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Vonn Bell, Ohio State (5-11, 205): Underclassman. Bell played in 42 games during his three seasons. In 2015, he ranked fifth on the team with 65 tackles and led Ohio State with nine passes defensed — two interceptions and seven breakups — to earn first-team All-America honors. In 2014, he was an all-Big Ten honorable mention with 92 tackles and six interceptions. Two of those came against Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and Alabama in a national semifinal. He finished his career with nine interceptions. That meant nine cupcakes from defensive coordinator Chris Ash’s wife. The one vs. Alabama was particularly tasty. "It was the fourth quarter, too. I got the pick in the fourth. Crunch time. Oh, yeah. That's a big cupcake." Bell was a five-star recruit from deep in the heart of SEC country. That made him a difference-making recruit beyond what he did on the field. "You take that to heart. It's pride. People have been putting you up there on a high pedestal, and you have to show the work for it. It hits you down deep and it hits your ego.” Bell’s first experience in football didn’t go well. Said Bell, who grew up Chattanooga, Tenn.: “Going into sixth grade I went out for football, and after the first day I quit. I was like ‘Man, it’s too hot. I don’t feel like running.’ I mean it was hot. And I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know if I’ve got time for this.’" His first love was swimming, then basketball.
Lamarcus Brutus, Florida State (6-0, 207): In his first and only season as a starter, Brutus finished third on the team with 68 tackles (46 solos but none for losses) while leading the team with three interceptions. He broke up one other pass. He went from spectator to playmaker as a junior and picked off two passes. “It’s kind of an old-school way of things being done… because guys get frustrated and transfer and all that,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “This is one of the great stories, in my opinion, of what he’s done and how he’s done it. …Watching him not get disgusted, not get discouraged, keep working.” Brutus, who was ejected from his second career start due to targeting, had this to say in December: “If you do your homework, watch your film, it all carries over to the field. Take care of what you’ve got to take care of. It wasn’t a specific time where I realized I was getting better, it was just the process of how it went.”
Deon Bush, Miami (6-1, 201): Bush started 32 games and intercepted four passes in his four seasons. As a senior, he was third-team all-ACC, with one interception, six additional breakups, 50 tackles (33 solos), one sack and three tackles for losses. Bush also was named to the 22-man Good Works Team for his work in the community. He added more than 500 people to the Be the Match Bone Marrow Drive and, in 2014, he used his bowl game per diem to purchase gifts for underprivileged kids. He earned honorable mention as a junior, with career-high totals of two interceptions, five forced fumbles, two sacks and 53 tackles (39 solos). He was honorable-mention all-ACC as a sophomore despite starting only three games. During the season, Bush’s uncle needed a kidney transplant. His dad — who played wide receiver at Mississippi Valley State alongside Jarry Rice — is battling liver cancer. He moved back home as a junior to help the family. “I just try to get him up so he can stay up, stay positive about everything. I just try to live every day with him like it’s the last, make the best out of every situation.”
Tevin Carter, Utah (6-1, 215): Carter took advantage of an extra year of eligibility — a hard-earned sixth season that required several appeals — to earn all-conference honors with two interceptions, three additional pass breakups, 56 tackles (31 solos) and 5.5 TFLs. He likes to mix it up in the line of scrimmage more than he does in the centerfield role. “I’m at my best when I’m down there with the front seven. I think my natural position may be at linebacker.” Coach Kyle Whittingham thought Carter could bulk up to 230 to play linebacker. Carter got off to a hot start in 2014, with two interceptions and 3.5 TFLs in the first four games before a season-ending groin injury. Carter opened his career as a highly touted redshirt receiver at Cal in 2010. He then transferred to L.A. Southwest College, where he played safety for two seasons. From there, it was off to Utah. Almost. He didn’t qualify academically, so he spent 2013 there as a student only before finally getting to Utah in 2014. Two of his brothers played college football — Trae as a cornerback and captain for San Jose State and Tim a linebacker at Alcorn State.
Jeremy Cash, Duke (6-1, 212): Cash was a unanimous first-team All-American as a senior — just the sixth player in Duke history — and a finalist for the Bronco Nagurski Award (National Defensive Player of the Year) and Jim Thorpe Award (top defensive back in the nation). In 12 games, he had 101 tackles and four passes broken up. While some safeties are measured by interceptions — Cash didn’t have any — Cash’s impact is felt around the ball with a staggering 18 tackles for losses, which led the nation’s defensive backs. He added three forced fumbles as he was named the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year. In 39 career games, Cash compiled 333 tackles, 38.0 tackles for losses, eight sacks, six interceptions, nine forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, 15 pass breakups and 15 quarterback pressures. He topped 100 tacikles in each of his three seasons after transferring from Ohio State amid coach Jim Tressel’s dismissal. How did he get there? By bus. He didn’t know much about Duke, other than its athletic excellence and football struggles. Three All-America seasons later, he’s taking a master’s degree to the NFL. "A lot of people didn't believe in me when I was at Ohio State," said Cash. "A lot of people questioned if I'd live up to the hype coming to Duke. 'Oh, he probably wasn't that good. That's why he transferred.' These All-America (lists), that means everybody in the country. I've had the honor of being selected."
Sean Davis, Maryland (6-1, 201): Davis started 40 games during his career, including all 12 as a senior. Playing cornerback full-time for the first time in his college career, he finished second on the team with 88 tackles (70 solo) and second in the nation (and second in school history) with five forced fumbles. He added three interceptions while earning an honorable mention on the all-Big Ten team. His 5.8 solo tackles per game ranked fourth in the Big Ten. As a junior, he led the Big Ten’s defensive backs with 115 tackles while playing all but two games at safety. Davis became the first Maryland player since linebacker D’Qwell Jackson to reach 200 career solo tackles and 300 total tackles. Davis, who did not play football until his junior year of high school, is trilingual, speaking English, Chinese and French. Why so late? He was 5-foot-8 and 125 pounds as a high school freshman. "I'm long, cover a lot of field, aggressive when I can [be], take chances when I can, and nasty. I like to hit." He showed he can hit at the Senior Bowl.
K.J. Dillon, West Virginia (6-1, 208): Playing the linebacker-safety “spur” position, Dillon was second-team all-Big 12 as a senior. He intercepted two passes and broke up eight others, adding 55 tackles (45 solos), 7.5 TFLs and a forced fumble. Dillon broke into the starting lineup as a junior, posting three interceptions, seven more passes broken up and 62 tackles (43 solo). One of those interceptions was a pick-six against Texas A&M in the bowl game. He’s from the same hometown — Apopka, Fla. — as fellow West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, though they played on different high school teams. “We grew up in the same area, playing against each other, so to come out and play at the same college together is awesome," Dillon said. "Every year when [Apopka and Edgewater] play each other I gotta talk trash to him because we're doing good right now. I don't know how Edgewater is doing, but they ain't doing to hot.”
Kavon Frazier, Central Michigan (6-0, 218): After starting a total of 12 games as a sophomore and junior, Frazier broke into the lineup on a full-time basis as a senior. He intercepted one pass and broke up three others, posting 108 tackles (74 solos), 4.5 tackles for losses and two forced fumbles. His 74 solo tackles ranked second in the MAC and keyed the league’s top-ranked scoring defense. Three of his five interceptions came as a sophomore. Frazier immediately caught the eye of first-year coach John Bonamego, a former special-teams coordinator for the Packers, Saints, Dolphins and Lions, among other teams. “Who is that guy? He has an NFL body,” Bonamego asked. Frazier finished his career with 269 tackles and five interceptions. “I like the pressure,” he said of playing safety. “All eyes are on you when the ball is in the air. You're on an island. If you get beat deep everyone is going to know about it. There is a lot of open space in front and behind you. The safety position requires you to think and react quickly. I like being in the spotlight. You have to be able to support the pass like a cornerback and support the run like a linebacker."
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T.J. Green, Clemson (6-2, 205): Underclassman. Green was a starting safety for just one season and had only two years of experience at the position. He played wide receiver in 2013, catching two passes, before being moved to safety for the 2014 season. In 2014, he had 24 tackles and one interception in a reserve role and contributed a 21.2-yard average on kickoff returns. In 2015, he finished second on the team with 95 tackles (a team-high 67 solos) and added one sack, 5.5 tackles for losses. He didn’t intercept a pass but broke up three and forced two fumbles. "T.J.'s a great player," fellow Clemson safety Jayron Kearse said. "Just to watch T.J. from where he came from — being an offensive guy, not that good at that position — and to make the switch to defense and become an even better player than he was at the position he came in at, it's great for T.J. T.J.'s worked hard for what he's got.” He impressed the coaches with a big play in a bowl game to cap the 2014 season.
Deiondre' Hall, Northern Iowa (6-2, 192): With imposing height, Hall started for three-and-a-half seasons at Northern Iowa. As a sophomore, he played linebacker and cornerback before settling in at corner for his final two seasons. After picking off five passes as a junior, Hall recorded six interceptions and four additional passes defensed as a senior. Plus, he forced three fumbles and had 5.5 tackles for losses to win first-team All-America and Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors. When he gets the ball, he knows what to do next with a school-record four career pick-sixes. With 34 3/4-inch arms, more than a few offensive linemen are jealous. Richard Sherman’s arms are 32 inches long. Hall didn’t receive a single offer from an FBS school after starring at safety at Blue Springs (Mo.) High School. His path to the NFL started during his sophomore season, when he was moved out of the hybrid linebacker/nickel role and moved into purely a cornerback. He's listed as a safety at the Combine but will get a look at corner.
DeAndre Houston-Carson, William & Mary (6-1, 197): Houston-Carson became just the third player in the program’s 122-year history to earn consensus first-team FCS All-America honors. In his first season at safety after playing cornerback, he led W&M in tackles (109), ranked first in the Colonial Athletic Association in tackles per game among defensive backs (8.4) and ranked second in the CAA with four interceptions to be named the CAA’s co-Defensive Player of the Year and be a a finalist for the STATS FCS National Defensive Player of the Year. Plus, he blocked two kicks, returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown, returned a blocked extra point for a safety, blocked a punt and had a pick-six. He finished his career with 293 tackles, 10 interceptions and nine blocks. Houston-Carson, a four-year starter, ranked second in FCS with four blocked punts in 2014 before a season-ending knee injury. “(My mom) tells me the story all the time. She said I was 2 years old and I’d be watching my father and his (college football) film. Someone would score a touchdown and I’d jump up and yell, ‘Touchdown!’ She believes this is my destiny because my first words besides ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ were ‘touchdown,’ and the other one was ‘hallelujah.’ And football, and my relationship with Jesus are two of the most important things to me today, and growing up.”
ALSO IN THIS SERIES
Safeties, Part 1
Safeties, Part 2
Cornerbacks, Part 1 (FREE)
Cornerbacks, Part 2
Cornerbacks, Part 3
Outside linebackers, Part 1
Outside linebackers, Part 2
Outside linebackers, Part 3 (FREE)
Inside linebackers, Part 1
Inside linebackers, Part 2 (FREE)
Defensive ends, Part 1
Defensive ends, Part 2
Defensive tackles, Part 1 (FREE)
Defensive tackles, Part 2 (FREE)
Defensive tackles, Part 3 (FREE)
Offensive tackles, Part 1
Offensive tackles, Part 2
Offensive guards, Part 1 (FREE)
Offensive guards, Part 2 (FREE)
Tight ends, Part 1 (FREE)
Tight ends, Part 2 (FREE)
Wide receivers, Part 1 (FREE)
Wide receivers, Part 2
Wide receivers, Part 3
Wide receivers, Part 4 (FREE)
Running backs, Part 1 (FREE)
Running backs, Part 2
Running backs, Part 3
Quarterbacks, Part 1 (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 2 (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 3 (FREE)
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.