It’s easy to poke holes in the résumé of Florida International safety Jonathan Cyprien.
Without even seeing him or watching him, critics can point to his small-school pedigree and average time in the 40-yard dash and dismiss him as a top safety prospect in this year’s NFL Draft.
That is until they start viewing video of Cyprien or watching him up close and in person such as former Packers safety and current Chicago Tribune analyst Matt Bowen did at this year’s Senior Bowl.
“What you find out in seeing some of the best safeties, there might be a 4.6 guy, but turn on the film, they’re playing at a 4.45 rate because they’re smart, they understand routes, concepts, splits, formations, personnel groupings, and they know how to take the angle to the football,” Bowen told Cheeshead TV in an exclusive interview.
Bowen thinks Cyprien falls into that category, a guy that can make up for these little deficiencies in his game by having a high football IQ and anticipating where the football is going before it gets there. Those qualities can overcome his 4.64 and 4.65 40 times at his pro day workout (Cyprien declined to run the 40 at all but one measured drill at the NFL Combine).
“At cornerback, yeah, you want 4.4, 4.5 guys. 4.3 guys are pretty special,” said Bowen. “At 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.”
Cyprien has range. Just watch his game against eventual Big East champ Louisville early in the 2012 season.
Facing first-and-10 late in the first quarter, all-conference Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater faked a play-action handoff and went deep to his receiver down the right sideline.
Coming all the way from his drop into the center-field zone was Cyprien, making an outstretched grab of the football and shuffling his feet before momentum carried him out of bounds.
It was a terrific play against a higher level of competition, the type of play that makes you abandon concerns that Cyprien came from the lowest rungs of the NCAA’s FBS subdivision.
“Teams are aware that I did come from Florida International, but I think there’s a lot of talent in the Sun Belt conference, and not just from Florida International, but the entire conference,” said Cyprien at the Combine.
If Eric Fisher can be part of the discussion as the draft’s No. 1 overall selection coming out of Central Michigan and the MAC conference, then Cyprien can be in the discussion as this year’s top safety prospect, because he deserves it.
Thanks to his physical style of play, there’s a certain comfort level analysts have about Cyprien and his ability to fill the role of a strong safety and play in the box, but there are still questions whether he can guard the faster receivers the NFL has to offer.
“I have (in college), but I usually played dime, though,” said Cyprien. “Game-planning with specific teams, depending on what the coaches wanted to do, we would game-plan on how we wanted to cover specific teams, (against) some spread teams when we needed extra defensive backs on the field.”
That’s likely going to be the key to if Cyprien succeeds in the NFL, because the passing game is taking over.
The best safeties are equally adept at covering the quick slot receivers and the tall, athletic tight ends.
“The scouts I talked to said, ‘Well, he might be an in-the-box guy,’” Bowen said of Cyprien. “Here’s the thing, there is no such as an in-the-box guy anymore. Half the time you’re playing your subpackage, your nickel and your dime looks, because of all the spread offenses.”
But Bowen likes what Cyprien has to offer: the thick build, the ripped upper body, the strong legs.
As long as Cyprien can convince teams he’s got what it takes to hold his own in coverage at the pro level, maybe he’ll be able to become the next Sun Belt product to take the NFL by surprise, not unlike former Florida Atlantic running back Alfred Morris did last year with the Washington Redskins.
“If I just keep humbling myself and keep putting God first in all that I’m doing,” said Cyprien, “then hopefully at the end, I’ll be ready to pinch myself.”
Video of Jonathan Cyprien vs. Louisivlle
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 email@example.com.