Positional Draft Analysis: Safeties

The Vikings could look to develop a safety for whenever Darren Sharper starts contemplating retirement, and the draft is full of potential in the middle rounds.

VIKINGS SAFETIES – Darren Sharper, Tank Williams, Willie Offord, Will Hunter.

2006 POSITIONAL DRAFT NEED – The first three safeties listed above seem to have their spots solidified. Sharper is set at free safety and Williams was brought in to start or at least challenge Offord for the starting role at strong safety after the team allowed Corey Chavous to leave via free agency to St. Louis. Fox, a third-round pick in 2005, missed the entire 2005 season with a broken arm and has now been moved to cornerback, a move he fully supports. There is a chance that the team might go with five safeties, but nothing is guaranteed in that regard, so there is the potential that the Vikings will make a roster move in that direction. While it doesn't appear a high-round priority on draft day, the Vikings have been showing interest in several draft-eligible safeties. A late-round pick is a possibility just so the team has the position sufficiently covered for minicamps, training camp and to develop talent for the future.

POSITION OVERVIEW – The Class of 2006 has some punch at the top with Texas' Michael Huff. Capable of playing both safety and cornerback, Huff is likely to be a top-10 selection. Beyond him, the talent pool drops off quickly. Another safety/CB hybrid, Jason Allen, has a chance to go in the first round, but, more likely, safeties will start popping off the board in the second round. As many as eight or nine will be taken in the first day.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Michael Huff, Texas, 6-0, 198 –
Fifth-year senior…Four-year starter who started 50 of the 51 games he played…Finished his career with 318 tackles, 44 passes defensed, seven interceptions, six forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries…Can play cornerback and safety with equal effectiveness…Quick to read plays…Great size when used as a cornerback…Never missed any time with injuries…Big hitter who gets receivers to drop passes when he hits them…Very strong in run support and likes to deliver the big hit…Hasn't played CB since his sophomore season, so a transition back full-time to that position might be difficult…Sometimes takes himself out of plays with his own aggression…A little on the small side for a pure safety…Ran a 4.34 40 at the Combine with 21 reps, a 40½ inch vertical jump, a 10-5 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 16.
PROJECTION: Perhaps the most complete player in the draft, his only downside is that from the measurables standpoint, he's a corner/safety ‘tweener. But, he has all the skills you could ask from either position and will go off in the top 10 – likely to the Vikings' division rival Detroit with the ninth pick, but maybe as early as No. 6 to the 49ers.

Jason Allen, Tennessee, 6-1, 213 – Fourth-year senior who graduated early and attended Tennessee in the spring of 2002…Became a starter midway through his sophomore season at cornerback…Moved to free safety as a junior and registered 123 tackles with five passes defensed, two interceptions, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery…Declared for the NFL draft after his junior year, but opted to stay in school and move to cornerback…Has a long injury history including surgery on his left shoulder as a sophomore, surgery his right shoulder as a junior and missed all but five games as a senior after dislocating his hip tackling Georgia TE Leonard Pope in 2005…Spent a summer interning with sports agent and former Viking Tim Irwin…Excellent size for a cornerback…Has long arms and excellent leaping ability to break up passes…Intelligent player who stands out in the classroom and in film study…Solid in run coverage…Has good hips to turn and run…Has experience at both safety and cornerback…Has durability issues and will likely be taken off of some teams boards completely because of his multiple problems…Needs to improve recognition skills…Ran a 4.39 40 at the Combine with 17 reps of 225 pounds, a 39½ inch vertical jump, a 10-11 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 11.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Donte Whitner, Ohio State, 5-10¼, 204 –
Third-year junior…Didn't become a full-time starter until last season when he had 73 tackles, six passes broken up, two interceptions and one forced fumble…Had arthroscopic knee surgery following his sophomore season…A big-time playmaker who makes plays from sideline to sideline…Very good closing speed to deliver a hit…Good in run support…Makes the highlight reel hits on a regular basis…Very good tackler…Can play outside in man press coverage…Undersized for a NFL safety…Will likely have to move from strong safety to free safety…Only had one full year as a starter, so he's very raw and will likely need some time…Gets sucked in on play-action too often and puts himself out of position…Needs a little work on upper body strength to be effective as a run stopper…Doesn't play at the same speed he times…Ran a lightning-fast 4.37 40 at the Combine with 18 reps of 225 pounds, a 40-inch vertical jump, a 11-0 broad jump and Wonderlic score of 20.
PROJECTION: He's an enigma. His measurable numbers at the Combine were outstanding, but teams will likely shy away from him too early because of his lack of size, likely dropping him somewhere in the second round.

Ko Simpson, South Carolina, South Carolina, 6-1, 203 – Third-year sophomore…Two-year starter who started all 23 games he played, notching 164 tackles, 15 passes defensed, seven interceptions and five fumble recoveries…Has good sideline-to-sideline range in deep coverage…Good height and has the body type that can add 10-15 pounds without losing speed…A strong tackler who averaged almost eight a game from the safety spot…Adept at reading quarterbacks and anticipating passes…Takes good angles and rarely gets burned in pursuit…Strong enough in his hitting that he'll likely be used on special teams…Is a little skinny and needs to add bulk immediately…Doesn't have ideal hands and drops too many potential interceptions…Needs time to improve his technique…Not extremely intelligent – he was a non-qualifier coming out of high school and completed just four semesters of college before leaving for the NFL…Did not come off very well in team interviews at the Combine, seeming confused about complex NFL schemes…Ran a 4.40 40 at the Combine with 11 reps, a 40½-inch vertical jump, a 10-2 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 10.
PROJECTION: While it's dangerous to put too much stock in the Wonderlic, his 10 on that and just 11 reps of 225 pounds are potential red flags. He has the skill and looks great on tape, but some teams will lower his draft grade to put him as a third-round prospect. However, somebody with a need will likely bite in the second round.

Daniel Bullocks, Nebraska, 6-0½, 212 – Fifth-year senior whose twin brother Josh was a second-round pick of the Saints in the 2005 draft…Three-year starter who had 210 tackles, 22 passes defensed, eight interceptions, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in that span…Has much better size after gaining 14 pounds of muscle since the end of the season…Always around the ball and makes plays…Excels in zone Tampa-2 type coverages…Very good speed and closing burst…Strong special teamer…Never lets wideouts or tight ends get behind him…Needs to improve his angles on plays in front of him…Is very aggressive and will sometimes miss tackles going for a kill shot instead of just wrapping up and making a safe tackle…Doesn't have much experience in man coverage…Drops too many potential interceptions…Ran a 4.38 40 at the Combine with 18 reps of 225 pounds, a 38-inch vertical jump, a 10-4 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 19. PROJECTION: A player with a lot of upside whose stock has been on the rise since the Senior Bowl. The Vikings would love to see him last until the third round, but that may be a little optimistic.

Darnell Bing, USC, 6-2, 227 – Fourth-year junior who came out of high school as an All-American but needed to get his grades up – attending Long Beach (Calif.) City College, but didn't play football…A three-year starter who had 182 tackles, 18 passes defensed, eight interceptions and three forced fumbles…Had shoulder surgery following the 2004 season…Huge player who hits like a linebacker…Very strong in run coverage and is a force when the Trojans would line up eight men in the box…Throws himself around and delivers kill shots…Very good hands for a safety, he impressed scouts during drills at the Combine…Consistency is a big problem…Isn't as fast as most scouts want in an NFL safety…Doesn't always wrap up on tackles…Wasn't in top shape at the Combine, which had some questioning his work ethic…Some believe he was a product of a very successful system, not an overpowering player himself…Ran a 4.52 40 at the Combine with 21 reps of 225 pounds, a 38-inch vertical jump, a 10-5 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 18.
PROJECTION: He has all the physical tools to be an NFL safety – USC has produced more than their share, including the guy Bing replaced, Troy Polamalu. However, speed and durability are issues and, while he was once thought to be a player that might sneak into the first round, there's a chance he could drop out the end of the second round – but more likely end up with one of last year's playoff teams at the end of the second round.

Danieal Manning, Abilene Christian, 5-10¾, 202 – Fifth-year junior who signed to play with Nebraska in 2001 but never went to the school; moved to Abilene Christian in 2002 and sat out a year…A three-year starter who started all 30 games he played, registering 159 tackles, 13 passes defensed, 11 interceptions, six forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries…Has played both safety and cornerback and projects at either spot depending on the scout…Made a huge impression at the East-West Shrine Game practices by standing up to some of the top Division I talent in the country…Good tackler who is strong in run support…Has experience returning kicks and punts…Makes plays and is always around the ball…Didn't play any top competition (Abilene Christian is a D-II school)…Needs to work on his technique and his footwork…Doesn't have ideal size for a safety or ideal speed for a cornerback covering speed receivers…Ran a 4.46 40 at the Combine, with 17 reps, a 34-inch vertical jump, a 9-9 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 12. PROJECTION: Many teams shy away from using high picks on small-school players, but Manning caught the eye of a lot of scouts at the East-West Shrine Game and has an outside chance of coming off the board at the end of the second round. But, because he lacks experience and is a ‘tweener, might be one of those players that slides through the cracks and doesn't go off until the second day.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Roman Harper, Alabama, 6-0, 198 –
Fifth-year senior who came to Alabama with a broken right fibula...Three-year starter who started his final 37 college games, recording 260 tackles, nine passes defensed, five interceptions, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries…Played both strong and free safety…A playmaker who always seems to be around the ball…Gets excellent jumps on passes in front of him…Excellent in zone coverage…Plays special teams…Is a little undersized and will have to add bulk…Not experienced or well-versed in playing man coverage…Doesn't have great burst or makeup speed to defend the deep sideline zones on bombs…Doesn't get to full speed as fast as scouts want…Ran a 4.48 40 at the Combine with 19 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-inch vertical jump, a 9-8 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 21.
PROJECTION: Harper is durable and has versatility in a good program. But his weaknesses are red flags for some coaches and scouts. He has a chance to make it a Day One pick, but he'll need some refining to be more than just a backup and special teams player.

Pat Watkins, Florida State, 6-4¾, 211 – Fourth-year senior who came to FSU as a high school All-American, but also with a torn left meniscus that required surgery…Two-year starter who had 133 tackles, 15 passes defensed, seven interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in that span…Very tall with long arms that can win most jump ball matchups…Good jumping ability – he flashed a 41-inch vertical jump at the Combine…At his best in zone coverage…Very instinctive and doesn't let receivers get behind him…Doesn't pack the big hit…Isn't at his best in run support…Needs to add some upper body strength…Gets stopped and caught up in the garbage too easily in run support…Very thin lower body that may not be able to add much in the way of muscle or mass…Has trouble on the jam with slot receivers…Ran a 4.42 40 at the Combine with 14 reps, a 41-inch vertical jump, a 11-1 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 19.
PROJECTION: The jury is out on Watkins. He clearly looks the part and has a rare combination of size and speed. But he doesn't play with a mean streak and, to date, has been virtually invisible in run support. He has a chance to be taken in the middle of the second round by a team that sees potential greatness, but you can't teach natural nastiness, which is why most teams have him rated as a third-round prospect. He may not go that late, but that's probably where he should land.

Anthony Smith, Syracuse, 6-0¼, 194 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 262 tackles, 16 passes defensed, 14 interceptions, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in that span…Has good on-field speed (but not as good timed speed)…Has a body cut out of granite and plays like he wants to take a running back's head off…Had a good week at the Senior Bowl…Very good football instincts…Played in man coverage on slot receivers and held up pretty well…Times his leaps very well…Is not as aggressive running long distances as he is in close quarters…Needs to add size, especially lower-body bulk…Doesn't have fluid hips and great turning technique…Ran a 4.57 40 at the Combine with 18 reps of 225 pounds, a 41-inch vertical jump, a 10-5 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 14.
PROJECTION: Smith was among the top interceptors in 2003 and 2005, so it's clear he has a nose for the ball. But his speed and weight are issues for scouts, which should keep him on the board until at the least the third round, if not longer.

Bernard Pollard, Purdue, 6-1¾, 224 – Third-year junior…Three-year starter who started 35 of his 36 career games…During his career he had 254 tackles, nine passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…Was suspended during spring practice last year after getting into a shouting match with coach Joe Tiller…Good combination of size and speed…Brings the lumber on the big hits…Excellent as a run stopper…Patrols all over the field and is aggressive in tackling…Doesn't get caught up in the garbage in run support…Has the ability to play tight ends man-on-man in pass coverage…Plays with a mean streak and causes some receivers to have alligator arms in fear of a knockout hit…Misses a lot of tackles because he plays out of control…Doesn't have good change of direction speed…Doesn't have great hands or cause a lot of turnovers – just four picks and two forced fumbles in three years…Is cocky and has had some problems with coaches and teammates…Ran a 4.57 40 at the Combine with 18 reps of 225 pounds, a 36½ inch vertical jump, a 10-11 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 15.
PROJECTION: Has the physical skills to be a second-round pick, but he is a player that has received a lot of bad ink for his attitude and that will turn off some teams – most likely dropping into the third round. If whomever takes him can harness his attitude, he could be a steal in the third round.

Calvin Lowry, Penn State, 5-11, 197 – Fourth-year senior who graduated high school early and practiced with the team in the spring of 2002…Started two games as a freshman before breaking his right tibia in the fourth game of the year…Was a two-year full-time starter who had 129 tackles, three passes defensed, eight interceptions and four fumble recoveries in that span…Very intelligent player who knows his role and his assignments…Playmaker who is always around the ball and makes the big plays in the big games…Solid leaper whose timing is always impeccable…Has some experience as a punt returner…Good in deep coverage and doesn't allow receivers to get behind him…Had a strong week at the Hula Bowl…Is not a big factor in run support…The PSU system didn't require him to line up in man coverage, so he is raw in that respect…A skinny player who may not be able to add a lot of bulk…Doesn't have great closing speed or second gear…Ran a 4.54 40 at the Combine with 16 reps of 225 pounds, a 36-inch vertical jump, a 10-0 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 14.
PROJECTION: A player who is smart and has masked some of his athletic deficiencies by being a good read-and-diagnose player. That works at the college level, but the pros always worry about the lack of speed and thin body build. He doesn't have the speed or experience to play corner and may be too small to be a NFL safety, which will likely keep him on the board until the fourth round.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Antoine Bethea, Howard, 5-11, 203
Greg Blue, Georgia, 6-2¼, 216
Dawan Landry, Georgia Tech, 6-1, 220
Jarrad Page, UCLA, 6-0½, 239
Charlie Peprah, Alabama, 5-11, 206
Dwayne Slay, Texas Tech, 6-3½, 216
Eric Smith, Michigan State, 6-1, 209
Scott Ware, USC, 6-1¼, 218


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