Lets face it, when you're touted as the linchpin of one of the, if not the, most complicated schemes in collegiate football—as former Alabama Crimson Tide safety Vinnie Sunseri was— it's safe to say you deserve a bit of attention from draft prognosticators and fans alike.
That's why it's a little unnerving that he's projected to go as low as the sixth round in certain draft circles. If Sunseri happens to go that low, he may prove to have the most value out of all draft selections for that particular team.
Despite the fact that Sunseri left school early, and is coming off a torn ACL that ended his season early, his work prior to injury suggests he's worthy of mid-round pick at the very least.
He's that good!
Prior to his junior season, many wondered if Sunseri had what it took to replace graduated strong safety Robert Lester in the Tide's 3-4-based defense. His first two seasons were spent at the "Star" position—which is a cross between a nickel corner/linebacker. There fans saw what may be the weakest link in Sunseri's game.
Those skeptics quickly dispersed as Sunseri got off to a blazing start to open his junior campaign that was highlighted by two pick-6's that totaled 111 yards (38 and 73 yards, respectively). Sunseri came to The Capstone as a high school linebacker, so asking him to be a nickel corner, in part-time duty no less, may have been too big of a jump provided the circumstances.
But ultimately, having spent time at that position will only help him fit in a lot of NFL schemes that are based around manufactured pressure.
"The player that Nick [Saban] puts at the star is usually really, really smart and really, really competitive," Former Chiefs GM Scott Pioli told Josh Looney of KCChiefs.com.
That is also an apt description of Sunseri.
Here we see Sunseri jumping a quick slant. His reputation as a hitter undoubtedly preceded him causing the receiver to alligator arm the catch; his speed allowed him to convert the turnover into points.
Sunseri, as is the case with most defensive backs that spend time under Saban, is a student of the game in the form of film study—which goes along with his ability to retain. He knows there are only a few routes that are ran at that depth in that particular part of the field.
Route-recognition is a lost art with many safeties who often rely on sheer athleticism. Let's not get it twisted, Sunseri is a really good athlete as well. But there's no substitute to truly understanding the game of football.
Once Sunseri was ultimately moved to strong safety, we finally got to see how well he operated in space. He's fast (between 4.48-4.52 in the 40 at the Alabama Pro Day), physical and fundamentally sound in his technique. Having a dad, Sal Sunseri (defensive line coach at Florida State), that is a well-respected coach certainly doesn't hurt.
Here we see Sunseri as the last line of defense, literally, against a speed-option play. Given the circumstances, 3rd-and-1, this was a pretty good offensive call to get a bigger back on the edges to pick up the short gain.
If you've ever been in a situation like this, you would know that making a stop of this magnitude becomes increasingly difficult when it's out in space. Angles become a big factor, and so does fearlessness.
Sunseri plays this as well as one could possibly imagine. He doesn't flatten out his approach, and he brings the thunder upon impact effectively separating the ball-carrier from his own soul. For teams looking for a safety who can theoretically perform as a nickel linebacker in a base defense Sunseri is the perfect prospect.
We already witnessed where running at Sunseri plays right into his wheelhouse—from a skill set perspective—here's where his instincts can help out in regard to the backside of a play.
Allowing Sunseri to navigate the run game, unblocked, is a form of football suicide. He diagnoses with the best of them; he finishes plays. As an in-the-box safety, Sunseri has plenty of value for teams with a rangy, Cover 1-like free safety.
In limited opportunities blitzing, Sunseri showed he has promise in that role. This works well in conjunction with teams that devote a lot of time to the manufactured-pressure game. The Pittsburgh Steelers have frustrated offenses for nearly a decade deploying safety Troy Polamalu in this manner.
Polamalu wreaks havoc behind the line of scrimmage and in the short-to-intermediate range. But for an aggressive scheme to really be effective, the safeties have to be interchangeable.
Many NFL defenses are beginning to disregard the classification of its safeties. The Atlanta Falcons are a team that has their safeties pass off duties when offenses send pass-catchers in motion. Often times safeties will "travel" with their duties, but in their scheme it's nothing to see the strong safety play the single-high technique.
Sunseri has plenty of experience in that scenario as well.
Here we see Sunseri in the single-high safety role. He's rangy enough to play a Cover 1 safety in certain situations. Additionally, he works well from his pedal as it gives him a chance to diagnose the situation as a whole.
He's patient enough to not let the underneath route take him from his primary responsibility of not letting anyone get behind him. He also proves the be "Johnny-on-the-Spot," by being in the right location in zone principles.
When Sunseri procures turnovers, it usually spells doom for the opposition.
Pundits must take into account that Sunseri's best football is ahead of him—as he's only 20 years old. Despite being lauded as a leader, at the best program in collegiate football, he only has a handful of games under his belt as a starter.
His skill set is vast, he has a plethora of intangibles and the will to be the best. If he does end up being drafted late, some NFL franchise will be receiving a true gem.
Murf Baldwin covers the Alabama Crimson Tide for Roll 'Bama Roll in addition to being a staff writer for The Falcoholic. He previously covered the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints for Bleacher Report. Are you not entertained? Follow Murf on Twitter.