NFL draft positional analysis: Safeties

It’s not a top-heavy draft with elite safeties, but quality and potential exist into Day 3 of the draft. We assess the top 10 possibilities with strengths, weaknesses, production and projections.

VIKINGS SAFETIES – Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo, Michael Griffin, Antone Exum, Anthony Harris, Johnny Lowdermilk.

TEAM NEED – In Smith they have a franchise player who will remain a Viking for years when he signs a long-term contract at some point. Having re-signed Sendejo and using free agency to grab the veteran Griffin, the Vikings have depth with Exum and Harris possibly competing for one roster spot. That doesn’t preclude the Vikings from drafting a safety, but it doesn’t make it necessarily a front-burner need.

POSITION ANALYSIS – The 2016 class isn’t among the better draft classes we’ve seen in recent years, primarily because it isn’t very top-heavy. Ohio State’s Vonn Bell is the only safety that some scouts are giving a first-round grade to and it’s just as likely that he won’t go until Day 2. There are a handful of Day 2 prospects, but the position doesn’t have elite depth, which will make needy teams consider reaching to get one of the few players that could make an immediate impact.


Vonn Bell, Ohio State, 5-10¾, 199 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who had 156 tackles, three tackles for a loss, one sacks, two fumble recoveries, 15 passes defensed and eight interceptions in that span…Very smart player who reads and reacts quickly and accurately…A versatile athlete who was asked to play a lot of different roles, depending on injuries and game situations…Has fluid hips and can turn and run with receivers downfield…Very technically sound and maintains position integrity consistently…Is undersized, and while his production is strong, he isn’t a physical hitter…Needs to work on his technique in run defense…Gets engulfed when larger blockers get a hold of him…Did not run or jump at the Combine with a right hamstring injury, but did 16 reps of 225 pounds.
PROJECTION: He doesn’t have ideal speed, but Bell was about as important as any player on the OSU defense and will be an immediate team leader wherever he signs. However, his physical limitations may push him out of the first round…but not by much if that happens.

Karl Joseph, West Virginia, 5-9¾, 205 – Fourth-year senior…Started all 42 games of his college career, amassing 284 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, two sacks, three forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, 40 passes defensed and nine interceptions…Suffered a torn ACL in the fourth game last season and had season-ending surgery…A playmaker who is always around the ball and keeping offenses from making plays…Incredibly physical and constantly looks to initiate contact…A powerful tackler who uses leverage to make game-changing hits…Has good read-and-react quickness…Gets too aggressive and takes himself out of plays too often…His torn ACL is a major red flag…Is undersized for NFL safety standards…Did not work out at the Combine.
PROJECTION: If not for his knee injury last season, Joseph would be the first safety off the board. He plays with the kind of passion scouts love. His injury red flag is significant, but any defensive-minded coach would love to have him and it will take a second-round pick to make that happen.


Jeremy Cash, Duke, 6-0½, 212 – Fifth-year senior…Originally signed with Ohio State in 2011 but sat out 2012 season to transfer…Started 38 of 39 games for Duke, recording 332 tackles, 38 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, nine forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, 14 passes defensed and five interceptions…A consensus 2015 All-America selection and ACC Defensive Player of the Year…A tackling machine who was called on to run with full force to the line and make plays in the backfield…Versatile and plays with good field awareness…A smart player who reads and reacts quickly and is always around the ball…Doesn’t have elite change-of-direction skills to make up for a missed step…Gets his legs cut out from under him too often by blockers…Doesn’t have top speed to close in fast or run with speed receivers deep…Didn’t work out at the Combine with a right wrist and right hamstring injury.
PROJECTION: A lot of money was left on the table at the Combine, but he doesn’t make it out of the second round based on his skill level.

Darian Thompson, Boise State, 6-2, 206 – Fifth-year senior…Started 43 of 51 career games, finishing with 242 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, one sack, three forced fumbles, one fumble recoveries, nine passes defensed and 19 interceptions…Very strong in run support and will make big hits…Has good playing speed and covers a lot of ground…A playmaker who had 11 interceptions the last two seasons…Is too aggressive at times and misses too many tackles…Struggles to stick with speed receivers…Doesn’t have good change-of-direction speed and loses a step when forced to stop and start…Ran a 4.69 40 at the Combine with 12 reps of 225 pounds, a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump.
PROJECTION: An experienced, productive player who has a penchant for intercepting passes, his speed limitations will keep him on the board well into Day 2, but a team will be getting a ball hawk in the secondary who will earn his money.

Sean Davis, Maryland, 6-1, 201 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 306 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, 2½ sacks, seven forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 14 passes defensed and three interceptions in that span…A highlight-film hitter who separates players from the ball on a consistent basis…Has a second gear when he closes in on the ball…Very aggressive in run support…Is not natural in pass coverage…Loses some of his effectiveness when blockers get hold of him…Struggles with fakes and double moves and will lose receivers in coverage when he takes a bad step…Ran a 4.47 40 at the Combine with an impressive 21 reps, a 37½-inch vertical jump and a 10-6 broad jump.
PROJECTION: He made some money at the Combine with an impressive performance, but the book on Davis is that he is a strong run stopper and a potential liability in man coverage, which should push him well into Day 2 before his number gets called.

Miles Killebrew, Southern Utah, 6-2, 217 – Fifth-year senior…Started 45 of 48 career games, totaling 356 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, 21 passes defensed and three interceptions…A strong hitter who can blow up running plays…Has good field speed and can cover a pretty wide area in pass coverage…Is built like a small linebacker and is very athletic in both his movement and strength…Is prone to losing coverage when asked to mirror a receiver deep down the field…Does not keep textbook technique in his tackling and will lunge and get out of position…Played marginal competition and will have a learning curve…Ran a 4.65 40 at the Combine with 22 reps, a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-7 broad jump.
PROJECTION: His Combine performance helped his stock, but his deficiencies in pass coverage will likely keep him on the board until late in Day 2 or early in Day 3.


Justin Simmons, Boston College, 6-2½, 202 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year full-time starter who had 143 tackles, three tackles for a loss, one sack, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, seven passes defensed and seven interceptions in that span…Has a good combination of height, length, strength and speed…Very good diagnostic skills and has experience as both cornerback and safety, which has made him a student of the game…Very good anticipation and closing skills when the ball is in the air…Will have to add muscle to be a presence in run support…Is a little tight-hipped and loses a half-step when forced to flip his hips in deep coverage…Struggled in man coverage at the East-West Shrine Game practices…Ran a 4.62 40 at the Combine with 16 reps of 225 pounds, a 40-inch vertical jump and a 10-6 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Primarily a college cornerback, he projects to free safety in the NFL. He will need to add some muscle, which will likely take a year or two to get his optimal playing weight. He’s a project to start in 2017 or 2018, not 2016, which should drop him into the middle of the draft.

Tyvis Powell, Ohio State, 6-2¾, 211 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who amassed 147 tackles, 2½ tackles for a loss, one forced fumble, seven passes defensed and seven interceptions in that span…Is a very strong man coverage player who can mirror receivers…Is solid in run support and has the body type that can add more muscle and core strength…A team-first type of player that coaches love…Doesn’t play overly physical and doesn’t lay down the highlight-film hit often…Needs time to get to full speed and it hurts him both in tracking receivers deep and changing directions…Does not have great anticipation and is often a step late arriving at the ball…Ran a 4.46 40 at the Combine with 15 reps, a 34½-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. 
PROJECTION: A player who projects as a strong safety because of his coverage limitations, he is a solid developmental prospect who will likely get selected early on Day 3.

K.J. Dillon, West Virginia, 6-0½, 210 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter who had 11 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, 14 passes defensed and four interceptions in that span…Is a well-rounded player who is solid vs. both the run and pass…Had a big week at the Senior Bowl that elevated his stock…Is aggressive and makes a lot of plays at or behind the line…Is not strong at jamming receivers off the snap…He makes big hits but isn’t a technically sound tackler and will miss going for the kill shot…Doesn’t have ideal speed to stick with receivers deep downfield…Didn’t take part in the vertical jump at the Combine with an ankle injury, but ran a 4.53 40 with 11 reps of 225 pounds and a 10-1 broad jump.
PROJECTION: His Senior Bowl play increased his stock, but he is a two-down player in most schemes and will be available well into Day 3 of the draft.

Jayron Kearse, Clemson, 6-4, 216 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who had 129 tackles, 9½ tackles for a loss, three sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, 13 passes defensed and three interceptions in that span…Has ideal size and length for the position…Has very good straight-line speed and closing speed on the ball…Is an impressive tackler who has never shied away from contact…Does not move quickly in a short area and needs time to get to top speed…Takes poor angles and seems to waste a lot of steps to get where he’s going…Doesn’t have quick-change ability when a plays breaks down or there is misdirection…Ran a 4.62 40 at the Combine with 16 reps of 225 pounds, a 31½-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A player with a lot of natural ability, but is stiff-legged in space and doesn’t make as many plays as he should. He will likely start as a special teams player, but has potential – like a lot of safeties that will get drafted on the final day of the draft.


Andrew Adams, U-Conn, 5-11, 197Justin Burris, NC State, 6-0¼, 212
Deon Bush, Miami, 6-0½, 199
Kevin Byard, Middle Tennessee State, 5-11½, 216
Clayton Fejedelem, Illinois, 6-0, 200
Kavon Frazier, Central Michigan, 6-0, 217
T.J. Green, Clemson, 6-2½, 209
DeAndre Houston-Carson, William & Mary, 6-0¾, 201
Keanu Neal, Florida, 6-0½, 211
Elijah Shumate, Notre Dame, 5-11¾, 202
Justin Simmons, Boston College, 6-2¾, 198



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