It’s an uncommonly deep safety class in this year’s draft, and there’s a general consensus as to who is the cream of the crop. Right below that top tier however, lurks hard-hitting South Carolina safety D.J. Swearinger, who could bring a measure of physical play to a team in need of some attitude on defense.
“Swearinger, he was productive,” said ESPN NFL draft analyst, Mel Kiper. “He's a good football player. Second round pick.” after you look at the top three, which are (Kenny) Vaccaro, (Matt) Elam, and (Jonathan) Cyprien, the fourth safety off the board could be D.J. Swearinger.”
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Swearinger first and foremost is a hitter. In fact the safety admits that some NFL clubs in interviews at the NFL Combine told him some of his hits would cost big money in the league.
“I’ve just got to target lower,” he said. “You see receivers come across the middle, and before you see them you see them ball up or slide down, but as a defensive back you’ve got to target lower. You’ve just got to slow it down and target lower before you make the hit.”
At the same time Swearinger takes pride in his physicality on the field and doesn’t mind making receiving targets think twice about laying out for the football.
“I lead vocally and physically,” he said. “First and foremost I lead by example. I’m going to do what it takes to get my team in the best position to win, defensively and offensively. I’m going to be a leader for both. I’m just a leader at heart. That’s just how it’s been.”
The South Carolina product has also shown he’s capable of turning in the game-changing play. He’s not considered elite in coverage, but led the Gamecocks in pass breakups last season and has five interceptions over the past two seasons.
In 2012 he had a 69-yard interception return for a touchdown against Arkansas. He also posted a 65-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown against UAB.
“First of all you’ve got to have great instincts,” he said. “Great ball skills. You’ve got to read coverages. You’ve got to be able to run, tackle in the open field and play the ball when it’s in the air.”
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After playing free safety in 2011, Swearinger rotated back and forth between free safety and cornerback though no NFL clubs spoke to him about playing on the boundary in the future.
“I’ve played every position in the back end, from corner to strong safety to free safety to the nickel. I’m a versatile player,” said Swearinger. “I’m not only just a safety, I’m an athlete.”
Swearinger clocked in the mid to high 4.6s at the NFL Combine and his pro day in the 40 and had an impressive 37-inch vertical, 10’4” broad jump and 17 reps on the bench.
“You can’t coach instincts. I have great ball skills, great feet and hips,” he said. “I’m going to stay in that film room and be a hard worker day in and day out.
Though he does not have ideal height, it sounds as though most NFL clubs are fine taking his physical play and confidence in exchange.
“I’m a leader first and foremost. I have great ball skills,” said Swearinger. “I want to be a ball hawk. I just want to make plays.”