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Player Spotlight: Su'a Cravens

A detailed look at Su'a Cravens' fantasy prospects for 2016.

DEFENDING THE CAPITAL

Despite improbably winning the NFC East and making a playoff appearance, Washington possessed one of the worst defenses in the NFL in 2015. According to Football Outsiders, Washington ranked in the bottom third of the league in efficiency versus both the pass and the run. Washington’s clear mandate this offseason was to improve on the defensive side of the ball. The secondary seems to be the area the team has identified most in need of improvement, as evidenced by the capital invested in the group in the Draft and free agency. When the Panthers stunningly removed the franchise tag from Josh Norman, Washington signed him a few days later. They also added ball-hawking corner Kendall Fuller (the brother of talented Bears corner, Kyle Fuller) in the third round of the Draft. Perhaps the most interesting addition to the secondary came in the second round when the team added Su’a Cravens. As we will see, Cravens is a player who adds versatility to a defense that previously was one-dimensional.

SUPER SU’A

When Cravens was drafted, the connection was immediately evident. Washington’s Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry recruited Cravens when he filled the same role for the University of Southern California. Versatility is one of Cravens’ centerpiece strengths. When speaking to the media, Barry seemed excited about how many ways in which Washington can use him on the field: “You can play him at inside backer, you can play him at outside backer and rush him off the edge or drop him into coverage. You can play him in the slot in a nickel position and do a bunch of things with him.”

Cravens has often been compared to Deone Bucannon. Though that is not the most accurate comparison, Bucannon is the player after whom he models his game. Cravens is instinctive and not afraid of contact. He shows no hesitancy when taking on blockers and is able to disengage from them to make a tackle. When blitzing, his timing, anticipation, and evasiveness make him a difficult blocking assignment. His excellent field awareness keeps him in the play. Tackles for loss are commonplace with Cravens when playing the run. Of the varied responsibilities that Cravens had at USC, he cited playing in space, defending the run, and rushing off the edge as those that he enjoyed doing the most.

Cravens’ usage should make him a very exciting player for IDP leagues. According to Barry, Washington will use him in a hybrid linebacker role, much in the same way the Rams began to use Mark Barron. He has been issued number 36, indicating he will be classified as a defensive back. If this designation holds, it instantly makes Cravens a top long-term option at safety.

CRITICIZING CRAVENS

One of the biggest knocks on Cravens is the fact he only weighs 226 pounds. While he is capable of adding a small amount of “man weight,” his frame is nearly maxed out. Understand that Cravens’ hybrid role will not require him to beef up much more and this concern becomes a lot less daunting. He can drop and cover when asked, but needs to work on honing his techniques and not grabbing at the receiver. Cravens also sometimes drops his head and dives, causing him to miss tackles. He has battled with knee injuries several times in his college career, his latest occurring in November of 2014.

POSITIVES

  • Cravens is versatile and will play a majority of the snaps immediately. When he gets going, he won’t leave the field due to his many different skills and usages.

  • He landed in a very tackle-rich environment.

  • Cravens is a top option if your league software classifies him as a safety.

NEGATIVES

  • Though a negligible concern for his role, his frame is maxed out, meaning he won’t be able to add more weight.

  • Cravens needs to refine his coverage skills and clean up his tackling technique.

  • He may be classified as a linebacker in your league software, making him a lot less valuable for your IDP squad.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Cravens has the skills to develop into the versatile hybrid player that is a defensive coordinator's dream. His fantasy value is highly dependent on his classification as a safety. The indications are that he will gain this designation in most league software, making him one of the more valuable defensive backs in the game to own. In standard IDP leagues, defensive back production is less scarce than any other position, a subject covered in this article. A late second round pick in mixed rookie pool dynasty leagues is not too much to pay to acquire his services.

2016 PROJECTIONS

JOHN NORTON'S PROJECTIONS

G

TKL

AST

SCK

FF

FR

PD

INT

TD

FPT

16

28

16

2

1

0

3

0

0

69.50

AARON RUDNICKI'S PROJECTIONS

G

TKL

AST

SCK

FF

FR

PD

INT

TD

FPT

16

40

18

2

0

0

3

1

0

91.00

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

Lance Zierlien summed up Cravens’ strengths in his NFL.com Draft Profile:

Plays with a unique lens that includes his time at the safety position as a freshman. Teams focusing on putting a "tweener" label on him could be making a huge mistake considering his competitive nature and toughness. Cravens was highly disruptive and productive in each of his three seasons as a starter thanks to his tools/traits to act on his instincts. Cravens will help on special teams immediately and could become an early starter for a 4-­3 defense looking for a playmaking weak­-side linebacker.

Yahoo’s Eric Edholm gives the following warnings in his downside section of the Shutdown Corner blog:

Most NFL safeties at least can run with Nos. 2 and 3 receivers, but it's unclear that Cravens would handle defending the slot or outside speed in man-coverage situations. He also has battled various little injuries the past few seasons and might not project to have a long NFL career. Fans and media might want to compare Cravens to Troy Polamalu, but that's a stretch until proven otherwise.