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NFL draft: Will tackling troubles cause LSU's Grant Delpit to slip?

INDIANAPOLIS — If you were to create a textbook safety in a laboratory, it might not look too different from LSU’s Grant Delpit.

Delpit measured in at the 2020 NFL scouting combine at 6-foot-2 1/2 inches and 213 pounds, measurables that place him in the top quartile among combine safeties over the past 20-plus years.

And even with less than ideal hand size, arm length and wingspan — numbers that registered on the lower end of the spectrum — Delpit brings experience, playmaking and ideal instincts to the positions.

He started 37 of the Tigers’ past 41 games at safety, including 14 during their national championship run this past season, when he won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. Delpit enters the 2020 NFL draft as a well-regarded prospect.

But not one without a major concern.

Scouts’ biggest issue with Grant Delpit

Delpit’s Achilles’ heel this past season (and through parts of the 2018 season, too) was his tackling. Many observers were shocked when Delpit won the Thorpe Award for that very reason. Some even said that Delpit might have been the third-best defensive back on his own team, behind potential first-round corner Kristian Fulton and future top-five pick, freshman Derek Stingley Jr.

That issue was spotlighted in a win over Texas in 2019, when Longhorns WR Devin Duvernay ran through Delpit’s tackle attempt for a key first down. Delpit missed one more tackle try that game and, per Pro Football Focus, would go on to miss at least one more tackle in each of the subsequent nine games.

The low point for Delpit and the issue might have been the Alabama game, when PFF credited him with two tackles and four missed tackles. An October ankle injury may have contributed to the chronic tackling trouble.

Yahoo Sports asked Delpit on Friday about the concern and whether he thought NFL teams were as worried as some others were about the issue.

“I get a lot of hate and slander from the media and the experts,” Delpit said. “I think that’s just going to make the glory so much better in the end. They say tackling is definitely the thing I have to improve on from last year. I got it fixed toward the end of the season.”

Fair point. In 200 snaps over his final three games — the SEC title game (vs. Georgia), the playoff semifinal (vs. Oklahoma) and the national title game (vs. Clemson) — Delpit was credited with zero missed tackles.

LSU S Grant Delpit is a highly regarded NFL draft prospect but with one area of his game that needs to be cleaned up. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

“It’s all about the approach and not trying to do too much, just get them on the ground,” he said. “It’s part of football and I know I can do it. I’ve been doing it my whole life.”

But Delpit also had surgery back in the spring of 2018 after suffering a left collarbone injury in LSU’s spring game that year. And though he didn’t miss time that regular season, there are times on tape when you can see him appearing not to want to tackle with his left shoulder.

Delpit denied this was an issue when asked.

“It didn’t affect me at all, no playing time [missed], no nothing,” he said with a smile. “They fixed it, put plates and screws in there and fixed it right up. I didn’t miss any time for that.”

Delpit is regarded as one of the highest-ranked safeties in the entire 2020 class, but he’s not the lock to be the top safety selected we might have thought. Alabama’s Xavier McKinney is the likeliest candidate to overtake Delpit for the honor of being the first safety picked, but — believe it or not — Division II Lenoir-Rhyne’s Kyle Dugger has been a late riser at the position, so much so that NFL evaluators keep raising the bar for just how high he could go.

Not working out at the combine might stall Delpit’s attempts to maintain his spot in the draft pecking order. He is still rehabbing the high-ankle injury but said he is “close to 100 percent” and does plan to work out fully at LSU’s pro day on April 3, which is one of the last pro days on the NFL’s schedule this spring. It should give Delpit all the time he needs to heal and get ready to go.

Delpit is still regarded as a possible — and perhaps likely — first-round pick come April 23. But it would not be shocking to see him slip a bit if NFL decision-makers remain concerned about his ability to consistently take down ballcarriers.

Grant Delpit’s teammates believe in him

“No. 7 is a leader,” LSU defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence said. “He’s a guy that battled through an injury earlier on this season and pushed through it. That’s what you want out of a leader ... a guy that'll push through for you and go hard.

“Once he got healthy, he was probably one of the better players — he had one of the better finishes for the season out of all the guys on the defense. Whoever gets him, they’re getting great teammate. A ballhawk. A guy that can pressure. A guy that can play in coverage. He'll be just fine.”

Delpit was awarded that No. 7 jersey this past season as a show of respect from head coach Ed Orgeron. The number is traditionally granted to players that have earned the respect of coaches and teammates, and has been worn by the likes of Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, and Leonard Fournette.

The No. 7 was earned after Delpit broke into the starting lineup his freshman year and then became an All-American as a sophomore.

“You look at his background,” Lawrence said. “He came in as a freshman, he played all three years and he was really impressive. But I think the No. 1 thing was durability. [Playing through] an injury and still being able to go out there and compete at a high level.

“When he’s at 100 percent, I don’t think there's a better safety in America.”

“Smart player, hard worker,” Fulton added. “He was a leader in our secondary, and I mean he’s just a great, great football player. Not many can play all the positions that he played. We moved him around a lot, last year and this year. He's a team player. I'll say that.”

Fulton suggested that Delpit’s tackling was less of a physical concern and more of a technique issue that he worked through.

“He can make [those] in his sleep,” Fulton said. “Injuries plagued him. Also, he’s learned from every tackle that he's missed. I’ve seen him on in the film late just trying to see which ways he can correct himself. I don't feel like he can’t tackle. He’s working on his approach to making a tackle, but that’s something that we work on. ... I think that's gonna be fixed easy.”

Delpit’s NFL draft status might hinge on that being the case.

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