2017 NFL Draft

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James Berry

Height: 6-0 | Weight: 211 | College: Tennessee
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Often compared to Baltimore's Edward Reed and Denver's Brian Dawkins, Berry is the type of player a team can build a defense around.

He can play any position in the secondary, is a willing participant on special team coverage, can handle return duties and showed in 2008 that he can be a pretty effective receiver and running back in a pinch.

Mature beyond the date listed on his birth certificate, the junior followed a similar path to utmost respectability to the one taken by his father, James. Both served as team captains and enjoyed a three-year career as a starter at Tennessee. A National Honor Society member who graduated with a 3.75 grade point average, he studied dentistry at Tennessee and interned at a Georgia dentist office last summer.

With NFL teams looking for "interchangeable parts" in their defensive backfield, Berry is an ideal choice for a team with secondary woes. Known for his outstanding ballhawk skills, he fell seven yards shy of breaking the NCAA all-time record for most yards gained on interception returns, as his 494 yards rank behind the 501 generated by Terrell Buckley of Florida State (1989-91).

As a junior, Berry displayed not only exceptional maturity, but the field intelligence of a veteran pro player, showing the skill set to come up and be a dominating force in run support and also staying stride-for-stride with receivers throughout the route's progression.

In 2009, under the guidance of former NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Berry made 52 plays against the opposing running game and 61 more in passing situations. No opponent was able to find the end zone against him. Some pro scouts feel that Berry could be an excellent shutdown cornerback at the next level, much like the Jets' Darrelle Revis. He further cemented that assessment with nine passes defended and also rerouted receivers away from 29 pass attempts last season.

The 2009 Jim Thorpe Award winner also took home the Southeastern Conference's Defensive Player of the Year award in just his second collegiate season. That's why it came as no surprise when the two-time unanimous All-American selection made himself eligible for the 2010 NFL Draft at the conclusion of his junior season.

"I played every snap like it was my last," Berry said. "I made sure of that, so when I did leave I wouldn't have any regrets. From when I made my decision to come here under (former UT coach Phillip) Fulmer -- and a lot of credit goes to him and his staff -- I don't regret anything. Nothing last year. Nothing this year. I feel like I did everything that I could, and so did everybody else on this team."

The strong safety's 14 career interceptions tied Deon Grant (1997-99) for fifth on Tennessee's all-time list. Even more impressive is the game-changing impact Berry has once the ball is in his hands. As a true freshman, Berry racked up 222 yards in returns off interceptions to rank second on the school's single-season record chart.

But being second wasn't good enough for Berry. He broke the school and SEC records during his sophomore season, collecting 265 interception return yards and surpassing the previous mark of 244 set by Joe Brodsky of Florida in 1956. His career total of 494 yards off of interceptions also set a new SEC record, shattering the previous high of 379 by Bobby Wilson of Mississippi (1946-49).

It's easy to see the impact Berry has had on the Volunteers' secondary. While still getting acclimated to college ball as a true freshman in 2007, Berry and the Tennessee pass defense ranked a lowly 73rd nationally, allowing 238.64 aerial yards per game.

Berry emerged as one of the premier defensive players in the country as a sophomore, and the pass defense saw a dramatic increase in effectiveness, rising all the way to fourth in the country allowing just 160.42 yards through the air per game. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin brought a new scheme to the defensive unit in 2009, but Berry and the secondary still maintained their potency, ranking 12th nationally, as they allowed just 169.23 passing yards per game.

Berry was one of the most highly-touted prospects in the nation at Creekside High School, where he was a four-year starter at quarterback and safety. The Parade All-American led his team to a 37-5 overall record during his prep career, including two region titles and an appearance in the State 4A quarterfinals as a senior.

During his final season, Berry was named the Georgia Player of the Year by Gatorade and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as he collected over 1,500 yards rushing and 1,000 yards through the air. He added three interceptions while racking up over 40 tackles as a defensive back. His performance earned him a starting spot in the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Bowl as a member of the East squad.

Although Berry played safety for Creekside, most projected him to switch to cornerback at the collegiate level. He embraced the challenge of changing positions during the East team practices.

"You have to make sure your using the right techniques, and since this is the first time I've played corner, I've just been trying to do what the coaches have told me and I think I've done pretty good. I had four picks in the first practice and I think that set the tempo and tone for the rest of the week," Berry said. "I took two interceptions to the house."

The standout defensive back was selected as the nation's top cornerback prospect by most recruiting services including Scout.com, Rivals.com, ESPN, and Prep Star. He received the highest possible rating of five-stars from Scout.com as well as Rivals.com, who list Berry as the top recruit in Georgia and the third-best prospect nationally.

Throughout his success on the field, Berry was a model student in the classroom. He maintained a 3.75 grade-point average and was a member of the National Honor Society. The level-headed attitude Berry displayed as a high school star was one he inherited from his parents, so it came as no surprise when he followed in his father's footsteps and committed to Tennessee.

Berry enrolled at Tennessee in 2007 and immediately made an impact on the defense, becoming the first defensive player and just the third overall in the Phillip Fulmer era to start the season-opener as a true freshman. The consensus Freshman All-American started all 14 games and snagged five interceptions for 222 yards and one touchdown in returns, breaking the 37-year old school record of 177 interception return yards set by Bobby Majors in 1970. The mark was also listed as second on the Southeastern Conference's season record book.

Berry earned second-team All-SEC honors as he led all conference freshmen with 86 tackles (57 solo), including two stops for loss of three yards. During a contest vs. Florida, the team's third game of the season, he intercepted a pass and returned it 96 yards for a touchdown.

The interception was the third-longest in school history and the longest in 35 years. He was named the SEC Freshman of the Week twice in the final three weeks of the regular season for performances vs. Arkansas (six tackles and two interceptions returned 98 yards) and Kentucky (14 tackles and one pass deflection).

Berry continued his stellar play as a sophomore in 2008, being named the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year en route to becoming the first Tennessee player to claim unanimous All-America honors since Antone Davis in 1990. He started all 12 games and tied for the national lead with seven interceptions as he collected 265 yards in returns to set a new SEC single-season record, breaking a 52-year-old mark of 244 yards set by Joe Brodsky of Florida in 1956.

Berry was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award and a semifinalist for the Draddy Trophy and the Bednarik Award. The sophomore standout also took home the Jack Tatum Award, presented to the nation's best defensive back by the Touchdown Club of Columbus, Ohio, and the Vince Dooley Award, given to the top defensive back in the southeast by the Touchdown Club of Atlanta.

As a junior in 2009, Berry was officially recognized as the nation's best defensive back as he was presented with the Jim Thorpe Award. The outstanding safety was also a finalist for the Lott Trophy, which goes to college football's defensive IMPACT player of the year, and the Bronko Nagurski Award, presented annually to the best defensive player in college football.

Playing closer to the line in new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's scheme, Berry ranked second on the team with 87 tackles (56 solo) while snagging two interceptions, raising his name to fifth on Tennessee's career-record list. For the second straight season, he was a unanimous All-American selection, becoming just the second player in school history to do so. As expected, Berry entered his name into the NFL draft pool at season's end.


Read & React: One of his greatest assets. Shows uncommon discipline, reading the play completely before making his move. Rarely fooled by play-action or misdirection or beaten over the top due to taking false steps. Reads screens at the line of scrimmage, but waits until the quarterback is making the throw before accelerating to the ball. Good burst and accelerates smoothly. Takes very good angles to the ball. Good body control and times his leaps very well to compete in jump-ball situations with bigger receivers.

Man Coverage: Unique agility and straight-line speed for a safety. Often was asked to drop down as the nickel cornerback, showing good flexibility, balance and acceleration to turn and run with receivers. Can flip his hips, plant his foot in the ground and drive to mirror receivers' routes. Good physicality in press to re-route the slot receiver or tight end. Rides receivers for a few yards to disrupt timing with the quarterback. Times his leaps well and has natural ball skills.

Zone Coverage: Smooth, low backpedal with the balance to change direction without losing speed. Understands weak spots in coverage and what the receiver is trying to do against him. Breaks on the ball quickly. Reliable open-field tackler. Arrives with significantly more pop than his size would indicate.

Closing/Recovery: Closes on the ball as well as any safety in the draft. Rare diagnosis skills and has a quick burst when changing direction. Good acceleration with a late explosive burst as the ball arrives. Locates the ball in the air and times his leaps well. Is shorter than scouts would prefer, but highpoints passes when he has the opportunity for the interception.

Run Support: Quickly diagnoses run to get downhill quickly to limit the yardage gained. Stout tackler at the point, but doesn't need to make the tackle to make the play. Good team defender that makes the unselfish plays. Attacks the pulling guard or lead blocker low to blow up the play and leave easy tackles at the line of scrimmage for his teammates.

Tackling: Reliable open-field tackler with rare explosiveness considering his lack of prototypical size. Brings his hips through the tackle to generate impressive drive and knock bigger ballcarriers back. Great range due to very good speed and rare instincts. Understands his role as the last line of defense and takes proper angles to minimize the yardage given up, but make the tackle. Good wrap-up tackler with the body control to adjust to elusive ballcarriers in the open field and latch on to drag down.

Intangibles: High character, high-effort player. Coaches rave about his leadership qualities and instincts. Started all 39 games of his career, including 14 as a true freshman. Voted team captain as a sophomore and junior. Competes on special teams despite his All-American status.

Career Notes

Berry started all 39 collegiate games he played in -- 37 at strong safety, one at nickel back and another at left cornerback … Recorded 245 tackles (157 solo) with three sacks for minus 11 yards, 17.5 stops for losses of 45 yards, three quarterback pressures, and two forced fumbles … Intercepted 14 passes for 494 yards in returns (35.29 average) and three touchdowns, as his interception total tied Deon Grant (1997-99) for fifth on Tennessee's career-record list … .His 494 yards gained on interception returns was seven yards shy of the NCAA career-record of 501 by Terrell Buckley of Florida State (1989-91) … Berry and Buckley were joined by John Provost of Holy Cross (470 yards, 1972-74) and Jamar Fletcher of Wisconsin (459 yards, 1998-2000) as the only Division I players to ever amass over 450 yards on interception returns in a career … His 494 interception return yards broke a previous Southeastern Conference record set by Bobby Wilson of Ole Miss (379, 1946-49), as well as a school record set by Tim Priest (305, 1968-70) … His average gain of 35.29 yards per return broke the previous NCAA all-time record of 26.53 yards by Tom Pride-more of West Virginia (15 for 398 yards, 1975-77) … His average of 35.29 yards per return broke an SEC record set by Wilbur Jamerson of Kentucky (28.2, 1947-50) … Berry's seven interceptions in 2008 tied five other players for seventh on the school's single-season record list … Those seven pass theft saw him share the national championship with Kevin Sanders of Alabama-Birmingham that year … His 265 return yards on those interceptions were the most by any other annual interception champion, except for Deltha O'Neal of California, who totaled 280 yards in 1999 … His 265 interception return yards set a new SEC single-season record, breaking the previous mark of 244 set by Joe Brodsky of Florida (1956) … His 222 interception return yards in 2007 rank third on the SEC single-season record list behind his own mark and Brodsky … Also deflected 17 pass attempts, as his total of 31 defended passes ranks sixth on the school's career-record chart … His 13 passes defended passes (six pass deflections, seven interceptions) in 2008 ties Jabari Greer (2001) and Jason Allen (2003) for eighth on the school's single-season record list … Recovered four fumbles, returning them for 103 yards (25.75-yard average), as he added 132 yards on six kickoff returns (22.0-yard average), 37 yards on seven rushing attempts (5.29 yards per carry) and caught one pass for three years during his time at Tennessee.

2009 Season

Unanimous All-American first-team selection (The NFL Draft Report, American Football Coaches Association, Football Writers Association, The Sporting News, Associated Press and Walter Camp) for the second consecutive season, becoming the first Tennessee player to accomplish that feat since Volunteers offensive guard Chip Kell (1969, 1970) …

Recipient of the Jim Thorpe Award, presented annually to the nation's best defensive back, beating out Joe Haden of Florida and Earl Thomas of Texas for the honor … Finalist for the Lott Trophy awarded annually to college football's defensive IMPACT (integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community, and tenacity) player of the year … Finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award, presented annually to the best defensive player of the year in college football … Member of Sports Illustrated's College Football All-Decade Team … Winner of the Vince Dooley Award (Top Defensive Back in Southeast by the Touchdown Club of Atlanta), adding Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame Male Amateur Athlete of the Year, Tennessee Sports Writers Player of the Year and All-Southeastern Conference first-team honors … Berry started all 13 games at strong safety, as the defensive captain rallied his troops to finish 12th in the nation in pass defense (169.23 yards per game) and pass efficiency defense (102.13 rating) … Playing more inside the box under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Berry ranked second on the team with a career-high 87 tackles (56 solos) that included seven stops for losses of 21 yards and three quarterback pressures that all came on third-down plays … Caused a fumble and recovered two others, advancing both for a total of 48 yards … Had nine passes defended -- seven deflections and two interceptions for seven yards in returns, as four of those defended passes came on third-down plays … Rerouted receivers away from 29 pass attempts and made six of his stops inside the red zone … Also filled in on special teams, when needed, recording 14 tackles (nine solo) for the coverage squad -- 10 hits on the kickoff coverage team and four on the punt coverage unit … Made 22 tackles after receptions for 187 yards (8.5-yard average) and nine first downs, producing seven third-down stops vs. the aerial game … On 51 running plays Berry was involved in, the opposition gained 306 yards (6.00 average) and 16 first downs, as he made a pair of third-down stops vs. the ground attack.

2008 Season

Berry earned first-team All-American honors from The NFL Draft Report, AFCA, The Sporting News, Associated Press, Football Writers Association and Walter Camp, as he became the first Tennessee player to claim unanimous All-American honors since offensive lineman Antone Davis in 1990 … Named the Southeastern Conference's Defensive Player of the Year by the league's coaches and Associated Press … The Jim Thorpe Award finalist was the recipient of the Jack Tatum Award (Nation's Best Defensive Back by Touchdown Club of Columbus, Ohio) and Vince Dooley Award (Top Defensive Back in Southeast by Touchdown Club of Atlanta) … Draddy Trophy and Bednarik Award semi-finalist … Selected the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame Male Amateur Athlete of the Year and Tennessee Sports Writers Player of the Year … All-SEC Defensive Player of the Week vs. Mississippi State and Vanderbilt … Started all 12 games at strong safety, as he shared the national title with Kevin Sanders of Alabama-Birmingham, as he registered seven interceptions … His 265 yards gained on those interception returns set school and conference records … Deflected six passes and finished third on the team with 72 tackles (44 solos) that included three sacks for minus-11 yards and 8.5 stops for losses of 21 yards … Returned two kickoffs for 32 yards … Also saw late season action on offense, gaining 37 yards on seven carries (5.29 yards per carry) and three yards on a reception.

2007 Season

Named National Defensive Freshman of the Year College Football News, adding Freshman All-America honors from The NFL Draft Report, Football Writers Association, Rivals.com and College Football News … .All-SEC second-team choice by the league's coaches and Associated Press … Chosen SEC Defensive Freshman of the Year by The Sporting News and was a member of the SEC Freshman Academic Honor Roll … Started all fourteen games, beginning his career at nickel back vs. California and lined up at left cornerback vs. Florida before settling in at strong safety for the balance of the schedule … Recorded 86 tackles (57 solos), ranking fourth on the team … Had two stops for losses of three yards and a forced fumble … Recovered two fumbles, advancing both for a total of 55 yards … Broke up nine passes and gained 222 yards with a touchdown on five interception returns.

Injury Report

No major injuries reported, but did suffer a slight toe injury working out for NFL teams on Tennessee's Pro Day (3/17).

Agility Tests

Campus: 4.43 in the 40-yard dash … 1.54 10-yard dash … 2.55 20-yard dash … 4.23 20-yard shuttle … 6.80 three-cone drill … 43-inch vertical jump … 10'10" broad jump … Bench pressed 225 pounds 19 times … 33 1/4-inch arm length … 9 5/8-inch hands.

High School

Attended Creekside High School (Fairburn, Ga.), playing football for head coach Kevin Whitley … Led his team to a combined 37-5 record, including two region championships and an appearance in the 2006 State 4A quarterfinals, as a four-year starting quarterback and safety … Totaled 67 tackles and five interceptions on defense as a junior while rushing for over 1,200 and 12 touchdowns and passing for over 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns offensively … Parade All-American as a senior while tallying more than 40 tackles and five interceptions from his safety position and rushing for more than 1,500 yards and passing for over 1,000 as a quarterback … Named the Georgia Player of the Year by Gatorade and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution … U.S. Army All-American Bowl starter at cornerback for the East squad … Berry was the consensus top cornerback prospect in the nation, being listed as such by Rival.com, Scout.com, ESPN, and Prep Star … Given the highest rating of five stars by Scout.com and Rivals.com, as the latter listed him as the third overall prospect in the country and the top recruit in Georgia … Also competed in track and field, setting school record in the long jump (22-8) and 200-meter dash (21.76) as he was the 200-meter state champion as a sophomore and a member of the 4x400 state title relay squad as a junior … National Honor Society member with a 3.75 grade-point average.


Psychology major … 2007 SEC Freshman Academic Honor Roll … Member of the National Honor Society in high school with a 3.75 grade-point average … Served an internship at a dental office in Georgia while in high school … Father, James, was a three-year starter, four-year letterman, and 1981 team captain for the Tennessee football team … Born James Eric Berry on 12/29/88 … Resides in Fairburn, Georgia.


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