INDIANAPOLIS––Some might argue that Calvin Pryor had a bad Combine, turning in a pedestrian time in the 40-yard dash and measuring in three inches shorter than his listed height at the University of Louisville.
For some teams, that might make the difference between ranking him as the No. 2 safety instead of No. 1, but it's not going to drop him out of the first round.
The proof is in the pudding. Turn on the film. Pryor plays faster than he times.
"(There's) a lot of buzz about him, because he is so quick coming downhill," said former Packers safety Matt Bowen, now a lead writer at Bleacher Report. "He arrives with a ton of speed."
Pryor clocked in a time of 4.58 seconds in the 40 on Tuesday, tied for eight best among safeties at the Combine and tied with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who many consider to be one of the other top safeties in this year's Draft class.
Perhaps even more unexpected was Pryor measuring in at 5-11 seeing as his published height was 6-2 at Louisville.
In the end, however, it hardly matters, because time after time Pryor displayed that he understands angles and ran with abandon to meet his opposing targets. Such traits help overcome concerns over speed and height.
"Safety is all about angles," said Pryor. "Football is an angle game. You have to have an IQ and know what's going on. You have to understand formations and how people are going to motion, and you have adjust to those things. So you have to be a smart football player at safety."
Another important factor to consider is that not all defensive backs are created equal in Bowen's eyes.
"I'll tell you right now, cornerback is much different than safety when you're looking at the 40-yard dash," said Bowen. "Cornerback, yeah, you want 4.4, 4.5 guys. 4.3 guys are pretty special. Safety, you can be a 4.55, 4.6, 4.65 guy, it's all about angles. It's not about top-end speed. It's about range. The way you develop range is by reading the quarterback."
Pryor isn't going to be asked to line up as a perimeter cornerback, negating the need for deep speed. But he does feel as if he's a versatile safety, one that's lined up as both a free safety and strong safety, one that can make a big hit as well well make a clutch interception.
Based on statistics, Pryor has not been a big-time ballhawk, coming up with a career-high three in his recently completed junior season before declaring for the draft as an underclassman. He does, however, force turnovers in different ways, causing five fumbles in 2012 and nine total over the course of his college career.
To his credit, Pryor was voted first-team All-American Athletic Conference as a junior after being named second-team All-Big East as a sophomore. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock has compared Pryor to a "bigger, stronger Bob Sanders," a two-time All-Pro for the Indianapolis Colts.
Pryor certainly isn't naive about which teams in the NFL need help at safety, rattling off, "the Rams, Green Bay, Chicago, Dallas." He had a formal interview with the Packers at the Combine.
Unfortunately for Green Bay, the other three teams on that list all pick ahead of them in the first round of the draft. If they want one of the first two safeties off the board, the Packers may have a difficult decision to make.
"The Rams at 13, the Bears at 14––now the Bears could go defensive line––the Cowboys at 16," said Bowen. "So Green Bay could be in a situation where they might not get either, unless they move up. If one comes off the board, that alarm's going to go off up in Green Bay and say 'Look, we have to make a decision here. We're going to move up to get a safety or we're going to wait.'"
There are legitimate concerns about Pryor and his aggressive, perhaps over-aggressive, style of play. In three consecutive games this past season, he hit a player that did not return to the game. And then there's the occasional missed tackle that comes as a result of a lack of discipline.
Pryor says he's not going to change his style of play but will be smart about tackling with his shoulder pads and not his helmet.
"I'm just going to be myself," said Pryor, "and I'm just still going to play aggressive and play like my hair's on fire."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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