Positional Analysis: Safeties

The Vikings are almost assured of drafting a safety; the question is when. We've got the pros and cons on the top 15 safeties in a draft deep with prospects.

VIKINGS SAFETIES – Corey Chavous, Willie Offord, Brian Russell, Jack Brewer, Ron Israel, Brian Williams (may be moved from CB).

VIKINGS 2003 DRAFT EXPECTATION – With 2002 starter Ronnie Bradford retired, recently shifted CB Chavous is now entrenched as one of the Vikings' new safeties. While both Russell and Brewer showed some promise last year, the team is hoping that Offord will live up to high draft selection last year. For that reason, the Vikings aren't likely to use a high draft pick on a safety – unless Troy Polamalu or Mike Doss falls into the second round. If not, look for the Vikings to grab a developmental-type of the second day to take Bradford's spot on the roster.

THE CLASS OF '03 – The safety crop is loaded with potential, but only two clear-cut immediate starters with first-round potential – Polamalu and Doss. While many scouts think Doss is more NFL-ready right now, Polamalu has more upside in the minds of the same scouts, which will likely lead to him being the first safety taken. Beyond that, there may only be a handful of safeties taken on the first day, with most teams using Day Two to fill the position.


Troy Polamalu, USC, 5-10, 206 –
Fourth-year senior…Played as safety and linebacker as a freshman…Three-year starter at safety…In those three years, he had 179 tackles and six interceptions…Two-time All-Pac 10…Tough player who played most of 2002 season with an injured ankle…Big hitter in a zone scheme but has some trouble with man-to-man coverage…Excellent speed…Strong vs. the run…Big weight-room enthusiast who can squat 600 pounds and hang with the linemen…Excelled on special teams…A little shorter than most coaches want in a strong safety and not a guy who naturally finds his way around the ball…Is fluid in coverage but gets beat on bombs too often…Has been compared in run-stopping ability to Robert Griffith…Did not work out at the Combine. PROJECTION: Doesn't have the ideal NFL measurables, but big-hitting ability will likely make him a first-round draft pick of someone in the middle of the first round.

Mike Doss, Ohio State, 5-10, 207 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who amassed 288 tackles, 28 tackles for a loss and eight interceptions…Three-time All-American, three-time All-Big 10, Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2002 and a Thorpe Award Finalist…A game film junkie who studies the game to gain an advantage…Great natural instincts and awareness…Excellent tackler who plays the run extremely well and finishes on big hits…Better in a zone system than playing man to man…Takes chances that result in big plays – both good and bad…Is a little undersized by NFL standards…Did not work out at the Combine. PROJECTION: Some believe Doss is the best immediate safety prospect because he does many things well. He will struggle vs. slot receivers in man coverage, but most of the mistakes made in college are seen as correctable. He will likely be the second safety taken, and probably in the final third of the first round.


Ken Hamlin, Arkansas, 6-2, 207 –
Third-year junior…Started all three years and had 266 tackles, nine tackles for a loss and nine interceptions…Despite playing just three seasons, finished as the Razorbacks' all-time leader in tackles…Excellent size and very physical…Strong vs. the run and likes to make highlight film hits…Is a menace in the middle that makes WRs get alligator arms when they hear him coming…Chases plays from one sideline to the other…Can match up well vs. NFL tight ends…Isn't blessed with top-end speed…Inconsistent and will get burned at times…Some teams will drop him on their charts because of off-field problems – spent 10 days in jail after getting two DWI convictions in a little more than a year…Is undisciplined and needs to become more of a student of the game…Ran a 4.55 40 at the Combine and had a 33-inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: His off-the-field concerns may scare away some teams, but he has prototype size and, if matched with a secondary coach who can harness his skills, he should be a solid NFL player and will go somewhere in the second round.

Terrence Holt, North Carolina State, 6-2, 205 – Fifth-year senior…Younger brother of Rams WR Torry Holt…Two-time All-ACC…Three-year starter who had 285 tackles and three interceptions…Incredible special teams player who blocked four punts and eight field goals in four years…Has the size and speed coaches look for…Very aggressive vs. the run…Very good tackler…Excellent anticipation and good leaping ability…Doesn't have ideal NFL speed like his brother or the bulk most pro strong safeties need, so he may project simply as a free safety…If he gets beat, he has a hard time closing the gap vs. speedy WRs…Didn't run at the Combine, but had a 33-1/2 inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: His game speed is a question, but his incredible special teams play will get a lot of attention and probably see him go late in the second round or early in the third.

Julian Battle, Tennessee, 6-2, 204 – Fourth-year senior who was a junior college transfer…Played both safety and cornerback for the Vols…In two years, he 132 tackles and three interceptions…Improved his stock considerably at the Senior Bowl…Ideal size for a safety with better than average speed…Aggressive vs. the run…Chases down plays to the sidelines…Has good timing on leaps for a jump ball…Isn't a punishing tackler and doesn't always finish…Needs work on his technique…His work ethic has come into question as he takes some plays off…Did not work out at the Combine. PROJECTION: Keep an eye on where this guy goes. If he commits himself to working on his problem areas, he could be the steal of the draft at this position. Because he is raw and needs refinement, he will likely go somewhere early in the third round, but has the versatility to fill at corner as well as play both safety spots, and could be the sleeper of all the secondary players in this year's draft.

Antwoine Sanders, Utah, 6-2, 202 – Third-year junior who transferred to Utah two years ago from junior college…Two-time All-Mountain West selection…In two years, had 143 tackles and six interceptions…Has good size…Best suited as a deep zone safety…Good jumping ability and times his leap well…Decent in man coverage…Stout vs. the run and likes to make the big hit…Strong tackler in the open field…Age is his biggest downside – graduated high school in 1996 and will be 26 in September…Is cocky and turns off some coaches and scouts…Ran a 4.55 40 at the Combine and had a 37-1/2 inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: Is likely best suited for a free safety role, and his athletic limitation will likely drop him well into the third round.

Todd Johnson, Florida, 6-1, 206 – Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter and three-time All-SEC…Played both strong and free safety, but spent the last two years at FS…In his three years as a starter, he made 252 tackles and two interceptions…Made all the calls in the Gator secondary…Very strong vs. the run…Has sustained speed to chases down plays to the sidelines…Better vs. the run than vs. the pass…Viewed strictly as a safety prospect, not even as a nickel or dime cornerback…Ran a 4.55 at the Combine, did an impressive 19 reps and had a 33-1/2 inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: His stock dropped his senior year and he will likely have to be drafted by a team that can harness his strong points and limit his liabilities. Because he projects strictly as a free safety, he will likely drop to the third round, but could turn out to be a valuable NFL player.


Gerome Sapp, Notre Dame, 6-0, 216 –
Fourth-year senior…Only became a full-time starter last year and had 71 tackles, three tackles for a loss and four interceptions…Very aggressive and likes to get physical…Attacks the run…Was often used like a linebacker in clear running situations…Holds up very well in the passing game…Doesn't have top-line speed…Misses too many tackles going for the big hit…Is a little undersized by NFL standards…Isn't great in man coverage…Ran a disappointing 4.68 40 at the Combine, but had a 36-1/2 inch vertical jump…Has the skills to be a productive NFL player, but because he doesn't have great speed and has just one year of starting experience, he will likely fall into the fourth round.

Terrence Kiel, Texas A&M, 5-11, 204 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 244 tackles and eight interceptions…Led A&M in tackles each of the last two years…Aggressive hitter who sparked the run defense from his strong safety position…Had good tackling instincts and leaves a mark…Good tackler in the open field because he consistently takes good angles to the ball carrier…Doesn't have top-end speed…Isn't a great coverage safety…Blows too many plays by being too aggressive on play action…Ran a 4.50 40 at the Combine and had an impressive 38-inch vertical jump…Is seen as a little undersized and better in a zone defense than one that asks him to be a cover man, which is why he will likely be available early on Day Two.

Colin Branch, Stanford, 6-0, 203 – Fifth-year senior…Didn't become a full-time starter until 2002, when he had 69 tackles and two interceptions…Is good both vs. the run and in coverage…Made the calls in the secondary last year and was adept at it…Isn't a textbook big hitter as safeties go…Doesn't have a lot of bulk and isn't viewed as an in-the-box run stuffer…Really helped his stock at the Combine, running a 4.41 40, doing 22 reps and a 36-inch vertical jump…Is seen as a player with plenty of upside who went from a late-round pick to probably landing in the fourth round by having one of the best numbers showings at the Combine.

Derek Pagel, Iowa, 6-1, 208 – Fifth-year senior who came to Iowa as a walk-on…A starter only last season and made the most of it with 90 tackles and four picks…Made a name for himself as a special teamer and was named captain of the special teams as a junior…Very good upper body strength – his 25 reps at the Combine was better than many offensive and defensive linemen…Viewed as a lunch-pail mucker who does whatever is asked of him…Good tackler in the open field…Chases plays down to the sideline…Loved by coaches for his work in games, in practice and in the coaching classroom…Isn't a great athlete…Doesn't have the type of speed, leaping ability or hands a lot of scouts look for…A player who could easily be overlooked, but the type of guy who will get drafted in the middle to late rounds because if a team had 53 guys just like him, they would be a winner – maybe not a world champion but better than .500.

Hanik Milligan, Houston, 6-2, 201 – Fifth-year senior who came to Houston in 2001 as a JUCO transfer…In two years, he had 236 tackles, including 149 last season…Excellent size and strength…Attacks in the run game and almost always makes the tackle…Loves to make the hit that lays out a ball carrier…Has good upper-body strength…Isn't bulky by NFL standards…Needs a lot of work in pass coverage…Takes himself out of plays by being too aggressive and getting burned by play action…Ran a 4.48 40 and had a 36-1/2 inch vertical jump at the Combine…Is viewed as a raw prospect who has some flaws, but Milligan had 10 or more tackles in 20 straight games, which will be enough for some team to grab him somewhere in the fourth or fifth round.

Willie Pile, Virginia Tech, 6-2, 204 – Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter…In that time, he had 256 tackles (200 in the last two years) and 14 interceptions…Led the Hokies in interceptions as sophomore and junior…Good size, speed and experience at free safety…Better in zone coverage than man-to-man…Understands the game very well and makes the right reads…Started every game the last three years…Has injury concerns, since one season ended with a neck problem and another ended with surgery on his left shoulder…Will need to add more muscle and bulk to play safety in the NFL…Ran a 4.6 40 at the Combine and had an impressive 38-inch vertical jump…A guy someone will likely take higher than others ahead of him on our list because of his experience, but his liabilities are more numerous than his upside and will likely be best suited for a reserve role in the NFL.

Cato June, Michigan, 6-0, 218 – Fifth-year senior…Two-year starter who missed the 2000 season after tearing his left ACL…In two years as a starter, he had 111 tackles and two interceptions…Good bulk for a safety and nice speed…Like many second-day safeties, is better in a zone system than playing man coverage…Runs a little stiff and has the "turn and burn" tag from some scouts – losing a speedy WR when forced to change directions on a route…Ran a 4.64 40 at the Combine and had a 35-inch vertical jump…A guy who plays the run more like a linebacker than a safety, he has his fans who like his versatility. But being one-dimensional will likely drop him into the final rounds of the draft.

Charles Drake, Michigan, 6-1, 205 – Fourth-year senior who came to Michigan as a freshman running back but moved to safety after one year...Didn't become a full-time starter until last year, when he had 74 tackles and one interception…Was viewed by coaches as one of the best pure athletes on the team – with good feet, feel for the game and willingness to lay the wood to the man with the ball…Very aggressive in the run game…Finishes tackles as well as anyone…Inconsistent play from game to game and play to play…Tends to get burned by his own aggression by receivers who get him to bite on a move or QBs who get him to jump on a playfake…He didn't run or jump at the Combine, but did 20 reps with 225 pounds…Because he was only a full-time starter for one year at the college level, he is viewed as a raw prospect who could have tremendous upside in a patient system with veteran safeties there now. He may never develop into a top safety, but his special teams skills will likely get him drafted and quite possibly make a roster as a late-round pick.

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