Combine Preview: Safeties

A really deep class of safeties will show their stuff at the Scouting Combine on Tuesday. The Packers wouldn't mind either adding depth or a challenger for Atari Bigby. Two top-notch prospects could be available at No. 23, and more in the second round.

The NFL's ultimate job interview, the Scouting Combine, began on Wednesday in Indianapolis, with the first on-the-field workouts on Friday and concluding Tuesday with defensive backs.

Packer Report gets you ready for the Combine with the last of our position-by-position looks at the 329 players on the invitation list.

Safeties

State of the Packers

Starters Nick Collins and Atari Bigby are both restricted free agents. Both are expected to return, but the Packers need depth. When the oft-injured Bigby is out of the lineup, the defense really suffers. Collins hasn't been immune to bumps and bruises, either. The Packers gave up on Aaron Rouse and Anthony Smith in training camp last summer but neither Derrick Martin or Matt Giordano proved to be capable fill-ins.

Combine guest list


THIS SERIES
Quarterbacks
Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight ends
Offensive tackles
Interior offensive line
Nose tackles
Defensive ends
Outside linebackers
Inside linebackers
Cornerbacks

Nate Allen, South Florida

Jonathon Amaya, Nevada

Lucien Antoine, Oklahoma State

Larry Asante, Nebraska

Eric Berry, Tennessee: Berry

Morgan Burnett, Georgia Tech

Kam Chancellor, Virginia Tech

Barry Church, Toledo

Kurt Coleman, Ohio State

Chad Jones, LSU

Reshad Jones, Georgia

Kendrick Lewis, Mississippi

Taylor Mays, USC

Kyle McCarthy, Notre Dame

Nick Polk, Indiana

Dennis Rogan, Tennessee

Myron Rolle, Florida State

Darian Stewart, South Carolina

Darrell Stuckey, Kansas

Earl Thomas, Texas

T.J. Ward, Oregon

Justin Woodall, Alabama

Major Wright, Florida

Who to watch


Nate Allen
Shana Siler/Scout.com
Because there's no strict definition of free safety and strong safety in the Packers' defense, playing coverage is paramount. Safeties who lack the speed to play center field and only are in-the-box enforcers need not apply. This is a deep safety class — potentially the best ever, Scout.com draft analyst Chris Steuber says.

— Nate Allen, South Florida: Allen (6-0, 207) was the class of the safeties at the Senior Bowl. A pure do-it-all player who is adept at coverage and playing the run. A real attacker with great range and on-field intelligence. He picked off four passes as a senior. A definite second-round prospect.

— Jonathon Amaya, Nevada: Amaya (6-1, 203) figures to move up draft boards if the athleticism he showed on the field translates to the Combine. The team's leading tackler, he had one interception as a senior after picking off four as a junior. Has some experience at corner. Late Day 3 or undrafted.

— Larry Asante, Nebraska: Asante (6-0, 212), nicknamed "The Assassin," caught the attention of the Packers at the Senior Bowl, where he had a solid week. A three-year starter, Asante picked off two passes during his senior season. A former linebacker, he's better in coverage than you might think. Day 2 pick.

— Eric Berry, Tennessee: Berry (6-0, 211) could be the rare safety who goes in the top five of the draft. Picked off 14 passes in three seasons. Only Terrell Buckley (501) has more yards of interception returns in NCAA history than Berry. That's why Berry draws instant comparisons to Ed Reed.

— Morgan Burnett, Georgia Tech: Burnett (6-1, 209) tied for the national lead with seven interceptions as a sophomore in 2008 and added four to that count this past season. Good instincts, speed and coverage skills, but is merely good against the run. Should go in the second round.

— Kam Chancellor, Virginia Tech: With his size and choice of colleges, Chancellor (6-3, 231) provides an easy comparison to Aaron Rouse. The Packers really liked Chancellor at the East-West game. Might have better instincts than Rouse, considering he was recruited to Tech to play quarterback. Definitely more physical. The three-year starter picked off six passes in his career.

— Barry Church, Toledo: Church (6-1, 222) was a first-team all-MAC choice all four seasons and finished career with nine interceptions. Tremendous instincts and is strong against the run. His lack of speed will make him a late-round pick.

— Kurt Coleman, Ohio State: Coleman (5-10, 198) showed some coverage ability as a senior with a team-leading five interceptions. Before that, was more of a run-stopper. Height is a concern, especially in a league filled with big receivers. Fifth round, at earliest.

— Chad Jones, LSU: Jones (6-2, 221) somehow has slid under the radar, perhaps due to the presence in this draft of Berry and Taylor Mayes. The former cornerback excelled in his move to safety. With his size, he's superb in run support but still a work in progress in coverage — no that he's bad playing the deep middle. Picked off three passes as senior and fielded punts when the Tigers needed a sure-handed returner — including a 93-yard touchdown. Could elect to play baseball, though, where he's a top left-handed reliever for the Tigers. Will battle Allen and Burnett to be next safety off board following Berry, Mays and Thomas.

— Reshad Jones, Georgia: Jones (6-1, 214) picked off nine passes while starting the last two seasons. A strong center field-type safety with closing speed and vertical jump. Will go early but needs to improve in all facets of the game. Third round, at latest.

— Kendrick Lewis, Mississippi: Lewis (6-0, 198) is just the sixth player in school history to lead the team in tackles in back-to-back years. Not bad for a guy who spent his freshman year at wide receiver. Had six interceptions and 22 passes defensed the last two seasons. High ceiling and could sneak into the fourth round.

— Taylor Mays, USC: Mays (6-3, 230) is one of the enigmas of this draft. The four-year starter is a three-time All-American, but even that leaves insiders wondering what else lies beneath the surface. Huge man and will blow away the field at the Combine. With five interceptions in 49 starts — and just two of those since his freshman year — will he ever be more than an in-the-box enforcer? The answer to that question will determine whether he's on the board at No. 23 and a consideration for the Packers.

— Nick Polk, Indiana: Like Lewis, there's a high ceiling here. Polk (5-11, 211) caught 32 passes in nine starts at receiver as a freshman before becoming a three-year starters at safety. He picked off five passes in that span. An intriguing prospect as a late-round pick. Played high school at Milwaukee Vincent.


Myron Rolle
Shana Siler/Scout.com
— Myron Rolle, Florida State: Rolle (6-2, 215) will be the story of the draft (along with Tim Tebow) after sitting out last season to study at Oxford. Jaws dropped at the Senior Bowl when they saw Rolle's sculpted body. But can he play? He was merely pretty good with the Seminoles and may lack the second gear needed at the position. Just one interception at Florida State.

— Darian Stewart, South Carolina: Stewart (5-11, 213) played a hybrid safety/linebacker for his first three seasons before becoming more of a pure safety as a senior. Appeared to be only an in-the-box defender until an impressive showing in coverage at the East-West game. Late or undrafted.

— Darrell Stuckey, Kansas: Stuckey (5-11, 205) is sort of in the mold of Bigby as a physical presence and leader of the secondary. He's best in the box but has some playmaking skills, with five interceptions as a junior. Didn't intercept any passes as a senior but showed some skill by averaging 25.6 yards on kickoff returns. Could sneak into fourth round.

— Earl Thomas, Texas: Thomas (5-10, 208) has only one knock: height. Otherwise, he's a big-time playmaker and a definite target for the Packers at No. 23. The consensus All-American tied for second in the nation with eight interceptions and tied for the lead with 24 passes defensed as a redshirt sophomore in 2009. He's pretty good against the run despite not having ideal size but is at his best roaming the secondary. Has the skills to play corner, which would be a huge plus for a team like the Packers, who play so much nickel. If he's on the board at 23, he'd be hard to pass up.

— T.J. Ward, Oregon: Ward (5-10, 211) would be a second-round consideration, at worst, if not for the injuries. Season-ending knee injury in high school, another knee injury as a freshman and an ankle injury as a senior will alarm scouts. Was good enough to start at corner before moving to safety as a junior. Big hitter and great speed to play center field. Day 3 pick, probably early.

— Major Wright, Florida: Wright (5-11, 206) left after starting for most of his three seasons. Big-time hitter against the run and in secondary who has played some nickel corner, which bodes well for the NFL. He picked off eight passes and forced four fumbles in career. Could go in Day 2.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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