The NFL Draft has come and gone, and there is no longer any sense in debating whether the players chosen were right or wrong, too high or too low, or anything else. The fact is that these players are on the team, so all that matters now is what they will bring to their new squad. For the New York Jets and first round pick Calvin Pryor, the question of what position he will play remains to be seen.
In truth, Pryor is a strong safety, period. He is a vicious hitter who is at his best in run support in the box, and he uses his excellent speed and athleticism to pursue plays and prevent long gains. Like many big hitters, he is a little prone to missing tackles, but coaching and maturity can overcome that problem. Pryor is also solid in coverage and balanced enough to play man to man on tight ends or deep middle in a zone, though neither is his specialty.
Pryor is now the best safety on the Jets’ roster, and he will force either Dawan Landry or Antonio Allen out of the starting lineup. The question is, which one, and at what position? Landry was a stabilizing presence in the secondary last season, something this young group needs. He is not going to make big plays, but he is not going to make mistakes either. Landry’s intelligence and intangibles are just as valuable as his play.
Allen, on the other hand, is an intriguing prospect who many viewed as the Jets’ strong safety of the future right up until the second they drafted Pryor. Allen is a solid man to man coverage safety who is more comfortable near the line of scrimmage than down the field. He played more of linebacker role in college and is still adapting to his new position as he heads into his third season, though he shows a lot of promise.
Given that all three players are natural strong safeties, someone is going to have to play out of position. The simple fact is that the Jets’ corners aren’t good enough to be left on an island, so they will have to play a deep safety fairly regularly. Right now, it appears that Pryor is the most likely to have that responsibility. He is by far the best athlete of the three, and although coverage isn’t his greatest strength, he is still more suited to that role than Landry or Allen. Most likely, Landry will be the starter at strong safety, and Allen will take his place in nickel situations and when the Jets go to three safety looks, which was fairly frequently last season.
Pryor is going to have to be disciplined as the deep safety, and he is could be in for a big adjustment facing the speed and athleticism of NFL receivers. The Jets open the season against the Oakland Raiders, then play six of the NFL’s top 10 passing offenses from last season consecutively. That means Pryor is going to have a very, very small window to get ready, or the Jets will be in trouble.
The Jets are not exactly setting him up to succeed if they move him to free safety and force him to play deep, so it wouldn’t necessarily be surprising to see them put Landry in a deeper role. Another option, though probably not one Rex Ryan is particularly fond of, is pulling both safeties out of the box and playing more man under, two deep schemes. The Jets’ front seven can easily hold up against the run without safety help, but that change reduces the team’s ability to blitz, disguise coverages and generate pressure, which basically goes against everything Ryan believes in.
Training camp and the preseason will obviously shed some light on this situation, but for now there are still a lot of unknowns as to how Pryor and the rest of the Jets’ safeties will fit together. For now, however, look for Pryor to be the free safety and spend a lot of time further back from the line of scrimmage than he (and the Jets, honestly) would like. How quickly Pryor can develop as a coverage safety will be crucial to the success of the Jets’ pass defense next season.