Compare and contrast: The free safeties

NFL Scouting's Michael DiJulio assesses the top free safeties in the draft, listing their strengths and weaknesses. Who has the size, who has the speed and who has the intangibles?

In the first of a two-part series on the safeties, we review the 2011 group of free safeties. These are your centerfielders – the guys you expect to cover a lot of ground deep in the secondary. They are the defense's last line of defense, but should also play with exceptional instincts. Scouts prefer the free safety as a "ball-hawking" type that can read a quarterback's eyes, get to the football and cause turnovers.

POSITION REPORT CARD: The 2010 class was loaded in safety talent and as a result, the 2011 crop was left a little thin. As far as the free safeties go, no one in this group rates as a first-round prospect and there is quite a drop-off after Rahim Moore – the top player at the position. A few of the mid-round prospects have some significant question marks and teams could find that the best value comes in some of the day three players. This group is below average and warrants a D-plus in my book.

Rahim Moore, UCLA 5:11.6-202-4.66

Good News: Nice range as a centerfielder with good speed…Excellent ball skills and good instincts…Reads the quarterback's eyes to get in sound position to make plays on the ball…Great concentration going up for the ball – becomes the receiver and has good hands to make the interception…Plants and breaks on the ball quickly.

Bad News: Generally a solid tackler, but has had difficulties in the area…Dives low in an attempt to bring down ball carriers and can miss…Not a force over the middle…Has a very tough time disengaging when blockers are able to reach him…Needs to take better angles against the run more consistently.

2010 Statistics: Third-team AP All-American and first-team All-Pac-10 selection…Registered 77 total tackles with three tackles-for-loss…Added four pass deflections and one interception.

Prediction: Moore seemed destined for stardom after leading the nation with 10 interceptions as a sophomore. However, a disappointing junior season has caused his stock to slip into the second round. Still, the former UCLA standout is the top overall safety prospect in this class and displays the range desired in a centerfield free safety.

Quinton Carter, Oklahoma 6:00.5-208-4.60

Good News: Assignment-sure defender with good size and speed…Possesses enough fluidity to turn and run with receivers downfield…Drops down to cover slot receivers on occasion…Solid ball skills and owns good hands to make the interception…Explosive hitter that can lay the wood over the middle and helps in run support.

Bad News: Instincts and awareness are average…Can be a split-second late reacting to the play…Looks high in his backpedal and lacks overly quick feet…Can lose jump ball battles to bigger receivers despite size…Tackle attempts are too high at times.

2010 Statistics: First-team AP and AFCA All-American…Registered 96 total tackles with 2.5 tackles-for-loss…Added four interceptions and six pass deflections.

Prediction: Carter owns athletic ability that allowed Oklahoma to drop him down to cover slot receivers on occasion. In fact, some wonder if the Sooners safety could even play some cornerback at the next level. This may be a bit of a stretch, however, as Carter is high in his backpedal and lacks elite speed or foot quickness. He should still be a solid third-round pick as a free safety.

Chris Conte, California 6:02.3-197-4.59

Good News: Former cornerback with excellent size and good speed for the position…Experienced lining up over the slot…Displays good burst when planting and coming downhill…Good length to get arms in and break up passes…Aggressive in run support…Hard working, high-effort player.

Bad News: Only one year of experience at the position and lacks instincts…Bites on play-action fakes and is caught out of position…Hasn't shown great ball skills to this point…Appears a little high in his backpedal…Lacks great fluidity in man-to-man coverage.

2010 Statistics: All-Pac-10 Conference first-team selection…Registered 72 total tackles with two tackles-for-loss…Added three pass deflections, an interception, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.

Prediction: Conte spent three seasons as a reserve cornerback before switching to safety and emerging as an all-conference performer in his final campaign. He possesses good size and solid speed, but is still learning the position and lacks natural instincts. Conte is a hard worker and could likely contribute early on special teams, but will need time to develop at safety. With just one year of experience, some teams may see him as having relatively high upside. He could be chosen in the third or fourth round.

Robert Sands, West Virginia 6:04.3-217-4.61

Good News: Excellent size and length…Solid speed and ball skills…Generally gets himself into good position to make plays on the ball…Times jumps well and has exceptional concentration and hands to come down with the interception…Long arms give him a wide range to reach for balls…Aggressive in run support and delivers some jarring hits as a tackler…Experienced on special teams.

Bad News: High-cut and tight in the hips…Struggles in transition and loses speed…Doesn't plant and come downhill especially well…Can take too many steps in transition…Isn't fluid and lacks great change-of-direction agility…Instincts and awareness are average.

2010 Statistics: All-Big East Conference first-team selection…Registered 53 total tackles with 6.5 tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks…Added three quarterback hurries, one interception and a forced fumble.

Prediction: Sands offers huge size rarely seen in a safety, but unfortunately that high-cut build also hinders his ability. The former Mountaineers standout is stiff in the hips and struggles in transition, which may lead to a move to strong safety. Sands should be off the board early on day three.


Jaiquawn Jarrett, Temple 5:11.7-198-4.69 Notes: Lacks great size, bulk and speed, but makes up for it with exceptional instincts and reliable play. Projection: 4th-5th round

Deunta Williams, North Carolina 6:01.6-205 Notes: Exceptional talent that could've gone in the third round had he not been suspended at the start of the 2010 season and suffered a broken leg in the bowl game. Projection: 4th-5th round

Jerrard Tarrant, Georgia Tech 6:00.3-204-4.63 Notes: Possesses the size and speed, but still developing discipline and awareness. Projection: 5th round

Mark Legree, Appalachian State 5:11.4-210-4.59 Notes: Small-school stud is a ball hawk in the secondary and could be a steal late in the draft. Projection: 6th round

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