Positional Analysis: Safeties

Without a surefire first-round prospect among the safeties, the selections at this position likely will be spread throughout the draft. Some don't have the size, other tend to shy away from contact, yet you can expect a few safeties to be selected in each round after the first. John Holler goes in-depth with statistics, measurables, strengths, weaknesses and projections on the top possibilities.

Vikings Safeties – Madieu Williams, Tyrell Johnson, Eric Frampton, Husain Abdullah, Roderick Rogers.

Vikings Draft Outlook – The Vikings had just one pick in the first three rounds of last year's draft and used it on Johnson, two months after making Williams one of their priority free-agent signings. With the loss of veteran Darren Sharper, there will be a void, but one the team anticipated and planned for. There is a chance the team could use a mid-round pick on a safety, but unless a player they have ranked considerably higher falls, it's hard to imagine the team will dip into the safety well for a third time in 14 months with a pick in the first three rounds.

The Class of 2009 – In recent years, there have been safeties that have jumped into the top 10, but this year's class is far from that talented or deep. Louis Delmas of Western Michigan is the only probable candidate to get selected in the first round and he is by no means a guarantee. The safeties will start popping on the second round and, by the time the third round is over, there could be as many as seven or eight safeties selected. It's not a deep class or overly talented, but there are some tantalizing prospects.

CREAM OF THE CROP

Louis Delmas, Western Michigan, 5-11½, 202 –
Fourth-year senior who started all 45 college games he played … Missed time over each of his first three seasons, ranging from a sprained left MCL to a concussion to a hip flexor injury … Finished his career with 310 tackles, 18 passes broken up, 12 interceptions, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries … A two-year team captain … Is a big hitter who throws his body all over the field … Is a ballhawk who finds and reacts quickly to the quarterback … Is a student of the game and gets good acceleration when the quarterback winds up … Plays faster than his timed speed … Is a very good break-down tackler … Has special teams experience … Put in strong performances at both the Senior Bowl and the Combine … His biggest question mark is durability, since he has only been able to make it through one full season … Is skinny and a little undersized by NFL standards … Is very aggressive and will get caught biting on play action … Takes poor angles in run support at times … Does not have elite safety speed … Has very little upper-body strength and didn't show well at the Combine (see below) … Will look for the big play and occasionally allow big plays because he goes for the pick instead of breaking up the play … He reportedly only scored a 12 on the Wonderlic test … Ran a 4.53 40 at the Combine with just 12 reps of 225 pounds, a 37-inch vertical jump and a 10-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: He didn't face the best competition at WMU, but he has such an aggressive style there will likely be a team willing to use an early pick on him. But, with his health concerns and violent style of play, he could be a guy who breaks your heart by consistently missing time with injuries. A first-round talent who may not necessarily get drafted in the first round.

THE NEXT LEVEL

William Moore, Missouri, 6-0½, 221 –
Fifth-year senior … Had a horrible childhood in a gang-laden neighborhood and spent time in both a youth home and a mental hospital as a youth … Started six games at free safety his first two seasons, but missed extended time with a hamstring injury as a freshman and broken right foot that required surgery to insert a screw into the foot … Started all 26 games he played over the last two seasons, making 203 tackles, 12 passes broken up, nine interceptions and four forced fumbles … Set a school record with eight interceptions as a junior … Is very good in run support … Has very good awareness of the ball in the air and attacks it in jump-ball situations … Has very good hip movement and doesn't lose speed flipping and taking a receiver deep down the field … Has good closing speed … Is a good tackler in the open field … Will make the big hit … Played offense as a senior, catching seven passes for 143 yards and a touchdown as a situational wide receiver … Is a very good leaper (see below) … Is very short by NFL standards … Is too thin and will need to add weight to be effective as an NFL safety … His footwork and technique will need to be improved … Had his share of problems at the Senior Bowl in one-on-one deep coverage … Ran a 4.49 40 at the Combine, didn't lift, but had a 39½-inch vertical jump and a 10-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: Has great size and speed, but went from eight interceptions as a junior to just one last year and really took a step backward. He has the ability to be a solid NFL player, but likely won't get a sniff until the second round and may struggle to go on Day One.

Rashad Johnson, Alabama, 5-11¼, 200 – Fifth-year senior … Two-year full-time starter who had 183 tackles, 19 passes broken up, 11 interceptions and two forced fumbles in that span … Was arrested in February 2008 for pushing a bouncer and getting into a physical confrontation outside the bar … Came to Alabama as a walk-on and was a captain his senior year … Is loaded with toughness and makes the big hit consistently when tackling … Is adept at reading coverages and getting in the right position … Attacks the ball and had good interception production … Has the speed and range to play to the sideline … Can cover tight ends in man coverage … Made all the defensive calls in the secondary and often lined up the entire defense … A big contributor on special teams … Is thin and short for a safety at the NFL level … Doesn't have a second gear or a great closing burst … Is not an explosive tackler on a consistent basis … Needs work on improving his fundamentals … Gained 15 pounds for the postseason workouts, but is naturally about 185 pounds, not 200 … Ran a 4.50 40 at the Combine with 15 reps, a 37-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: He has a passion for the game and is a smart player. If he was a couple inches taller and had a little more bulk strength, he would be a first-round candidate. As it is, he might go in the second round, but has no guarantees.

Patrick Chung, Oregon, 5-11½, 209 – Fifth-year senior … Started all 51 games he played in college … During his career, he had 384 tackles, 17 passes broken up, nine interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries … As a freshman was the team's leading special teams tackler and also returned kicks and punts … A team captain … Very aggressive and a big hitter … Is good in run support and is a solid wrap-up tackler in the open field … Matches up well when asked to take a tight end down the seam … Has good change-of-direction skills and doesn't lose much when has to pivot and run … Has very good upper-body strength (see below) … Is undersized for a safety in the NFL … Needs to improve his angles … Had better numbers as a junior than as a senior … Is not adept at jumping deep routes and providing the needed help over the top … Is not a prototypical safety ballhawk … Ran a 4.50 40 at the Combine with an impressive 25 reps, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: Chung doesn't have ideal size, but his experience and solid intangibles will have several teams taking a serious look at him. His special teams skills will get him on the field early, but questions about his long-term ability to be a starter will more than likely have him still waiting for a call early on Day Two.

Darcel McBath, Texas Tech, 6-0¾, 200 – Fifth-year senior … Came to Texas Tech as a cornerback but was moved to free safety after his freshman season … A three-year starter who made starts in his final 39 college games … In that span, he had 223 tackles, 20 passes broken up, 12 interceptions and two forced fumbles … Came on as a senior, leading the team with seven picks … A team captain … Has the speed and footwork to cover tight ends with ease and not let them loose … Doesn't lose much in his backpedal or when he has to flip his hips and run downfield … Had incredibly consistent production – his tackle totals of the last three years were 75-73-75 … Has good read-and-react skills and rarely gets caught out of position … Has excellent closing speed to deliver a big hit … Is not too much value in run support and will look to avoid helmet-to-helmet contact … Has a thin lower body and doesn't push away blockers or bring down ball carriers as consistently as coaches would like … Doesn't possess top-end upper-body or lower-body strength … Allows receivers to pick up additional yardage because he tries to bulldog tackle instead of taking their legs out … Ran a 4.53 40 at the Combine with 17 reps, a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: He is a tantalizing prospect because of his versatility and upside, but until he becomes a more physical player, he will find it difficult to crack a starting lineup. His thin lower body may prohibit adding too much bulk, which should easily drop him into third round consideration.

Chip Vaughn, Wake Forest, 6-1½, 221 – Fifth-year senior … Was recruited as a wide receiver, but moved to safety in his redshirt season … A two-year starter who had 192 tackles, 20 passes broken up, three interceptions and four fumble recoveries in that span … Led the team in tackles as a junior with 105 … Has an excellent combination of speed and upper-body strength … Has very good footwork and agility … Is aggressive in run support … Is a solid open-field tackler … Had good, consistent production as a starter … Has fluid hips and doesn't lose much when he has to flip and run deep or to the sideline … Disappears for lengthy stretches during games … Is inconsistent in his instincts and will get out of position and give up some big plays … Doesn't attack running backs and will let them come to him and gain additional yardage … Doesn't try to take on players heads-up and will typically try to cut them low – which leads to too many missed tackles … Ran a 4.43 40 at the Combine with 21 reps of 225 pounds, a 37-inch vertical jump and a 10-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: He is a player who passes the eyeball test, but his inconsistency on the field will likely hurt his cause. He will take time because he has only been playing safety for two seasons, which makes him likely a project pick early on the second day of the draft.

BEST OF THE REST

Chris Clemons, Clemson, 6-0¼, 208 –
Fifth-year senior … Has difficulties in home life and his father is serving a prison sentence … A three-year starter who had 290 tackles, 22 passes broken up and five interceptions in that span … Has very quick feet and can reach top speed quickly … Is aggressive in run support and is willing to lower his shoulder and deliver a blow … Has good closing speed on plays in front of him … Has played the nickel corner position in the slot and has held up well against slot receivers … Is too aggressive at times and is too easily blocked out of plays … Misses more than his share of tackles and doesn't always give his best effort … Slows down when he has to change directions … Was not the classic ballhawk, posting just five career interceptions … Bites on play action and pump fakes too often … Stops his feet moving when he prepares to tackle instead of driving through receivers … Ran a 4.41 40 at the Combine with 19 reps, a 37½-inch vertical jump and a 10-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: When it comes to things like the Combine, he looks like a world-beater. But it doesn't translate nearly as well to the field. He will need a lot of technique refinement to be a good pro and players like that usually have to fight to stay on a roster. He likely won't get selected until the fourth round or so.

Emanuel Cook, South Carolina, 5-9¾, 197 – Third-year junior … A two-year starter who had 179 tackles, five passes broken up, three interceptions and two forced fumbles … Was arrested in 2007 for possession of a handgun, but an investigation showed that neither the vehicle it was in nor the gun belonged to Cook. Despite that, he was briefly suspended from the school … Prior to the 2007 season, he had an emergency appendectomy … Was declared academically ineligible to play in the Outback Bowl in January … Is a very good tackler who rarely lets the player with the ball get away … Is very productive against the run … Does a nice job of getting through blockers to the ball carrier … Has good closing speed … Was the team's leading tackler each of the last two seasons … Reads quarterbacks well and has the speed to get to the outside to give his cornerback help over the top … Has almost no ball skills to speak of – he had neither an interception nor a pass breakup in 2008 … Is very undersized … Doesn't have the speed to take on wide receivers as a cornerback and struggles with tight ends coming off the line because of his lack of size and bulk … Has had some off-field incidents that will put up red flags for some teams … Has had some injury concerns … Ran a 4.58 40 at the Combine with 18 reps of 225 pounds, a 35-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: He seems a little too one-dimensional as an eighth-man-in-the-box run stopper, but he is a big hitter that some team in the middle to late rounds will be willing to make into a chance-on-greatness type of pick.

David Bruton, Notre Dame, 6-2, 218 – Fourth-year senior … Cousin of Olympic sprinter Tyson Gay … A two-year starter at free safety, posting 182 tackles, seven passes broken up, seven interceptions, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries … A team captain … Is cut from stone and has very long arms (34½ inches) for a defensive back … Has excellent speed and is aggressive on plays in front of him … Became a leader on a Notre Dame team trying to pull itself out of the worst stretch it has had in many years … Is a dedicated worker in the weight room and the practice field … Doesn't play as fast as his timed speed … Will lay out too often against the run and take himself out of plays … Doesn't have a great natural football I.Q … .Bites on play action and quarterback pump fakes … Did not look natural or fluid during the Combine drills … Is not a consistently big hitter and will let ball carriers get additional hard yards from time to time … Ran a 4.41 40 with 19 reps and an impressive 41½-inch vertical jump – the best among safeties at the Combine. PROJECTION: If you went strictly by his measurables, he could be a Day One pick. But his lack of speed, change-of-direction skills and football intelligence will really hurt his stock. He may have been viewed as a third-round possibility by some teams, but his Combine performance alone should drop him a little lower.

Michael Hamlin, Clemson, 6-2, 214 – Fifth-year senior … Became a starter midway through his redshirt freshman season and started 43 of the 48 games he played in his collegiate career … Had some serious foot and ankle injuries in college, breaking a bone in his foot late in the 2006 season and having surgery for a non-related stress fracture in the same foot early in 2007 … In his college career, he had 326 tackles, 22 passes broken up, 14 interceptions, four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries … Has ideal size for a safety … Has good initial quickness and doesn't waste too much motion … A hard worker who elevates the play of his teammates … Is a good finisher on his tackles and has a good closing burst … Is adept at predicting where a QB is going and jumping the route prior to his break … His numbers consistently improved each season … Is not overly strong or intimidating … Loses a step when forced to flip his hips or change direction … Does not have elite speed and will show up late trying to help cornerbacks on the deep pass … Durability is a major concern … Is not as physical as NFL strong safeties are expected to be … Ran a 4.57 40 at the Combine with 17 reps and a 37½-inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: Hamlin has some limitations and seems somewhat miscast as a strong safety moving to the next level. With the experience he has at strong safety, he will eventually bring some versatility to the position, but likely won't be drafted until the middle rounds because of the learning curve he is expected to have.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Kevin Ellison, USC, 6-1, 227
Courtney Green, Rutgers, 6-0¼, 212
Nic Harris, Oklahoma, 6-2½, 230
Stephen Hodge, Texas Christian, 5-11¾, 233
Derek Pegues, Mississippi State, 5-9¼, 199
Glover Quin, New Mexico, 5-11, 205
Anthony Scirroto, Penn State, 5-11½, 200
C.J. Spillman, Marshall, 6-0, 198
Curtis Taylor, LSU, 6-2¼, 211
Ladarius Webb, Nicholls State, 5-9¾, 179

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