The safety position seems to become more important every year, but it still ranks behind cornerback when it comes to the draft. In order to be a top safety, one needs to be a good tackler, as many teams now play eight defenders in the box against the run. You have to be a good blitzer and be able to cover big, fast tight ends. It also doesn’t hurt to be a good special teams performer.
Seven defensive backs were selected in the first round of the 2010 draft and a total of 12 overall in the first two rounds, including the fifth-overall pick and the seventh-overall pick of Round 1 (Kansas City’s Eric Berry at five, Cleveland’s Joe Haden at seven). Very seldom do we have two defensive backs picked this high.
Two of the best safeties of all time, Willie Wood of the Packers and Cliff Harris of the Cowboys, were both undrafted free agents. Both players were selected to All-Decade teams. The two combined for 77 interceptions, played in 14 Pro Bowls and won a combined four Super Bowls.
Here are my top 5 junior and senior safeties.
5. Deunta Williams, North Carolina, 6’1″, 215lbs, Sr.
When Deunta Williams arrived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina he was a receiver. Despite switching to safety prior to the start of his freshman campaign, Williams never stopped catching the ball. As a freshman he started all 12 games and led the team with three interceptions. He also ranked fifth on the squad in tackles that season and was on just about every All-Freshman team that exists. As a sophomore Williams kept it up, starting all 13 games, increasing his tackle total to 65 and picking off three more passes.
The production did not stop during his 2009 campaign. While the tackle numbers were down a little (mostly due to a more talented defense around him), Williams still earned First-Team All-ACC honors and had six interceptions, increasing his career total to 12. On a team that is loaded on defense (four players made First Team All-ACC according to the coaches), Williams is the big play guy. Williams was suspended for four games to start his senior campaign and he took his time to get back into the swing of things, however he is pretty much a proven commodity at this point in his career.
Williams’ three years of consistent production have proven to scouts that he is a safe pick and what makes him even more desirable are his instincts and eagerness to learn. Williams will study game tape more than most quarterbacks and that is the type of player every team wants.
4. DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson, 6’0″, 215 lbs, Sr.
DeAndre McDaniel did not move into a starting spot at strong safety until the 2009 season, but he was a big part of the Clemson defense since his freshman year in 2007. McDaniel earned some All-ACC freshman honors that season when he tallied 33 tackles. As a linebacker in 2008, McDaniel started off the season slowly, but had 51 of his 77 tackles on the season in the last seven games. Arguably the best game of his career up to that point came in the Gator Bowl against Nebraska when he had two tackles-for-loss and returned a fumble 28 yards for a touchdown.
The late season success in 2008 paved the way for high expectations in 2009. Despite moving to the strong safety position, McDaniel posted 102 tackles, 3.0 tackles-for-loss, 2.0 sacks and picked off an amazing eight passes, including one that went for a touchdown.
Heading into 2010, NFL scouts wanted to see what McDaniel could do as the leader of the secondary. The Clemson pass defense is certainly not as effective this season compared to last, but McDaniel’s decision to return for his senior season has paid off I think. McDaniel should be near the top (if not at the top) of the list of strong safeties taken in the 2011 draft.
3. Tyler Sash, Iowa, 6’1″, 210lbs, Jr.
One of the premiere underclassmen at the safety position is the University of Iowa’s Tyler Sash. In his first two seasons, he had 11 interceptions combined. Sash was receiving a lot of consideration from All-American teams and award watch lists at the start of the season.
Sash has good speed and adequate size for the position, although he will need to add some weight when making the transition to the NFL.
His biggest asset as a safety is simply having great instincts and awareness for being in the right position at the right time. Sash is terrific in zone coverage and a more than capable tackler. Like most college safeties, he struggles in man to man coverage and lacks proper technique, but these are things that can be coached up in the NFL. He has a tendency to play downhill and tackles with a reckless abandon at times. Sash must continue to develop some of the finer tackling techniques rather than rely on collision tackling.
Sash’s athleticism makes him a candidate to leave early although this year’s safety class is very thin and anyone can make a name for themselves overnight.
2. Rahim Moore, UCLA, 6’1″, 196 lbs, Jr.
Rahim Moore is widely considered the best safety prospect in the nation…and he is just a junior. Moore has been a starter for three years and has never missed a start. As a freshman he tallied 60 tackles and picked off three passes. He had his coming out party in 2009 and it started right from the beginning when he picked off three passes in the season opener. Moore went on to pick off a total of ten passes, the most in a single season by any player since 2003. He even ranked second in the nation in passes defended. For his superb season, Moore was named to just about every all-conference and all-American team.
The accolades continued heading into 2010. However, Moore would have a bigger challenge on his hands as the UCLA defense was decimated by graduation. Moore has become a leader on the field and through seven games ranks third on the team in tackles and has one of the team’s three interceptions so far in the season. The absence of a consistent pass rush has certainly diminished Moore’s effectiveness this year. He has even practiced some at the corner position due to a lack of other options.
Moore has enough size and strength to play safety in the NFL, but his ability to also play corner is not a bad thing. He will be good in preseason workouts and should sneak into the first round if he opts to go pro early.
1. Mark Barron, Alabama, 6’2″, 210lbs, Jr.
On a defense filled with playmakers, Mark Barron managed to make a tremendous impact during his time with the Crimson tide. At 6’2″, 210 lbs., Barron possesses great size and above average upper body strength. If he can get his mitts on the ball-carrier, Barron most likely will come up with the tackle. Barron will bring a hard nosed winning style of play to any NFL team that decides to draft him. He possesses above average size and speed for the safety position and utilizes those abilities to make a difference on the field. He further enhances his athletic ability by being a student of the game. He spends countless hours in the film room searching for every possible way to make himself a better player. That effort is seen with this play on the field as he quickly diagnoses plays and is rarely out of position. He is a willing and ferocious run defender and has some highlight reel hits in his corner. His combination of size and speed allow him to match-up 1 on 1 with both tight ends and slot receivers. I see him as a top 20 pick but I don’t have him ranked that much higher than Moore, Sash or the other safeties in the class. Much will come down to the combine and private workouts for the juniors in this class and their performance will have a massive impact on who will go first in April.
By Rhodri Jones.
Tredegar, Wales, United Kingdom.