Dayario Jamal Swearinger caught my eye in 2011 in a game against Mississippi State. In a tight ballgame, D.J. Swearinger came up huge in the waning minutes of the game when he picked off a pass to preserve at 14-12 victory. In South Carolina’s star studded defense, it’s easy to overlook anyone not named Jadeveon Clowney. Swearinger seemed to relish his moments in the sun amongst the likes of Stephon Gilmore, Melvin Ingram, and Jadeveon Clowney.
Swearinger’s junior season was nothing short of spectacular considering he was hampered with a foot injury for much of the season. In film study on Ingram and Gilmore for preparations for the 2012 NFL Draft, I wrote in my notes to keep a close eye on D.J. Swearinger for next draft season.
Turns out I wasn’t disappointed. For evaluators of talent there’s nothing like your feelings on a player being reaffirmed by guys in the business that you respect. As I was watching Swearinger this season, some of the guys that I follow closely were blowing up their Twitter timelines with love for Swearinger. While it’s not a necessity to have folks reaffirm my evaluation, it sure helps to know that you are not alone with what you are seeing.
Swearinger’s game borders on reckless. In most cases that’s a negative but not when you’re evaluating a versatile safety prospect that has spent time at free safety and strong safety during his career. I have talked at length about the need or want of NFL teams to have interchangeable parts on the defense. The safety position may be driving that bus as teams look for guys to play the deep half, cover the slot, and play at the line of scrimmage as an extra run defender. Swearinger does all of that plus some.
Swearinger lines up all over the field in any given game and it’s hard not to notice him. Trust me when I tell you that ball carriers in the open field will have an eye on Swearinger’s presence. He brings knockout power as a tackler. He will certainly draw the league’s attention with some of his vicious hits. If Swearinger can improve on his ability to disengage from blockers he will be a dangerous downhill run defender from his safety spot.
As a pass defender, South Carolina opted to line Swearinger up in the slot frequently this season but I was most impressed when he lined up over the outside receiver. He will take a look at Swearinger versus the run and pass in the hopes of showing readers why I’m so high on this safety prospect.
Against the run
The big hits are sexy and draw the youtube highlight reel fame but Swearinger’s NFL future will be made or broke by his ability to read, react, and break down in space as an in the box defender. The first play we’ll look at is early in the Arkansas game. Arkansas is lined up in a one back set with receivers in a 2×1 (strength to the field) and TE attached to the boundary. The flow of the play is into the boundary with Swearinger lined over the No. 2 receiver to the field. As I said, Swearinger is a down the hill run defender and this play shows that ability at the next level.
Swearinger works his way downhill as he follows the flow of the ball. I love his instincts in the run game as he is highly effective when he can stay clean in traffic. I believe he will need to learn to detach himself a little more effectively at the next level but this is a great example of a play where he stays clean and works to stay squared and makes the tackle.
When Swearinger breaks down in space, he’s one of the better tacklers in the class. This safety class is very deep and talented but as a whole there are some bad open field tacklers in the group, even among the top talents. Swearinger’s ability to control his aggressive nature will be paramount to his success. This is a solid tackle on a big back that saves a big play as you see the blocks set up down the field.
This is a pass play but shows Swearinger’s in-the-box run instincts as the ball is given to the back on what boils down to a long handoff. One back, shotgun set with the receivers in a 2×1 into the boundary and TE attached to the field. Swearinger is 5 yards off the line of scrimmage in a zone two, deep look.
His ability to break down in space is evident on this one. Capable of the kill shot on this one as he has him dead to rights but plays it smart with a back in space. The angle of Swearinger’s body is either really smart on his part or just happenstance. He has help on the outside, so his body angle takes away the ability of the back to get it back inside. Wraps up the ball carrier for a loss of one.
Versus the pass
At 6-foot-0, 210 pounds Swearinger has solid movement skills to excel in pass coverage and line up over bigger receivers, in the slot, or matched up on the tight end. South Carolina asked Swearinger to do all of those things which will be beneficial for his ability to play early at the next level. We will show you some of the skills that we think will help his transition as an NFL pass defender.
Pistol backfield with receivers in a 2×2. South Carolina is in a two-deep look with Swearinger lined up over No. 2 at 6 yards depth. Anytime a safety is lined up over an inside receiver, I look for his ability to transition from backpedal to sprint (bail). In this case, Swearinger’s confidence that he won’t be beat deep and help over the top allow him to dead foot this a little (read the action) and turn the hips late. This is excellent technique and shows the athleticism that Swearinger has to play the inside, nickel spot.
Great shot of Swearinger’s ability to flip his hips and run with speed. His pad level stays the same through the transition with weight on the balls of his feet. I came away from all my film study thoroughly impressed with his bail technique. I don’t believe Swearinger is credited enough for his ability to play the pass in man coverage as most point to his hitting prowess. This guy is a legit coverage prospect in this safety class.
Shotgun one-back in a 3×1 tight set with the strength to the field. Swearinger is locked onto a 6-foot-3 receiver with no help. Swearinger is wisely going to take the outside away on the snap but gets beat inside as he can’t get his hands on the receiver. There are times every good cover man is going to whiff in press or guess wrong, the ability to reattach is an underrated skill.
Swearinger loses his balance as he tries to recover from being beat inside.
Recovery and reattachment are important, underrated aspects of playing in coverage. As I said, there’s going to be times that you get beat on an island and don’t have help. Recovery speed is more than just about speed as it involves angles to the spot, not the player. Swearinger does an excellent job of recovering and most importantly reattaches himself.
As a safety, playing in coverage with the ball in front of you is an all important aspect of the game. When we talk about playing with the ball in front of you, you want a player that can plant-gather-go. This play is a great example of all three aspects of the technique. Empty formation with strength to the field. Zone look from South Carolina with Swearinger reading No. 3 on the out route. This is a beautiful thing.
Swearinger reads the out with eyes on Tyler Wilson and the receiver. His plant step is perfect as his weight is over his toes, low pad level, and balanced. Couldn’t slow it down enough to screenshot all three aspects but the next shot is a great look at his feet.
You can see the gather-go steps here. Swearinger gets his feet under him and goes like he’s shot out of a rocket. One of the most surprising and impressive facets of Swearinger’s game was his ability to drive on the ball. This is a great example that ends in a pick six for the defense.
The NFL is quickly becoming a game that is defined by positional versatility. With teams playing multiple fronts and play action passing taking on a new look (with zone read action), its becoming an increasingly important to find versatile prospects through the evaluation process. The safety position is one that has changed dramatically in the last several years. My best guess on the future of the position is that it will go away from traditional ‘free’ and ‘strong’ safety roles. The most effective players at the safety position are those that can play either role in an interchangeable way.
D.J. Swearinger should be a valuable commodity come draft day and I’m talking day one of the draft as I think he could figure into the first round discussion. Jonathan Cyprien is drawing a ton of attention (rightfully so) as of late but it’s my bet that Swearinger will be the one to make waves late in the process.