The overwhelming focus throughout the predraft process has been on top prospects HaHa Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor, Deone Bucannon and Jimmie Ward. However, there are numerous midround options without standing combinations of size and athleticism — a list that includes Minnesota's Brock Vereen, Wisconsin's Dez Southward, Vanderbilt's Kenny Ladler and BYU's Daniel Sorensen. A late riser has been Memphis' Lonnie Ballentine.
Sorensen (6-1 205), whose brother, Brad, is a quarterback for the Chargers, started at safety for three seasons following a two-year Mormon mission to Costa Rica. He intercepted eight passes and finished his career with a school-record 23 passes defensed. As a senior, he was an honorable mention All-American with two interceptions and a school-record 12 deflections.
NFL safeties need not be cat-quick, but they must have range and excellent lateral agility. At the Scouting Combine, Sorensen put on explosive performances in the shuttle drills. His 3.95-second 20-yard shuttle not only led all safeties and cornerbacks attending the 2014 event, but ranked fifth-best for all of the 335 players in Indianapolis. It was also the second-best run by any safety that participated at a Combine in the last 10 years.
Sorensen also led all defensive backs in 2014 with a time of 10.80 seconds in the 60-yard shuttle. Only one other player at the Combine this year (receiver Brandin Cooks) did better. In the three-cone drill, he was timed at a scorching 6.47 seconds. It not only was the best for all players in Indianapolis, regardless of position, but topped any time by any safety in the last 10 Combines. On BYU's Pro Day, Sorensen was timed at 4.54 seconds in the 40-yard dash after a 4.67 at the Combine. Vereen (6-0, 199), the brother of Patriots running back Shane Vereen, started at every secondary position during his career for the Gophers. Starting at safety as a senior, Vereen was first-team all-Big Ten with one interception and six deflections. The three-year starter finished his career with four interceptions and 22 deflections.
As was the case for Sorensen, the Scouting Combine was a big deal for Vereen. In the weight room, he performed 25 repetitions in the 225-pound bench press, the best for any safety or cornerback at the 2014 event, along with ranking seventh for all safeties to attend a Combine in the last 10 years.
Vereen was clocked in 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash, the second-fastest time for a safety in Indianapolis. He then turned in a 4.07 run in the 20-yard shuttle and a 6.90 in the three-cone, with both marks trailing only Sorensen among this year's safeties.
Southward (6-0, 211) wasn't allowed to test at the Scouting Combine due to a botched medical exam that showed a spinal problem. That put all of his eggs into the pro day basket, and he delivered a spectacular performance with a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash, a 42-inch vertical and a three-cone time of 6.50 seconds. Those "first-round measureables," as one scout called them, stand in contrast to his on-field performance. In two seasons as a starter, he had just two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
Southward didn't begin playing football until his senior year of high school, which might explain the lack of production. He's athletic, intelligent and versatile — he played safety, cornerback and nickel for the Badgers.
"I think that's something that I pride myself on is being able to do a lot of things and do them well and not have a drop-off," he said. "I think the era of the dinosaur safety is over. There are no more in-the-box safeties. You have to be able to do everything — in the box, cover a little, play the deep half. Those are all things I can do."
Ladler (6-0, 207) didn't post an eye-popping 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine, due to a lingering hamstring injury. However, he led all safeties with a broad jump of 10 feet, 7 inches and was among the top safeties with a 36.5-inch vertical, 4.00 in the short shuttle and a three-cone time of 6.78.
His true speed — not to mention his open-field tackling ability — is evident in these numbers. In 50 games at Vanderbilt (39 starts), Ladler delivered 63 touchdown-saving tackles after opponents broke free from other Commodores defenders. Since that statistic began to be tracked in 1973, only Steve Atwater (64) had more than Ladler. Ladler's tally smashed the previous SEC record of 36 by Chiefs standout Eric Berry.
During a brilliant senior season, Ladler rang up five forced fumbles and five interceptions for a national-best 10 turnover-producing plays.
"I feel like my play-making ability throughout the defense," Ladler said of what separates him from other safeties. "I am a great open-field tackler. I am consistent in the pass and run. And I am a turnover machine. That's how I got the nickname ‘Swiper.' I take the ball away from the other offense and I think that playmaking ability will help me."
The towering Ballentine (6-3, 219) has the size to play in the box and the speed to play in center field. The three-year starter intercepted three passes and broke up 13 others during his career.
Ballentine wasn't invited to the Scouting Combine but, like Southward, made his mark at pro day. His 4.39 clocking in the 40-yard dash would have topped all of the 20 safeties brought into Indianapolis and trailed only Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert (4.37), Rice's Phillip Gaines (4.38) and TCU's Jason Verrett (4.38) among the 59 defensive backs.
Ballentine's 38-inch vertical jump would have tied Utah State's Maurice Alexander and Florida State's Terrence Brooks for tops among this year's Combine safeties. Ballentine's broad jump of 10 feet, 5 inches would have tied Bucannon for second among the safeties behind only Ladler (10-7).
Athletic ability runs in the family. His mother, Shelia Smith, is a member of Murray State's athletics hall of fame and played basketball professionally in France.
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