There are many occasions where a player is a dominant one at the collegiate ranks, but because of size and/or skill set issues, said college player just can't make the transition to the NFL level. The USC Trojans have had a number of these "'tweener" players over the years, and they have come with mixed results as pros. One of the crown jewels of Trojan examples in this mold was Troy Polamalu, who was a safety by trade, but also exuded many linebacker duties. Back in 2004, USC had another dominant defender named Matt Grootegoed, who simply didn't find the same niche position and success at the NFL level.
That brings us to 2016 NFL Draft prospect, Su'a Cravens. In his years at Southern California, Cravens was an incredibly active defender, who lined up as a safety, linebacker and even an edge rusher in his collegiate career. He's entering the draft as a linebacker, but there are concerns about his ability to hold up to professional talent.
Numbers and Stats:
Weight: 221 pounds
Pro Day Numbers: 4.67 40-yard dash, 30 1/2-inch vertical jump, 4.41-second shuttle, 6.92-second three-cone drill, 16 repetitions on bench press (this drill was done at the Combine).
Projected Round: 2-3
Pro Comparisons: Lavonte David, Lofa Tatupu
2015 Stats: 86 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 5.5 quarterback sacks, two forced fumbles, two interceptions.
Strengths, Weaknesses and Outlook:
Strengths: Cravens is known to have an incredible work ethic and attitude, as evidenced by his position switch from safety to linebacker in college. He does everything the coaches ask of him and his versatility will be an asset to an NFL defense. Though undersized for an NFL linebacker, many think he has the frame to add weight and still maintain the play-making ability he showed at USC. He also has a reputation of having a high football IQ, excellent hands while playing in space and as a very willing tackler at multiple levels in the defense.
Weaknesses: Cravens is athletic, but not the workout warrior you see out of many linebackers. While he can add weight, if he gets to the 230-pound range, he'll still be on the smaller side of the position by NFL standards. Some of his tape shows his eagerness to go for the big play/hit and missing, instead of making the sure tackle. Cravens only has two collegiate seasons in a "'tweener" role with linebacker duties, so he might be a little behind the learning curve for NFL demands at the position.
Outlook: Cravens isn't a guy who pops off the screen with supreme athleticism, but he definitely has enough and is what scouts and coaches like to call "a gamer". He'll do the finesse plays in pass coverage, but he'll also do the dirty work in run support and eating up blockers to free up other defenders. The college production in just three seasons can't be denied, with nine interceptions, 10.5 sacks, and 34.5 tackles for loss from 2013-2015. Cravens also provides special teams value and it's likely that's where the bulk of his snaps will come early in his pro career. Though he might not ever be a truly dominant NFL player, he's a guy who will surely be a frustrating matchup for opposing offenses in the years ahead.