Positional Analysis: Safeties

The Vikings have made a lot of changes at the safety position over the past few months. Will there be another addition via the draft? We analyze the top 10 prospects at the position with stats, measurables, analysis and projections.

VIKINGS SAFETIES – Darren Sharper, Madieu Williams, Michael Boulware, Eric Frampton.

POSITION ANALYSIS – Perhaps no position on the entire Vikings roster has undergone more of a transition since the end of last season as safety. Gone are veterans Dwight Smith, Mike Doss and Tank Williams, and they have been replaced by Madieu Williams and Michael Boulware. There is the possibility that the Vikings might take a look at this position, but the only thing that might get them to jump early (as in the second round) is if someone like Miami's Kenny Phillips or DaJuan Morgan of North Carolina State should happen to still be on the board. Otherwise, there could be a look given in the middle rounds to add depth or special teams help, but with Sharper still under contract and Williams signed up long-term, this doesn't look to be a pressing need on draft weekend.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Kenny Phillips, Miami, 6-2¼, 212 –
Third-year junior who started 33 of the 34 games he played in his college career … USA Today Defensive Player of the Year as a high school senior … Finished his college career with 241 tackles, 15 passes broken up, seven interceptions and three forced fumbles … Ideal NFL height … Has the speed to help out cornerbacks over the top … Adept at tracking the ball and making plays to break up potential long completions … Has excellent acceleration and can hit top speed quickly … Has experience at cornerback and can handle TEs and slot receivers in coverage … Keeps his feet nicely in traffic and helps out in run support … Has a thin lower body and can get engulfed by blockers … Will bite too often on play-fakes and let receivers get a step on him … Does not get his hands on too many passes for a college strong safety … Pays too much attention to where the quarterback is going and will get out of position too often … Has been dinged up with injuries like a broken thumb (twice), ankle sprains and a pulled groin … Ran a 4.49 40 at the Combine with 19 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 10-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: Phillips is not in the class of recent Miami safeties like Ed Reed, Sean Taylor or Brandon Merriweather, but he has a lot of the physical tools needed to be a first-round pick. He isn't a big hitter, but does a lot of things well and could be an immediate starter for a team with a need at safety.

DaJuan Morgan, North Carolina State, 6-0¼, 203 – Fourth-year junior … Had to redshirt his first season as a result of a car accident during his senior year of high school that had him sustaining a dislocated hip that took a long time to fully heal … A one-year starter who had 97 tackles, six passes broken up and three interceptions … Has very good upper-body strength … Is a physical free safety that can deliver the big hit … Has good enough speed to help out cornerbacks over the top … Has good lateral movement and can make plays at the sideline on runs and deep passes … Is very strong in run support … A solid special teams contributor … Brings a lot of versatility having played cornerback and both safety positions … Is not a consistent wrap-up tackler and will leave his feet too often … Is only a one-year full-time starter and doesn't have the best experience to make a smooth transition to the pros … Gets caught up in sliding in the direction the quarterback moves to and will leave part of his zone open and vulnerable to big plays … Is not a naturally fluid athlete that can't easily make up for his mistakes … Ran a 4.57 40 at the Combine with 21 reps, a 37½-inch vertical jump (third-best among safeties that tested) and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: Morgan has the ability to play both safety positions, which might give him a leg up on Phillips to be the first safety to come off the board. He might go late in the first round, but more likely he will be a premium pick early in the second round that will have a chance to start from Day One.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Marcellus "Tyrell" Johnson, Arkansas State, 6-0, 230 –
Fifth-year senior who started 45 of his 46 career games … Finished his career with 363 tackles, 28 passes broken up, 13 interceptions, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries … Already graduated and is pursuing his Master's degree … Finished his career as the Sun Belt Conference's all-time leading tackler … Has very good size and extremely good upper-body strength … Is very good in run support … A big-time hitter who looks for the "kill shot" … At his best in short-yardage running situations, where he fills gaps with no fear … An intelligent player who understands his role … Has not played against top college competition … Doesn't have explosive on-field speed … Will lose receivers at times when asked to flip his hips and turn on the fly … Can be a step late providing help over the top on deep sideline passes … Does not consistently finish tackles and has very poor technique … Did not look very impressive at the Hula Bowl … Tore up the Combine with a 4.40 40, 27 reps of 225 pounds (best among safeties), a position-tying best 39-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump that was second-best among safeties. PROJECTION: He got himself a lot of attention with his strong Combine performance but is still a very raw prospect that will need a lot of attention to improve his coverage skills and tackling. He might get over-drafted because of his outstanding postseason workouts, but likely should still be around at the end of the second round or early in the third.

Thomas DeCoud, California, 6-1¾, 204 – Fifth-year senior … One-year starter who had 116 tackles, five passes broken up, one interception and two forced fumbles in '07 … Is a big-time tackler that consistently delivers the monster hit … Has a good combination of height, long arms and functional speed … A tough player who is a leader on the field … Is always around the ball … Has the quickness to take tight ends deep in man coverage … Is a good open-field tackler … A top special teams contributor who had six blocked kicks in his career … Has very limited upper-body strength (see below) … Just a one-year full-time starter who is still technically learning the game … Will struggle in run support if he goes heads-up with blockers … Too often stops moving his feet before making contact with running backs … Will get sucked in by fakes and doesn't have the make-up speed to always catch up … Is not a great hands player – in 45 career games (16 of those starts), he had just one interception … Ran a 4.52 40 at the Combine with just nine reps (second-worst among safeties), a 34½-inch vertical jump and a 10-3 long jump. PROJECTION: His upper-body strength and inconsistent tackling are going to be challenges, but he has been a durable player that can develop into a solid NFL starter and, at the very least, immediately upgrade somebody's special teams. He could go off somewhere in the second round, but could just as easily still be on the board in the third round.

Josh Barrett, Arizona State, 6-1¾, 233 – Fifth-year senior … A two-year full-time starter who had a great junior year (82 tackles, six passes broken up and three interceptions) before posting much worse numbers as a senior while playing with knee, pectoral and quadriceps injuries … Has electrifying speed (see below) and can chase plays to the sideline … Is strong in run support … Very big and could even get some looks at a small linebacker because of his combination of size and speed … Makes plays all over the field … Has good transition skills and can stay with receivers deep down the field … Regressed badly as a senior due to injuries and a temporary benching … Didn't always play with the same level of intensity and some scouts question his commitment to the game … Does not always give his best effort in run support … Will leave his feet and miss too many tackles … Does not have natural coverage instincts and will react a half-second late too often … One of the shining stars at the Combine with a 4.35 40 (best among safeties), 18 reps, a 32-inch vertical jump (tied for second-worst) and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: Turned off a lot of scouts in 2007 by seemingly quitting on his team during games and pouting after being benched, but his incredible performance at the Combine in which he displayed top-notch speed and strength has put him back in the conversation to be among the top safeties in a weak class. He has a chance to go in the second round if a team is convinced that he will revert to the form he showed as a junior, but his questionable fire for the game could have a lot of teams not willing to gamble until the third round.

Craig Steltz, LSU, 6-1½, 210 – Fourth-year senior … One-year starter who had 101 tackles, seven passes broken up, six interceptions, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in 2007 … Very good combination of strength and size … Has excellent read/react skills and doesn't get fooled too often … A team leader who gives his all on every play … Is a playmaker who not only had six interceptions last year, but averaged more than 25 yards per interception return … Despite having good size, is not as physical as most scouts like to see in strong safeties … Is not always quick in run support and will allow too many yards on plays that could be shut down … Does not have the deep speed to stay with receivers for any distance (see below) … Has a lot of difficulty making up for mistakes or a misstep in coverage … Does not flip his hips smoothly and will lose a half-step when forced to turn and run … Missed a chance to showcase himself at the Senior Bowl with a shoulder stinger sustained in the BSC Championship Game … Didn't lift at the Combine because of the shoulder injury and ran a dismal 4.60 40 (third-worst among safeties) with a 35-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: He has the tools to be a solid pro player, but has limited experience and the lack of top-end speed will keep him on the board until at least the third round.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Dominique Barber, Minnesota, 6-0¼, 210 –
Fourth-year senior … Comes from an excellent NFL football bloodline – his father, Marion Barber Jr., played seven years with the Jets and his brother, Marion Barber III, is a star running back for the Cowboys … A two-year starter who played free safety as a junior and strong safety as a senior … In that span, he had 174 tackles, 17 passes defensed, four interceptions, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries … Has good footwork and agility … Versatile and has been used to cover slot receivers … Very good upper-body strength … Is strong in run support and quick to react … Big plays happen when he is around … Good special teams player … A good tackler in the open field … Has very poor speed for an NFL safety … Inconsistent in mechanics and game-to-game performance … Is not a threat to make interceptions – in 46 games (25 starts), he had just four picks and all of them came in his junior year … Comes to a stop when meeting running backs in the hole and doesn't always finish … Can get beat over the top and be late arriving at the sidelines … Ran a position-worst 4.69 40 at the Combine with 23 reps of 225 pounds, a 34½-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: Does not have the mad skills of his brother, but he was a fourth-round pick coming out of college (taken after Superbust Maurice Clarett). It wouldn't be surprising to see this Barber go in the fourth round as well and, while he may be never be a top safety in the NFL, he has the skills to be a solid contributor in the secondary and on special teams.

Quintin Demps, UTEP, 5-11¾, 207 – Fifth-year senior … Started all 46 games of his college career … Finished with 275 tackles, 41 passes broken up, 17 interceptions, four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries … Is well-built and has good upper-body strength … Brings some versatility, having played free safety for the first 40 games of his career and cornerback in the final six … His 17 interceptions are the most of any player in this year's draft … Has a good pedal in deep pass defense and can transition quickly to cover deep passes … Has special teams and return experience … A good tackler in the open field … Durable and battle-tested … Is not a player who likes to deliver the big hit and is too much of a finesse player … Is late coming in run support and doesn't have much of a desire to mix it up when he does … Doesn't play to his impressive timed speed with any consistency … Played marginal competition in Conference USA … Is easily engulfed when blockers get their hands on him … Turned some heads at the Combine with a 4.41 40 (third-best among safeties), with 17 reps of 225 pounds, but had among the worst vertical jumps (32 inches) and broad jumps (9-1) of any of the safety at Indianapolis. PROJECTION: A player with durability and a wealth of experience that can make big plays in the interception department, his lack of toughness and seeming unwillingness to be tough in run support will likely drop him to the middle rounds. Unless that changes, he may never be more than a career backup.

Jamar Adams, Michigan, 6-2¼, 211 – Fourth-year senior … A three-year starter who made starts in his final 34 games … Really came on as a senior with 92 tackles, 10 passes broken up and three interceptions … Very good size and upper-body strength … Intelligent player who was a member of his high school's nationally ranked chess team and made the defensive calls for the Wolverines … Has very good read and reaction skills … Has a good burst to attack plays in front of him … Is solid in run support … Good blitzer … Will lose position on backs and tight ends down the field … Takes a lot of chances and gets himself out of position for big plays too often … Is not a secure tackler … Will lose a half-step in transition in the deep zone and doesn't have great catch-up speed if caught out of position … Limited production for a strong safety – he had just four interceptions in 34 career starts … Didn't lift at the Combine due to a shoulder injury and ran a disappointing 4.63 40 (second-worst among safeties) with a 34½-inch vertical jump and a 10-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: He's not blessed with great speed, but has a lot of good intangibles. He will likely take time if he's ever going to be a success at the next level, but his experience against big-time competition his final three seasons should be enough to have him drafted in the middle rounds.

Thomas Zbikowski, Notre Dame, 5-11, 211 – Fifth-year senior … USA Today First Team All-American selection as a high school senior … A nationally-ranked Golden Gloves boxer who compiled an amateur record of 75-15 and made his professional debut in June 2006 with a knockout in 49 seconds at Madison Square Garden … Started all 47 games of his college career … Finished with 300 tackles, 15 passes defensed, eight interceptions, seven forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries … As a junior, was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to college football's top defensive back … A big hitter who brings all he has on every play … Very good upper-body strength … Puts a lot of effort in practice and in the weight room … A natural leader … Has good coverage skills on backs and tight ends in the short zone … A motor that doesn't quit and he will get in the face of anyone who talks trash … Adds value as an experienced kickoff and punt returner … Does not have a lot of variety or changes of gear and runs fast only on a straight line … Does not have good speed when asked to turn and run, losing a step and too often getting beaten over the top or being a step late trying to get to the sideline to help out his cornerback … Does not consistently take great angles and doesn't have the make-up speed moving laterally or backward to catch up … Has short arms and is too easily engulfed by blockers on plays to the sideline … Leaves his feet too often for a missile-tackle, but too often it's just a missed tackle … Ran a 4.45 40 at the Combine with 25 reps of 225 pounds (second-best among safeties), with a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 9-1 broad jump (both among the worst totals posted by safeties). PROJECTION: A durable player and clearly a tough-guy that fans will like, his limitations are pronounced and aren't the kind that can easily be fixed or hidden. He will be a mid-round pick that will likely get drafted more on reputation – when playing for Notre Dame meant something special – than comparisons to other strong safeties in the draft. He'll have an NFL career, it just may not be as a starter.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Marcus Griffin, Texas, 5-10¼, 196
Jonathan Hefney, Tennessee, 5-8, 190
D.J. Parker, Virginia Tech, 5-11¼, 193
David Roach, Texas Christian, 6-0½, 210
Nehemiah Warrick, Michigan State, 6-1¼, 208
D.J. Wolfe, Oklahoma, 5-11¼, 207



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