USC linebacker/safety Su’a Cravens is one of the most intriguing defensive players available in the 2016 NFL Draft, entering as an underclassman. Here’s our thoughts on him as a prospect and where he fits on an NFL roster…
Name: Su’a Cravens
Wt: 225 pounds
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
2015 Key Stats
78 tackle, 14.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 2 INT, 6 PBU, 2 FF
Translatable NFL Skills
In the NFL, speed kills. The fact that Cravens is able to accelerate and keep up with running backs, slot receivers, as well as show burst coming off the edge is one of the top translatable traits you will see from him when it comes from college to the NFL. He’s just 20 years old, but he’s going to come into the NFL and be able to contribute immediately to a defense or special teams because of his speed. He’s a converted safety who moved to ‘linebacker’ so he’s a little bit on the smaller side, but that doesn’t matter when you can fly around the field and make plays from literally any spot, which we’re going to talk about next…
Like I mentioned before, Cravens is a converted safety turned linebacker, and really he’s pretty darn good at both. You see USC move him around the defensive formation sort of like a “STAR” linebacker or nickel defensive back. They will put him at the line of scrimmage, line him up with a slot receiver, play him as a more traditional linebacker, or send him on a blitz. He can really do a little bit of everything and also like I said before, I think he can play some special teams right away.
If I’m an NFL GM or coach, I am dying to get this kid in my defense because of the way he can help your team in such a wide variety of ways. Just look at the way he fills up the stat sheet with tackles, tackles for loss, pass breakups, interceptions, forced fumbles, and sacks. There’s not a lot this player can’t do.
3. Coverage Skills
In the NFL, if you want to be a three-down linebacker, you had better be able to cover. As a safety by trade, Cravens is clearly capable of doing that. He frequently lines up with slot receivers and is able to do really well in both man and zone coverage. He’s obviously going to get beat sometimes with quicker slot receivers but if he’s put in man situations he can make plays and is a good tackler after the catch.
You see him excel in a lot of zone coverage concepts too, and he is good at reading screen plays and blowing those up. One of the advantages he has on the outside in coverage is getting off of blocks in the screen game as well, and making the tackle before a play can really get going.
To put it simply, this is a guy that makes plays. That’s evidenced by a 225 pound linebacker that has 14.5 tackles for loss. When Cravens gets near the football, he makes a play. He knows how to fight off of blocks. He knows how to bend around the edge. He is aggressive when blitzing from both a defensive back position or a traditional linebacker position. He is still extremely young but it’s clear that this is one of the better players in the draft at finishing defensively, getting the football back to your offense in a hurry.
NFL Comparison: T.J. Ward, Broncos
You see a lot of T.J. Ward in Su’a Cravens and I love the way USC uses him. I think with Ward, the biggest comparison I see is an aggressiveness, using your size to your advantage. T.J. Ward is one of the best safeties in the NFL at playing at or near the line of scrimmage, and he’s also one of the best blitzing safeties in the league. Ward doesn’t classify as a linebacker but since coming to Denver, they have found a variety of ways in using him as such.
Cravens to me is a guy that can play a very similar role to Ward. He’s good, not elite in coverage, but when you put him in the box he’s a load to handle.
Best NFL Fit: Oakland Raiders…?
When Jack Del Rio came to Denver, it seemed like he could plug in any weakside linebacker and they would have success. You look down the list even pre-Del Rio in Denver’s 4-3 experiments and you have guys like Wesley Woodyard, Danny Trevathan, and Brandon Marshall who have all had great success at making plays, and even in Oakland now with Malcolm Smith, the former Super Bowl MVP who has found a home with the Raiders.
Perhaps the Raiders aren’t the best fit since they already have Smith at that WLB position, but Cravens could come in and fit that role on any roster, really. He can be lined up anywhere within a defense be it a 4-3 or 3-4 and I think his skills will translate to immediate success in the NFL both defensively and on special teams.