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The people’s guide to Grant Delpit

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LSU’s star safety is an octopus. A really, really fast octopus.

Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Banner Society illustration.

The first thing to know

Safety Grant Delpit switched numbers after his sophomore year at LSU. As an underclassman, he wore the #9. As a junior, he will carry the #7.

The #7 at LSU is a real capital-T Thing for the Tigers. It is to LSU football what the #10 is for the Brazilian World Cup team: Something indicating nothing less than greatness. For Brazil, that starts with Pele and works down to Rivelino, Ronaldinho, and Neymar. At LSU, the #7 starts with Tyrann Mathieu, and then rolls through a roster of powerful Baton Rouge illuminati like Ali Highsmith, Patrick Peterson, and Leonard Fournette.

Wearing #7 means being a Tyrann Mathieu-type force, someone capable of getting five INTs, five sacks, and a fumble recovery in a single season from the safety spot, turning a game on a single play like Leonard Fournette could, or, if at all possible, ending all hope for an opponent by picking off a pass late in a tight game like Patrick Peterson did.

It comes with heavy expectations. Fortunately for him, Delpit was already capable of meeting them as just a sophomore. Like Mathieu before him, Delpit is a one-man variety pack of mayhem — a menace who might tackle a runner in the backfield, bat down a pass, and sack the quarterback in a single quarter. It’s accurate to say he plays in the defensive backfield, sure. It’s just not accurate to say exactly what he does in a single position, mostly because Delpit can do so many things within a single defensive series, much less over the course of a single game.

For instance: In 2018, Delpit tallied 9.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, and five interceptions playing free safety. That seems like Tyrann Mathieu-level production, but that’s not even close to accurate. Delpit is not just putting up unprecedented work for LSU’s storied collection of defensive backs, but for any defensive back in this era. Since 2000, Delpit is the only FBS player to have five INTs, five sacks, and a fumble recovery in a single season.

TL;DR: The #7 has belonged to Delpit for a while. He just gets to wear it on the field now.

Some personal notes

From Houston, but family left New Orleans in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina hit. Still has deep roots in Louisiana, and not in South Bend, Indiana, the home of the only other school Delpit took an official visit to. Probably affected his recruiting decision a bit! (Along with Notre Dame’s lack of sunshine, good food, and first-round defensive backs.)

He’s award-certified, too. There have been three unanimous All-American defensive backs at LSU: Mo Claiborne, Peterson, and after last season, Delpit.

Other personal notes?

Was a 5’6”, 125-pound high school freshman centerfielder before a booming growth spurt into a 6’3”, 180-pound, four-star safety. Puberty remains underrated.

Doesn’t trash talk, because, per his teammates, Delpit is terrible at it.

Environment

Delpit is the high/free safety. That’s the title, sure. But it doesn’t explain much.

Put simply, Delpit’s job is: move around a lot, confuse and surprise the offense, understand the play before it happens, and take the ball from the offense.

If that isn’t possible, then he tackles the person with the ball, bats it away in mid-air, or knocks it out for another Tiger to recover. Sometimes this all kind of happens at once, as it did in a momentarily game-saving breakup in the seven-OT 2018 game against Texas A&M.

That is a lot to ask of one player. They have to be smart enough to think on the fly, recognize formations and assignments, and make accurate reads on the spot. They have to be fast enough to possibly recover on the play when they make the wrong read. And because playing free safety is a lot like being the stud defender on a soccer team, this will be necessary, because 10 other people guessing right all the time is impossible.

(Aside: Is it kind of strange that LSU does the opposite thing with their special number from Brazil, giving them mostly to defenders instead of scorers? Kinda, though Leonard Fournette throws this whole comparison off by being LSU’s best running back ever. I am not saying Leonard Fournette would not have been a great safety if he wanted to do that. I am happy saying it is good he did not want to do this because he would have killed people from the defensive backfield. Like, literally killed them.)

They have to have hands — the kind capable of picking off passes, stripping balls, and most importantly, wrapping up ballcarriers on tackles that if missed will wind up with the ball in the end zone. (Not the good end zone, but the bad one, i.e. yours.)

Comparisons

Troy Polamalu, for versatility. That is not an original comparison. LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda based Delpit’s role on Polamalu’s positioning and role with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Polamalu roamed all over the field, breaking up passes, blitzing the QB, and generally wreaking havoc.

Polamalu did a lot of that from nickel and dime sets, a reaction to the increased use of spread formations. Well, that’s where Delpit comes from too, even if he has a completely different build. Delpit is lithe, lean, and tall. Troy Polamalu is 5’10, and is built like Troy Polamalu, and has a head of hair so gorgeous it once required its own insurance policy.

His teammates compare him to former LSU All-American and current New York Jets safety Jamal Adams. (Going as far as to call him “Baby Mal.”) FSU’s own Derwin James, now playing for the San Diego Chargers, is another safety with a long profile and multiple skill set that might remind people of Delpit.

Things that might delight you about Grant Delpit

There’s a lot! He can rush the passer from odd angles, though there is a catch. When Delpit blitzes, it is a two-stage process.

The first rush terrifies the passer, overloading their ability to process because OH GOD HELP THERE’S A SAFETY FLYING AT ME. After Delpit misses — which sometime happens because he isn’t a linebacker and is still working on the whole pass rush thing — the second rush begins.

I can’t decide whether an outright sack or Delpit’s two-phase sack is more frightening. Sacking the QB in one move is obviously more efficient, sure. But there is something more terrifying to getting flustered once, recovering, and then realizing the pursuit has only just started, and that thing is still out there hunting.

Delpit also tackles like a transplanted rugby player, angling to subdue and wrap up the runner, leading low and with the shoulder instead of with his head. This is what everyone is supposed to do now in football, and Delpit actually does it all time.

Delpit is not an old-school head-rattling hammer of a safety, is the point. Think less “headhunting shark looking to destroy,” and more “lurking, hungry octopus in cleats.” This means nothing but good things: He is extremely smart, disguises himself well, can appear out of nowhere, and recovers from great distances to get to the ball. His arms are long and covered with suction cups. (This is not true. I think.)

He does all that field-marshaling and ballhawking despite not being the fastest guy in the secondary. Delpit has ran around a 4.6 40-yard dash, for what it’s worth, but makes up for marginal lack of straight-line speed with recognition, lateral agility, and those long limbs.

For instance! Against Georgia in 2018, Delpit broke up an easy reception to tight end Isaac Nauta in the hardest way possible. Playing for the run, with Georgia backed up in its own end zone, Delpit recognizes pass after a play-fake, backpedals five yards in a blink to get between Bulldogs QB Jake Fromm and the receiver, follows the QB’s eyes, and leaps up to his left to stop what would have been a first down.

That’s the entire tool set in one play, including one thing not mentioned yet: an uncanny sense of timing. Delpit makes important plays at the moments when they seem to have the most impact.

Side note: 4.6 is still very fast for a human, and everyone in sports is spoiled by the ridiculous scale of elite athletes.

Things that might upset you about Grant Delpit

Can drop the occasional sure INT, but who doesn’t? He’s not a skullcracker, either. Then again, with everyone playing in nickel and dime sets against spread formations in an era of increasing scrutiny about football and head trauma, well, that might not be something that should upset someone.

Has had the same issues everyone else at LSU has had with Florida’s trips formations. Still had 10 tackles, two QB hurries, and an interception in 2018’s 27-19 loss to Florida, though, so it’s really management’s fault, not his.

But back to things that might delight you about Grant Delpit

Oh, I love this for five reasons:

  1. Delpit playing special teams, as all really great skill players should.
  2. Delpit and Greedy Williams both rushing too far upfield on the play, but each being so agile, they peel back and recover in time to easily snuff out the fake field goal.
  3. Delpit doing that thing where it looks like he’s missed the tackle, but in fact has tangled himself up with Rodrigo Blankenship until help arrives.
  4. Georgia getting exactly the look it wanted on a fake kick and still failing, something that definitely did not happen twice in crucial junctures in the 2018 season.
  5. Delpit showing up at exactly the right moment, again.