OK, let's just get this out of the way up top: Johnathan Cyprien spells his first name with two h’s and his last name is pronounced “SIP-ree-en”. Let's not let this turn in to another “MAR-ee-OH-tah” versus “MARY-oh-tah” situation. For the record, it's “MAR-ee-OH-tah” as Marcus explains in this video.
Did I just contrive an entire opening to an article just to work in a video of our beloved quarterback? You’re dang right I did! Get well soon Marcus.
Anyways, back to Cyprien. He fits in to a pattern of players that Jon Robinson has brought in both last offseason and so far this offseason. He is, by all accounts, a hard-working, team-first kind of guy who loves the game. Cyprien went on the Wake Up Zone yesterday morning and you can listen to that whole interview here. During the interview he answered a question about the kind of guys that the Titans have brought in this offseason by saying “we are building it on team first, being tough, and being dependable and every guy who is going to be on the field this year and going forward have those three qualities about them”. Sound familiar? It should. It almost sounds like Jon Robinson is standing in front of him holding queue cards. Logan Ryan said almost the exact same thing in another interview. The Titans clearly have a type these days.
Cyprien stands 6’-0” tall and weighs in at 217 lbs. He played his college ball at Florida International and ran a 4.56 40 at their pro day before the 2013 draft. He was touted then as a hard-hitting run stuffing type safety, but most scouts agreed that he was capable of playing deep as well. Matt Miller even gave him a Troy Polamalu comp which is particularly interesting given the coach he is now playing for.
I reached out to
Sparkle Kitties Country Big Cat Country writer, Ryan Day, to get a Jaguars fan reaction to us signing Cyprien and his comments were, well, less than flattering towards their former safety:
Cyprien is a bad player. And that’s not just “bad for his draft position” bad, he would have been considered bad had he been an undrafted free agent. He’s arguably one of the worst draft picks by general manager Dave Caldwell and I was dreading him being re-signed by the Jaguars — even at the veteran minimum. He just doesn’t have good football instincts or technique. He misses tackles, he blows coverages, he gets in other players’ ways, and he couldn’t take a good angle to save his life. He commits stupid pass interference penalties because he didn’t have the athleticism to make a play on the ball. And now the Jaguars get to play him twice a season for four years.
OK, so that’s not the best review, but its not the only take out there on Cyprien either. PFF had Cyprien rated as the 7th best safety in the NFL last year (that’s out of both strong and free safeties), one spot ahead of Eric Berry. They also had this to say about him in an article about the most likely players to be overpaid this offseason:
Cyprien showed his potential in the 2016 season, finally reconciling the NFL player with the first-round draft status his college career earned him. The trouble is, though, that the NFL isn’t struggling to find that type of player. Closer to the line of scrimmage, Cyprien was excellent this past season, trailing only Giants S Landon Collins in defensive stops, with 38. Cyprien’s coverage has been a problem in the NFL, though, and he will struggle if asked to play deeper off the line. Some team will likely fall in love with his impact plays at the line of scrimmage, and Cyprien’s 98.8 run-defense grade is the highest we have seen from a safety over the past decade. This brand of play is easier to find than a coverage specialist, however, and likely isn’t worth the cost.
I’m not sure exactly how much they thought Cyprien was going to get paid, but I can’t imagine they would think the Titans overpaid for him given that we only gave him $7M guaranteed in his 4 year, $25M deal and can easily part ways with him after this season if it doesn’t work out. Besides the speculation about possibly getting overpaid, this paragraph describes a very desirable player.
That 98.8 run-defense grade is an incredible number, and that is clearly the strength of Cyprien’s game. As PFF pointed out, 2016 was easily his best season as a pro, and it is probably not a coincidence that it was also the first season that he got to play next to a true free safety in Tashaun Gipson. He had previously been paired with the extremely underwhelming Josh Evans. The Jaguars drafted Cyprien to play the Kam Chancellor role in Gus Bradley’s version of Seattle’s Cover 3 scheme, but Evans’ weaknesses too often left him exposed in coverage.
So is Cyprien good or nah? I went back and watched almost every snap that Cyprien played in 2016 to see if I could answer that question for myself. It took forever because he played 1,070 snaps on defense last year which was good for 99.4% of the Jaguars team defense snaps. The dude was just glued to the field. That 99.4% snap percentage was good for 5th in the entire NFL among defensive players according to Football Outsiders, so as much as some Jaguars fans might have hated him, it seems their coaching staff absolutely loved the guy.
The first thing that stands out when watching Cyprien (at least 2016 Cyprien) is that he is, in fact, excellent in run support. That’s no surprise given his reputation and that sterling PFF grade, but it really is impressive to watch him do it. He maintains excellent gap control when coming up to run fill and plays like a linebacker. Here is a good example. He reads the play, breaks down in the hole, and makes the tackle for a short gain. Pretty vanilla stuff, but he's the best in the league at it.
Here he comes across the formation trailing the motion tight end in a man coverage look. As soon as he sees the tight end start to pull across the formation he reads run and crashes down to blow up the play in the backfield.
This next one is a little more impressive. The Raiders have this play blocked up pretty well, but Cyprien is able to beat the pulling guard and prevent what could have been a much bigger gain from popping. Most safeties would try to avoid the guard altogether and take themselves out of position to make the play, but Cyprien is fearless when it comes to sticking his nose in the play and taking on contact.
This time he is lined up as a linebacker as he did pretty often for the Jags last year. Again, he is able to beat the lead block, this time from the fullback, and make the tackle. He’s really good at this kind of stuff. Its a big part of the reason that he has never finished an NFL season with fewer than 100 tackles.
It wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine in his tape though. Here is one of the very few plays where he lined up as a single high safety in 2016 and you can see why they stopped using him there. He takes a terrible angle and has no chance of catching LeSean McCoy. Now Shady is probably the toughest open field tackle in the NFL right now, but still, this isn’t great from Cyprien. He just doesn’t have the speed and change of direction to play centerfield in the NFL. He usually looks rather uncomfortable when playing in space.
Here is another bad play for him. He does an excellent job of reading the screen and is in position to blow it up for a loss, but he bounces off Eddie Lacy’s flubber like midsection and the play goes for a 15 yard gain instead of a 5 yard loss. This would bother me more if missed tackles was something that showed up regularly on his tape, but it really didn’t. Also, note the effort on this play after he misses the tackle. He is right back up and chasing. If you read my breakdown on Stephon Gilmore before free agency began, you know that was something that drove me nuts in Gilmore’s film. He would miss a tackle and then just lay there on the ground and watch the rest of the play. Not a concern with Cyprien. His motor is clearly running at 100% every play which is pretty impressive considering how much he played.
Here is another effort play. Cyprien is the contain defender on the bottom part of the screen. Minnesota runs a dive away from his side and Asiata appears to be stopped, but Cyprien recognizes that he is still fighting for yardage, dives across the pile and punches the ball out. Jacksonville recovered the fumble and this play kept them alive in this game. Its hard for me not to love a guy that makes that kind of play, and it seems like Jon Robinson is planning on constructing an entire team of those guys.
So is Cyprien as bad in coverage as some are making him out to be? Not if you use him correctly. If you put him back as a single high safety, you’re in for a long day, but if you ask him to cover tight ends man to man, he can do that all day long. Here are some examples of Cyprien being used to matchup with tight ends in man coverage. The first one shows him lined up in outside leverage against Dwayne Allen. He sticks all over Allen through the route and then as a bonus he peels off his man to come up and make the tackle on Frank Gore for a short gain.
Here he is against Kyle Rudolph, who has quietly become one of the better receiving tight ends in the NFL. He’s isolated in man on that side of the field with the Vikings showing trips right and using play action to draw the linebackers out of the center of the defense, but he gets a good jam on Rudolph and doesn’t let him cross his face on the slant. Cyprien has heavy hands in coverage when he jams and does an excellent job of re-routing his man.
Here he is working against Ryan Griffin of the Texans. These two had very physical battles in both matchups between the Jags and Texans last year. Again, he does a good job of getting his hands on Griffin and is able to stay on his hip and get the PBU.
Here is another Griffin-Cyprien rep. This time Cyprien gets flagged for DPI because of that last tug, but you have to be physical against tight ends in today’s NFL. He does pick up a decent amount of defensive holding and DPI calls due to some of these grabs, but its not enough that it should be considered a major red flag.
Here is one last tight end cover rep against Jared Cook. He has good coverage again here, but Aaron Rodgers is still Aaron Rodgers and he beats him with a perfect throw to the sideline 20 yards downfield because he’s just really really good at throwing spheroid objects.
Cyprien isn’t great when he’s left in zone coverage though. He looks uncomfortable playing in space and rarely is able to break and make plays on the ball (as evidenced by his 2 career interceptions). Here is an example. This is a little bit of a scheme bust as the Jaguars coverage has left Cyprien to cover 2 players. He bites up on the running back in the flat and gives up the deeper route to Roberts which was the wrong choice.
The Jaguars secondary often looked confused in 2016, especially early in the season. This could have a lot to do with starting three players who were in their first year on the team (Ramsey, Amukamara, and Gipson) around Cyprien. I think it is fair to question how many of the coverage busts that ended up Cyprien chasing after a wide open receiver were actually his responsibility. That may have contributed to some of the Jags fan perception that he struggled since it is always easier to blame the guy who you’ve seen struggle before than to blame the new guys that you are excited about. Here is an example. Cyprien ends up running after the guy who just caught the easy ball in the endzone, but that wasn’t his man, it was 52’s. Cyprien’s responsibility on this play was to keep contain and chase the boot, but he realizes that they have a bust and peels back to try to cover for it. I guarantee you the average Jaguars fan thought “Cyprien blew it” on this play.
Ultimately, I don’t think Cyprien is as bad in coverage as he is often made out to be based on his 2016 tape. He’s actually quite good at covering tight ends in man and does an excellent job reading and breaking on screen passes. Again, it’s not the strength of his game, but it’s not terrible either.
I went back and watched a bunch of reps from the Titans secondary last season as well to try to get a feel for how Cyprien may be integrated in to the defense next year. I can see him being an expanded and enhanced version of Daimion Stafford’s role. The Titans used three safety sets quite often in 2016, usually featuring Stafford as a nickel linebacker. Since the Titans haven’t retained the services of Stafford or Sean Spence (the other nickel linebacker they used last year), I think we can safely assume that Cyprien will get that role close to full time next year (at least as the roster is currently constructed). Cyprien is more than capable of handling those duties on a full time basis and his ability to take on and defeat the blocks of offensive linemen, tight ends, and fullbacks shouldn’t leave the Titans exposed in the running game when they go to that personnel package. It's basically the role that the Cardinals have made trendy with their use of Deone Bucannon over the last few years.
The Titans ran a lot of man coverage in 2016 which fits Cyprien’s skill set perfectly since they can lock him on a tight end and free up Byard to be used as a true wildcard in Dick LeBeau’s secondary. I’m not 100% sure where Cyprien fits in the base defense, but if I’m guessing today I would think he becomes part of a 3 man rotation with Byard and Searcy for the early down work. Searcy played enough as a single high safety last year that I think Searcy and Cyprien could play together if needed, but if Byard continues to progress like he did as a rookie it will become very hard to take him off the field.
Overall I think Cyprien is an addition that fits in many ways. He definitely should fit in to the culture the team is trying to build first and foremost, but he also will bring a lot of additional scheme flexibility to the Titans by allowing them to use him as a nickel linebacker in addition to a rotational safety. Based on the tape I expect Cyprien’s game to thrive as he transitions from Gus Bradley’s Cover 3 zone based scheme to a more pressing man coverage type scheme like the Titans used last season. It is just a better fit for his skill set. I'm excited to see what he can do in 2017 and I hope he picks Bortles off a few times just to spite Jags fans.