Don't blink watching the NFL or you will miss the evolution taking place in pro football. For decades stopping the run was the paramount defensive principle, but as offenses around the league transform into a pass-first scheme, changes must happen on both sides of the ball.
For many teams, that means new personnel. And that certainly is apparent with Redskins second round pick Su'a Cravens.
A 6 foot 1, 225 lbs. "football player" Cravens comes to Washington without a clear position. He's likely too small to regularly play linebacker, and with a 40 time of 4.69, lacks the high-end speed to be a true safety.
So, while Redskins coaches are excited about the addition of Cravens, the question lingers: Where will he play?
"They said they see me as a dime linebacker," Cravens told the media Friday night. "So, I’m going to come in and give it my all."
Undoubtedly, Cravens was a playmaker on the college level. Playing a hybrid linebacker/safety role at USC, Cravens took Pac-12 honors and logged 5.5 sacks and two interceptions last season.
"The fact that Washington called me – which I wasn’t expecting – and told me that’s what they wanted me to play, I feel like it’s a spot where I can fit right in the defense," Cravens said of the dime linebacker position.
It sounds like Cravens could be an impact player for the Redskins defense, however, one hurdle remains. Per Pro Football Focus' Rick Drummond, the Redskins only deployed their dime defense on 138 snaps out of 1,159 total defensive snaps, or about 12 percent of the time.
So did the Redskins just use a highly valued second-round pick on a player who will maybe play on 12 percent of defensive snaps?
"When you're talking about defensive football nowadays, you want to get people who can do multiple things and be versatile in what they do and figure out ways to get the ball back for your offense," Washington coach Jay Gruden said of Cravens. "He's one of the top guys at his position. He's got position flex. He's a ball hawk. He's a turnover machine and he's a great player."
Gruden alluded to the changing nature of the NFL, and what defenses must do to keep up. The coach's comments still don't address how much or how little Cravens will see the field.
"Once we get him in the building, we will figure out a way to get him on the field," Gruden said.
Drafted in part for his versatility, last year's second round pick Preston Smith emerged to be one of the Redskins best defenders. But unlike Cravens, Smith had the size to stay on the field in multiple packages and played on nearly 50 percent of the Redskins defensive snaps (577).
For Cravens to prove his draft position worthwhile, either he will need to make a tremendous amount of impact plays in the 12 percent of snaps he projects to be on the field, or his role will have to grow larger than just dime linebacker.
Known for his hard work and football acumen, Cravens seems the type of player fit to grow into a large role. For the Redskins, he better, because he's unlikley to grow large enough to be a full-time lnebacker, or fast enough to be a true safety.