the field at times, getting lost in space but does have the athleticism to cover his mistakes a good amount of the time. His angles can be problematic as well because he does not break down to tackle. If he is not in line with the ball carrier, he tends to miss. And his gambling style of tackling is a real issue when he is the last line of defense.
The one area where Pryor does demonstrate an intriguing amount of ability is how he takes on blocks. He has had some great examples where he takes on blocks and sheds them effectively on his way to the ball. And by virtue of being slowed down and adjusting to the play, he ends up being more effective.
Pryor has a good amount of size and strength that makes it so he can take on bigger, stronger backs, but has issues with the smaller, quicker ones who can make opponents miss.
Pryor has shown some ability in coverage but has work to do that in that area as well. He has experience playing both in a 2-deep look as well as the deep middle. When he has a good line on where he needs to go, he can cover a good amount of ground laterally and help plays over the top. Too often, he ends up making false steps or misreads and is late as a result.
Pryor tries to operate as an intimidator on the back end, attempting to lay the wood on opponents whenever possible. The way he does it is often borderline and has the possibility of getting called for a penalty because he does tend to have his head down when he hits. There is a bit of a fear factor with him and there are mistakes made as a result. He can do a nice job breaking on the football in a robber role, but does tend to get picked on in normal zone.
Pryor also has some experience in man and seems to work on instinct more effectively. He seems to be better at just seeing and reacting to the opponent when he is just trying to stay with him. Pryor has the speed to keep up down the field and the size to compete with tight ends but needs far more experience in this area of his game,
Pryor has good ball skills and has made a few really nice plays in his time. When he has the chance, he tends to make the most of it, punishing opposing quarterbacks for mistakes in his area. The light is not too bright and he is able to make plays with comfort and ease. After he has the ball in his hands, he is a dangerous runner with his speed and is not afraid to be aggressive, going for the end zone.
Pryor has experience on kickoff coverage. He seems to have been a spy for the Cardinals this past year, but his makeup suggests he could make big plays on the returner if he does not miss the tackle.
Pryor is a strong safety who can play in the box or on the back end. He has a number of areas to iron out before he can be counted on to get on the field, but with substantial work, there is certainly the potential for Pryor to be a starter and longtime player in the NFL. For now, he needs to earn his spot as depth and on special teams. The upside is there if a team is willing to spend the time to develop him.
There is a chance he could be used as a sub package linebacker in passing situations. His hardnosed mindset and athletic ability could be an asset there if he can improve in coverage while maintaining a level of toughness against the run.
In many ways, Pryor is eerily similar to D.J. Swearinger who came out of South Carolina last year. Swearinger was taken in the second round by the Houston Texans as a big hitting strong safety, but he seemed to struggle as a rookie, especially with penalties. Both are big, strong safeties that can light opponents up and have plenty of highlight hits in their history, but have some questions in coverage.
Calvin Pryor has the physical tools to be successful in the NFL. He is not afraid to play the run and has some potential in coverage. Pryor has to get better technically from tackling to how he plays in coverage and focus on making the smart play as opposed to the big play. If he can do that and develop, the upside is there for him to make him a worthwhile player and starter in the league. Pryor warrants a late round pick but could end up going undrafted when all is said and done.
Some of the film used for this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com