- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan fell hard for Calvin Pryor the first time he saw him. So did the wide receiver that was knocked cold after getting leveled by the former Louisville safety.
During the season, Ryan watched the tape of the opening series of the Louisville-Central Florida game in October. On the second play of the game, UCF's Blake Bortles tossed a 15-yard completion to wide receiver J.J. Worton, who ran up the left sideline. In came Pryor, who lowered his shoulder into Worton, dislodging the ball. The ball rolled out of bounds and Worton was flat on his back. He never returned to the game. Six plays later, Pryor made a brilliant, one-handed interception in the end zone, somehow managing to get one foot down as he juggled the ball.
Ryan was sold.
"I was like, 'That's a pretty good start,'" the New York Jets' coach said late Thursday night after Pryor was picked in the first round.
Ryan neglected to mention that, with 23 seconds left in the game, Pryor was one of three defenders that left wide receiver Jeff Godfrey wide open in the end zone. Bortles tossed a short touchdown pass to Godfrey to culminate a 75-yard drive, lifting UCF to a 38-35 upset against the Cardinals, who were undefeated and ranked sixth in the country. Pryor was the closest defender to Godfrey, arriving a split-second too late. That, of course, would have ruined Ryan's anecdote.
The bitter finish notwithstanding, Pryor is well-respected in the NFL scouting community. It was a surprise pick for the Jets, whom many expected to select a cornerback, but it wasn't a bad pick.
"He's an upgrade over (Antonio) Allen, who I think is a backup," said an opposing personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "He's an athletic kid, can run-support and tackle. He plays with good tempo and he's a willing contact player. He's got good instincts and can play in zones and space. He's an interchangeable guy at strong safety and free safety."
Former Washington Redskins general manager Vinny Cerrato, an ESPN radio analyst, studied Pryor closely and compared him to former Indianapolis Colts star Bob Sanders. You may recall that Sanders, a 5-foot-8, 206-pound sledgehammer, was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2007. Unfortunately, his career was shortened by a spate of injuries.
"I love the pick, I love the player," Cerrato said Friday morning. "He fits their defensive temperament. He'll bring attitude. He reminds me of Sanders that way. He'll come up and hit you. He's very aggressive in the run game, almost too aggressive. He gets a little out of control and will miss on occasion, but you can live with that. Is he a great center fielder? I'd say he's average, but he can play deep in Rex's defense. The fans will love him. He's fun to watch."
Pryor was the first safety off the board, but he wasn't the best safety in the draft, according to two top draft analysts. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was rated higher by ESPN's Todd McShay and the NFL Network's Mike Mayock. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. gave a slight edge to Pryor. Here's how each player stacked up in the overall rankings:
Kiper Jr.: Pryor, 18th; Clinton-Dix, 19th.
McShay: Pryor, 21st; Clinton-Dix, 13th.
Mayock: Pryor 22nd; Clinton-Dix, 16th.