The 2012 college football season ended with FIU safety Johnathan Cyprien as the graduating captain of a disappointing defense from a school that has had four players drafted into the NFL.
Since then, Cyprien has climbed draft boards like Peter Parker turned Spider-Man. He’s this year’s draftnik darling, a player little known to fans and media brought into the limelight by the ravings of NFL scouts and draft analysts.
“There’s an elite group [of safeties] who are all going to go high,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. “You’re going to have a run on safeties in the second round. If Jonathan Cyprien is not a first-round pick out of [FIU], he’ll be a second.”
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock likes Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro, Florida’s Matt Elam and Cyprien among the safeties, and sees a dropoff after them.
“I think he could start immediately for the Washington Redskins, and he makes a ton of sense,” Mayock said. “He can play both free and strong, but I like him at free.”
Said Cyprien: “I feel comfortable in the deep post and back in the deep half, and I also like playing down in the box sometimes.”
Half the teams in the NFL, including the Dolphins, could use a big, fast safety. Cyprien said he has visited 12 or 13 teams.
“Every time I leave one team, I feel like, ‘That’s the team I should be on,’ ” he said. “I believe God will put me on the right team.”
Cyprien didn’t see any of this coming during his junior and senior seasons, though he received All-Sun Belt Conference honors after each season. He said his NFL dreams were modest — just get on a roster.
Now, Cyprien is looking at being such a high draft pick that he’ll be on an NFL roster to open the 2013 season barring injury or something unforeseen.
Mario Cristobal and his coaching staff at FIU all but framed Cyprien and put him on the locker room wall as the epitome of a model citizen. Cyprien is one of those who spoke up if he saw a younger player showing a lack of respect to adults or students. He has helped oversee the punitive damages for being late to an offseason workout.
And, he graduated in three and a half years.
A month after picking up his degree in hospitality management, at the Senior Bowl, Cyprien’s ascension began. He was only the second FIU player, after wide receiver T.Y. Hilton last year, to be invited to the future draftee showcase.
“I prayed about it,” Cyprien said. “I believed in the talent God blessed me with. If God blessed me with talent to play football, I shouldn’t have any worries. I took that confident approach.”
He left Senior Bowl week with Best Defensive Back honors. At the NFL Combine, Cyprien did only the vertical jump and defensive back drills, finishing among the top defensive backs in the vertical jump (38.5 inches). Draft analysts began tapping their laptops in search of FIU game tape.
Suddenly, Cyprien’s closing speed, his willingness to hit and his game intelligence gained recognition. The film and the statistics also showed a defense that came into the season with all its starters back and got strafed over the first eight games on the way to a 3-9 record.
That begs the question several teams asked: What happened to this defense you were leading?
Cyprien said he answered, “We put our best effort in practice and in games. Every year can’t be a winning season. I can’t give a clear cut reason for why we weren’t as successful as we could’ve been.”
How much NFL teams care will be revealed Thursday during the NFL Draft’s first round or Friday during the second and third rounds. Cyprien will await at home with friends and family members for his dream offseason to reach its next chapter.