As seen by the big free agent contracts in the offseason, the safety is becoming a more important piece in today’s NFL. They’re typically one of the most versatile players in a defense and are often asked to help in coverage as well as run support. The 2014 NFL Draft has a very talented group of safeties that could fill a team’s free safety or strong safety need. The position has two players—Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor—who are considered above the rest and that can make a huge impact right away. After the first two safeties, there are a bunch of players who will go in the second and third rounds who can be starting caliber players. This is my last position breakdown before the NFL Draft on Thursday. Thank you to all the readers for reading my and posting comments on my rankings. Let’s take a look at my top five safeties in the NFL Draft.
1) Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
In addition to having the best name in the NFL Draft, Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is considered by many as the best cover safety. He has the range and intelligence to help cover for an NFL team’s defense. He has plus athleticism in terms of size and speed, allowing him to blanket the whole field and cover the different variety of receivers. Clinton-Dix can help cover a player one on one because of his technique and athleticism. He excells in reading the offense’s formation and knowing where to be to make a play. Clinton-Dix can also come up and make the tackle on a run.
The Crimson Tide product seems to always be around the ball and make the play. ESPN’s Todd McShay says, “Clinton-Dix shows really good range, instincts and playmaking ability from the safety position.” He would fit in as a prototypical free safety in the NFL. The only real question with him is that he is not very big and does not have elite athleticism, but this might not be a problem because he makes up for it with his other skills. Clinton-Dix is expected to be drafted within the first 15 picks on Thursday.
2) Calvin Pryor, Louisville
Louisville’s Calvin Pryor is one of the hardest hitters of all the safeties in the draft. He is great at run support and being a force at the line of scrimmage. The Cardinals product is a strong player who can go through blocks to get to the ball carrier. He has the range to get all over the field and make the tackle from sideline to sideline.
Pryor can also read a defense and put his fellow defenders in the right place. He is a team leader who can get his teammates to play their hardest. Gil Brandt of NFL.com says, “Pryor is a big hitter who is smart, tough and physical.” Pryor figures to fit in to the strong safety position in the NFL, but could be a free safety if needed. Pryor must get better at his coverage skills in order to become a top-tier NFL safety, improving his ability to cover a player one on one. Pryor might just need more experience at this skill, but he has the intelligence and instincts to do it.
3) Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
Northern Illinois’s Jimmy Ward is another safety who can make a difference in the run game. He excels at making quick decisions and getting to the ball carrier quickly. Ward seems to be all over the field because he has the intensity and effort to get to the play and make the tackle. In addition, he has the ability to go back into coverage. He can guard the receivers in the slot and he also has range to help cover over the top on the outside receivers.
Ward has good instincts which help him get to the right spot and make a play on the ball. Gil Brandt says, “Ward has everything you want in a safety except size. He isn’t big, but he’s a tough player with very good instincts.” Ward’s biggest flaws are his smaller size and his speed. He is not very big and so he can get muscled by bigger offensive players. He also does not have the elite speed to make up for his smaller stature. He could play either safety position in the NFL.
4) Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner could possibly be the best safety in terms covering one on one. Joyner was a cornerback in college but will make the transition to safety because of less than ideal size and speed for the corner position. He was very productive in college as a corner for Florida State. He has exceptional coverage ability that allows him to guard one on one in the slot. He also is a tough and instinctive player that can make tackles even with smaller size. He has great technique to be a free safety and go deep into coverage.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. says, “A versatile defender, Joyner can handle the slot or drop to safety. What he lacks in size he makes up for with instincts.” Joyner’s biggest problem is his size and speed. He is only 5-foot-8-inches and ran only 4.55 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Joyner does play bigger then his size, but he still could struggle in run support by not being able to get through blockers.
5) Deone Bucannon, Washington State
Washington State’s Deone Bucannon measured as one of the best athletes at the safety position in the NFL Draft. He is 6-foot-1-inches, 211-pound safety who ran an impressive 4.49 seconds 40-yard dash. He might have the highest upside of any of the safeties because of these great measurables. Bucannon is very good at coming up and helping out in run support. He is very physical and tough in getting through blocks and making the tackle. He can help in coverage because of good speed and athleticism to get to the ball. He has very good recovery speed that allows him to catch up to the receiver.
Bucannon has the leaping ability to go up and knock a ball away from the receiver. Mel Kiper says, “Has good instincts and will absolutely light up a ball carrier (legally). Not great in coverage, but doesn’t get beat a lot.” As Kiper stated, he is not a great cover safety. His technique is very raw and he also is not fluid enough in his change of direction. He must improve his technique in order to be a very good starting caliber player in the NFL.