The 2016 NFL Combine will be a big test for USC linebacker/safety hybrid Su’a Cravens, a dynamic player who finds himself stuck between positions.
As USC’s do-everything defender, Cravens earned high praise for his versatility and strong football IQ. But with the NFL being much more specialized, his draft position remains unclear going into next week’s NFL Combine.
What did he do at USC?
Quite simply, Cravens was USC’s most valuable player on defense over the course of his three years in college football. With a depleted linebacker corps, a secondary that was seemingly always in flux, and a defensive line that included two years of Leonard Williams drawing double teams, Cravens had to face it all.
He did it by finishing with 207 tackles, 34.5 tackles for loss, 16 deflections and 9 interceptions in 40 career starts for the Trojans at two different positions.
Cravens began at USC as a safety in Clancy Pendergast’s 5-2 defense, where he earned Freshman All-American honors. In fall camp of 2014, he moved to strongside outside linebacker following a season-ending knee injury to Jabari Ruffin.
At linebacker, he excelled as a perimeter defender that could drop into coverage and blitz off the edge. He was twice named as an All-Pac-12 first-teamer in his final two seasons, while earning third-team All-American recognition both years.
What’s his current draft stock?
Where Cravens gets selected all comes down to positioning. Is he a linebacker? Or is he a safety? That uncertainty is what makes his draft stock so intriguing.
Currently, he has a 2nd round draft projection by CBS Sports as a linebacker, while he’s the 59th overall player in their rankings.
ALSO READ: Su’a Cravens Insists He’s a Safety
Will he actually be linebacker in the NFL though?
“It’s hard to decide what to grade Cravens as,” Nathan Beaucage of Baltimore Beatdown wrote in December. “He plays a truly unique role in USC’s defense, and I don’t see a NFL team employing him the same way that the Trojans do.”
Then there’s NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein, who is adamant that Cravens could be a linebacker if put there.
WalterFootball.com? Not sold. They have Cravens going 45th overall to the LA Rams, partly due to their need at safety.
The bottom line is that where Cravens gets drafted and what position he plays is likely going to be tied to scheme.
A defense deploying a 4-3 scheme could use him as a nickel safety in various packages or strictly as an outside linebacker. Teams running a 3-4 could even slot him inside as a weakside-inside linebacker.
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Everywhere you see him, his value changes. The one constant is that Cravens’s current projections fall between the 40th and 70th overall picks.
What can he improve at the Combine?
It’ll all come down to which position Cravens ends up slotting into. If he’s a safety as he’s always said he is, it’s his range in coverage that could be addressed.
While being an above average linebacker in coverage, safety is a different animal, especially three years removed it. Cravens boasts solid ball skills, but how he engages with passing targets over the middle of the field will be an area of emphasis.
As a linebacker, it comes down to how well Cravens can continue to build his muscle mass to help set the edge at the next level.