The safety class is a really interesting situation. There is a good amount of talent in the free safety class, but it is a relatively down year for strong safeties. That does not mean there are not some talented ones but there is a stark difference between the two position groups this year. Only the players I have broken down are included:
1. Alden Darby, Arizona State - Darby is a converted corner that made the move to strong safety and has really blossomed there. His instincts and film study are noticeable on tape. He has a great understanding of how teams are trying to attack him, breaks on the ball well and has a knack for making plays, both in terms of tackles as well as breaking up passes and potentially causing turnovers. Darby can help in coverage and should be able to contribute on special teams as well.
2. Dion Bailey, USC - Bailey straddled the linebacker and safety position during his time at USC. He is not great, at least not at this point, playing on the back end of the defense, but he really thrives in the box and plays that well for running downs. When it comes to the pass, he can play a nickel linebacker position. Bailey’s range, ability to break on the ball and his ball skills coming from underneath are exceptional and he can be a playmaker in that respect. He may not be a great fit for everybody, but the team that likes what he can do and embraces should be extremely happy.
3. Sean Parker, Washington - Parker is a safety that might do his best work in the box, but he can play over the top as well. He is someone that can really make an impact as a tackler. Parker needs to eliminate some of the feast or famine style of play, but in terms of his measurables and how he plays the game, he has a lot in common with T.J. Ward.
4. Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State - Lewis is the extremely reliable backstop for a defense. He excels as a run defender in the box and is a sure tackler, almost becoming like an extra linebacker with how effective he can be. While he is able to help in pass coverage a little bit, that is not really where he does his best work. There is ability, but he just needs to continue his development in that area and get better at generating opportunities to make plays on the football.
5. Calvin Pryor III, Louisville - Pryor may end up going in the first round because he has tremendous athleticism, plays aggressively and can be an impact tackler. The problem with Pryor is he will go for big hits when he should not and misses as many as he hits, he takes poor angles which cause to miss plays both against the pass and the run. While fans only really see the impact plays, the tape shows a guy that does as much harm as he does good, making it difficult to rely on him playing the safety position. His potential is substantial, but there is a boom or bust element with Pryor.
5. Ahmad Dixon, Baylor - Dixon played more of a nickel safety for the most part. He has a lot of athletic ability, but he tends to read plays slowly in the run and his quickness and hips have proven problematic in the passing game. Dixon will tend to guess what the opponent is doing because he does not trust himself to be able to read and react to what the opponent is doing.
6. Craig Loston, LSU - Loston has prototypical size and looks the part of a big time strong safety, but he has shown little or no instincts or judgment for the position. He can occasionally make a big hit, but from his range to his ability in coverage, he is extremely underwhelming. Loston could get picked based on his build and athletic ability, but it would be a long term project.
1. Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, Alabama - Prototypical size, speed and overall athleticism for the position. His range is off the charts and gives the impression that the defense has extra defenders. Dix is an aggressive run defender that can make plays against the run as well as defending the deep middle of the field. He plays fast enough where he is able to correct bad angles and still make good plays. If he can improve his angles, he could play even faster in the NFL.
2. Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois - When it comes right down to it, Ward is a yolked up corner. He can help in man coverage as well as zone and while he is not an overwhelming tackler, he will get involved and holds up on the back end.
3. Deone Bucannon, Washington State - Bucannon is being slotted by many as a strong safety that plays in the box because he is as big and strong as he is, but he really operates better playing on the back end covering the deepest part of the field. As a a result, a team could have what amounts to two strong safeties on their back line with one in Bucannon that can fly around and play like center field.
4. Terrence Brooks, Florida State - Brooks is an incredibly gifted athlete that has not quite mastered the position, but his potential is impressive. Unheralded for much of the season, Brooks really was one of the better defenders on the Seminoles.
5. Avery Patterson, Oregon - Despite diminutive size at just 5’8″, Patterson is one of the best hitters and tacklers in the draft, pound for pound. He is also able to help in coverage and is really good at working through the whistle and finding himself in the right place at the right time as a result. Patterson could help at nickel or dime with the chance of becoming a starting safety.
6. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State - Joyner was a great player in college, but he survived largely on playing so fast and throwing his body around so much that he was out of control and would overrun a lot of plays. His best position in the NFL may be as a nickel and while he has a chance to eventually start as a safety, it will not be easy.
7. Dontae Johnson, N.C. State - N.C. State has been great at producing corners that are really well equipped to play safety. They play off man, get to play with their shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and attack the ball when it up in the air. Johnson can help in man, is physical with opponents and a reliable tackler.
8. Tre Boston, North Carolina – Boston has the ability to be a ballhawk but he is inconsistent with when he can go for the ball and when he needs to protect the back line. He is more of a dove when the ball is on the ground. Boston has the confidence to be a good player in the NFL, but just needs to embrace the full position.
9. Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech - Thomas has moved around quite a bit in terms of position, but this might be his best fit. He has terrific athleticism and if he gets time to just focus on one spot, he could be a really nice player down the road.
10. Marqueston Huff, Wyoming - Huff is rated so low as a safety because he’s really a corner and moved to safety to help his team. He is aggressive, will try to make plays on the ball and can hit guys, but he is much better and more effective when he can just play man coverage near the sideline.