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Pro Scouting Series: Daniel Sorensen

A deep dive into the film of the Chiefs’ fifth-year safety.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

This is the second edition of the Pro Scouting Series I’ll be running throughout this offseason to get a baseline concept of where the current roster stands. The process of how my grading and scoring system works can be seen here in the first edition of this series.

This edition focuses on the most controversial defensive player on the roster playing at the position of potentially least talented position on the roster: safety Daniel Sorensen.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of Sorensen’s film, I want to establish some important details as it pertains to safety alignment and roles.

Single High Safety - When a safety is playing in the deep middle part of the field, usually in a Cover 1 or Cover 3 shell and often referred to as a Center Fielder

Split Safety - When safeties are split in deep zones both coverage from their respective hash mark outward, usually in a Cover 2 or Cover 4 shell and often referred to as “Two High”

Box Safety - When a safety is lined up with seven yards of the line of scrimmage (LoS) between the OT/in-line TEs on the LoS, often in underneath zone coverage or man-to-man coverage in the passing game is tasked with being a plus-run defender.

Overhang Safety - When a Safety is lined up within seven yards of the LoS outside the OT/in-line TEs, against the run they are tasked with contain or chasing down from the backside and vs the pass play underneath zones and man coverage.

Daniel Sorensen: Safety

6’1” | 205 lbs. | Exp: 5 Years

Key Skills/Traits

Deep Zone Coverage

When looking at zone coverage in the deep (15-plus) part of the field, we are focusing on single-high and split-safety variations of back-end coverage. The primary role of a deep safety is to prevent vertical routes working through the area they are responsible for. The secondary role is to play routes that are threatening across the middle and shallow parts of these zones. What separates competent from good from great is how well a player works from the primary to secondary roles and then how many plays they can affect from the position.

The first thing that jumps off the film to me is quite simply how comfortable the Chiefs were playing Sorensen on the back end of the defense, even while Eric Berry was still healthy.

Despite being a larger safety and often considered a “box safety,” Sorensen was the first choice to play as a single-high or deep-split safety pretty often. While doing so, Sorensen performed admirably in the primary role being asked of him.

On this play, we see Sorensen gaining depth off the snap as he’s giving cushion for the wide receiver pushing vertical up the near seam. When the receiver bends his dig around the underneath coverage, Sorensen flips his hips to track back across the field before having to transition again back toward the sideline once the ball is released.

In the sense of doing the base necessity of a deep safety role, Sorensen did his job and kept himself in position as the play went on. I would like to see him not get so deep, so quickly in order to better play routes working into the front half of his zone. Another thing to note is that when Sorensen works back in this much open space, he has a ton of harder transitions in which he rotates his hips 45 to 90 degrees rather than sliding laterally or at an angle.

Sorensen isn’t a liability when settling into deep zones but the problem arises when he starts to work down into his secondary role. He is often too deep in the zone or too late to react with the proper angle to make plays at the beginning of his zones. While making a play on the ball or a receiver instantly as he completes the catch, Sorensen is just too inconsistent. Another struggle referenced in the play above, Sorensen’s transitions are often causing him to be late working across his zone. The inefficiency in his footwork when traversing laterally and at angles could very well be a reason he plays so deep, choosing to eliminate the deep pass over being more aggressive at the shallow part of his zone.

Raw Score: 55.25 (Rotational Player)

Underneath Zone Coverage

Underneath zone coverage is a bit more of a catch-all term than deep-zone coverage is. What this means is there are numerous different roles and responsibilities when talking about underneath because there is more variety: hook zone, flat zone, low hole, high hole, robber, etc.

The emphasis on underneath zones is getting the proper depth that you are carrying vertical routes to the next level, picking up receivers working through your zone that break underneath your depth and watching the quarterback.

Everything happens quicker in the underneath zones and this tended to pull Sorensen’s weaknesses to the forefront a bit more than playing deep. Sorensen was successful when tasked with some flat coverages and asked to defend an isolated section of the field with less overall traffic.

The problematic area for him when underneath was when in the hook/curl zones in the middle of the field, especially when mesh or level concepts were being used across his zone. Sorensen has a tendency to get over-aggressive and jump on the first route that threatens him, especially if a quarterback makes eye contact with that receiver. He is very susceptible to being pulled out of position.

Part of the issue is Sorensen plays heavy footed when processing the play. He doesn’t take quick, light steps but instead takes long strides often accompanied by turning and running rather than sliding. Combining the over-aggressive nature with inefficient movement patterns result in Sorensen often arriving at the ball just a bit late.

This play highlights much of the issues he faces when playing underneath. He locates Zach Ertz out of the backfield and works to the quick flat. Carson Wentz looks and fakes that direction, and this motion was more than enough to not only shift Sorensen out of position but also get him to commit fully to the boundary side flat. This left a big hole in the middle of the defense on the field side and the Eagles tried to work in right behind him. If Sorensen had recognized the release of multiple receivers and their stems, he would have been able to stay in position, if not bait Wentz into the same throw while he was in position to make a play on the ball.

Raw Score: 39 (Average Back-Up)

Mental Processing

Mental processing is a key trait for a safety because it’s such a reactionary position. While “instincts” are something everyone loves to rave about, instincts are essentially how quickly and autonomously a player can see the big picture of what is happening and simply know how to react to it.

What a safety is trying to process and the keys (players) they are reading vary depending on their specific role on that play. This is an area that Sorensen has struggled in more than anything else: the ability to quickly follow his keys and react accordingly in a timely manner without having the play fully play out before reacting.

Starting with the underneath zones, since we just touched upon that, Sorensen gets too much tunnel vision on the first key the quarterback looks for. He doesn’t recognize or process the potential routes breaking through his zone after the initial route does and when the game is unfolding so quickly in the underneath zones having to see the ball released to make the final break is killer.

This play is an example of how Sorensen processes the game while working in a single-high situation.

I recommend reading through the whole thread on Twitter, as I posted stills with drawings to help illustrate what I’m referring to and how it plays out during an actual play. The process in which Sorensen works through his reads and keys appears to be correct more often than not when referencing his primary goal. Even as he moves onto his second level of keys and reads, Sorensen, again, diagnoses plays correctly, although oftentimes at a slower pace than desired.

He does a good job staying deep and preventing receivers from getting behind the coverage and makes his way to the correct side of the formation as the play unfolds. There are times as a safety that an offense is going to scheme against you to specifically take one player and then throw to another based on what your decision. That’s just going to happen, but when being late on secondary and tertiary responsibilities when the the offense isn’t specifically attacking you with multiple levels is a bad sign. Sorensen shows a lack of either recognition or reaction ability too often in these simple situations.

We will touch on the reaction aspect here in a bit.

The final avenue of processing the game from the mental side of it happens against the run. Like in his zone coverage, Sorensen works better reading the run from back deep rather than playing up in the box. When reading the run from back deep, Sorensen does a good job working with the run action and following the ball and reducing the angles for cut backs of the running back.

While up in the box, however, he has a more difficult time reading the proper keys and is often late to fill his gap or getting sucked up to run action despite offensive line setting for a pass.

As mentioned above, things happen faster closer to the LoS and there is more clutter to sift through, but what showed up routinely was a player who, when tasked with reading the play rather than just filling downhill, struggled to work with the blocking scheme and reduce the cutback options of the running back.

This play provides an example of Sorensen reading the keys improperly, causing him to be late flowing to the ball. This is a pretty textbook outside zone run to the strong side of the offense—Sorensen as the weak-side linebacker is responsible for beating the cutoff block by the offensive line, that way he can fill the gap whenever the running back cuts upfield.

Sorensen, instead, freezes as he sees a big hole and by the time he starts working down the LoS, the guard has worked his way into the second level, forcing him to take a very passive angle to flow to the ball. Worth noting, yes the Chiefs lost contain on this play so even had Sorensen read it properly it would still have been a chunk gain. That said, reads like this were not uncommon for him.

Raw Score: 35.75 (Depth Player)

Click and Close

All right. So I said we would touch on the reaction time, so here it is separated as the ability to click and close. This is the time it takes a player to see and process (click) when they need to accelerate to a certain area (close). This is an area Sorensen fairs adequately at, for when he sees something unfolding in front of him, he has the natural athleticism to explode downhill quickly.

We see this all unfold here as Sorensen is able to identify the running back trying to curl underneath. From the time Sorensen recognizes this to the time he gets to the running back is quick and results in him making an instant tackle for no YAC.

So the question is this: Why, if Sorensen can click and close this quickly, is there a sense of uncertainty about his ability here?

The answer, as some may have noticed in above clips, is Sorensen can be slower to flip his hips and begin to accelerate downhill. Despite testing as an elite athlete in terms of change of direction ability, Sorensen’s frequent hip transitions slow down his ability to get from recognition to completed action.

Raw Score: 52 (Rotational Player)

Accessory Skills and Traits


Overall, Sorensen is a quality tackler who can get the runner to the ground consistently without giving too much ground. He’s capable of turning his speed into power and delivering a big hit but knows when to dial it down to secure the tackle. Sorensen comes in well balance and does a good job putting his helmet across the runner to ensure less broken tackles. Accompanying the solid tackling technique and hitting power, Sorensen shows nice range in regard to tackling. His general tackle radius (how far he away he can affect a runner from his frame) is above average, as he shows the ability to quickly react laterally and lunge to maximize his wingspan. Along the same line, Sorensen does a good job showing plus body control when forced to engage runners while on the move and not given the opportunity to break down.

The area that Sorensen struggles is consistently taking the proper angle to the ball carrier. Rather than working with straight angles to cut off runners, he will work on jagged angles having to change direction on his way there. Ultimately, this only results in an extra yard or two being gained from time to time, as he’s forced to engage runners from the side rather than head on.

Raw Score: 61.75 (Below Average Starter)

Man Coverage

Man coverage for a safety is often considered just a bonus or a specialized skill dedicated for tight ends as a matchup weapon. In today’s NFL, in which offenses are dictating all of the matchups, having safeties capable of handling man-to-man matchups with wide receivers, as well as tight ends and running backs, allows the defense to be more flexible with their scheme and overall effectiveness.

Unfortunately, there were not a ton of situations in which Sorensen was tasked with complex casts in man coverage. Most of his assignments were picking up running backs working into the flats or a second tight end out of a bunch set running a basic spacing route. He handled the majority of these man coverage snaps very well, usually denying a ball from even being thrown his way.

There were a few snaps, like this one, in which Sorensen was able to get isolated in man coverage vs slot wide receiver or starting tight ends. Where Sorensen struggled the most in man coverage was remaining light on his feet and on his toes so he could quickly react to a wideout’s fakes. Combining that with being over-aggressive, Sorensen was susceptible to biting on hard fakes and losing proper leverage. Again, I need to reiterate this was a smaller sample size, as Ron Parker and Eric Murray were the main safeties drawing man coverage on high quality receiving targets.

Raw Score: 48.75 (Good Back-Up)

Ball Skills

Ball skills go beyond just the ability to generate interceptions. Ball skills are the ability to locate and track the ball through the air.

Sorensen does a good job tracking the ball when it’s in front of him and he can come downhill on it. He does a good job undercutting receivers so that he can get to the ball at its apex before the wide receiver can. When working laterally, Sorensen takes good angles to stay behind the wide receiver before breaking downhill, not allowing his adversary to adjust to his presence.

Sorensen does a good job not getting sucked up by the pitch to the running back, instead reading his keys of the offensive line, and instead working at a proper depth across the back end of the defense. Tracking the ball the whole way, Sorensen stays behind the wide receiver until the last second so he can cut in front of the wide receiver and make a play on the ball.

The two issues that show up for Sorensen in terms of his ability to play the ball are playing with his back to the ball and consistency. The consistency part is mostly due to being late in some of his progressions but tracking and making plays on the ball over his shoulder isn’t something Sorensen showed the ability to pull off.

Raw Score: 55.25 (Rotational Player)

Run Fits

Run fits is a term that describes a player’s responsibilities versus the run, specifically in terms of his designed goal given the defensive play call. Most players in the box have a designated gap they are responsible to fill while players outside the box are following the run action, squeezing down the cutback lanes until engaging the runner. Part of run fits is being able to take on blockers that are impeding your ability to fulfill your role, whether slipping through the blocks or stacking and shedding them.

Sorensen does a good job filling in against the run from the deep safety spot, showing good patience following the run action while still working an aggressive angle down to the running back.

Something that often goes unheralded in single-high safety play is the ability to secure tackles while coming downhill against a player moving at full speed and the ability to do so closer to the LoS rather than deep downfield.

Here we see Sorensen filling in his run fit properly, as he reads the run to the boundary side of the field he works that way while sinking lower into the box. As the running back makes his initial cut upfield, Sorensen sharpens his angle straight down while still mirroring the running back working through the traffic.

As the running back is about to slip away, Sorensen brings him down, still acting as the last line of defense and allowing a shorter gain than many other traditional single-high safeties would have.

The one issue with this play by Sorensen is his lack of recognition of run play initially. He is still backpedaling as the running back arrives at the LoS. While playing deep, he is able to get away with this as it pays more to be patient and exact rather than overaggressive and out of position, but these issues show up in other areas as well.

When playing down in the box, Sorensen is often late to fully react to his keys, as discussed above, but it makes him late to his run fits as well. Players that excel at stacking and shedding blocks can often salvage these plays by engaging the blocker to at least fill the hole if not shed the blocker and make the play.

The other way to defeat blocks is to slip under them. While Sorensen is clearly better slipping blocks than engaging them, he is too willing to take himself out of his run fit in order to attempt to slip a block.

In this off-coverage overhang position, Sorensen’s run fit is anything wider than the C-gap (off tackle) and his goal is to turn the run back inside to the help. He is late to read and react to the run motion, so much so the left guard is able to pull around the tight end and get to the LoS before Sorensen comes downhill at all.

Once the run is clearly coming his way, Sorensen is behind in the play and needs to desperately force the run back inside. Instead, he hesitantly gets in the way of the blocker rather than attacking him and gets walked into the end zone.

Raw Score: 55.25 (Rotational Player)

Bonus Points: 1 Point

Sorensen was awarded 1 bonus point for his ability to make big plays in pressure situations.

Overall Score: 50.19 | Grade: Good Backup

Outlook Going Into 2018:

Undoubtedly, the big question on everyone’s mind is “How did the lack of Eric Berry’s presence effect Sorensen?” and the simple answer is that it will now allow Sorensen to play at a better position for his skills.

To be clear, Berry won’t be able to magically fix most of Sorensen’s lapses with mental processing, inefficient footwork and lack of block engagement. Getting Berry back should remove Sorensen from being the primary box safety, which is definitely the area he struggled with the most.

For the upcoming season, Sorensen should see the field much more as a third safety who is worked in on the back end of the defense covering deep zones. If he can improve the speed at which he works through his keys at one safety position, he could perform at a higher level in a more limited role better suited to his skills.

Sorensen’s contract will continue to be a hot button topic unless there is a drastic up-turn putting him on the hot seat not only for 2019 but also during the 2018 season.

One Last Thing

Sorensen is a great blitzer, not just for a safety, but overall. He works his angles on stunts and twists tight to the combo player, explodes through the gaps and shows some ability to dip under and rip through soft blocks.

This is an amazing bonus to have from a safety but doesn’t impact the overall grade of Sorensen due to how limited of a skill it is given his position.

PSS Grading Scale

Score Range Grade
Score Range Grade
84.51+ All Pro Caliber
78 - 84.5 Pro Bowl Caliber
71.63 - 77.99 Above Average Starter
65 - 71.62 Average Starter
58.63 - 64.99 Below Average Starter
52 - 58.62 Rotational Player
45.63 - 51.99 Good Back-Up
39 - 45.62 Back-Up/Special Teams
32.63 - 38.99 Depth Player
26 - 32.62 Practice Squad
19.5 - 25.99 Camp Player

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