Draftnik's Corner - Free Safety Overview 2003

The Giants typically like their safeties to be taller than 6' because it makes them harder to throw over in coverage and over 200lb's because they are expected to provide physical run support and some intimidating hits on receivers over the middle.

With SS Shaun Williams signed long-term last year, the recent re-signing of FS Omar Stoutmire means that the Giants really don't have a pressing need for an immediate starter though finding a long-term upgrade over Stoutmire is both achievable and desirable. There are also question marks about the health or ability of the other players on the depth chart and the lack of INT's from the secondary as a whole leaves plenty of room for a young FS with ball-hawk skills to come in and make their mark in the dime package.

The Giants typically like their safeties to be taller than 6' because it makes them harder to throw over in coverage and over 200lb's because they are expected to provide physical run support and some intimidating hits on receivers over the middle. Ideally, the player drafted should also run faster than 4.6 seconds over 40 yards and have the range to get over to the sidelines on deep balls. A first day pick could net a potential star (there are a few with that type of ability) but there are also a few second day picks that may be able to progress into starters down the line though few prospects are proven ball-hawks.

Though Mike Doss (Ohio State) is considered by many to be a SS prospect, it's noteworthy that in college he started at FS, though that may have had more to do with the Buckeyes defensive scheme than the skills you'd associate with the FS position in the NFL. At 5'10" he's a little shorter than the Giants like for the position but at a chiselled 207lb's ‘under-sized' is not a way I'd use to describe him and besides, with a 39.5"vertical jump there aren't too many who can out jump him.

He has had somewhat of a storied career, being named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year this past season and leading his team to an undefeated season and the National Championship on his way to achieving All-American honours for the third successive year.

A dynamic run defender often used close to the line of scrimmage (has made 33 TFL's during his career), the Buckeyes staff actually schemed around him to give him the opportunity to make plays. He rarely misses a tackle, making a number of intimidating hits ‘in the box', can bring down even the biggest RB's at the point of impact and has either forced or recovered a total of 10 fumbles – 3 returned for TD's – over the course of his career. He's also an extremely good blitzer (6 career sacks), timing his rush well and also showing the desire to take on and defeat blockers in the backfield to make a play. In short, he has had such a huge impact in his role that he became the catalyst for the defense on a team of future NFL stars and he's a player I've enjoyed watching in recent years.

There has been some almost savage criticism of his coverage skills in some quarters, with many alluding to the fact doesn't match up well man-to-man with receivers and drops the occasional clanger in zone. Be fair, how many Safeties in the NFL can truly match-up man-to-man with a receiver? You can count ‘em on one hand! The problems in zone concern me more but, it appeared to me that his team-mate, Donnie Nickey (more on him later), was culpable on some of those I've seen. Could it be a case of people looking to find fault with Doss because he was the All-American superstar? He may not be totally consistent in coverage and he will make the odd error but he makes plays on the ball, has good hands and seems to come up with the big play in big games too often for it to be luck. He does have 8 career INT's (1TD) and 20 PBU's after all and there are plenty of FS prospects in this draft who can't match that production despite playing centerfield for their teams and having ample opportunities to do so.

I think Rob Rang (BoomersDraft.com) hit the nail on the head, comparing Doss with former Nebraska FS Mike Brown (Bears). Like Brown, Doss projected better to SS to hide his coverage weaknesses, didn't fit the prototype size/speed ratio for the position and was considered a far better college player than NFL prospect but the Bears stuck with their convictions on him, kept him at FS and he had an immediate impact for them and has continued to make plays. I wonder if history won't repeat itself with an NFL team keeping him at the FS spot and reaping the rewards.

Doss entered the season rated as a potential high 1st round pick but despite an excellent year, the doubts about how his game translates to the NFL makes it likely he'll be chosen in the late 1st/early 2nd round area (I rate him as a late 1st rounder) and there is some suggestion he may be allowed to drift even further on the day. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Giants were one of the teams that like him a lot as his combination of leadership, play-making ability and the fact that he played in the Big Ten at a very high level throughout his career (and was at his best in big games) should stand him in good stead. While I don't think they'd rate him quite highly enough to divert from their plans in the 1st round, were he to be available when the Giants pick in the 2nd round he may be the highest-rated player and on their board I'd welcome them taking him as I consider him too good to turn down at that point. That said, if the Giants don't believe that a ‘value' pick at a position of need is likely to be available at the bottom end of the 2nd round I'd expect them to trade up and target a player that fits a key need.

With a lot of experience at CB, Rashean Mathis (Bethune-Cookman) could just as easily project to that position in the pro ranks but at just over 6' and 202lb's he has just enough size to merit consideration as a centerfield-type safety. One of the best defensive small-school prospect available in the entire draft, a quick look at his profile shows that he has made an astonishing 31 career INT's and 41 PBU's!! Regardless of the level of play, the fact is that sort of production doesn't come without great ball-play skills, instincts and hands and he reportedly flashed those skills in practice at the Senior Bowl.

I haven't seen him play in that game as yet but the pen portraits I've read of his play there suggest that he was a little hesitant against the run when attacking the line of scrimmage, preferring to stay back and let the action come to him rather than fighting through blocks to try to make the play. Certainly, there is nothing to indicate he's an aggressive player (has just 3 career TFL's) and he's also not considered more than a drag-down tackler which doesn't really fit in with the style of defense the Giants have always played.

Could he project better as a CB? Possibly, but while he has good ‘long' speed over 40 yards (ran a 4.43 at the Combine), I'm not sure he has quite the immediate turn of foot or change of direction skills needed for that spot in the pro's as he struggled a little in the shuttle and cone runs compared to his peers.

His current rating is a bit of a mystery with no clear consensus, some sites ranking him in the late 1st round, others down as far as the early 3rd. As a safety, he's not exactly a natural fit for the Giants but INT's are hard to come by and his ability to play corner, perhaps in the ‘Sehorn' role as well may make him more attractive to the Giants than a player with his type of skills would usually…

Ken Hamlin (Arkansas) has typical Giants safety size at 6'2", 209lb's and his reputation as a crushing hitter – has forced 8 fumbles and made 4 fumble recoveries the last 2 seasons – is certainly something that appealed to me even before I got to see him in action. Very impressive at the Combine with his speed for a bigger Safety (4.55 over 40 yards) and change of direction skills, the pen portraits I've read of him made him sound very much like former Giants safety Myron Guyton and those sort of skills would solidify the FS spot, something that hasn't happened since Guyton left via free agency a decade ago. The fact that he has had to live up to comparisons with former Razorback (and Broncos) superstar Steve Atwater throughout his career and doesn't have many detractors is also interesting.

Until watching him against Georgia in the SEC Championship game, I had really only seen the highlight film hits shown on TV but he looked good despite my high expectations. Certainly, he had ample opportunities to impress as the Bulldawgs rushing attack seemed to break every play into the secondary and he was forced to come up and make the tackle on many occasions, finishing the contest with 9 tackles. He did miss one tackle but made his others cleanly, came up aggressively, took good angles to the ball, wrapped up strongly and was not carried for yardage even by a back as powerful as Musa Smith.

In coverage, he seemed to have good range but was a little slow reacting to the play-action and was late getting over once or twice as catches were made in his zone though he made nice plays in the open field both times to prevent yards after the catch. I've read that he needs a little work on his turn and run and also in deep coverage but I couldn't see that from this game. Certainly, 9 INT's and 28 PBU's over his career (improving his tallies in both categories every year) don't indicate a lack of ability in coverage.

A couple of drink-drive arrests as a junior (spent 10 days in jail) highlight his immaturity and may put some teams off of drafting him but if he has convinced teams in the interview process that those mistakes are behind him, he could well find himself a target of many on draft day. Certainly, he's a good enough athlete and player to warrant selection in the late 2nd round area though he could go as early as the mid-2nd round. If Dr Joel Goldberg doesn't think he'd be a risk, if available when we pick he'd be a player I'd like to see ‘in the mix' for our 2nd round selection as he is the sort of player who would offer both ‘value' at that point and potentially could solidify the FS spot, something that hasn't happened since Guyton left via free agency a decade ago.

Cato June (Michigan) is a solid but to me unexciting type of prospect despite playing for my favourite college team! At just over 6' and at a powerfully built 218lb's, he has classic safety size/hitting ability but I believe he would be better suited to SS because he lacks top speed (4.68) for the position and doesn't really have the burst to catch up once beaten.

A versatile guy, the Wolverines made good use of his talents this season, playing him as an LB in a 4-2-5 alignment because of his toughness against the run and ability to blitz (has 6 career sacks) which allowed them to get more speed onto the field to stop the pass. In coverage, he takes good angles to the ball and has good range to the sidelines because of this. However, failing to come up with a single INT and making just 3 PBU's this past season (has just 3 INT's and 10 PBU's for his career) indicate that he doesn't make many plays on the ball. He also missed the 2000 season with a torn ACL.

Projected as an early 4th round draft choice, if he were still available when the Giants are ‘on the clock' it wouldn't surprise me if he were chosen. To me though, he simply doesn't make enough plays in coverage and I would prefer more of a playmaker at the position than he offers.

Terrance Holt (North Carolina State) brother of the Rams WR Torry Holt has typical Giants Safety size at just under 6'2" and 208lb's and has a well-earned reputation as a Special Teams demon having blocked many kicks over the course of his career. However, when I and fellow draftnik's have seen him in action defensively, we've been less than impressed with his coverage skills from the FS spot. I think he lacks instincts and is beaten too often in that regard, seemingly unaware of where both the receiver and the ball are in his zone and allowing too much separation when changing direction.

While he has just 5 career INT's, I noted that he has 20 PBU's and the fact he's forced 5 FF's and has recovered 5 indicates that he's more of a hitter than a guy with great ball-play skills. However, I'm not sure he has the necessary speed to get better with experience (ran a pedestrian 4.66 at his Pro day workout having skipped the 40 yard testing at the Combine) and may be better suited for SS in the long run.

I don't think there's any doubt that he can be a special player on ST's as his 13 career blocked kicks attest – many guys can get past the blocker but few take the right angle to block the kick – but from a purely defensive standpoint I don't see him as being much better than we already have at the position in Stoutmire. Most projections are that he will go in the late 3rd/early 4th round area but he's not a player I'd want to select for the Giants even if available as a ‘value' pick at the end of the 4th round.

Todd Johnson (Florida) is a player that I quite liked heading into the season and while he had some injury problems he had a fairly solid season overall. A centerfielder type, at 6'1", 206lb's he has enough size to merit consideration for the Giants scheme and while not the most athletic player, has more acceptable speed (4.53 over 40 yards at the Combine).

He's not a dynamic run defender – he can be juked in the open field somewhat – but he gets off blocks and into the thick of the action well enough though he isn't really a big hitter ‘in the box'. In coverage, he gives up too much of a cushion at times underneath but reacts well to the ball – had 9 INT's (5 as a junior) and 15 PBU's during his career – and will make the big hit over the middle given the opportunity. He also shows the range to get over to the sideline on deep passes and makes big plays in big games. Were he to be available at the end of the 4th round, he's a player I believe the Giants may have some interest in.

Antwoine Sanders (Utah) is yet another player with good size at just under 6'2" and 202lb's but though fast in a straight line (ran the 40 yard dash in 4.55 seconds at the Combine), he struggled badly in the change of direction drills, clocking the slowest times in both the shuttle and the cone of any Safety who worked out there.

I saw him recently in action against Michigan and he looked like a solid prospect to me. While not dynamic in his run force, he came up quickly and tackled with good form, making a few TD saving tackles as the last line of defense. It was hard to see whether he has the range necessary to get to all corners of the field though as he played centerfield mostly and wasn't really tested deep. 6 INT's and 8 PBU's during his 2 year career suggest he may have some ball-play skills but isn't dynamic in that area of his game.

His age (26) is a worry and of all the Safeties at the Combine, he scored lowest in the Wonderlic test so whether he'd be able to grasp a system quickly enough and make decisions fast enough on the field I can't say. At the moment, he's considered a solid 4th round choice but I have to wonder whether he will drop a lot further on the day because of the worries mentioned above.

Willie Pile (Virginia Tech) has an excellent size/speed ratio at 6'2", 206lb's with 4.53 speed over 40 yards and very good athletic ability (38" vertical jump) and long arms but while considered a playmaker against the pass, isn't as tough or as physical a player as you'd expect someone of those dimensions to be. A centerfield type of safety, he's not the type to destroy blocks to get in on plays at the line of scrimmage but he takes good angles to the ball and he's not afraid to come up and make the play as the second line of defense. He also doesn't miss many tackles, though he's more of a wrap-tackler than a hard hitter who drives through with his shoulder.

I've seen Pile on a number of occasions during his 3 years as a starter and seen him burned many times for red zone TD's when isolated on fleet-footed receivers running the post pattern by him for the score. However, when he can keep the action in front of him in zone he's shown the ability to read the QB and break on the ball and he doesn't drop many opportunities presented him (14 career INT's plus 21 PBU's). He also shows the ability to put points on the board as he did this year against Miami (Fla), taking a pick back 99 yards to pay dirt in a game I saw.

Most projections have Pile being taken in the 5th/6th round area but I think that with his ball-play skills – a rarity at the position in this draft – and athletic ability he could go a little earlier. I'm not sure will ever progress to be considered a solid starter but I think he'll have enough impact for the team that drafts him to be considered a ‘steal' as a rookie because he makes plays on the ball so well. He's an interesting prospect but not a complete player. Whether that will be enough to tempt the Giants I don't know but I wouldn't be upset if they drafted him.

Hanik Milligan (Houston) isn't a player that I've seen as yet – though I will get to see him shortly in the East–West Shrine Bowl game – but at 6'2", 201lb's with excellent straight-line speed (ran 4.52 at the Combine) he clearly has the size and speed the Giants desire at the position. The stats say he's been in the thick of the action having been in on an amazing 408 tackles, forced 9 fumbles recovered 5 others and nabbed 7 INT's whilst batting away 19 others in his 3 year career.

Reports from Ourlads Guide on his play at the East-West practices suggest he's still a little over-aggressive and raw in coverage, biting on play fakes and letting receivers past him deep. That has been echoed on the profiles written around the web but he still sounds like a decent mid-late round project and if the Giants don't have a prospect for the position by the 6th round, he has a chance to fill the gap .

Anthony Floyd (Louisville) doesn't fit the Giants size requirements at under 5'10" and barely over 200lb's but is one of the few players in the entire draft with a reputation established as a ball-hawk (18 career INT's plus 30 PBU's) and that in itself draws attention. Having led the nation in INT's as a sophomore with 10, picks have proved a lot hard to come by lately as teams stayed away from his area of the field.

I saw him against Florida State and Cincinnati this year and he was used in backed off coverage against the slot receiver on a number of plays as well as playing deep centerfield on a few other occasions. He wasn't really challenged in man situations or over the deep middle so it was hard to see his explosion to the ball but he picked off a wobbly throw in OT to virtually hand victory to his team. Against the run, he doesn't look anything special but he didn't miss any tackles either and that has to be respected.

I don't think there is a great deal of difference between Donnie Nickey (Ohio State) and Derek Pagel (Iowa) overall and I wouldn't draft either. Nickey has exceptional size (6'2", 220lb's) but his career 5 INT's and 11 PBU's tell the tale of a player who, despite starting 4 years, simply doesn't make enough plays in coverage and who isn't exactly an inspired run defender despite his size. Pagel is a little smaller (6'1", 208lb's) and a bit of a late bloomer, really only starting for one season and putting up decent numbers in coverage (4 INT's, 7 PBU's) he wasn't overly impressive in run defense. I'm sure both will have their supporters on the day but I won't be one of them.

A trio of players that most sites consider to be free agents but who impressed me for various reasons this season when watching other prospects are Marcus Cumby (Kentucky), Shaun Meyer (Penn State) and Travares Robinson (Auburn). None of them were invited to the Combine but all made plays consistently in games I watched so caught my eye a little. Of the three, Cumby has typical giants Safety size (6'1", 207lb's) and is by far the biggest hitter, Robinson has the best coverage skills and break on the ball (he started some at CB earlier in his career) but is a bit of a ‘tweener whilst Meyer led a talented team in tackles and, of course, comes from our GM's alma mater.


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