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Making the Leap, No. 6: Jaguars' Johnathan Cyprien

Why Cyprien is on the list

Selected at No. 33 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft after setting school records in tackles and forced fumbles at Florida International, Cyprien was deemed a "man among boys" in rookie minicamp and the "landslide" MVP of offseason practices.

The Jaguars targeted the rocked-up 6-foot, 217-pound Cyprien as a highly athletic in-the-box thumper around whom to build a dynamic, physically intimidating secondary modeled on Gus Bradley's defensive backfield in Seattle.

After gaining momentum throughout the offseason, Cyprien was waylaid by a hamstring injury entering training camp and fell behind in his development. He struggled out of the regular-season gate, swimming in coverage and taking bad angles on missed tackles. That was not entirely unexpected for a rookie making the jump from the Sun Belt conference to football's highest level.

What stands out on Game Rewind is that Cyprien was already laying the wood to ball carriers and showcasing impressive closing speed as a solid tackler while growing accustomed to his responsibilities in Bradley's defense.

The light appeared to flip on near midseason, as the game slowed down for Cyprien and his coverage skills improved. Not only did Cyprien surrender fewer big plays, he also started to break on the ball and make an impact on contested catches.

"You know more," Cyprien recently explained about his renewed confidence. "Things are more natural."

Cyprien closed out the season on a high note, finishing second among Jaguars defenders in tackles while adding six pass breakups and two forced fumbles.

Entering the summer of his second season, the Jaguars are confident that Cyprien is developing into the defensive leader they envisioned all along.


Jacksonville brought up the rear in sacks last year. That lack of a pass rush didn't do Cyprien any favors as the last line of defense against in-rhythm quarterbacks riddling the secondary with plenty of time to throw.

After seeing his team add a pair of former Seahawks in Chris Clemons and Red Bryant, senior VP of football technology and analytics Tony Khan suggested to Around The League that an improved pass rush would put Cyprien in a better position to succeed this season. Andre Branch's five sacks in the last six games of 2013 certainly bode well.

Beyond that, Cyprien will be challenged with turning in more high-impact plays as a box safety in a pass-heavy league featuring more and more multi-wide receiver sets. He intercepted just one pass, hit opposing quarterbacks only once and allowed five touchdowns in coverage. Those numbers have to reverse in 2014.

2014 expectations

By the end of his rookie season, Cyprien has begun to draw the occasional stretched comparison to SeahawksPro Bowl bone-crusher Kam Chancellor, who flourished under Bradley in Seattle. The two players aren't used the same way, however, and Cyprien will never have the benefit of an All-Pro such as Earl Thomas showcasing difference-making range at free safety.

It's easier to picture Cyprien in the mold of T.J. Ward, who led all safeties in stops with the Browns last season, per Pro Football Focus. Aligning closer to the line or scrimmage, Ward played at a Pro Bowl level while setting a physical tone in the box.

Cyprien boasts the physicality, movement pattern and athleticism to match Ward in the running game while still holding his own in coverage.

It's reasonable to believe he will emerge as the premier player on a defense lacking in stars. The Jaguars desperately need Cyprien to graduate to a higher level as the quarterback of the defense, a moveable chess piece capable of blitzing effectively, controlling the line of scrimmage and patrolling the middle of the field.

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