BBD Assistant Editor: Joe Marino
The need to be able to stop the run out of nickel and dime defensive packages to match up with spread offensive formations has put the safety position in high demand. Having a safety who can come up and play near the line of scrimmage, but also has the range and instincts to play in single-high looks, goes a long way in being able to field an aggressive defensive scheme.
Two prospects in the 2014 NFL draft in particular offer the ability to perform well in both area, and they received first-round grades as a result.
Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the best safety in this class. A playmaker in the secondary, Clinton-Dix is behind many of the Crimson Tide’s big plays on defense. Clinton-Dix has good size and athleticism for his position. He has a nose for the football and is always around the play. His willingness to fly to the football, strong tackling skills and good tackling angles make Clinton-Dix a very sound safety in run support. He also blitzes frequently from the secondary and makes plays near the line of scrimmage.
Clinton-Dix does a good job of keeping things in front of him in pass defense and is aggressive pursuing the ball. Alabama played single-high safety defenses often, which left Clinton-Dix to cover a lot of ground.
First Round Grades
1. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama: Clinton-Dix is versatile and can allow a team to use diverse looks on the back end of their defense. He can play any safety role and can also win in the box. Safeties like him are rare and valuable.
2. Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois: Ward is an instinctive playmaker who can both cover and come up to play the run. He also offers the versatility to match up with receivers in the slot and is a complete prospect with good athletic ability.
3. Deone Bucannon, Washington State: Bucannon is the most physical and aggressive safety in this class. He makes his share of splash plays and enters the NFL with an impressive resume.
4. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State: Joyner is a versatile playmaker at defensive back. He can cover, tackle and blitz and is a perfect hybrid safety/cornerback combination.
5. Terrence Brooks, Florida State: Another defensive standout for the national champion Seminoles, Brooks has a balanced skill set and has the range and instincts to play as a single-high safety.
6. Calvin Pryor, Louisville: Pryor is a big hitter who excels in run support. He needs work in coverage, but his aggressive nature is intriguing.
7. Marqueston Huff, Wyoming: Huff can play both safety and cornerback and is a great athlete. He helps against the run and is scheme diverse. His versatility, including his special teams upside, is appealing.
8. Tre Boston, North Carolina: Boston reacts well to what he sees and is a good tackler. He has good ball skills and instincts, but doesn’t have the best range. With more consistency, Boston has the upside to develop into a starter.
9. Jonathan Dowling, Western Kentucky: A former Florida Gator, Dowling is a big, athletic playmaking safety with terrific range and ball skills. Questions remain about his maturity and character, but he is solid on the football field.
10. Dion Bailey, Southern Cal: Bailey is a big, in-the-box safety who can also cover. Seemingly everywhere for the Trojans defense in 2013 after moving to safety from outside linebacker, Bailey’s ability is reminiscent of Kam Chancellor of the Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks.
11. Ed Reynolds, Stanford: A cerebral player with good instincts, Reynolds has solid coverage skills and tackles well. He is best suited to play in a Cover 2 scheme.
12. Craig Loston, LSU: Loston is a hard-hitting, physical safety who excels in the box. His technique in coverage needs work, but his aggressive nature is appealing. He should perform well on punt and kickoff coverage units.
13. Brock Vereen, Minnesota: Vereen’s stellar combine performance put him on the NFL radar, and he is solid on film too. His run defense needs to improve, but his range and coverage instincts are excellent.
14. Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama: Sunseri’s junior season was cut short due to a knee injury, so it came as a surprise when he declared for the NFL draft. An exceptionally smart football player with great instincts, Sunseri was the “quarterback” of Alabama’s defense.
15. Antone Exum, Virginia Tech: Exum is a physical and aggressive player but has major durability concerns. When healthy, he has flashed instincts and playmaking skills.
16. Daniel Sorensen, BYU: Sorensen is underrated and one of my favorites in this class. A cerebral player, Sorenson takes excellent angles to the football and has a balanced skill set.
17. Ahmad Dixon, Baylor: Dixon is one of the biggest hitters and most aggressive safeties in this class. While he can excel in the box, Dixon is a liability in coverage.
18. Dezmen Southward, Wisconsin: A much better athlete than football player, Soutward has incredible physical ability but is still developing as a football player. With more coaching and progress, Southward could take advantage of his top-end measurables.
19. Alden Darby, Arizona State: Darby was a big-time playmaker for the Sun Devils and took full advantage of his role in their aggressive, attacking-style defense. A combine snub, Darby enters the NFL with a chip on his shoulders.
20. Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State: Lewis is an aggressive run defender who flashes ability in zone coverage. He has limitations in one-on-one matchups, but could a steal later in the draft. He is average athletically but should be able to contribute on special teams.
21. Avery Patterson, Oregon: If Patterson can overcome a lack of size, he could contribute with his versatility to play deep and cover the slot.
22. Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt: Ladler is a center-fielder with good ball skills and football smarts, but his limited physical traits drop him down the board.
23. Jerry Gates, Bowling Green: Gates was a playmaker in the Mid-American Conference as a defensive back and a return man. He has special teams upside in coverage units and could develop into a contributor on defense.
24. Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State: A flashy but inconsistent player, Zimmerman has good size and could be a situational prospect on defense with special teams upside. He is an intelligent player worth a flier late in the draft.
25. Jayson Hendricks, Pittsburgh: Hendricks has a balanced skill set and was a playmaker against the run and pass in college. With limited athletic ability, he will need to take advantage of instincts to stick in the NFL.
26. Shamiel Gary, Oklahoma State: Gary is a physical safety who can win in the box but isn’t as sound in pass coverage. His special teams demeanor makes him worth a look in the seventh round.
Top Undrafted Free Agents
27. Darwin Cook, West Virginia
28. Hakeem Smith, Louisville
29. Maurice Alexander, Utah State
30. Nat Berhe, San Diego State
31. Christian Bryant, Ohio State
32. Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State
33. C.J. Barnett, Ohio State
34. Sean Parker, Washington
35. Pierre Warren, Jacksonville State
36. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska
37. Brian Jackson, Oregon
38. Lonnie Ballentine, Memphis
39. Parker Orms, Colorado
40. Daytawion Lowe, Oklahoma St.
41. LJ McCray, Catawba
42. Blake Poole, Auburn
Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Ahmad Dixon, Alden Darby, Antone Exum, Avery Patterson, Blake Poole, Brian Jackson, Brock Vereen, C.J. Barnett, Calvin Pryor, Christian Bryant, Craig Loston, Daniel Sorensen, Darwin Cook, Daytawion Lowe, Defensive Backs, Deone Bucannon, Dezmen Southward, Dion Bailey, Ed Reynolds, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Hakeem Smith, Isaiah Lewis, Jayson Hendricks, Jerry Gates, Jimmie Ward, Jonathan Dowling, Kenny Ladler, Lamarcus Joyner, LJ McCray, Lonnie Ballentine, Marqueston Huff, Maurice Alexander, Nat Berhe, Nickoe Whitley, Parker Orms, Pierre Warren, Positional Breakdowns, Positional Rankings, Rankings, Safeties, Sean Parker, Shamiel Gary, Taylor Martinez, Terrence Brooks, Tre Boston, Ty Zimmerman, Vinnie Sunseri