Positional Analysis: Safeties

While the Vikings are loaded with six safeties on their roster, and five who could battle for two starting positions, their long-term future with the team is questionable. That enables safety to be a position of intrigue for the team in this weekend's draft, and we analyze the top 10 possibilities available.

VIKINGS SAFETIES—Darren Sharper, Dwight Smith, Mike Doss, Tank Williams, Greg Blue, Andre Maddox.

POSITION ANALYSIS—The Vikings are as loaded at the safety position as any on the team, but everyone except Blue could potentially be gone after the 2007 season. While this isn't a great position of need, if the draft falls just right (or wrong, depending on your perspective), the Vikings might find themselves with LaRon Landry as the top player on their draft board. Safety is one of the most drafted positions in the league, although most of them are taken on the second day of the draft. Last year, safeties led all positions with 24 players selected—two each in the first and third rounds and four each in the other five rounds. It's a position that will get picked over heavily, but, as usual, won't produce a ton of star-quality players.


LaRon Landry, LSU, 6-0½, 213—Fourth-year senior…Four-year starter who started 48 of the 52 games in which he played…Finished his college career with 315 tackles, 22 passes broken up, 12 interceptions and two forced fumbles…Brother Dawan was taken in the fifth round of last year's draft by the Ravens…As a freshman, started games at cornerback and both safety positions…Excellent size…Intelligent player who rarely gets out of position or takes unnecessary risks…Excellent one-on-one tackler who wraps up and rarely lets a receiver or back get away…Can shut down tight ends in man-to-man coverage…Rarely bites on play-action…Has the speed to chase plays to the sideline…Is not among the best at adjustment while the deep pass is in flight and will take some bad angles…Comes off as cocky as had some problems with teammates…Doesn't intercept as many passes as he could…Solidified his position in the draft by running a 4.37 40 with a 37½-inch vertical jump and a 10-3 broad jump (he opted not to lift).

PROJECTION: A player the Vikings might end up with if the draft falls a certain way, Landry is sure to go in the top 10 and, despite some issues with his own feelings of self-worth, if you back it up, it's not being cocky. He could be an All-Pro for years.


Reggie Nelson, Florida, 5-11½, 198—Fourth-year junior who had to spend two years at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College because of grades…Only a one-year full-time starter—a season in which he had 51 tackles, five passes defensed, six interceptions, and one fumble recovery…Projects as a free safety…Suffered a torn right ACL during practice for his bowl game after the 2005 season and needed surgery…Unbelievable cover skills for a safety with a rare combination of speed, agility and burst…Likes to lay the pop on people and is a very physical tackler…Extremely quick to read and react…Is strong in run support…Very good hands (had six interceptions last year)…Not very intelligent and doesn't get secondary defenders lined up properly too often…Inexperience with just one full season as a starter…Tries to make the big hit and often takes himself out of plays…A little undersized for a NFL safety…Ran a position-best 4.35 at the Combine with a 35-inch vertical jump and a 10-6 broad jump (opted not to lift).

PROJECTION: If not for Landry, Nelson would be the top safety coming off the board. While the position does get somewhat devalued at the top, he clearly should go in the middle third of the first round.

Brandon Meriweather, Miami, 5-10¾, 195—Fifth-year senior…Two-year full-time starter who spent two years playing behind former first-round pick Sean Taylor…In two years as a starter, had 172 tackles, 15 passes broken up and four interceptions…A seminfinalist in 2006 for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the top defensive back in college football…Very quick to read the quarterback and get in position to make plays…Very strong in zone coverage…Can lock on tight ends down the seam and take them away…Excellent in "center field" coverage…Gets to a lot of balls…Has the speed to chase plays to the sideline…Rarely bites on pump fakes or play action…Has versatility to play safety or corner…Is undersized by NFL standards for a safety…Skinny and has already added 35 pounds from when he showed up at the U as a 160-pound freshman…Has some character concerns—was involved in an incident in which he wasn't charged, but fired three shots at an attacker who shot a friend of his and was suspended as one of the players in the Florida International debacle that stomped a player on the ground with his cleats…Ran a 4.48 40 at the Combine with 11 reps of 225 pounds (tied for worst among safety prospects), a 35-inch vertical jump and a 9-3 broad jump.

PROJECTION: Some teams may red flag him for his character concerns, but he has all the tools to be a versatile defensive back capable of playing safety, emergency corner or nickel back in the slot. With so much emphasis on the passing game in the NFL, those are very solid qualities and might be enough to get him off the board in the last third of the first round.

Michael Griffin, Texas, 6-0, 201—Fourth-year senior…High school sprint champion who was timed at 10.64 in the 100 meters and 22.10 in the 200…A two-year starter who had a whopping 250 tackles, 21 passes defensed, seven interceptions, five forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries in that span…Good size, bulk strength and long arms…Physical hitter whose production numbers were off the charts—averaging 10 tackles a game…A difference-maker who was part of 17 turnover plays in two years…A strong special teams contributor…Can play close the line of scrimmage and take on linemen in run support…A good hips to flip and run on deep patterns…Is not very smart and doesn't have a good instinctive feel for the game…Lowers his head and shoulder to make tackles and will miss as a result…Will get fooled and misread routes…Lacks discipline in his duties…Ran a 4.40 40 (third-best among safeties) at the Combine with 16 reps of 225 pounds, a 39½-inch vertical jump and a 10-8 broad jump.

PROJECTION: With his production numbers, he looks great on tape because he's always around the ball. He's going to need a coaching staff that spends a lot of time teaching the mental part of the game, but his upside is as big as any safety in this class and that should have some team jumping in the early stages of the second round.

Eric Weddle, Utah, 5-11¼, 203—Fifth-year senior…Four-year starter who made 45 starts in the 48 games he played…Finished his career with 277 tackles, 23 passes broken up, 18 interceptions, 10 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries…MWC Defensive Player of the Year in 2005…Is married…Always seems to be around the ball and making big plays that change games…Improved his stock at the Senior Bowl…Very intelligent and adept at calling the coverages for the secondary…Good read and react skills…Good hands and gets them on a lot of balls…Never stops hustling…Good wrap-up tackler…Is not a heads-up threat that makes receivers scared to cross the middle…Doesn't have ideal size or bulk…Doesn't have good upper body strength (see below)…Is a little cocky…Didn't have a great Combine, running a 4.49 40, doing just 11 reps (tied for worst among safeties), had a 33-inch vertical jump (third-worst for his position) and a 9-5 broad jump.

PROJECTION: He doesn't have the top-end skills needed to be a star in the NFL, but his smarts and commitment to the game have clearly caught the eye of some scouts and coaches. His limitations will keep him on the board until the third round, where he becomes a much better value pick.


Aaron Rouse, Virginia Tech, 6-4, 223—Fifth-year senior…Came to Va. Tech as an outside linebacker…Very versatile in high school, playing wide receiver, running back, cornerback, safety and linebacker…Two-year starter at strong safety who had 134 tackles, 10 passes broken up, five interceptions, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery…Very big for a safety at 6-4…Extremely competitive and likes to hit…Has the ability to chase plays to the sidelines and make plays…Very good in coverage and times his jumps well…Strong in run support…Has good closing speed…Is a little too long in the body and plays upright where blockers can re-direct him on running plays…Loses a step when forced to turn and run down the seam with quick tight ends…Doesn't lay out people with his hits, which is surprising considering how big he is…Some view him as a safety/linebacker ‘tweener who may not excel at either position…Ran a 4.59 40 at the Combine (second-worst among safeties) with 16 reps of 225 pounds and a 35-inch vertical jump.

PROJECTION: An intriguing prospect because he is so big, but may never be more than a situational, in-the-box type of safety or gadget linebacker. He has some good upside and had good production in college, so he'll find a spot somewhere—most likely late on the first day.

John Wendling, Wyoming, 6-1¼, 222—Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter (two at free safety and one at strong safety) who had 242 tackles, 13 passes broken up, seven interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in that span…Has very long arms and uses them well…Has good playing speed and effectively takes tight ends out of plays…Reads and reacts quickly…Can make plays at the sideline…Has never missed time due to injuries…Isn't an aggressive tackler and prefers to wrap up rather than go head-on and be an intimidator…Loses a step on his backpedal and transition turn…Didn't play in any man-to-man coverage schemes his last two years…Gives up a lot of underneath passes and doesn't make receivers pay for it…Gets re-directed by blockers too easily in run coverage…Ran a 4.48 40 at the Combine with 22 reps (third most among safeties) with an impressive 38½-inch vertical jump and a 10-9 broad jump (tied for second).

PROJECTION: Has been compared to a player like Jason Sehorn, who used speed and savvy to make plays instead of hard-nosed hitting. Wendling brings some good qualities to the table, but seems a little passive and some teams don't want safeties like that. As a result, he could fall to the end of Day One or early on Day Two,

Sabby Piscitelli, Oregon State, 6-2¾, 223—Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who started his final 37 college games…In his final three seasons, he had 182 tackles, 27 passes broken up and 14 interceptions…Very good size and solid bulk…Has versatility, did a lot of the drills at the Combine with outside linebackers…Solid in run support…Is always moving and around the ball…Has good special teams experience…Can cover backs and tight ends without much difficulty...Doesn't change directions well and loses a step or more when forced to…Is not a polished wrap-up tackler and will dive or lunge and often miss…Has trouble keeping blockers off him when they get close…Very arrogant and rubbed some people the wrong way during interviews at the Combine…Ran a 4.43 40 at the Combine with 19 reps, a 34½-inch vertical jump and a 10-2 broad jump.

PROJECTION: A ‘tweener who some believe may have to move to linebacker in a 3-4 system, others think he could be a better professional safety than he was in college. He's an intriguing prospect because of his size/speed combo, but will be fortunate to go off the board on Day One.

Josh Gattis, Wake Forest, 6-1, 206—Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter at free safety who had 225 tackles, 19 passes broken up, 12 interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in that span…Prototype measurables…Had good upper- and lower-body strength…Excellent special teams player who led the ACC with 15 tackles in 2005…Loves to deliver the big hit and isn't shy about laying a player out…Reads and reacts quickly…Solid blitzer who times his blitzes well…Tries to make the big hit and often times misses…Gets pulled in by play-action too often…Doesn't have great hands and dropped what appeared to be some easy interceptions…Not adept in man-to-man coverage…Doesn't take good angles in run support…Ran a 4.52 40 at the Combine with 22 reps of 225 pounds, a 34½-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump.

PROJECTION: a player who improved each season, he has a lot of upside and will be a player that will get strong first-day consideration—although he may remain on the board until Sunday.

Gerald Alexander, Boise State, 6-0½, 203—Fifth-year senior…A high school quarterback…Three-year starter who spent his 2004 season playing cornerback…Was a starter for his final 38 college games, in which he had 136 tackles, 25 passes defensed, eight interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery…A nice combination of speed, strength and agility…Has the speed to make plays all over the field…A hard worker who is committed to full effort in practice and the weight room…Can play nickel corner in passing situations…Physical, hard-hitting tackler in the open field…Very good at reading plays in front of him and reacting quickly…Doesn't have good tackling technique and misses a lot…His production wasn't consistent or that high for his position…A little skinny for a safety in the NFL…Doesn't have good speed (see below) and will be late to react and can get beat over the top…Ran a disappointing 4.55 40, but his 41-inch vertical jump was tops among DBs and he had a 10-4 broad jump and 15 reps of 225 pounds.

PROJECTION: His stock is on the rise, but he's still viewed as a project that will need a couple of years to reach his potential. That should drop him into the second day of the draft.

Marvin White, TCU, 6-1¼, 199
Michael Johnson, Arizona, 6-2½, 207
Daren Stone, Maine, 6-3¼, 218
Eric Frampton, Washington State, 5-10¾, 200
Kevin Payne, Louisiana-Monroe, 6-0¼, 209

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