Need someone to make a play in the secondary? Vanderbilt safety Kenny Ladler is your guy. "Ladlo" found a way to seek out the ball on every play, leading the 'Dores in interceptions (5), forced fumbles (5), and tackles (91).
Recruit Ranking: A three-star recruit at defensive back.
2013 Statistics: 91 tackles (led team), five interceptions (led team), five forced fumbles (led team), nine passes defensed, four pass breakups.
• 2013 First Team All-SEC Defensive Back (Coaches) • 2013 Second Team All-SEC Safety (Associated Press) • 2013 All-SEC Safety (Phil Steele & Athlons) • 2010 SEC All-Freshman team
Strengths: Ladler was the most reliable Commodore defender in 2013, sniffing out big plays and making clutch tackles that helped lead his team to a second-straight nine-win season. He is the latest in a long line of quality Vandy defensive backs that includes NFL veterans like Casey Hayward, D.J. Moore, and Reshard Langford.
Vanderbilt often relied on Ladler's tackling ability to prevent big plays, and the senior came through in a major way over his final two seasons. He tallied 181 tackles - 125 solo - over 26 games as the team's last line of defense in the secondary. He also proved that he can elevate to the line of scrimmage and provide support on third-and-short situations. On top of that, Kenny doesn't just hit ballcarriers - he wallops them.
Ladler was very durable as a Commodore and played in every game of his collegiate career. That's especially impressive when you consider how many plays he had a role in as a junior and senior. He can play both safety positions thanks to a combination of ball skills, coverage capability, and tackling prowess. He set a proper example at Vanderbilt by sticking to his defensive assignments before providing help up front, limiting the success of opponents' play-action passes.
Most importantly, he finds a way to sniff out the ball and create turnovers. Ladler is the kind of safety who can read a quarterback and get into position to make an interception. He also has a great sense for stripping runners on the fly. His right arm becomes a football-mining pickaxe when he identifies a ballcarrier running down the middle of the field.
Weaknesses: Ladler isn't a supreme athlete, and his lack of top-end speed and acceleration could cause him to drop during the Draft. His game was predicated on his aggressive play against SEC opponents, but that kind of style may not be as effective against NFL receivers and quarterbacks. That could limit his chances to play free safety at the next level.
Vanderbilt's shoddy play at linebacker in 2013 helped inflate his tackle count, and while Ladler proved to be an excellent last line of defense, his impressive numbers will be difficult to duplicate at the next level. He hasn't really been asked to shadow tight ends or slot receivers near the line of scrimmage, and that's something that coordinators may want to see more of in an increasingly pass-happy NFL.
Projection: A third to fifth round pick. Ladler's play isn't quantifiable in numbers or statistics. His uncanny ability to sniff out plays and create havoc is not something that can be taught. Kenny grew into a dynamite all-around player once he developed his skills as a tackler to meet that preternatural football sense. He will leave Vanderbilt as one of the best safeties this team has ever had.
Like teammate Jordan Matthews, Ladler is earning a pre-draft reputation as a player who can contribute immediately but also as a player with limited room to grow in comparison to his peers. He has the intelligence and skill to turn heads in training camp, but his average Combine numbers will give some teams all the reasoning they'll need not to select him on the Draft's second day. That's a shame, because they'll be missing out on a player who will be a significant bargain if he continues to grow like he did at Vanderbilt.
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