The feeling of competition is finally in the air for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and this offseason has established several competitions at multiple positions for the team. The position battle that has created a ton of buzz as of late is the competition at strong safety between fourth-year safety Johnathan Cyprien and second-year player James Sample.
Cyprien, one of the team's leaders in tackles for the past three years, looks to improve in the secondary, as he can finally fill his natural role as a box safety due to the signing of free safety Tashaun Gipson.
Sample, on the other hand, is looking to make a name for himself at the same position. After being drafted in the fourth round last year, Sample spent the majority of 2015 on the injured reserve. The potential for Sample is off the charts as a box safety, but the potential of his injuries becoming a lingering problem stand in his way.
As of now, both of these players show potential to thrive, and that includes the veteran Cyprien. However, neither of these players are proven at the position that has been established, so the competition will ultimately provide hope rather than certainty.
So, if a competition is between two unproven players rather than the "household talent vs. potential talent" type of competition, does it hurt to add to the competition?
The answer is simple -- of course it doesn't.
And honestly, it would probably be best to add a third player to the competition. Neither Cyprien nor Sample have the true motivation they need entering this competition, as both players have had their struggles so far in Jacksonville.
Really, the only good way the Jaguars could supply the motivation needed would be to add another player into the mix.
A situation as such provides a complete win-win scenario -- a third man added to the competition will either provide an extra obstacle for both Cyprien and Sample to maneuver to prove their worth, or end up stealing the job from the both of them.
Is strong safety a hole in the Jaguars roster? No, and it's not even close to being so. However, although strong safety isn't a hole in the roster by any means, it sure as hell is a need for this team -- a need that can be filled nicely in the middle rounds of the draft.
While positions such as LEO pass rusher, center, and OTTO linebacker, should be the priority for the Jaguars in the early rounds, here are some viable options the Jaguars could have in the middle-to-late rounds of the NFL draft:
KJ Dillon, SS, West Virginia
Dillon checks in every box when it comes to the mold of the box safety. A senior out of West Virginia, Dillon started 34 games in his four seasons with the Mountaineers, and during this time he excelled in low/mid-zone pass coverage:
Plays like this are simple, but they are the plays that need to make on a regular basis. Johnathan Cyprien hasn't proven in his three years that he can excel at making these plays, and that's something that needs to change.
Dillon also provides great instinct in run defense, setting the edge as a natural box safety naturally should. The play below displays not only his skill as a run defender, but as a speedy defensive back -- he doesn't even line up at box safety, rather as a standard base safety, and still sets the edge:
Dillon's problem is that he is shaky in deep and press coverage, which is causing his draft stock to drop significantly. However, lining Dillon up as a true box safety eliminates that problem. With Gipson hovering as the single high safety, Dillon will rarely be asked to drop into deep coverage, which works in his favor.
The Jaguars should be comfortable with a player like KJ Dillon entering the strong safety competition, and should seriously consider him as a fourth/fifth round pick.
Miles Killebrew, SS, Southern Utah
Miles Killebrew is another ideal fit at box safety, and he brings not only the required skill set to the position, but size as well -- standing at 6'2", 217 pounds, which is comparable to Seattle Seahawks Pro Bowl strong safety Kam Chancellor (6'3", 230 pounds).
Killebrew fits the mold of hybrid safety/linebacker perfectly, both as a run defender and in pass coverage. Even though he played most of his snaps in his four starting seasons as a box safety, he tallied three interceptions in his career, as well as seven pass breakups in 2015.
He also totaled 243 tackles in his past two seasons -- including 132 in 2015 alone. Killebrew can always be found near the ball and constantly affects the outcome of plays.
Killebrew looks to slide into the third day of the draft, but probably not past the fourth round. He has few problems as a prospect, but these problems are concerning. Not only did he not play against much notable competition in FCS football, but he has a bad case of tunnel vision:
Plays like this need to be eliminated from his play if Killebrew wants to make it in the NFL.
All in all, Killebrew can make a name for himself in the NFL, as long as he is polished in the right system -- a system in which the Jaguars can offer.
Deon Bush, FS/SS, Miami
Deon Bush has been called a potential late round steal in this year's draft, and I'm not sure why.
There are positives in his game, don't get me wrong -- he is yet another player who fits the box safety mold, as well as a terrific athlete who can make plays. However, Bush had a very up and down college career, including a senior season that was plagued by injuries.
Bush is a solid run defender in the box and can cover well in a low zone, but that's about it. Bush is very shaky in base/high coverage and takes very harsh angles in open field tackling -- comparable to our very own Johnathan Cyprien:
I don't know, maybe it's just me, but I don't share the optimism that many feel for Deon Bush. I see Bush as more of a depth guy at both safety positions and a special teamer.
Bush is known for his violent hits, as seen below:
But honestly, I think that his physicality is his only trait that will make him successful in the NFL.
As I said before, the best thing the Jaguars could do to motivate Cyprien and Sample in the strong safety competition would be to add more talent to the position. And with the pool of mid-round talent at strong safety that the 2016 NFL Draft provides, the Jaguars could easily do just that.