Grant Delpit's Tackling Narrative: A Cautionary Tale On Expectation

Photo: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — If you run in NFL draft circles, you've heard the book on Grant Delpit since 2017. 

"LSU's got this freshman at safety.” 

“He’s 6-foot-3 and can fly with good length.” 

“Yeah, he played all over the field, tackled in the box and covered slot guys down the field. He'll be legit in a couple of years, just watch." 

And again in 2018. 

"The LSU kid is the best safety in the country. 

“He'd go above any of these 2019 guys, no question."

Even before we get to Delpit's junior season and how it has been consumed, we can already tell the cautionary tale: Don't trust anything that anyone says about future prospects. 

General observations are fine — we all thought Delpit was good, and he is good — but specific projections and comparisons almost invariably ring false in the following year's draft. This is especially true of NFL sources and quotes. NFL evaluators haven't even watched the entire 2020 class yet. They're just shooting the breeze.

So, perhaps the hype on Delpit was always overblown. But regardless of how well our expectations were calibrated coming into his junior season, there is an objective truth: He didn't tackle well in 2019. Well, maybe that's not objective; Delpit himself thinks it's "slander," throwing scare quotes around the word “experts” that describe those media members who have shared their tackling concerns on his evaluations. 

"That's just gonna make the glory so much better in the end," Delpit said Friday at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. "They say tackling, that's something we definitely gotta improve on from last year. I got it fixed toward the end of the season. It's all about the approach and not trying to do too much, just get 'em on the ground. It's a part of football, and I know I can do it; I've been doing it my whole life." 

Delpit also referenced a high-ankle sprain he endured for the majority of 2019 as a reason for his deteriorated play. It affected how he came into contact and built his base as a tackler.

But the reality is that Delpit's tackling is somewhere in the middle of where he thinks it is, where you think it is, where 2018 reports alleged it was and where 2019 film study indicates it is. The truth exists somewhere centered, positioned by nuance and variance alike. It is the greatest culprit for this narrative on Delpit, and for most narratives on most draft prospects. Many thought Delpit was the next Tyrann Mathieu, so many talked about him like he was; then, he wasn't, and accordingly many were more disappointed with tackling inconsistency from a defensive back than they should have been.

Is Delpit a worse tackler than fellow safety Xavier McKinney? Probably, but by how much? It's a slim margin, and you wouldn't imagine it if you consumed the feedback from scouts, analysts and insiders shared across the course of the 2020 draft cycle. You'd think Delpit misses every rep; he just doesn't.

Delpit acknowledges it's a weakness in his game, but spent his podium session adding the necessary context to understand the problem without overreactive hype. 

He was banged up. He didn't even include a 2018 shoulder surgery that may continue to hamper his ability to hit and drive. He was playing a new position (deep safety versus the box), and he was simply not that bad.

We'll wait on athletic numbers and drills from Delpit, who is not testing in Indianapolis as he continues to recuperate from the ankle injury that muddied much of his 2019 product.

What matters now is the medical feedback from his doctor visits over the next couple of days. How did that shoulder and that ankle heal? If injuries linger, then there's further context to be added to his 2019 film and 2020 projections, and with all things, context matters above hot-take reactions.