NFL draft preview: Safeties
Alabama's Mark Barron (4) is ecstatic after winning the BCS National Championship game. (Patrick Green/Cal Sport Media/Zuma Press / April 20, 2012)
There are more teams looking for safeties than there are desirable safeties in this draft. As a result, look for some to be drafted too high. Aside from Mark Barron, there aren't any safeties worth considering early in the draft and few worth considering before the late rounds.
1. Mark Barron, Alabama, 6-1, 213. He is tough, smart and competitive and should be a fine leader in the secondary. He is very adept in run support, as he takes good angles and makes secure tackles. Barron has not been asked to cover a lot, and his coverage skills could be questioned. He reads the quarterback well and breaks on the ball. He is not a rare athlete and might be best positioned at strong safety. Barron played four seasons at Alabama and was named first-team All-America as a junior and senior. He recently had double hernia surgery but is not expected to be affected by it.
2. Harrison Smith, Notre Dame, 6-2, 213. He is versatile enough to play free or strong safety. Smith shows good range and has ball skills, but he is leggy and has limitations in coverage. He is a hitter but only an average open-field tackler. Smith is a steady, consistent player. He sometimes plays a little out of control. Smith shows the leadership, toughness, intelligence and athleticism to be a solid NFL starter.
3. George Iloka, Boise State, 6-3, 225. This tall, high-cut free safety prospect can cover a lot of ground. His strength is playing center field as opposed to trying to lock down an offensive player. Iloka is a smart defender who shows an understanding of the passing game. He is better in pass defense than run support.
4. Brandon Taylor, LSU, 5-11, 209. His stock has spiked in recent weeks after a strong Senior Bowl performance. Taylor made a lot of plays in the LSU secondary and was a three-year starter. He is more of a strong safety than free and is at his best in the box.
5. Brandon Hardin, Oregon State, 6-3, 217. Hardin did not play in 2011 because of a broken shoulder, but in 2010 he showed an intriguing combination of size and speed. He is one of the more physically talented defensive backs in the draft, and he has considerable potential. He ran a 4.43 40-yard dash and vertical jumped 35½ inches at his pro day but might not play up to those numbers. He is not the most fluid athlete and will have problems changing direction. He has played cornerback, and some scouts believe he has the potential to be a big corner in a Cover-2 scheme. He has missed time with other injuries besides the broken shoulder.
6. Antonio Allen, South Carolina, 6-1, 210. This is a tough, physical strong safety prospect who isn't the fastest or most athletic. He could struggle in space. Allen diagnoses properly, takes good angles, tackles well and makes a lot of plays. He should be a fine special teams addition.
7. Aaron Henry, Wisconsin, 6-0, 208. Henry is a hitter who would be best utilized close to the line of scrimmage. The All-Big Ten choice is smart and competitive. He was not invited to the combine but vertical jumped 39½ inches at his pro day, which illustrates how explosive he can be.
8. Eddie Whitley, Virginia Tech, 6-1, 192. He does not have ideal size, but if Whitley can add a few pounds, he has potential. He has the speed and athleticism to play free safety. He ran a 4.39 in the 40 to get the attention of scouts. He was around the ball a lot during the season.
9. Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State, 6-1, 207. He came into the season rated very highly by scouting services but did not play up to his rating. Martin has athleticism and has shown ball skills and toughness in the past. He is an inconsistent player. A knee issue clouds his stock. He also has missed time with other injuries.
10. Christian Thompson, South Carolina State, 6-0, 211. This strong safety prospect has enough size and athleticism to play in the NFL. A transfer from Auburn, Thompson is being scrutinized for his off-field behavior.
11. Janzen Jackson, McNeese State, 5-11, 188. He clearly has NFL talent, but a number of documented off-field issues could hurt Jackson's stock. A Tennessee transfer, Jackson plays pretty fast and plays the ball well. He can cover. His instincts and angles aren't always as accurate. He is a free safety who also has cornerback ability.
12. Sean Richardson, Vanderbilt, 6-3, 216. A three-year starter, Richardson has size and athleticism, which he put on display at the combine. He is a downhill player who can put a lick on the ball carrier. Coverage is not a strength, as Richardson's long legs prevent him from making quick cuts.
13. Duke Ihenacho, San Jose State, 6-0, 213. He is a tough, physical strong safety prospect with limited speed and athleticism. He is an effective run player who finds the ball well. He drew some attention with his performance at the East-West Shrine Game.
14. Delano Howell, Stanford, 5-11, 210. Despite average size, he is tough and physical. Howell flies around the field and makes plays. He is not the most athletic player, and he sometimes makes mistakes of aggression.
15. Eddie Pleasant, Oregon, 5-10, 211. He was a productive strong safety on an outstanding team. He reads the run well and gets to the ball carrier. He also shows instincts in coverage but is not the most athletic in the back half of the field.
16. Cyhl Quarles, Wake Forest, 6-1, 213. This is a well-built prospect with some athleticism. He is a willing hitter but an inconsistent tackler. Quarles isn't the quickest in coverage and would be best utilized at strong safety.