Analyzing The NFL Drafts Top Safety Prospects

Published on April 18, 2009 by     

patrick-dhungThe big plays and big hits by safeties Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, Adrian Wilson and Bob Sanders, have brought the safety position back into the spotlight. For years, safety was considered an afterthought and teams didn’t feel the need to use high first-round picks on the position. Some teams refused to use any first-round pick at all on a safety.

Conventional wisdom said that a brutish-but-coverage-liability-type strong safety could be found in later rounds, as could a free safety, typically a fleet, cerebral ball hawk. The lines of the two safety positions were clearly defined.

Over the past few years, the lines have blurred. Strong and free safeties have become interchangeable, each having to possess solid cover skills, each having to be tough enough to launch into a 240-pound tailback five yards from the line of scrimmage. With offenses running more three-receiver sets and defensive coordinators trying to mask coverages, the interchangeable safety is becoming a must.

The safety that fits that mold in this year’s draft class is Western Michigan’s Louis Delmas.

Delmas was on the radar of most teams but he wasn’t widely known until Senior Bowl practices. He always seemed to be involved, whether it was a run or pass play. He moved ahead of players like Missouri’s William Moore and Oregon’s Patrick Chung, two excellent safeties who weren’t quite as versatile or around the ball as much as Delmas.

Considering he is a shade more than 200 pounds, Delmas has the body type of a free safety but he plays with the physicality of a strong safety. He is the prototype, whose only shortcoming is a concern about his durability because he plays so hard. As much as he meets the specs, he is still not projected as a first-round pick.

Delmas won’t last long, though, as safety-needy teams like Jacksonville, Cleveland and New England wait at the top of the second round. Chung, Moore, Alabama’s Rashad Johnson and possibly Troy’s Sherrod Martin also could be second-round picks, but they could just as easily last into the fourth round.

This draft could be the first since 2005 that a safety isn’t selected in the first round.

Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
1.
Western Michigan
6-0
202
1-2
Analysis: Delmas may have entered the Senior Bowl as the least known safety prospect, but everyone knew who he was by the time the week of practices was over. A fearless hitter with solid cover skills, Delmas fits into the dual-safety mold more teams are using. Though he is not a masher, he is a big hitter. His durability could be a concern, but he is the top player at his position.

NFL landing spot: Atlanta, New England, Jacksonville, Dallas, Detroit, New Orleans and Tampa Bay could all use a player like Delmas.

Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
2.
Oregon
5-11
212
2-3
Analysis: Chung is an accomplished and versatile safety who could help a team like Cleveland, Seattle or Jacksonville. He has good coverage skills for his height and is fast enough to make up ground if he gets beat in coverage. Chung is more of a strong safety but can play free safety, depending on the responsibilities. He’s also a tone-setting hitter.

NFL landing spot: Seattle, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Atlanta, New England, Detroit.


Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
3.
Missouri
6-0
221
2-4
Analysis: Few players have helped themselves more during private workouts. After he followed up a great junior season with a disappointing senior campaign, Moore struggled at the Senior Bowl and was being pegged by some scouts as a linebacker. He shook off an ankle injury, lost weight and has demonstrated the athleticism coaches saw on tape in 2007. A big-bodied hitter, Moore fits into systems that like playing their strong safeties “in the box.”

NFL landing spot: Jacksonville, New England, Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit and Houston need someone who can help the interior run game.

Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
4.
Alabama
5-11
203
2-4
Analysis: A good leader who doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, Johnson is more of a free safety because of his ability to diagnose offenses and make play calls. There are concerns about his size, but after proving he could play at a high level against elite competition, there isn’t much doubt about his ability to contribute.

NFL landing spot: Seattle, Detroit, Miami, Chicago.

Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
5.
Troy
6-1
198
2-4
Analysis: As the draft nears, Martin’s draft stock has risen. His size and blazing speed have several teams looking at him as a cornerback instead of a free safety. His coverage skills are very good and he has the closing speed to play the deep ball. He comes from a program that continues to produce top NFL talent
NFL landing spot: Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Denver, New England, Miami, Baltimore, Carolina, Arizona and Chicago are intrigued by his versatility.

Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
6.
South Carolina
5-9
197
3-7
Analysis: Cook’s style of play has drawn constant comparisons to the Colts’ Bob Sanders. His height could be problematic in coverage, especially since safeties often are matched up against tight ends. His overall lack of size has spurred concerns about his durability, especially with the way he plays, but he is an impact-type safety who could be a special teams maven.

NFL landing spot: Jacksonville, Detroit, Houston, Cleveland, Atlanta.

Rank
Player
School
Height
Weight
Projected round
7.
Wake Forest
6-1
221
3-7
Analysis: Vaughn is a classic in-the-box, facemask-bending strong safety. He is a solid overall football player but a prototypical strong safety who has to be protected in coverage. He could be an immediate special teams contributor and someone who can be groomed as a middle-of-the field enforcer.

NFL landing spot: Cleveland, Detroit, Houston.

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