2015 Draft Prospects: Safety (Rounds 1-3)

The Chicago Bears could again be in the market for a safety in this year’s draft. We break down the 2015 safeties projected to come off the board in the first three rounds.

The Chicago Bears have been searching for competency at the safety position for more than a decade. The club has selected a safety in 10 of the past 12 drafts but is still searching for a young, long-term starter.

That search continues this year. Veteran Ryan Mundy proved serviceable at strong safety in 2015, leading the team in total tackles (103) and interceptions (4). He’s 29 years old but last year was his first as a 16-game starter, so there’s plenty of tread left on his tires.

Beyond Mundy, there is nothing but question marks. Chris Conte played well last season but could not stay healthy. He suffered multiple concussions, injuries to both shoulders and another to his eye. His concussion history is concerning and there’s a good chance he’ll bolt as a free agent this offseason, as the fans turned on Conte after the 2013 season finale.

Brock Vereen, last year’s fourth-round pick, played 513 snaps his rookie season, 18 of which came at nickel corner for an injury depleted secondary in Week 2. Vereen flashed play-making ability, including a game-clinching batted ball in the end zone in the waning moments of the Week 3 victory over the N.Y. Jets.

Yet Vereen struggled as a run defender, which has been symptomatic of Chicago’s safeties the past decade.

If the Bears want to truly upgrade the back end of the defense, they should consider investing a high-round draft pick in one of the following prospects.

Landon Collins, Alabama (6-0, 222)

Collins is a hard-hitting strong safety with very good speed. He led the Crimson Tide in tackles (102) and interceptions (3) in 2014 and was a unanimous All-American. Collins is big and powerful and plays like a linebacker at times. He showed playmaking ability in coverage yet was beaten fairly frequently. It’s unlikely he could succeed as a free safety in the NFL. He is a questionable selection at seventh overall but if the Bears want to draft the best safety in this year’s class, Collins is their guy.

Projected: 1st Round

Gerod Holliman, Louisville (6-0, 206)

Holliman led the nation with 14 interceptions, which tied an all-time NCAA record, and took home the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. He’s an instinctive, ball-hawking free safety with great vision and anticipation. An exceptional athlete with good size, Holliman is not a very willing tackler and lacks aggressiveness in run support. His tackling technique is very poor, something that will surely be exploited at the next level. He’s a pure feast-or-famine safety.

Projected: 2nd-3rd Round

Anthony Harris, Virginia (6-1, 190)

Harris was a three-year starter who showed playmaking ability in coverage. He had 26 passes defended and 10 interceptions, with just two penalties, the past two years combined. In 2013, his eight interceptions led the nation. He’s athletic, fast and can play either strong or free safety. Harris can cover a lot of ground deep down the field. He’s a little thin and may not have the bulk to play full-time in the box. He’s a willing tackler but lacks pop. Harris could be an early starter in the NFL due to his versatility and athleticism.

Projected: 3rd Round

Jaquiski Tartt, Samford (6-1, 220)

Tartt was a three-time FCS All-American and showed very well at the Senior Bowl against a much higher level of competition. He’s a physically imposing player who played mostly free safety in college, yet appears tailor-made for an in-the-box role in the NFL. He’s aggressive against the run and packs a punch. Tartt doesn’t have elite speed and struggled at times keeping pace with quicker defenders. He needs to refine his technique in coverage, where he’s limited. Tartt’s size and potential presence in the box gives him starter potential in the NFL as early as next season.

Projected: 3rd Round

Derron Smith, Fresno State (5-11, 197)

Smith is so good in coverage, he’s projected by some as a corner at the NFL level. Yet his range and burst would make him an ideal free safety, one with the ability to man up on slot receivers. He’s instinctive, intelligent and has great field vision. A four-year starter, Smith has experience and leadership in spades. He had 13 interceptions in 2012 and 2013 combined, and averaged 12.9 yards per punt return as a senior. Smith doesn’t have great size but that might be his only knock. His coverage skills are elite, even if his tackling isn’t.

Projected: 3rd Round

Durrell Eskridge, Syracuse (6-3, 203)

Eskridge has good size and power, and plays downhill. He’s fast, tough and extremely athletic, yet he’s very raw. His ceiling is high but Eskridge is definitely a work in progress. He often takes poor angles and is inconsistent as a tackler. He’s also not instinctive in coverage. Eskridge has a lot of upside but the team who selects him will be investing in his future, not in what he can provide next season.

Projected: 3rd-4th Round

Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State (6-1, 205)

Drummond was a three-year starter for the Spartans and a team captain his senior season. He’s one of the better coverage safeties in the class and very aggressive when the ball is in the air. He often covered slot receivers at Michigan State. He accumulated 25 passes defended and 8 interceptions the past two seasons. Drummond plays fast but he’s not a strong tackler and he’s too often slow to react to plays developing in front of him. He lacks overall discipline but he could develop into a decent free safety at the next level.

Projected: 3rd-4th Round

Cody Prewitt, Mississippi (6-2, 212)

Prewitt is a four-year starter who was named All-American following a 2013 campaign in which he led the SEC with 6 interceptions. He’s an experienced, technically sound player with great in-the-box size. Prewitt doesn’t have elite athleticism or speed, which could hurt him in the NFL. He’s big but doesn’t play to his frame and is a bit of a safety tweener. He didn’t show well at the Senior Bowl either, which has his draft stock falling. Still, as a mid-round pick, he’d make a quality backup with long-term starter potential.

Projected: 3rd-4th Round

THE PICK: Derron Smith

With Ryan Mundy, the Bears already have a serviceable in-the-box safety. Mundy was second on the team last year with 32 run stops (per Pro Football Focus) and led the defense with four interceptions.

With Smith, the Bears could get the best coverage safety in this class, very likely in the third round. He would immediately upgrade the club’s passing defense. He can play single high and has the speed to cover sideline to sideline.

In addition, his experience covering slot receivers would give defensive coordinator Vic Fangio the option of using base sets against opposing three-receiver formations. That type of flexibility is very valuable.

And if Smith struggles as a safety, his skill set may allow him to thrive as a nickel corner in sub packages.

If the Bears want to invest in a safety who can make an impact his rookie season, Smith would be a quality option in the middle of the draft.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.

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