Vanderbilt's Kenny Ladler a ball-hawk at safety
Kenny Ladler needed a nickname. The Vanderbilt safety wanted something that encapsulated who he is -- a hard hitter who takes the ball away from his opponents.
Thanks to a dictionary and a children's television show, "Swiper" was born.
The reasoning behind the nickname was two-fold. It stems from the word's literal definition -- "to hit or strike with a sweeping force, or to steal," as Ladler put it. It's also a reference to the mask-wearing fox of the same name that serves as the kleptomaniacal villain of Nickelodeon's animated show "Dora the Explorer."
"It's like an on-field alter ego," Ladler told Newsday via phone. "It's kind of like what I do on the field, so I thought it would fit."
Quite well it does.
The senior recorded a team-best 93 tackles last season and had 10 total turnovers -- five interceptions and an SEC-best five forced fumbles -- en route to second-team All-SEC honors. That production, coupled with decent showings throughout the pre-draft process, makes Ladler a likely mid-round pick in May's NFL draft.
"I think that I'm well-rounded in everything," Ladler said. "I'm able to make the tackle in open-field space and use my playmaking ability to create turnovers."
He reportedly ran a 4.64-second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, improving on his 4.70 at the NFL Combine. He also put up 24 reps on the bench press at the Combine -- second-best among safeties -- along with a 36 1/2-inch vertical and a 10-7 broad jump.
Ladler said he has worked out for the Tennessee Titans and the Atlanta Falcons so far. But there are several teams who could use Ladler's nose for the ball -- including the Jets, whose 15 takeaways in 2013 were second-worst in the NFL.
"My goal right now is just to get in the best shape possible for minicamp," Ladler said. "I have no control over where I'm going to go right now, so I'm just working."
Ladler said he's versatile enough to play either safety position at the next level, though he played free safety for most of his college career. He likens his style of play to All-Pro cornerback Charles "Peanut" Tillman, who has 36 interceptions and 40 forced fumbles in 11 seasons with the Chicago Bears.
"Watching him all season, I really wanted to model myself after him and take it upon myself to work hard and force as many turnovers as he has," Ladler said. "That's something I feel like I can model my game after at the next level, being a ball-hawk."
The draft will cap off a big weekend for Ladler. He plans on walking at Vanderbilt's graduation on May 9, which just so happens to be the same day as rounds two and three.
"I'll have my family with me," Ladler said, adding that being drafted mere hours after graduating would be "pretty great."
But only time will tell if "Swiper" could end up being a draft-day steal.