It’s been a while since D.J. Swearinger roamed the Arizona Cardinals’ playing field.
Back in the off-season of 2015, the Houston Texans released safety D.J. Swearinger after selecting him at No. 57 overall just two years prior. Although the South Carolina product played well, his off-the-field issues and inconsistent play led to the release. Four years later, he’s on his second stint with the Arizona Cardinals and his fourth team in as many seasons.
After being released by the Texans, Swearinger found himself to be an ineffective box safety, which led to another departure from Tampa Bay. This split-up meant the safety found himself on his third squad in his third year; the ’15 NFC Championship Cardinals team.
Swearinger didn’t play much for the contending Cardinals, but in the season after, he blossomed. In 16 games (12 starts), the safety tallied 64 total tackles, 2.0 sacks, three interceptions, and eight pass deflections. He started to look like the player the Texans expected to be.
But he moved on after a season and a half with the Cardinals. Swearinger signed a three-year, $13.5 contract in 2017 with Washington and continued to hone his craft. In his first season in D.C., the safety started all sixteen games and recorded 79 total tackles, four interceptions, ten pass deflections, and forced a fumble.
However, Swearinger truly looked the part of a star in the 2018 season. In 15 games played (all starts), the safety didn’t rack up as many stats (53 total tackles, a sack, four interceptions, and ten pass deflections), but he passed the eye test and then some.
Pro Football Focus graded his season at 79.8, which would rank 13th in the NFL amongst eligible safeties. He was also named as a Pro-Bowl alternate. After watching his game film, it’s not too hard to see why he ramped up his resume in ’18; here are some notes I wrote down while watching the tape:
- Gap control when slated as a box safety is excellent. He doesn’t track the ball; instead, he holds his ground well to seal off the edge and recognizes where blocking patterns go.
- Versatility; Swearinger is best set as a strong-side safety. But, he has the range and awareness to feast as a free safety on deep roaming plays.
- Plays the part of a “robber” safety well. When setting up in the middle of the field, he tracks route patterns thoroughly and reads quarterbacks eyes, movement, etc..
- Sure tackler. Though he whiffs on some blocks due to “hit-stick” attempts, he mostly tackles low and knows how to use shoulder positioning — attacks ball-carriers with physicality and relentlessness.
- He’s not the fastest guy, but when going up against speed covering the slot, he can understand leverage points and attack the receiver in the physicality window.
- Excellent understanding of route patterns and how offenses spread the field to throw off man coverage.
- Ball-hawk. He has a constant understanding of where the ball is on the field and bursts to it.
- Not a freak athlete (4.67 second 40-yard-dash), or the biggest (5-foot-11, 205-pounds), but he has an astute understanding of how the game is played and is physical as can be. This makes him an ideal box safety with the versatility to play free.
- Awesome blitzer; he wants to knock the quarterback’s head off.
As you can tell, there’s a lot of positives that I took from his game. He does his best work in zone coverage but can play man in the slot, because of this, he’s an actual position-less safety. But, you can exploit his strengths best closer to the line of scrimmage.
Plays like the one above are paramount to my belief that he’s an excellent box (strongside) safety. Yes, he’s physical and can make all the tackles, but his knowledge of the game and how offenses play equals for a lot of big plays and defensive stops. This is what Swearinger was supposed to be, and now, he’s just that.
But ultimately, despite proving to be one of the better safeties in the NFL, Washington cut ties with Swearinger. However, it wasn’t for his play, instead, it was because he made critical comments about the team’s playcalling after racking up disappointing loses.
Luckily, for the Cardinals, Swearinger doesn’t have anything to complain about. He’ll be joining Budda Baker to make a complete, and versatile duo of two safeties under 27 years old. He’ll also be joining Vance Joseph’s defense, which will play a 3-4 (should allow him to play a lot of zone), and has a strong track record training defensive backs.
Simply put, the Cardinals should be ecstatic about picking up a Pro-Bowl caliber safety via the waiver wire. D.J. Swearinger isn’t the frustrating player he was before; he’s a bonafide defender with the game to lead to stardom in the near future.