Congratulations, New York Giants fans! You've made the wonderful decision to draft Tyler Sash! Like any responsible selector, you're no doubt filled with questions about your new draft pick. We here at Black Heart Gold Pants will try our best to answer any questions you might have.
Is this Tyler Sash guy any good? Well, we think he was pretty special. In three years of work, he accomplished enough to rank fifth on Iowa's career interceptions list (13) and he set the Iowa record for career interception return yards (392 yards, good for fourth all-time in the Big Ten). He made multiple freshman All-America teams after a standout year in 2008, then followed that up with more All-America honors and across-the-board All-Big Ten honors in 2009 and 2010. He was the most decorated safety at Iowa since Bob Sanders roamed the secondary and instilled fear in Big Ten receivers. He produced a highlight reel full of spectacular plays -- and he did it almost every single year he played. His 2008 or 2009 highlight reels alone would represent a pretty impressive career for most guys.
Had he returned, Sash would have likely had an excellent opportunity to finish as Iowa's career interception leader (he was five behind the all-time leaders Devon Mitchell and Nile Kinnick), win even more all-conference and all-America plaudits and establish himself as one of Iowa's all-time greats. At least that's the theory; his 2010 production was a step down from his 2008 and 2009 efforts -- he had fewer interceptions (2), pass break-ups (2), forced fumbles (0), and tackles for loss (3.5) than in the years prior -- and there's no immediately obvious reason why his numbers would have taken a leap forward in 2011, especially with a (likely) less formidable defensive front putting less pressure on opposing quarterbacks (and consequently forcing fewer armpunts for Sash to feast upon). That said, he had an excellent Iowa tenure on the whole.
He left early, huh? What's that about? Well, a few things. One, Sash is no spring chicken -- he'll be 23 in May -- and there's an understandable desire to cash in on his athletic gifts while he still can. Two, his slightly disappointing 2010 campaign took a little of the luster off his star; there's no point in hanging around another year and potentially losing even more luster in 2011. Three, by most accounts he was pretty tight with Iowa's large senior class in 2010, despite just being a redshirt junior himself, and it was easier for him to say au revoir to the team with the rest of that group. Four, he might have been about as good as he was going to get in college; by no means is he a fully-polished product, but the things he needs to learn (certain coverage skills and technique issues, mainly) can be taught in the NFL just as easily as they can in the Big Ten -- and it might be even more useful to learn by going up against actual NFL talent on a regular basis. And finally, he did have a few injury issues at Iowa...
What about all those shoulder injuries? Ah, yes, those injury issues. Sash missed time in each of the previous two springs because he underwent off-season shoulder surgery. He never missed much time in-season -- in fact, after assuming the starting strong safety job early in the 2008 season, he only missed one start in his three year career at Iowa (against Northwestern in 2008). That's not to say he was always the picture of perfect health, though; he missed a few plays in games here and there and played through injuries on multiple occasions. It's impossible not to respect his toughness, but his durability is probably a legitimate concern, especially those consistently banged-up shoulders.
So what's he good at? Like most multi-year starters at safety at Iowa, Sash was a well-rounded player, adept at both shutting down the run and putting the clamps down on passing attacks. But of those two, he was better against the pass; Sash had an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time to knock down passes or to pluck an errant pass out of the air and go racing downfield with it. He also seemed to have an amazing knack at making big plays at big moments. He first rose to prominence in 2008 when he picked off Penn State's Daryl Clark late in the game, setting up Iowa's momentous game-winning drive. He followed that up with a back-breaking interception against Minnesota two weeks later and a pair of interceptions against South Carolina in the first half of the Outback Bowl, effectively helping Iowa salt that game away by halftime. He achieved folk hero status in 2009 when he picked of not one, not two, but three passes against Iowa State's Austen Arnaud, and achieved Iowa legend status when he snared the "pinball pick-six" against Indiana, jumpstarting Iowa's comeback win in that game.
Even in 2010, a mostly quiet year by his standards, he was at the heart of one of the biggest defensive plays of the year, picking off Michigan State's Kirk Cousins, before lateraling it back to Micah Hyde, whose 66-yard return broke Sparty's back and cemented an Iowa rout.
The cliche would say that he "just has a nose for the ball," but the unoriginality of that statement doesn't make it any less true in Sash's case. For much of his Iowa career, he had an incredible ability to be exactly where he needed to be in order to make big plays; it can't all have been sheer coincidence or pure luck. Aside from his near-magical big play abilities, Sash also possessed good coverage skills (he was rarely beaten deep or the source of broken coverages that gave up big pass plays), and was solid against the run. He was no missile in run coverage and he rarely lit up opposing players with big hits, so there's some legitimate concern that he could struggle to bring down bigger NFL players, but he was generally a sound tackler. Aside from run support, the biggest knock on Sash is probably his athleticism -- he's a solid athlete, but not a freak (he has short arms and doesn't possess elite speed or jumping ability).
Will he be awesome in the pros? It really depends where he lands; at Iowa he excelled in playing in a two-deep zone, so a system similar to that would likely make the best use of his skills. At the very least, he'll provide excellent depth at the safety position for a team and be a productive contributor on special teams; to do more than that, he'll either need to show that his athleticism in games is better than what it tested out at in the Combine or at Iowa's Pro Day or that his intangibles are strong enough to overcome that lack of top-end athletic ability. It doesn't hurt Sash's case that Iowa has put a slew of safeties into the NFL under Kirk Ferentz -- Derek Pagel, Sean Considine, and Bob Sanders all had (or continue to have) multi-year NFL careers and even Marcus Paschal hung around the NFL for quite a while.
Finally, what's with this TMFS business? Remember what we said up above about the 2009 Iowa State game giving him legend status among Iowa fans? Well, it also inspired this brilliant photoshop:
(Thanks, as always, to Hawkeye Recon.)
And, thus, a legend was born.