What do safeties Patrick Chung, Nate Allen and Earl Wolff have in common? They all should not be a starting safety for the Philadelphia Eagles next season. The Eagles’ secondary was atrocious last year, ranking last in the league in yards allowed. Much of the blame can be placed on the lack of safety support over the middle. However, this problem isn’t one that began last year.
The safety position is a hole that was made when Eagle great Brian Dawkins left the team back in 2008. Although the Eagles could go in a number of directions with the 22nd pick — Philadelphia still lacks a true 3-4 nose tackle, a pass rusher and they could always use another weapon on the offensive side of the ball. Given how long the Eagles have had this problem, however, the Eagles need a true free safety; a young player who can cover the whole field and be a hard-hitting playmaker over the middle.
The 6-foot-2, 208-pound junior would make an immediate impact on a defense that has been hungry for a safety for years. Pryor had an extremely productive junior campaign. The first team All-ACC selection recorded 71 tackles and three interceptions this past season. He was part of a defense that boasted one of the better secondaries in the nation because of his play at the center field of the defense.
Pryor is projected to be a mid-to-late first-round pick, and the Eagles shouldn’t hesitate if he falls to them at the 22nd pick. He is a hard-hitting, physical safety who isn’t afraid to punish someone that goes over the middle. His quickness to receivers and ability to see the whole field makes him one of the most NFL-ready safeties in the entire draft. Pryor’s skills jumping routes and anticipating passes over the middle gives him the playmaking ability to succeed early and often at the NFL level. Despite being bigger than most safeties, he has the quickness that you wouldn’t expect. This combination of size and speed makes him a rare talent, and the Eagles, if coached properly, could have a steal late in the first round.
There are a few criticisms about Pryor that make NFL scouts wary. At Louisville, he wasn’t involved in many man-coverage situations. It’s uncertain how he will matchup against some of the big, fast tight ends in the NFL. However, Philadelphia ran more zone-coverage in their defense last season anyway. Pryor has the raw talent and ability to be taught how to press against receivers. His athletic ability, combined with his size, gives him an advantage to matchup against some of the gifted athletes at the tight end position. There are just too many benefits for the Eagles to not draft Pryor just based on this reason, though. The Eagles have already missed out on safeties in past drafts.
In 2010, the Eagles passed on now All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, and instead went with defensive end Brandon Graham, a decision that may still haunt the Eagles today. If Philadelphia is on the clock, and Pryor is still on the board, they should pick him, and the long-awaited savior at at free safety will be found.