Su'a Cravens has only appeared in seven NFL games so far in his career, but its becoming more clear that the 21-year-old can be a consistent playmaker for the Redskins.
While he's only been a situational player for the Redskins so far in his rookie season, it's clear that whenever Su'a Cravens is on the field good things happen for Washington's defense.
Whether it's a clutch sack or interception or even just solid pass coverage, Cravens provides the defense a youthful playmaker that's caught the attention of opponents throughout the league.
"Excellent player, I'll tell you," Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said this week on a conference call with local media. "I mean, they obviously they have a lot of confidence in him. You can just see the way they are using him. Things that you pay attention to, if you look at the key plays in games and particularly the Detroit game was the one that jumps out at me. He's the pressure player in key moments of the game so I think it tells you what the defensive staff thinks of him and just the confidence they have in him, so I've been very, very impressed with him on video."
"He's obviously a very versatile player," added Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. "He's moving around a lot. He's a very good blitzer, he's a good tackler, plays in space well. He's obviously the kind of guy who might not fit into one specific role for a team, but he's just so talented you have to find a way to get him out there. So they've obviously found a way to get him out there for some significant snaps and he's played really well."
During Sunday's victory over the Minnesota Vikings, Cravens played a career-high 37 defensive snaps. He responded with a five-tackle performance, four of which came in the first half.
He was also in during the Vikings' final drive of the game, one that could have resulted in a go-ahead touchdown had the defense not shut down Minnesota's momentum at the 21-yard line.
"I feel that [the team] has confidence in me when they leave me in the game in a two-minute drill in the fourth," Cravens said. "So they think I can play, believe I can do my job and I'll make a play when it comes to me. I think so far I've done that. I know what type of player I am. I'm all about being humble, but I'm not a slouch. If a team wants to try me or attack me in those late moments where the coaches do trust me and put me in the game, then so be it."
With the 53rd pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Washington Redskins selected linebacker Su'a Cravens out of USC. Take a look at his collegiate career in photos.
Yes, Cravens is a listed safety who plays inside linebacker, but the coaching staff isn't going to peg him into one spot and make him stay there.
Despite being behind both Will Compton and Mason Foster in the inside linebacker hierarchy, he's appeared on the field at the same time both starters are in the game. His role on those plays is also quite different.
"It's always a good thing when you've got a number of productive players that you can get on the field at the same time," Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. "So, yes, absolutely we'll do that."
Barry added that while Cravens may just be 21 years old (and the youngest player on the Redskins' active roster), he's a "gym rat" that will do anything to improve as a player.
"I think he's got an incredibly bright future just because he's a really good football player, but he's a football player that likes football, he likes to work at it," Barry said. "He wants to get better. He's going to force himself to get better. And, as a young player, the only way to get better, you've got to be available. So that was a little bit of a setback for him, but he's rolling right now and hungry and eager and excited and mainly healthy."
Learning on the fly
The reasons were obviously there for Cravens to leave college a year early to pursue his NFL dream.
His NFL.com draft profile noted that he was "born to be a football player" who could have "big boy production."
But he was in for a quick wakeup once he got on the field with his new veteran teammates.
"In OTAs I was 217 pounds playing middle/outside linebacker with no pads on going up against guys like Ty [Nsekhe] and Trent [Williams]," Cravens recalled. "Trent was as fast as me, so I got throw off the curb the first couple OTA practices before I was like 'Ok, let me just make a decision and live with it.'"
Rather quickly, though, Cravens made the necessary adjustments against those types of offensive line.
"I learned that in the first week if you're not decisive, than things can go south really fast," Cravens said. "So just be decisive and be fast."
The Redskins will continue to put more and more on Cravens' plate as time goes on and won't be concerned in doing so. He's proven already that he can handle a heavy workload in the NFL.
"We're starting to challenge him more and more each week and he's handled it extremely well," Gruden said. "So that's good to see because the more we can use him, the more we can keep him on the field as opposed to just one spot. So it's very, very important for him to expand his role so he can be outside backer, he can be inside, he can maybe eventually become a safety, who knows. But he's done an excellent job handling it for a young player. He brings a lot of energy to this football team and he's a much needed commodity out there. So, the more he can do the better."