I'll never forget when the Chargers first hired him one of his first answers was, and I'm paraphrasing here, "I don't feel like the position next to Eric Weddle is important." In his 3 years as general manager Tom Telesco has proven that is exactly how he feels as he hasn't invested any draft picks at the position and signed one safety. That one safety didn't even make it through his first year. You can tell I don't think much of a player when I watch him and don't even take the time to write about him. Anyways, now here we are. The team will lose their best player at a critical position in this defense. I think it's safe to say that the Jahleel Addae experiment is over as well.
As far as the type of safety the team needs, let's go ahead and put to rest the terms "free and strong safety." For example, a "free safety" has been long known to play in the "deep centerfield role." With so much motioning and pre-snap movement in today's game they often jump down in the box and are now primary run defenders. With the amount of combo coverages that is ran in today's game the positions need to be interchangeable.
Instead of worrying about whether to draft a "free" or "strong" safety, figure out if you're drafting a guy that gets it. A guy that can not only play as a deep split-safety, but can come downhill and make plays against the run. A guy that can matchup against tight ends in man but can also beat them to make stops in the run game. The term of this draft season when looking for defensive players is "dog." Is he a dog? A dog is wired different. Does he want to pussyfoot around blockers or is he going to run through the blocker if that's what it takes to make a play. A dog plays 100 miles an hour and comes up big when you need him most. We want a guy that will change the mindset of this defense. Su'a Cravens can be that guy because Cravens is a dog.
Cravens was asked to play all over during his career at USC. As a freshman Cravens was about 210ish and played a lot of deep safety. As a sophomore he started to transition to the role of an in the box player and this year especially, he was basically a strong-side linebacker in their defense. He played at 225 pounds and was constantly asked to set the edge against or sometimes just take on offensive lineman. Cravens showed how much of a competitor he is in his new role this year. I think it's important to note not only the different roles Cravens played in but exactly how well he played in those said roles. When I show you these clips, some may seem extreme, but these really do show up in every game. I've tried to watch as much as I could on Cravens dating back to his freshman year and he consistently showed he had that "dog" in him. This is a good example of a guy that's wired different.
Most guys, especially non DL, would hesitate when they see a big guard coming at them and would more than likely go after their legs and give themselves up. Here, Cravens does what he's supposed to, uses his athleticism. He not only beats the guard to the spot but comes flat enough to where the receiver coming to crack him can't get to him.
One area that I think Cravens does better than any other safety type in the draft is avoiding blockers and finishing plays. Weddle has an innate ability to avoid an oncoming lineman to sleep and avoid him at the last minute to make the tackle. Cravens isn't Weddle good, but he's the closest thing in the draft.
Love that play because there's no wasted motions. It's as if the fullback isn't even there. There are about a dozen examples of this sort of play for Cravens. It carries over to plays where he's in space. Specifically, screens. He does a great job of sniffing out screens and stopping them before they start.
I can see most players running with the WR there or just diving at the lineman's legs. Cravens is the aggressor and his competitiveness shows up here. That's an "if I don't make the play nobody will" type of play. These are some of the traits that separate Cravens in space.
In coverage, he's fine. He's not going to stand out, though I do believe he has better range and instincts than given credit for. There are occasions where Cravens gets caught in no mans land in zone coverage. By that I mean he's just watching the QB but not "finding work." In man coverage he doesn't have a problem running with slot WRs or TE's but there were times where he didn't locate the ball or just couldn't stick with the TE out of his break. More of a change of direction issue. Not a deal breaker by any means because he's made a ridiculous amount of plays in the passing game. Just an area of his game that can improve.
Standing out on the edge
The last few years the Chargers have been bottom 2 against the run in the league. The common thought is that "they need a nose tackle." The numbers disagree with that. Per footballoutsiders, teams rush for the most yards off of left tackle and off the right edge. To compound that, San Diego gives up the fifth most yards at the 2nd level. What does this mean? Players aren't doing their job on the edge up front and players aren't finishing plays at the 2nd level.
This is Cravens lane. He holds up against lineman better than a lot of linebackers 20 pounds heavier than him.
This is against a left tackle that is going to be drafted. Not only does he "stack" a player 75 pounds heavier than him, but he keeps his outside leverage to force the run back inside. The icing on the cake is how he sheds the LT like he's a receiver and finishes the play. Not every rep of Cravens setting the edge is this picture perfect but it comes back to the mentality that he is. He consistently fights to make sure the run doesn't get outside of him.
This play below is a good example of Cravens athleticism. He fends off the cut block and makes the TFL
You'd like him to keep his head up and make the tackle the first time but he slowed the RB up enough to where he tackled him on the second effort. That brings up a good point on Cravens. I've seen him leave his feet to make a tackle instead of run through the ball carrier. I've seen him get shook to where it could be on a highlight reel. He's not a perfect tackler but there are too many exposures of him finishing. Enough for me to say he's the most reliable tackler at the position.
Where does he play?
The most asked question I see with Cravens and likely the most debated when talking about Cravens. Why limit him is my question? Cravens is a chess piece. When he was a freshman and about ten pounds lighter you really saw his ability to run and how much ground he could cover. Whether it was going from the middle of the field to the numbers, or coming downhill and recognizing plays before they got started.
I really believe that the value of a "single-high" safety ala Earl Thomas is overrated and I'm going to say that in every write up. Give me a guy that will make plays around the line of scrimmage. A guy that'll not only do his job versus the run but also finish so you don't have to rely on someone else. That's a big deal.
I want Cravens around the line of scrimmage so he can wreak havoc in the run and cover TEs. I've seen Cravens jump slant routes for pass breakups and out routes for pick 6's. It's in man coverage where you get further away from the line of scrimmage where Cravens start to show.
The more I watch of this class the less convinced I am that there are more than 15 or so 1st round picks. Cravens is a dominant run defender with above average instincts that plays with the type of aggression you want on defense. His versatility puts him over the top and makes him a 1st rounder. If for whatever reason he's sitting there at the top of the 2nd this will be the easiest 2nd round pick Telesco will ever make. It's time to address the position and if a top 5 pick is too rich, Cravens is your guy.