D.J. Swearinger is a WYSIWYG safety: What you see is what you get.
He’s everything you see on film. The first thing that sticks out from the South Carolina prospect is his tackling, both in his ability to deliver a crushing blow and also wrap up to create the perfect form tackle. The two are not mutually exclusive, and Swearinger does both well.
Turnovers in the secondary are not created simply by grabbing interceptions. For Swearinger, he’s just as liable to force a fumble with a hard hit as he is to snag an errant pass.
Such was the case in the Gamecocks’ Outback Bowl game against Michigan this past season when Swearinger forced a fumble, which assisted in a five-point victory and helped to secure an 11-win season for South Carolina.
“It’s the playmaker mentality,” said Swearinger at the NFL Combine. “Teams want to see turnovers. They want to see you make plays. For that, going in and securing the tackle and helping to get the turnover at the same time, it’s just being a playmaker.”
These are among the top qualities for a player who’s very likely to be among the top five safeties coming off the board at this year’s upcoming NFL Draft.
One of Swearinger’s weaknesses, however, is his straight-line speed, as evidenced by his time of 4.67 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Combine. Only four safeties ran a slower time.
When Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro ran a time of 4.63 seconds, it created a minor stir for the player generally considered to be the top-rated safety in this year’s draft class.
And if Swearinger ran a time .04 seconds slower than Vaccaro, that should raise a red flag, right?
“I’m a firm believer that a workout’s a workout,” said former Packers safety and current Chicago Tribune analyst Matt Bowen in an interview with Cheesehead TV. “Football is a transitional game, it’s a game of angles, not a game of straight line.
“Unless you’re going to be covering a kick, that’s when you use that 40-yard dash time. If you’re playing DB against a wide receiver, you don’t get to start next to him with your hand on the line in shorts. You have to open your hips, run, go over the top.”
According to Bowen, 40 time is an inadequate metric for a position that’s more about playing angles and transitional speed.
Fortunately for Swearinger he had a much better performance in the three-cone drill that is better indicator of his change-of-direction skills. His time of 6.70 seconds was bettered by only two other safeties at the Combine.
To look at Swearinger’s 40 time in a vacuum and dismiss him as a top prospect would be a mistake, because there’s so much more to like.
“I’m a leader first and foremost,” said Swearinger. “I have great ball skills. I’ve played every position in the back end, from corner to strong safety to free safety to the nickel. I’m a versatile player. I’m not only just a safety, I’m an athlete.”
Over the course of his college career, Swearinger has six interceptions, 6.5 tackles for a loss and three touchdowns scored on the defensive side of the football.
Measuring in at fractions over 5-10, Swearinger’s height leaves a little more to be desired, especially when tasked with covering the tall tight ends invading today’s NFL.
But Swearinger thinks he has certain intangibles that make up for any perceived lack of height.
“I have instincts that coaches can’t coach. You can’t coach instincts,” said Swearinger. “I have great ball skills, great feet and hips. I’m going to stay in that film room and be a hard worker day in an day out.”
After the Packers released Charles Woodson in the offseason, there’s a spot open in the defensive backfield for a starting safety in Green Bay. There will be competition from holdovers like Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings, but the job is up for grabs.
It’s perhaps possible that Swearinger could be a first-round target of the Packers, particularly if Vaccaro or Floria International’s Jonathan Cyprien are already gone by the time the 26th pick is on the clock.
“His stock’s rising a little bit if you talk to people,” said Bowen. “The arrow’s pointing up on him. This is the kind of time you want it to.”
Brian Carriveau is the author of “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.