Editor's note: This is Part 9 of our 14-part position-by-position breakdown heading to the April 25-26 NFL Draft. We continue with the safeties. The prospects are listed in order based on analysis by Scout.com draft expert Chris Steuber and Packer Report, with the comments that follow them based on the beliefs of league experts and insiders.
The Packers' perspective:
With Nick Collins and Atari Bigby in the starting lineup, Anthony Smith signed away from Pittsburgh and Aaron Rouse still having 6-foot-4 worth of potential, safety does not appear to be a need for the Packers.
But the draft is as much about planning ahead as it is planning for today. Collins and Bigby are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after the upcoming season. The Packers would like to retain Collins, and probably will do so at some point this year.
But Bigby has plenty to prove after an injury-plagued 2008, Smith has plenty to prove after washing out in Pittsburgh and Rouse has plenty to prove after failing to step up in Bigby's absence.
This is a pretty good group of safeties. The first five players listed below are pretty evenly bunched together, and there's some talent to be found in later rounds.
Cream of the crop:
— William Moore, Missouri: At 6-foot and 223 pounds — played at 230 last year — Moore is a big man who runs well. His 4.51 in the 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine tied for fifth among safeties. Picked off eight passes as a junior but fell to one as a senior, when he was used as more of an in-the-box player. That could make him an interesting prospect for the Packers, who figure to use Atari Bigby in that Troy Polamalu-style role. Of his 11 career interceptions, he brought back four for touchdowns. Despite his size, he's not a big hitter but he is a good tackler who forced three fumbles last year.
— Louis Delmas, Western Michigan: The 5-foot-11, 202-pounder from Greg Jennings' alma mater picked off 12 passes as a four-year starter. A better hitter than Moore and just as athletic with a 4.50 40 at the Combine and a 37-inch vertical leap. Aggressive tackler who is good in the open field. The NFL, however, is a big jump in competition from the Mid-American Conference. Scouts wonder how he'll hold up. Tied for fewest reps in the 225-pound bench press (12).
None, including Moore and Delmas.
Just a notch below:
— Patrick Chung, Oregon: Chung (5-11, 212) made 51 career starts and first-team all-Pac 10 as a senior. A strong tackling machine who hits like a linebacker, yet has the agility to play safety. Nine career interceptions and 26 breakups. Plus, he's experienced on special teams and a proven kickoff and punt returner. But is he big enough when he has to cover a tight end? Tied Moore with a 4.51 40 with a 34-inch vertical (compared to Moore's 37).
— Chip Vaughn, Wake Forest: A lot like Moore. Similar in size at 6-1, 221 and equaled him with a 37-inch vertical and 4.51 in the 40. More of a hard-hitting safety than a center fielder. Picked off three passes and defensed 20 passes in two years as a starter. Quality special-teams player.
— Mike Hamlin, Clemson: The fifth-year senior (6-2, 214) started his final 43 games and had 10 interceptions and 16 passes defensed over the final two seasons. Definite ringleader of the secondary. About the only knock on him is his speed (4.62 at the Combine). Good tackler but not a hitter. Not related to Cowboys safety Ken Hamlin.
Others to remember:
— David Bruton, Notre Dame: Bruton (6-2, 219) was the Combine star in this position group. Ranked second in the 40 (4.46) and tied for first in vertical jump (41.5 inches). Seven interceptions in two years as the starter. Team captain last season and quality special-teams performer. Not physical enough vs. the run for his size.
— Rashad Johnson, Alabama: Scouts worry about his size. Johnson is 5-11, 203, which isn't bad, but he played last season at a listed 186. Will he remain as active with those 17 extra pounds, because he probably can't hold up for a season at the lower weight. Cerebral player with six interceptions in 2008 and five in 2007. Ran 4.53 40 with 37-inch vertical.
— Derek Pegues, Mississippi State: Intriguing talent despite size (5-10, 199) and speed (4.69 40). All-SEC cornerback in 2006 and all-SEC safety in 2007. Seven interceptions in two years at safety. A big-time kickoff and punt returner, too.
— Sherrod Martin, Troy: The 6-foot-1, 198-pound Martin is an intriguing talent. Some scouts see him as a safety, others as a corner because of his height and speed (4.52 40) and others as simply a versatile reserve. Had nine interceptions during his career, including four last season. Has the ability; needs coaching to blossom.
— Darcel McBath, Texas Tech: A three-time all-conference performer in the pass-happy Big 12. At 6-foot, 198, he's got decent size. Had 11 interceptions over those three seasons. Runs OK (4.58) with a vertical of 38 inches. A strong center fielder with the football IQ to sniff out the run.
— Michael Mitchell, Ohio: The 6-foot, 221-pounder wasn't invited to the Combine. Posted pair of sub-4.5 40s at his pro day. Started for two-plus seasons and finished with seven interceptions. High football IQ and loves to study. A tough tackler, as his size would suggest, and has been very good on special teams.
— Chris Clemons, Clemson: At 6-1, 210, ran the fastest 40 among safeties at the Combine in 4.41 seconds. The three-year starter had five career interceptions. Good ball-tracking skills but shaky hands. Good open-field tackler but not an enforcer.
— Kevin Ellison, USC: The three-year starter missed his freshman season with torn knee ligaments and the first five games of his senior season with surgery to repair cartilage in the same knee. Horrible 4.87 in the 40 — worst at the Combine — but his 32 reps on the 225-pound bench press were the most by a defensive back in a decade. Four career interceptions. At 6-1, 227, he has the size and intelligence, but does he have the speed?
— Nic Harris, Oklahoma: The 6-foot-2, 234-pound Harris is the biggest safety in the draft. Ran a horrible 4.85 40 at the Combine, so some teams see him moving to linebacker. Played cornerback, safety, middle linebacker and special teams for the Sooners. Had seven interceptions the last three seasons, including one as a senior.
— Courtney Greene, Rutgers: A three-time all-Big East selection, including first-team as a senior. Topped 100 tackles in each of his first three seasons. He's 6-foot, 212 with a 4.52 40. Quick in run support and a big hitter, if not a sure tackler. Seven career interceptions.
— Brandon Underwood, Cincinnati: Underwood (6-1, 198) started just one season, opening the year at safety before replacing cornerback Mike Mickens after he went down with a knee injury. Picked off three passes last season. Lost scholarship at Ohio State as a freshman because of missed meetings and academic problems. Ran a 4.48 40.
— Emanuel Cook, South Carolina: Cook's questionable size (5-9, 197) and speed (4.65 40) take away from everything else he does well. He's a gritty run defender who's quick to diagnose the play. Was academically ineligible for bowl game. Three career interceptions but none in 2008.
— Troy Nolan, Arizona State: Nolan (6-1, 207) is a big-play performer with good size. Returned four interceptions and one fumble for touchdowns during his two seasons. Suspect speed (4.65 40) and not a great tackler.
— Otis Wiley, Michigan State: Up-and-down Wiley (6-1, 213) had no interceptions but 6.5 tackles for loss and 10 passes defensed in 2006. In 2007, he had four interceptions but one TFL and just five passes defensed. Started strong in 2008 with four interceptions in four games but was slowed by injuries. Broke up 11 passes. Averaged 10.4 yards on punt returns as a senior. Didn't work out at Combine because he was coming off right knee surgery; ran just a 4.64 at pro day.
— Curtis Taylor, LSU: The 6-2, 209-pounder picked off five passes in two seasons as the starter. Generally diagnoses the play well, but can be overaggressive and beaten on play-action and trick plays. Good tackler but lacks the hip action to handle a runner's move in the open field. Seems to play faster than his 4.64 timing.
Chris Steuber's sleeper:
— Colt Anderson, Montana: Wasn't invited to the Combine but ran a 4.53 40 at his pro day. Reminds some of Jim Leonhard because of his athletic ability and lack of size (5-9, 194). Eight interceptions in three seasons as a starter, including seven during his final two seasons. A hard hitter and alert defender with special-teams experience.
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