Secondary Thought: Jordan Lucas (DB, Penn State) Could Contribute Early for Vance Joseph
With the 204th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins selected Penn State safety Jordan Lucas. The defensive backfield in South Florida was one of the biggest areas of need heading into the offseason, and the front office continued to address it in the later stages of the draft. Like the overwhelming majority of sixth round picks, this move isn’t going to make headlines. With that being said, Lucas still has the potential to make an impact on this team, and we therefore go in-depth in examining his skillset as he attempts to make the transition to the next level.
Background & Stats:
Lucas was the first high school recruit to commit to Penn State University in the Bill O’Brien era. At 6’0, 201 pounds he claimed a starting cornerback job at the beginning of his sophomore season, and didn’t let go until moving to safety in his senior season. As a three-year starter on the defense and a team captain, Lucas impressed with 181 total tackles, 25 passes defended, four sacks, 11 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles and three interceptions.
He could have potentially gone earlier in the draft had it not been for a shoulder injury that ended his season three games early and prevented him from participating in the Senior Bowl. Nonetheless, he fell to the Dolphins despite running the 40-yard dash, short shuttle and 3-cone drills in 4.45 seconds, 4.21 seconds and 6.78 seconds, respectively, at his pro day. Additionally, he posted 38 inches in the vertical jump and 10 feet, 10 inches in the broad jump.
Lucas’ most attractive qualities exist in his intangibles. He carries very little risk off the field, is an accomplished leader, and is eager to do the dirty work on defense. With his work ethic, he has the potential to make an impact for Miami Dolphins down the road.
He has experience playing at both cornerback and safety, which speaks to some of his positional versatility. He isn’t the most instinctual or exciting prospect at either position, but he has displayed enough acceleration and change of direction to be effective in the second level of the defense.
In this play, Lucas utilizes his change of direction skills to plant his foot, track down the running back and make a clean tackle. This is an important trait as a safety, as they must be able to make the plays while they develop.
Lucas is also a very intelligent player. He takes smart angles to ball carriers, and rarely takes himself out of plays. He is a reliable tackler as well. All of these qualities suit him well as a blitzer, run defender and zone defender.
Here Lucas displays his football IQ. First off, he quickly identifies the play. He then bends around the edge of the offensive line and easily wraps up the ball carrier. Not many safeties are effective in run support, yet this is one of Lucas’ best attributes.
Additionally, he has decent hip fluidity and the speed to stick with receivers deep from both cornerback and safety.
He is aggressive, competitive and appears to be a great locker room addition. Overall, Lucas may not excel in any one area but still does a lot of things well. His versatility should serve him well in Miami.
Predictably, Lucas, as a sixth-round pick, has plenty of weak points in his game. Most significantly, his upside is severely limited by his athletic ability, or lack-thereof. He simply doesn’t have the same athleticism that the top safety prospects do as they prepare for the NFL. These weaknesses affect his performance in all aspects of the game.
One of the most obvious examples of this is in coverage. He just doesn’t have the strength to stick with the strongest of receivers, or the short area quickness to mirror faster players. In the play below, he allows a touchdown because he is taken advantage of due to the physical play of his assignment:
To make matters worse, Lucas only has marginal ball skills. He did manage to accumulate three interceptions over his college career, but his tape shows that he doesn’t have the best hands. For this reason, even when he does play well in coverage, he struggles to complete the play.
Another weakness is his difficulty in disengaging from blocks. For a player that prides himself on his run support, he has way too much trouble in this area of his game. He is easily driven backwards and has trouble attempting to get out of the block. Use this play for example:
Seen at the top of the play, Lucas attacks aggressively. However, Michigan State’s fullback immediately engages him. Not only is he essentially eliminated from the play, but he is unable to break free from the blocker until well after the whistle is blown. Lucas’ best chance at playing time is by providing run support, but this weakness will only be worse against NFL offensive linemen, tight ends and fullbacks.
Evidently Lucas could afford to improve in several elements of his game. Really, his biggest problem is that his skillset can only be considered average. He may do a few things well, but he also struggles mightily in certain areas, which could ultimately prevent him from becoming anything more than a contributor on special teams in his career.
How He Fits in Miami:
Lucas’ talent understandably isn’t eye opening. Very rarely are late round picks relied on early on in their careers, and his situation is no different. He isn’t expected to start, or even play at all on defense immediately, and will have to work hard to make the roster.
With that being said, he has the mental tools to develop extremely nicely under defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. Joseph loves defensive backs with Lucas’ size, smarts and versatility. Whether the former defensive backs coach wants him to stick with safety or return to his original position remains to be seen, but his leadership and competitiveness should have him in the coaching staff’s favor immediately.
There are concerns about his ability to cover at the next level as I have detailed above, which makes it more likely that he becomes an NFL safety. I could see Joseph eventually using him as a situational pass rusher from the secondary, or in sub-packages as a defender against the run. Plus, O’Brien talked up Lucas’ ability to perform in zone coverage as a sophomore, which should suit him nicely in Joseph’s scheme. It would take time for him to contribute in this regard, but at the very least his drive and toughness should allow him to immediately make an impact on special teams.
The former Nittany Lion may never amount to more than a depth player on this roster, but he is exactly the kind of guy that the front office must have loved to add to the team as Adam Gase attempts to shape this franchise. His athletic limitations will always hold him back, but he is experienced, has a winning mentality, and is more than capable of doing the dirty work in the run game and on special teams. These things make it likely that he carves out a role for himself, and at the very least becomes a positive presence in locker room for other young players.
It should be comforting to fans that Miami chose to select multiple defensive backs in this draft. It shows that they understand how significant the weakness was at the position, and desire to give Joseph more talent to groom and develop. While the team’s second round pick cornerback Xavien Howard obviously has a clearer path to early playing time, Lucas has the capability of pressing for work at both cornerback and safety, as well as a mindset that often allows players to shine on special teams.
The key to being successful in the late rounds of a NFL draft is to identify players that have something specific to offer the team. It may be a player that excels in returning punts, or one with high athletic upside. Lucas was chosen because he offers experience and, with some hard work, could provide depth at one of the Dolphins’ shallowest positions. At the very least, he carries no risk as a sixth round draft pick. He is very likely to at least have an effect on special teams. Like any draft pick, this was a calculated decision by Miami’s front office, and they hope Lucas is able to surprise some people at the next level with his mental acumen and versatility as a contributor at cornerback and safety.
While the Miami Dolphins had made some surprising picks in the first few rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft, they chose to take a much safer route with their selection of Penn State safety Jordan Lucas on Day 3. A three-year starter and team captain, Lucas was a consistent performer for the Nittany Lions’ defense, and spent time at both safety and cornerback over the course of his collegiate career. An unfortunate late-season shoulder injury derailed his senior year early and prevented him from taking part in the Senior Bowl. Had he been able to take advantage of the opportunity, he might have been able to display the leadership and versatility that made him such a reliable contributor at PSU. Nonetheless, he was still available in the sixth round, and Miami took the opportunity to add him to one of their most worrisome position groups.
Here is our analysis of Jordan Lucas, as we examine what the late-round selection has to offer for the Dolphins defense early on in his career.