Prodigy noun An unusually gifted or intelligent (young) person; someone whose talents excite wonder and admiration.
Patrick Chung has always been ahead of his time. Born in Kingston, Jamaica to a Jamaican mom and Chinese dad, he started school early in his native city -- early enough that he breezed through high school in California and first attended college at age 16. "In Jamaica, because of the school system, I was two grades ahead," he said. Sports were never a problem, though, as he proved with his listing in the top 90 California prospects in SuperPrep Magazine. He starred as a receiver and free safety at Rancho Cucamonga High before Oregon came calling.
"Since I was from Jamaica, it didn’t seem different to me," Chung said of his early graduation. "It wasn’t until people started telling me I was younger than everyone, so it was just not that big of a deal for me. I thought it was completely normal. I don’t worry about age too much."
Oregon was the only Pac-10 school that offered Chung a scholarship , and he found a home there very quickly. "It’s where I wanted to go, and it wasn’t strange. Some of the guys were like, ‘You’re 16?’ and called me ‘Little guy’ but it wasn’t that big of a deal."
After spending 2004 learning the ropes on the scout team and in special teams prep, Chung picked up the PAC-10 Freshman of the Year award as his team's second-leading tackler. He proved a natural for the "rover" position -- the same position that current Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher played at New Mexico -- which had him all over the field. "Rover is safety/corner/linebacker all rolled into one," he said. "You have to cover tight ends, cover slot receivers, play in the box, cover two’s and cover three’s and you are pretty much the guy who covers the whole field and you have to be flexible enough to do that."
Though he came up with nine interceptions in his Oregon career, some may have questions about Chung's ability to cover deep because he played on the box a lot. "That doesn’t mean I can’t cover guys," he said of his role. "I liked doing it all, and we’ll see how it goes."
By the end of his time at Oregon, Chung had started 51 games, which is of value to the NFL teams he's been talking to. "I never missed any games, so it shows my abilities and how much experience I have. It also shows my leadership and how hard I work."
Chung did submit his paperwork to enter the draft, but he rescinded his application and stayed for his senior year. He graduated in December of 2008 with a degree in Political Science. "I thought about it long and hard, and I wanted to get my degree and graduate. It was a good decision."
Chung left the Ducks as a two-time first-team all-conference honoree, and the man at the heart of Oregon's defense. Perhaps the play that best typified his mentality was an interception that he didn't even make -- it's 1:15 into this highlight video on a Matt Harper interception return where you'll see Chung block two Michigan offensive linemen out of the play.
"It was a zone blitz," he said. "It was a WILL (weak-side) blitz and I was the replacement in the flat. I took off running and I saw Matt Harper intercept the ball. I was looking for someone to block, and all I saw was linemen, so I was like, ‘I’m going to block him’ and that’s what I did. We both hit each other and we both fell, but I got the most of that (second) one, though."
What did his coaches and teammates think? "They said, ‘That’s a team player right there -- that’s a leader right there because he saw a teammate get an interception and he went and blocked for his teammate’.
Now, it's time for the next level. Chung excelled through practices at the Senior Bowl, and ran a 4.51-40 at the Combine -- fourth-best among all safeties, tied with William Moore and Chip Vaughn. "I liked it a lot," Chung said of his Combine experience. "I liked meeting all the coaches and all the top players. It was cool just seeing who you were going up against."
He stood mostly on the Combine at his Pro Day, though he did excel at the short shuttle (4.24 seconds) and the three-cone drill (7.11 seconds), impressing those in attendance with his coverage abilities. Visits with the Falcons, Eagles, and Saints are forthcoming, and Patrick Chung is ready to show the NFL what they'll be getting when he takes the next step.
"Great intensity and leadership. You are going to get somebody who always want to improve."
NFLDraftScout.com Senior Draft Analyst Rob Rang thinks that Chung's overall game is what speaks to the NFL.
"Chung's youth, versatility and reliability as an open field tackler are the elements that stand out to NFL scouts, especially in a class lacking an obvious front-runner at the safety position," Rang said. "Chung has the agility and speed to slide to cornerback, when needed, as well as the instincts and secure tackling for free safety. He might be best at strong safety due to his aggressive nature and willingness to take on and discard blocks on his way to the ball-carrier. He impressed scouts with his willingness to compete at the Senior Bowl, despite having four years of film, and ranked among the better all-around athletes in workouts. I believe he is the surest of this year's safety prospects and a value in the second round."
Still a prodigy at age 21, Patrick Chung is ready to surprise once again.
Doug Farrar is the Publisher of Falcon Insider. He also writes for Football Outsiders, the Washington Post, ESPN.com, and the Seattle Times. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.