NFL draft: Chicago Tribune: Rating the safeties
By Dan Pompei
This class of safeties is so deep that scouts expect some of the second- and third-rounders will be capable of starting as rookies. What's more, many of them have the versatility to play either free or strong.
1. Eric Berry, Tennessee, 5-11, 211: Some scouts think he's the most solid prospect in the draft at any position. He was an All-American the last two years and left school after three years. The only thing you can knock Berry for is his size. You would like a safety who is expected to be picked in the top 10 of the draft to be bigger. But he has excellent athleticism, speed and instincts. Berry ran a 4.40 at the combine. He's tough and he's a leader. Berry has drawn comparisons to Ed Reed. He played better in 2008 than 2009, when he was moved closer to the line of scrimmage. Berry is studying to be a dentist.
2. Earl Thomas, Texas, 5-10, 208: Some teams consider this junior eligible a cornerback because of his size, but he played safety in college and he has all the skills to be a great free safety. He's tough enough, and he tackles well. Thomas has a great burst to the ball and play-making ability. Thomas ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine. He has the capability to play safety on first and second down and play nickel on third down. His stock has been rising in the week before the draft.
3. Taylor Mays, Southern Cal, 6-3, 230: He probably has more potential than any defensive back in the draft — if not any player. If size and speed were all that counted, Mays might be the first overall pick. Mays ran a 4.31 40-yard dash. But he doesn't always play the way his numbers would lead you to believe he would. Mays is somewhat inconsistent on tape. He struggles some both in space and in tight quarters, and he isn't the best tackler. Coverage could be his biggest shortcoming. Skill-wise, he is reminiscent of Kenny Easley. For all the knocks on Mays, he was a three-time All-American.
4. Nate Allen, South Florida, 6-0, 207: This talented safety can do it all. He has the athleticism to cover man to man or play zone. His ball skills are very good. Allen, a high school quarterback and basketball player, has the kind of athleticism, size and intelligence teams want. His tackling is average. Allen's instincts and durability are his only potential drawbacks.
5. Chad Jones, Louisiana State, 6-2, 221: He has as much talent and athleticism as any safety in the draft, but he's still growing into the position and his passion for the game has been questioned. Jones is a former baseball player who was drafted by the Astros. He has acknowledged baseball as his first love. At 221 pounds, Jones can run and cover like a free safety, and hit like a strong safety. His tackling is inconsistent. His weight could be somewhat of an issue.
6. Morgan Burnett, Georgia Tech, 6-1, 209: He has good size for the position. He has helped himself with his workouts and his stock has risen in recent weeks. But he didn't play as athletically as he worked out. This former cornerback has good ball skills, as evidenced by his 14 career interceptions before leaving school a year early. He can hit and tackle, but doesn't play quite as physically as you would like. He has the cover skills to blanket tight ends. Burnett blew some coverages and needs improvement in reading and diagnosing.
7. Major Wright, Florida, 5-11, 206: Wright has enough speed and enough size to be an NFL starting free safety. He also shows toughness and tackling skills. He is smart and a good leader. He lacks the top end athleticism and play-making ability of some of the other safety prospects, however, and is not much of a ball hawk. He played as part of three safety rotation at Florida and left school early. He was a three year starter but never made all conference.
8. Darrell Stuckey, Kansas, 5-11, 205: He played better as a junior than as a senior, probably because he was playing hurt last season, but he has helped himself in the postseason. Stuckey probably is suited best for strong safety. He has athleticism, speed and intelligence. His instincts have been questioned. He should be a solid special teams contributor.
9. Kam Chancellor, Virginia Tech, 6-3, 231: This strong safety prospect has excellent size and plays physically. He is a former quarterback and cornerback, which testifies to his athleticism. He has played free safety as well as strong, but he struggles in space at times. He helped himself with a solid performance at the East-West Shrine game. He could turn into a productive player in time.
10. Reshad Jones, Georgia, 6-1, 214: This is a big, strong, athletic player who does his best work in the box. He is comparable to a young Lawyer Milloy. Jones is a big hitter who flashes on tape. His tackling is a little inconsistent, especially against better running backs. He is limited in space and in coverage, in part because of his physical tools and in part because of awareness.
11. Larry Asante, Nebraska, 6-0, 212: Asante benefits from being athletic as well as big. He is an aggressive, solid tackling safety who is best suited to play close to the line. He is a former junior college linebacker who plays with the mentality of a linebacker. While his ball skills are questionable, he can move well enough to play zone. The knock on him is he lacks speed. Asante came on in 2009, but still had a few mental mistakes.
12. Darian Stewart, South Carolina, 5-10, 213: This strong safety prospect was a hybrid linebacker/safety in college. Run support is what he does best, but he does have some experience playing over the slot receiver. He has helped his stock by working out well. He is a secure tackler.
13. T.J. Ward, Oregon, 5-10, 211: Ward is best utilized close to the line, and he has the mentality and tackling ability to stop the run. Even though Ward is short, he is explosive and delivers a big hit. He is a former walk-on who plays with urgency. He can be exposed in pass drops, however. He could slip because of knee issues. He has value on special teams.
14. Kurt Coleman, Ohio State, 5-10, 192: This player combines intelligence with toughness and athleticism, and he was voted team most valuable player. He doesn't have the kind of top end abilities that some of the best safeties have, but he's above average in everything. Coleman has the speed and instincts to play the free safety position. He's too small for strong safety. He is a leader in the defensive backfield.
15. Jeromy Miles, Massachusetts, 6-2 210: Miles has been rising since his impressive workout. But scouts believe he works out better than he plays. He appears to have a good feel for the game, but is not the best hitter around. Miles could carve out a role as a special teamer.
16. Kendrick Lewis, Mississippi, 5-11, 198: Lewis is a tad on the small side and he has not worked out well. Some scouts are questioning his speed (he ran a 4.73 40-yard dash at the combine), but Lewis does not appear slow in games. He is a physical safety who tackles pretty well. He seems to have the suddenness and quickness to cover.
17. Stevie Brown, Michigan, 5-11, 212: Moving to linebacker from safety as a junior probably hurt Brown's NFL chances, even though he led Michigan in tackles. His speed is intriguing, but his instincts are a turn-off. He is a physical player who helps the run defense. He is a little like former Notre Dame and current Bengals safety Chinedum Ndukwe. Brown wasn't invited to any postseason all-star games or the combine, but his stock has risen thanks to a strong workout at Michigan's pro day. Brown should be a good special teams player, if nothing else.
18. Robert Johnson, Utah, 6-2, 203: He wasn't considered much of a prospect until late in the season. As the year went on, Johnson began to show athleticism and ball skills. He was not invited to the combine but had a pretty nice workout at his pro day. He is an inconsistent tackler who struggles to break down.
19. Kyle McCarthy, Notre Dame, 6-0, 205: A tough overachiever, McCarthy is versatile enough to be considered at either safety positions. He is an opportunistic player who can cause turnovers. His speed and athleticism are good enough, and reads the field well.
19. Harry Coleman, Louisiana State, 6-1, 211: A linebacker in college, Coleman could struggle to find a position in the pros. He played close to the line of scrimmage at LSU and will have to learn how to be a better pass defender. He does have athleticism and should be a solid special teamer.
23. Chris Maragos, Wisconsin, 5-11, 200: This is a productive player who was around the ball a lot in college. He understands the game and has a knack for reading the play and getting to the ball carrier. Maragos may be limited in terms of size and athleticism, but he helped himself with a fine workout at his pro day. His speed may be better than advertised. Maragos' toughness should enable him to be a special teams' contributor.
20. Nick Polk, Indiana, 5-11, 211: A good workout has helped his stock. Polk is a jack of all trades who started out as a wide receiver. He is an inconsistent tackler and his speed is so-so.
22. Myron Rolle, Florida State, 6-1, 215: This Rhodes scholar is a much better academic prospect than NFL prospect. He took off the 2009 season for his studies. Rolle's instincts are questionable, and he lacks speed. He does have size and is a decent tackler.
21. Cody Grimm, Virginia Tech, 5-11, 203: The son of NFL Hall of Famer Russ Grimm is tough and instinctive. He gives everything he has on every play, but average size could be an issue. Grimm played a rover position in college and will have to learn the safety position.
23. Barry Church, Toledo, 6-1, 222: Size and toughness are his best attributes. A strong safety prospect, Church is a little speed deficient and might not be as athletic as he needs to be. He struggles in space some.