Draft Position Preview: Safeties

Perhaps the best class of safeties ever matches up nicely with our third-ranked Packers draft need. That list starts with USC's Taylor Mays, a big, athletic prospect with only modest production, but there is plenty of talent in the second round and beyond.

Packer Report continues its position-by-position looks at the NFL Draft with the safeties.

Packers position rank by need

Third of 13.

State of the Packers

Nick Collins is a two-time Pro Bowler who leads all NFL safeties with 13 interceptions over the last two seasons. The other starter, Atari Bigby, is a difference-maker when healthy but he's played in only 20 of a possible 32 regular-season games over the last two seasons. When he was out last season, the secondary was a disaster with Derrick Martin, Jarrett Bush and Matt Giordano leading to one gaffe after another and handcuffing coordinator Dom Capers.

Forget about ...

Tennessee's Eric Berry might not get out of the top eight and Texas' Earl Thomas probably doesn't get out of the top 20. Both are big-time ballhawks, with Berry adding a physical presence while Thomas can double as a nickel corner.

Possible targets

With the exception of Tim Tebow, the draft fate of USC's Taylor Mays will be the biggest storyline of this draft. One source called Mays the most talented physical specimen — regardless of position — that he had ever seen.

Mays is a huge man for the position at 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds. And he can run like the wind. His "official" time of 4.43 seconds in his 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine is up to one-tenth of a second slower than most scouts recorded. Outside of perhaps return specialist Trindon Holliday and receiver Jacoby Ford, Mays is arguably the fastest player in this draft.

And with all of those tools and with a star-studded supporting cast around him at USC, Mays managed five interceptions in four seasons. That's it. Thomas had eight in 2008 alone, while Berry and Georgia Tech's Morgan Burnett had seven apiece. Berry, Thomas and Burnett are ballhawks. Mays is a hitter who seemingly has horrendous ball skills. Considering the pass-happy nature of today's NFL, can you win with a safety who isn't at least average in pass defense?

No. 13: Quarterbacks
No. 12: Specialists
No. 11: Wide receivers
No. 10: Tight ends
No. 9: Nose tackles
No. 8: Running backs
No. 7: Defensive ends
No. 6: Inside linebackers
No. 5: Interior offensive line
No. 4: Outside linebackers

Nonetheless, with Mays' physical tools, it wouldn't be surprising if Packers safety coach Darren Perry were lobbying Ted Thompson at this moment, telling the general manager that he's the coach who could turn Mays' potential into reality. There's a good chance that Mays will be available at No. 23, and the prospects of a Collins-Mays safety duo certainly is enticing.

— This is arguably the best safety class in NFL history, and there will be talent on the board in the second and third rounds.

Burnett (6-2, 209) picked off 11 passes over his last two seasons and has a skill-set similar to that of Collins. He might be the best ballhawk in this draft aside from Thomas. He's probably better in run defense than South Florida's Nate Allen. Allen (6-1, 207) is a superb centerfielder and an underrated player in the run game. An all-Big East choice on the field and in the classroom, Allen picked off nine passes in three years as a starter. LSU's Chad Jones is the third second-round prospect in this bunch. He's a big man (6-2, 221) who stars on the baseball field as a left-handed reliever. He's not as fast (4.59 40) or as strong as Mays but he has a much better nose for the ball with three interceptions as a senior. Like Mays, he's a big hitter, but Jones is more fluid in space as an open-field tackler. Jones would be an intriguing option to take Bigby's role as the enforcer that allows Collins to roam the secondary.

— In the third round, the Packers like Virginia Tech's Kam Chancellor, a source told us. Chancellor is an easy comparison to former Tech and Packers safety Aaron Rouse because of his size (6-3, 231), but the coaches there say Chancellor is better in all facets of the game. He's an intriguing option because he's a physical player with some centerfield skills (six career interceptions). Oregon's T.J. Ward (5-11, 211) started at corner but his history of knee problems and an abundance of corners sent Ward to safety. It was a good move. He's a big hitter with obvious coverage skills due to his background (three career interceptions). Kansas' Darrell Stuckey (6-0, 204) picked off eight passes as a three-time all-Big 12 selection. An intelligent, high-character player, Stuckey always is around the ball. Plus, he averaged 25.6 yards per kickoff return as a senior. The last third-round option is Georgia's Reshad Jones (6-1, 214), who picked off nine passes in his two seasons as the starter. Some insiders question whether he has the intelligence to run a secondary, and he needs to be reined in a bit on run defense. But he's a good athlete with a nose for the ball.

— There are some intriguing prospects in the fourth round and beyond. The Packers showed a ton of interest in Nebraska's Larry Asante at the Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine, according to a source. Asante (6-0, 212) moved from linebacker to safety with surprising success, earning all-conference accolades three times. With his background, it's not surprising that he excels in run support — his nickname is "The Assassin." He picked off two passes as a senior and is athletic enough to hang with most tight ends. Florida's Major Wright (6-0, 206) intercepted eight balls and forced four fumbles in his career. He's a physical player in the mold of Bigby.

Florida State's Myron Rolle (6-2, 215) will be the smartest guy in the locker room, but how much has the Rhodes Scholar missed by not playing in 2009? He's strong and has decent athleticism but he picked off just one pass in his career. Northern Iowa's Quentin Scott has off-the-charts height (6-4) and speed (4.43). A one-year starter, he picked off five passes as a senior. The Packers really like Utah's Robert Johnson (6-2), who we told you about in a feature last week. His dad was slain when he was young, but rather than follow a life of crime, he blossomed into an on-the-field and community leader. He picked off 13 passes in three seasons with the Utes.

— Going to the seventh round and undrafted free agency, another player the Packers like is Michigan's Stevie Brown, who wound up playing linebacker last season. Brown (5-11, 212) started at safety in 2008 and picked off two passes. Massachusetts' Jeromy Miles (6-2, 210) was a FCS All-American with nine career interceptions. Great size and speed (4.45 at pro day). Chris Maragos (5-11, 200) lit up Wisconsin's pro day with good speed and great quickness — his 20-yard shuttle of 3.98 seconds would have topped the field at the Combine. He picked off four balls as a senior. Staying in Wisconsin, Indiana's Nick Polk (5-11, 211) grew up in Milwaukee. A former starter at receiver for the Hoosiers, Polk tore his ACL in 2008 but started in 2009 with two interceptions. Two big guys, LSU's Harry Coleman (6-2, 211) and Toledo's Barry Church (6-2, 222), would provide in-the-box and special-teams presences. Church was a four-time all-conference pick with nine career interceptions.

For a small-school wild card, Tennessee State's Anthony Levine (5-11, 193) impressed Packers director of pro personnel Reggie McKenzie with a 4.49 40 (on grass) at his pro day. He had five interceptions in two seasons as a starter.

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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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