We all saw how fragile life can be when Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor succumbed to an unexpected and premature death that rattled the NFL and its fans. Taylor will be forever remembered for his hard knocks play, his ascension as a player and, most importantly, as a man. But like they say, death brings rebirth, and in this year's draft, a safety with Taylor's promise will arrive on the scene.
It's hard to imagine another player of such superior talent at the safety position coming along so quickly, especially after losing a rising star at the ripe age of 24. But, at 6-foot-2, 228 pounds, Arizona State strong safety Josh Barrett draws a striking resemblance to Taylor on the football field. He has a similar build, uncanny speed, tremendous ball skills and is a ferocious hitter. Barrett embodies all the qualities and skill that Taylor possessed as a player.
But, unlike Barrett, Taylor recognized when his stock was at its highest and took advantage of his increasing value. Taylor left Miami after his junior season and took his freakish ability to the NFL; ability that hadn't been witnessed since Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott.
Taylor ran like a running back, he hit like a linebacker and had hands like a wide receiver. All of those attributes landed Taylor as the fifth overall pick in the 2004 draft, despite many questioning if a safety was worth a top-five selection.
Barrett prepares for action against Oregon this past season.
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images
"Traditionally, you can get safeties that can play pretty well for you — even go to the Pro Bowl — in the later rounds," former NFL general manager Charley Casserly said. "So if there's a choice, you can move the safety down [your draft board] a little bit farther. The other thing is when you scout safeties on tape, they may make five plays in a whole game."
We all know how Taylor's short career panned out, but on the other hand, Barrett is a different story.
Barrett had a breakout junior campaign — starting all 13 games for the Sun Devils — recording 82 tackles, 7.5 for a loss, one sack and three interceptions. The problem with Barrett leaving school after his junior year was the other talent at the safety position he would have been competing against. The 2007 draft produced four first-round safeties (LaRon Landry, Michael Griffin, Reggie Nelson, and Brandon Meriweather). So Barrett decided to stay in school for his senior year to continue his progression.
After his decision to stay in school, that's when the spotlight dimmed, and injuries plagued him.
A month after deciding to stay in school for his senior season, Barrett suffered a shoulder injury that forced him to miss spring drills. Then in the fall, Barrett had a pectoral muscle injury, followed by a bruised sternum, ankle sprain and quadriceps contusion. These injuries would have dampened the spirit of most players, but Barrett kept his head up and battled through it.
Even though Barrett suffered multiple injuries this past season, he still managed to play in 11 games, but lost his starting job along the way. Barrett had a disappointing senior season — 38 tackles, four for a loss, one sack and an interception — and could only look towards the offseason to prove he's still a top prospect.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Barrett appeared confident and sure of his abilities. He was the most impressive safety in Indianapolis and flashed a 4.35 in the 40-yard dash. That time has put Barrett back in the mix among the top safeties in a weak 2008 draft class.
Barrett is a big, explosive safety who possesses top speed to go along with his intense nature. He's a highly intelligent defender who excels in run defense. He quickly diagnoses the action and is aggressive at the point of attack. He plays with a great degree of suddenness and is able to locate the ballcarrier and make plays in the backfield. He's an excellent open-field tackler and is always lurking around to make the big hit. He plays well in the box and has a great sense of timing when blitzing. He has good hands and possesses ballhawk ability.
Barrett compares well to Taylor, but as good as he may be at the next level, he still has some work to do. Obviously, the biggest knock against Barrett is his health, and if he can stay healthy, he has great potential. But it's a concern. Also, he has to take better angles in coverage. He has a tendency to bite on play-action and is overly aggressive in passing situations.
He's a gambler and will always look to make the big play, even if it costs his team six points.
Overall, Barrett is a tremendous prospect with great ability. If he stayed healthy this past season, there's no question he would be a first-round prospect. Barrett would have challenged Miami's Kenny Phillips for the right to be this year's top safety, but he will have to settle on being a second-round selection.
Every great player has to deal with some adversity in their life to reclaim what they possessed at one time and rebound to regain the promise they once experienced.
Barrett is out for redemption.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.