NFL Scouting XII: Safeties

Michael DiJulio concludes his draft series with a look at the top safeties.

In the first of a two-part series on the safeties, we review the 2011 group of free safeties. These are your centerfielders – the guys you expect to cover a lot of ground deep in the secondary. They are the defense's last line of defense, but should also play with exceptional instincts. Scouts prefer the free safety as a "ball-hawking" type that can read a quarterback's eyes, get to the football and cause turnovers.

POSITION REPORT CARD: The 2010 class was loaded in safety talent and as a result, the 2011 crop was left a little thin. As far as the free safeties go, no one in this group rates as a first-round prospect and there is quite a drop-off after Rahim Moore – the top player at the position. A few of the mid-round prospects have some significant question marks and teams could find that the best value comes in some of the day three players. This group is below average and warrants a D-plus in my book.

Rahim Moore, UCLA 5:11.6-202-4.66

Good News: Nice range as a centerfielder with good speed…Excellent ball skills and good instincts…Reads the quarterback's eyes to get in sound position to make plays on the ball…Great concentration going up for the ball – becomes the receiver and has good hands to make the interception…Plants and breaks on the ball quickly.

Bad News: Generally a solid tackler, but has had difficulties in the area…Dives low in an attempt to bring down ball carriers and can miss…Not a force over the middle…Has a very tough time disengaging when blockers are able to reach him…Needs to take better angles against the run more consistently.

2010 Statistics: Third-team AP All-American and first-team All-Pac-10 selection…Registered 77 total tackles with three tackles-for-loss…Added four pass deflections and one interception.

Prediction: Moore seemed destined for stardom after leading the nation with 10 interceptions as a sophomore. However, a disappointing junior season has caused his stock to slip into the second round. Still, the former UCLA standout is the top overall safety prospect in this class and displays the range desired in a centerfield free safety.

Quinton Carter, Oklahoma 6:00.5-208-4.60

Good News: Assignment-sure defender with good size and speed…Possesses enough fluidity to turn and run with receivers downfield…Drops down to cover slot receivers on occasion…Solid ball skills and owns good hands to make the interception…Explosive hitter that can lay the wood over the middle and helps in run support.

Bad News: Instincts and awareness are average…Can be a split-second late reacting to the play…Looks high in his backpedal and lacks overly quick feet…Can lose jump ball battles to bigger receivers despite size…Tackle attempts are too high at times.

2010 Statistics: First-team AP and AFCA All-American…Registered 96 total tackles with 2.5 tackles-for-loss…Added four interceptions and six pass deflections.

Prediction: Carter owns athletic ability that allowed Oklahoma to drop him down to cover slot receivers on occasion. In fact, some wonder if the Sooners safety could even play some cornerback at the next level. This may be a bit of a stretch, however, as Carter is high in his backpedal and lacks elite speed or foot quickness. He should still be a solid third-round pick as a free safety.

Chris Conte, California 6:02.3-197-4.59

Good News: Former cornerback with excellent size and good speed for the position…Experienced lining up over the slot…Displays good burst when planting and coming downhill…Good length to get arms in and break up passes…Aggressive in run support…Hard working, high-effort player.

Bad News: Only one year of experience at the position and lacks instincts…Bites on play-action fakes and is caught out of position…Hasn't shown great ball skills to this point…Appears a little high in his backpedal…Lacks great fluidity in man-to-man coverage.

2010 Statistics: All-Pac-10 Conference first-team selection…Registered 72 total tackles with two tackles-for-loss…Added three pass deflections, an interception, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.

Prediction: Conte spent three seasons as a reserve cornerback before switching to safety and emerging as an all-conference performer in his final campaign. He possesses good size and solid speed, but is still learning the position and lacks natural instincts. Conte is a hard worker and could likely contribute early on special teams, but will need time to develop at safety. With just one year of experience, some teams may see him as having relatively high upside. He could be chosen in the third or fourth round.

Robert Sands, West Virginia 6:04.3-217-4.61

Good News: Excellent size and length…Solid speed and ball skills…Generally gets himself into good position to make plays on the ball…Times jumps well and has exceptional concentration and hands to come down with the interception…Long arms give him a wide range to reach for balls…Aggressive in run support and delivers some jarring hits as a tackler…Experienced on special teams.

Bad News: High-cut and tight in the hips…Struggles in transition and loses speed…Doesn't plant and come downhill especially well…Can take too many steps in transition…Isn't fluid and lacks great change-of-direction agility…Instincts and awareness are average.

2010 Statistics: All-Big East Conference first-team selection…Registered 53 total tackles with 6.5 tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks…Added three quarterback hurries, one interception and a forced fumble.

Prediction: Sands offers huge size rarely seen in a safety, but unfortunately that high-cut build also hinders his ability. The former Mountaineers standout is stiff in the hips and struggles in transition, which may lead to a move to strong safety. Sands should be off the board early on day three.


Jaiquawn Jarrett, Temple 5:11.7-198-4.69 Notes: Lacks great size, bulk and speed, but makes up for it with exceptional instincts and reliable play. Projection: 4th-5th round

Deunta Williams, North Carolina 6:01.6-205 Notes: Exceptional talent that could've gone in the third round had he not been suspended at the start of the 2010 season and suffered a broken leg in the bowl game. Projection: 4th-5th round

Jerrard Tarrant, Georgia Tech 6:00.3-204-4.63 Notes: Possesses the size and speed, but still developing discipline and awareness. Projection: 5th round

Mark Legree, Appalachian State 5:11.4-210-4.59 Notes: Small-school stud is a ball hawk in the secondary and could be a steal late in the draft. Projection: 6th round


The strong safeties group requires many of the same skills as their counterparts. In two-deep zone looks they are required to cover half of the deep part of the field and often line up against tight ends in man coverage. Athletic ability and instincts are a necessity and ball skills go a long way in determining an elite prospect. However in many schemes, the strong safety is sometimes required to drop into the box and act as an extra linebacker to strengthen the run defense. These guys are generally bigger than the free safeties and should be solid tacklers.

POSITION REPORT CARD: This group carries no first-round prospects, unlike the 2010 draft which saw Tennessee's Eric Berry selected fifth overall. In fact, there's an outside chance all the players listed here could be on the board heading into day three. This group simply lacks star power, as well as quality depth. The 2011 crop of strong safeties receive a solid D grade.

DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson

Good News: Good overall size and length…Good instincts in coverage…Displays solid route recognition…Also reads the quarterback's eyes to get into position…Gets his head around in coverage and can find the football…Good concentration and hands to come down with the interception…Comfortable playing in the box and is aggressive in run support…Hard-working player.

Bad News: Appears a bit stiff in the hips and lacks elite speed…Can get caught looking into the backfield on play-action…Comes in too high on tackles at times, allowing ball carriers to slip through his grasp…Needs to consistently take better angles…Some off-field issues, but has since matured during his time at Clemson.

2010 Statistics: All-ACC first-team selection…Registered 76 total tackles with 5.5 tackles-for-loss…Added four interceptions and five pass deflections.

Prediction: McDaniel rates as the top strong safety in a weaker class. The former Clemson star owns good size and length and has been a ball hawk for the Tigers (managed 15 career interceptions). Some question his ability to cover the deep half of the field in coverage, but he's strong in run support and could excel in a system that allows him to play in the box from time to time. He carries a third- to fourth-round grade, but a lack of depth at the position could see him selected higher.

Tyler Sash, Iowa

Good News: Good instincts in coverage and generally puts himself in good position…Displays good awareness and smarts in two-deep coverage…Exceptional ball skills and can cause turnovers…Aggressive in run support and flies to the ball looking to deliver a shot…Explosive tackler who can lay the wood and provide an intimidating presence over the middle.

Bad News: Doesn't own particularly impressive speed or burst…Could have a tough time in man coverage against athletic tight ends...High in his backpedal and isn't overly fluid turning and running…Needs to take better angles to the ball and can overrun plays at times.

2010 Statistics: All-Big Ten Conference first-team selection…Registered 79 total tackles with 3.5 tackles-for-loss…Added two interceptions and two pass deflections.

Prediction: Sash is a hard-working, blue collar player with good ball skills. He is very aggressive in run support. Some question his athletic ability in coverage, but he has good instincts and is generally in sound position. Sash saw plenty of action in a two-deep look at Iowa, so a team running a lot of Cover-2 could appreciate his skill set in the third or fourth round.

Ahmad Black, Florida

Good News: Fantastic instincts for the position…Excellent ball skills and gets himself into good position to make plays…Fluid athlete that plays with good balance…Stays low in his backpedal and possesses very quick feet...Breaks on the football well with good burst…Fearless against the run despite lack of size.

Bad News: Lacks the size of an NFL safety…Appears to play fast but posted alarmingly slow 40-yard dash times…Athletically can run with tight ends and receivers but will struggle against the strength of bigger players at those positions…Saw action in the box at Florida but doesn't own the size to do so at the next level.

2010 Statistics: All-SEC first-team selection…Registered 108 total tackles with 10 tackles-for-loss and one sack…Added five interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), five pass deflections, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Prediction: On tape, Black is one of the most instinctive safeties in the 2011 class and displays terrific ball skills. He seems to always be around the football and, despite his size, is aggressive and willing in run support. However, with his lack of height already working against him, Black raised even more eyebrows by posting alarmingly slow 40 times at the combine and his pro day. Short and slow in the NFL is not good, but if a team can look past the numbers and focus on the film, they could get a steal in the fourth or fifth round.


Joe Lefeged, Rutgers

Notes: Tough and aggressive against the run but lacks elite size to play an "in-the-box" role at the next level.
Projection: 4th-5th round

Da'Norris Searcy, North Carolina

Notes: Solid ability in coverage but isn't the physical force you would expect in a strong safety given his size.
Projection: 4th-5th round

Jeron Johnson, Boise State

Notes: Lacks elite size and athletic ability, but is a ferocious hitter in the secondary and an intimidating presence over the middle.
Projection: 5th-6th round

Shiloh Keo, Idaho

Notes: Not the most athletic safety, but is strong and physical and adds the extra value of being an accomplished punt returner.
Projection: 6th-7th round

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