Who else was surprised the Vikings waited until their last pick in the most recent NFL draft to pick a safety? After months of speculation the Vikings would add to their depth alongside Harrison Smith early in the draft, Rick Spielman was seemingly content waiting for the right moment.
When the Vikings did add Jayron Kearse in the 7th round, the pick seemed to make more sense. Kearse, formerly of Clemson, has the athletic tool set and size to fit in at the NFL level. However, like other 7th round draftees, there are enough question marks about Kearse’s game that 243 players were drafted before him.
There might not have been a bigger proponent of Kearse in the war room than head coach Mike Zimmer, who reportedly ‘pounded the table’ in order to make his desire to see Kearse in purple known.
Very few will question Zimmer’s ability to identify talent, so what kind of player did the Vikings get in Kearse? Let’s take a look:
Weight: 216 lbs
40yard dash: 4.6 seconds
Vertical Jump: 31.5 inches
Broad Jump: 124 inches
3 Cone Drill: 7.06 seconds
The most notable personal story line for Kearse is that he is the nephew of former All-Pro defensive end Jevon Kearse, who played 11 seasons in the NFL.
Kearse is also the cousin of Phillip Buchannon, a former NFL corner back known for his speed.
Kearse was ranked the 16th overall ‘athlete’ prior to attending Clemson, and certainly takes after his Uncle and Cousin in that category.
You can’t gaurentee NFL bloodlines will ensure success at the NFL level, but you are getting a player who likely understands better than others what it takes to succeed.
- Great size for the position. Will draw comparisons to Seattle Seahawk Kam Chancellor for that alone
- Long strides as a runner with above average straight line speed
- Can match up against big wide receivers as well as bigger tight ends
- Significant length which allows for plays on the football
- Willing tackler at the line of scrimmage. Loves to get in the backfield on run plays or WR screens
- Good at reading a quarterback’s eyes and playing center field on the top of the defense
Below is a great example of this happening. Watch Kearse start in the middle of the video and flow with the play while tracking the quarterback and making a play on the ball.
- Seemingly ‘coasts’ through stretches of games
- Will take poor angles on open field tackles
- Will get lost in coverage against shifty wide receivers
- Too lean for his height currently and will need to bulk up
- Will need to work on fundamentals to acclimate at the NFL level
When you are 6’4″ and playing center field, you will get plenty of love for your range and ball skills. Kearse proved to be no different when CBS Sports broke down his game film. In my opinion, you give a little on Kearse’s stiff hips and agility to gain this give of length and range in the secondary.
Below are two of my favorite plays from Kearse’s game film. In both plays, Kearse does a nice job reading the quarterback and covering plenty of field to make a play.
In the second play, Kearse uses his incredibly long arms to make a last ditch play on a ball thrown over his head and is able to break up the pass. Really impressive centerfield coverage in my opinion, although the argument could be made the Kearse shouldn’t have let the receiver over the top.
As mentioned above, the recurring red flag on Kearse is that he will coast through games at times. This blase approach can put Kearse in poor position for tackles at times, as noted by drafttek.com in their scouting report of Kearse.
Although Kearse has good size and plays aggressively with wide outs, Bleacher Report called out his lack of willingness to tackle Derrick Henry, the big physical running back from Alabama in the National Championship.
The positives and negatives of a 7th round prospect shouldn’t be weighted too heavily this early in their career, but if you spend enough time watching Kearse play these areas highlighted above will become more than obvious. Certainly some things to watch as Kearse spends more time with the Vikings.
For draftees who watch the draft from home, the NFL will send them 32 hats – one of each team – so when selected, they can wear the hat of their new team. Kearse has already said he threw the other 31 hats on the floor as soon as the Vikings selected him. Kearse certainly has a chip on his shoulder and feels slighted after falling into the third day.
Just last week, Kearse spoke about his reaction after being selected by the Vikings:
“Everybody that went in front of me is going to realize and see that I am going to make everybody who passed on me pay whether it is in a game or after three years when I am sitting at the table with my agent, we are going to make them pay.”
The Vikings have made two notable additions to the safety position this off-season. Prior to drafting Kearse, the team added long time NFL veteran Michael Griffin via free agency. After signing last year’s starter Andrew Sendejo to an extension as free agency kicked off, the Vikings have a crowded position group at strong safety.
For 2016, I suspect Kearse’s biggest opportunity is on special teams and potentially spot roles on defense in sub packages. There have been a few times that Zimmer has used three safeties at once and I can see Kearse being used over the top of the defense occasionally.
It’s not rare for rookie defensive backs to be gently nudged into live action and I suspect that will be the case for Kearse. That’s not necessarily a symptom of Kearse’s abilities, but more the step up in play at the NFL level.