One of the most enjoyable experiences I have had since I started writing about the Colts is when I put a lot of focus on researching players entering the 2009 NFL Draft. It gave me the opportunity to “play scout” for a year. So, when the Colts signed Chip Vaughn, I was excited to see him develop on the team and have a chance to work his way onto the roster. Not unlike most things involving Colts safeties this year, that all ended due to injury.
The Colts replaced Vaughn with second-year safety Al Afalava. I projected that the Colts may select Afalava in the sixth round in 2009, but not unlike most of my predictions, I was wrong. The Bears selected him seventeenth in the sixth round. He started much of his rookie season at both strong and free safety for the Bears before falling out of favor.
Afalava played college football at Oregon State and was known for his hard hitting and aggressiveness on the field. He is 5-foot 11-inches tall, 215 pounds, ran a 4.48 40 yard dash, had a 40-inch vertical jump, and put up 25 reps of 225 pounds at his Pro Day.
Fantasy Football Jungle did a scouting report prior to the draft:
Enforcer in the middle of the field. Reputation across the Pac-10 as the hardest hitting safety in the league. Seeing as Taylor Mays plays in the same league, that’s saying something. Sound tackler in the open field and is quick to sniff out the draw and attack the line of scrimmage on running plays. Zone coverage and understanding is above average.
FF Jungle goes on to describe that his biggest weakness on defense is a lack of speed and man-to-man coverage of receivers over the middle of the field. It also suggests that he will last a long time in the league on special teams coverage units. These attributes are the kind the Colts need — adding a special teams enforcer — and are very similar to players like Jamie Silva and Melvin Bullitt.
In his rookie season in Chicago he accumulated 53 tackles, 2 sacks, and 7 passes defended. After preseason this year, the Bears officially chose to go with six year veteran Josh Bullocks. In the 2010 NFL Draft the Bears selected Major Wright in the third round, the standout Florida safety, and decided to stick with him and a group of veterans to develop at safety for the future.
Two things are red flags for Afalava coming in. First, he suffered nerve damage in his shoulder that cost him three games last year. The Colts have become all too familiar with the brachial plexus injury that has kept Joseph Addai out for weeks, and Afalava’s injury sounds like the same thing. Second, he had to sit out the first game of his senior season at Oregon State after being charged with a DUI — the kind of offense the Colts really cannot afford to go through again.
It is hard to tell whether other teams passed on him for so long due to concerns about his ability or concerns about his shoulder injury. Whatever the reason, he has potential and if he can stay healthy, could be an important role player for Indianapolis down the stretch.