FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
A warning for all players who wind up in the vicinity of Calvin Pryor: Do so at your own risk. That goes for Odell Beckham Jr., Rashad Jennings, Rueben Randle, Orleans Darkwa, Andre Williams or any Giant who comes face-to-face with the Jets’ hard-hitting safety. He is coming to get you.
With playoff implications on the line for both teams, it is Pryor who could have a huge impact on which one takes a major step forward. The second-year safety just might be the most improved player on the field for either team. That’s good news for the Jets, but not so much for Giants, many of whom will be in Pryor’s sights on Sunday.
Dolphins receiver Rishard Matthews felt the brunt of Pryor’s latest big hit in the first quarter of the Jets’ 38-20 win last Sunday, as Matthews suffered fractured ribs on a play that set the tone early. With Matthews on the ground, Pryor gestured to the crowd, a move that Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill called “classless” after the game. But Pryor said he wasn’t celebrating that Matthews was hurt, just trying to energize the fans and his teammates.
It was the kind of play Pryor became known for at Louisville, where he was a highlight reel of big hits on receivers and running backs. It was also the type of collision that would be approved by Pryor’s NFL mentor: hard-hitting Kam Chancellor, who presides over the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” secondary.
“I’ve watched over the past few years and the way he voices his opinion and everyone follows him, and he’s definitely the leader of that group there in Seattle,” said Pryor, who has developed a friendship with Chancellor after the Seattle safety reached out to him after Pryor was drafted. “That’s somebody who’s inspired me to be better every day. I’m trying to fill those shoes. They’re hard shoes to fill, but that’s definitely someone I look up to.”
Pryor’s surprising emergence — he struggled last season and heard whispers he might be a first-round bust — has been a key factor for the Jets’ defensive improvement. Much has been made of the additions of cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, who is likely to miss Sunday’s game with a concussion, Antonio Cromartie, Buster Skrine and Marcus Gilchrist, Pryor’s dramatic improvement is as big a reason as any.
His 37 solo tackles are fourth on the team, even though he missed three games with an ankle sprain. With him, the Jets are 5-3 and have allowed an average of 18.6 points. Without him, they’re 1-2 and have allowed 26.3. The straw that stirs the drink? That may be overstating it. Even so, Pryor has clearly been an indispensable piece of this defense.
At age 23.
“To see him grow from training camp to now, it’s like two different players,” Skrine said. “I think he’s going to be a dominant player here for a long time.”
Linebacker Demario Davis thinks Pryor’s greater understanding of the defense is allowing him to play like he did at Louisville.
“I think the biggest jump you see guys make is between year one and year two, and he’s made that jump as well as you can make it,” Davis said of Pryor. “If you go back and watch him as a college player, you’ve seen how he was able to fly around and find the football and make big hits.”
Look for plenty more on Sunday.