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NFL Draft Prospects '11: Safety

Honestly, this position is so unresolved I don't even know where to start.  Heck, how do you define what exactly we need?  I really wish GM Billy Devaney could have just sucked it up and paid OJ Atogwe $11 million this year.  Let's be honest: that money isn't getting spent to better use than using it to keep Atogwe.  That's just a fact.  Hey, and if I end up being wrong, then we still don't have an elite safety barring some miracle happening.

Releasing Atogwe, while most likely a calculated move to lower his price, did cast a shadow of doubt upon a previously set position.  While the merits of Atogwe's actual on-field performance are in question, we pretty much knew that we would get a good safety at worst barring injury.  Now, we have two strong safeties in James Butler and Craig Dahl plus a young Darian Stewart.  With Atogwe, this position was a good strength.  Now it's a position in serious doubt.

I said it with Atogwe, I'll stick with the statement without him.  Craig Dahl is an adequate to slightly below average starting strong safety who deserves one more year to prove he is a good one.  I don't think he is to be honest.  But we have bigger fish to fry right now.  Is it really that dire of a situation that a soon-to-be 26-year-old hard-hitting safety needs to be cast off?

Anyway, the position that I am worried about moreso is free safety.  I don't want Dahl or James Butler playing out of position and being average at best and terrible at worst.  I want a player who is young and will probably play as well as or even worse than Butler/Dahl there, but at least has potential and the growing pains eventually make him a better player in the future.  Is Darian Stewart that player?  If only it were that easy.  

That player could be in this very draft and could very well hit the ground running via Patrick Chung (of course a Patriots pick - also heavily criticized at time).  If I were a betting man, I would not count on it.  But nearly ever GM is graded by their diamond in the rough picks.  It's easy to pick Sam Bradford first overall, but can he draft a starter in the 4th or later. 

I say this for two reasons.  One, if we have a diamond in the rough, I'm guessing it comes through this position.  Two, we can ill afford to draft a safety higher than the 4th round given our other problems.  Those two things only further remind us that dropping Atogwe may have been an unnecessary risk.  However, what's done is done and we must move on.  On to the prospects...

1. Rahim Moore, UCLA - 6'0, 202 - 12 GS, 77 tackles, INT, 4 PDs - 21-years-old - FS

Why get him - great ball skills (10 INTs as sophomore), instinctive, very athletic, good speed (4.53 Combine), experienced (37 consecutive starts), aggressive in down-field pursuit, times leaps well, respected team leader

Why not get him - less than ideal size, only average bulk, not reliable open-field tackler, prone to overrunning plays, only has one elite season ('09), takes questionable angles to football

Summary - As I stated above, I don't expect the Rams to draft a safety any higher than the 4th round.  Moore kind of reminds me of OJ with his ball-hawking skills and leadership (not to mention there's a debate on how elite he is).

Projected Round - 2nd

2. Quinton Carter, Oklahoma - 6'1, 208 - 13 GS, 96 tackles, 4 INTs, 5 PDs - 22-years-old - FS

Why get him - often gets to receiver as or before the ball arrives, athletic, has speed to stay with receivers down sideline, excellent closing speed, good hands (8 career INTs), solid tackler, exceptional leader

Why not get him - needs to improve using his hands to knock receivers off routes, lacks great strength, may get eaten up by elusive runners because of aggressiveness, has gotten penalized for late hits

Summary - I may take back what I said before: Carter is extremely intriguing.  I've always liked players whose main weakness was their aggressiveness.  Carter is also reportedly good against pass, run, and can play deep center field.

Projected Round - 2nd-3rd

3. DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson - 6'0, 217 - 13 GS, 75 tackles, 4 INTs, 4 PDs - 23-years-old - SS 

Why get him - very good instincts, shows ability to make plays beyond line of scrimmage, reliable open-field tackler, quick feet and good balance, does nice job of recognizing routes, very good vision, quick active hands (15 career INTs)

Why not get him - doesn't change directions fluidly, charged with aggravated assault in '08, can be fooled by play-action

Summary - McDaniel seems like a good pick, but I'm a little hesitant on someone who can't cover whole field and does not change directions well.  Those two weaknesses are most of what a safety needs to do.  On another note, his mother reportedly got arrested over 50 times so to be where he is today is a modern-day miracle.  

Projected Round - 3rd

4. Tyler Sash, Iowa - 6'0, 210 - 13 GS, 79 tackles, 2 INTs, TD, 2 PDs - 22-years-old - SS

Why get him - instinctive, reads keys to sniff out screens and runs, good athleticism, takes good angles to tackle runners from behind, has good strength to get off receiver blocks, strong upper-body, vocal leader

Why not get him - overaggressive and will overrun plays, bites hard on play-action, will not catch many receivers from behind, could draw flags with the contact he uses to defend TEs

Summary - I know I said I like overaggressive guys, but Sash seems to be too extreme.  He also seems like a guy who might just barely get by with his tools in the NFL.  

Projected Round - 3rd round

5. Robert Sands, West Virginia - 6'4, 217 - 13 GS, 53 tackles, 2 sacks, FF, INT - 21-years-old - FS

Why get him - has speed to go sideline-to-sideline, can handle TEs in man coverage, long arms, good ball skills (6 career INTs), strong, aggressive against the run, looks for big shoulder hit

Why not get him - height could actually be disadvantage when tries to tackle in space, slow and high backpedal, gets moved by QB eyes too easily, does not change direction quickly

Summary - It appears Sands has gotten the interest of the Rams and TST (7 stories about him), but I'm a little hesitant to use anything higher than  5th round pick on him. (For what it's worth, WF has him from anywhere between the 4th and 6th so that very well might happen.)

Projected Round - 4th round

6. Ahmad Black, Florida - 5'10, 184 - 13 GS, 109 tackles, sack, 2 FFs, 5 INTs, TD - 21-years-old - SS

Why get him - very good instincts, good route recognition skills, reliable open-field tackling, smooth and low backpedal, good hand-eye coordination, shows good physicality and toughness, very good agility

Why not get him - undersized, not very fast (4.73 Combine time), can be too aggressive attacking ball, over-matched by TEs, sometimes focuses on catching INT so much that receiver breaks free

Summary - Is any safety not aggressive?  Also, Black seems like a good risk because his stock fell due to Combine and many people put a little bit too much emphasis on the Combine and not enough on his actual on-field performance which is solid.  Still a risky pick however.

Projected Round - 4th 

7. Duenta Williams, UNC - 6'2, 205 - 10 GS, 50 tackles, FF, 3 PDs - 23-years-old - FS

Why get him - good route recognition, excellent ball skills (12 career INTs), good flexibility to run and turn downfield, good lateral agility, reliable open-field tackler, does good job with pursuit angles

Why not get him - will bite on play-action fakes, lacks true makeup speed if beaten or tricked, must do better job of maintaining cushion in zone coverage, suspended for four games in '10 from scandal, broke lower leg in bowl game

Summary - Williams is an intriguing pick as he falls around where I'd pick a safety (4th-5th).  But I don't think youcan be an NFL safety if you don't have good closing speed since a safety is the last man to make a tackle.

Projected Round - 4th

 8. Jaiquawn Jarrett, Temple - 6'1, 200 - 12 GS, 71 tackles, FF, 2 INTs, PD - 21-years-old - FS

Why get him - intelligent with good football instincts, hard-hitting, good speed, good change-of-direction ability, able to close on ball quickly, willing and able in run support, long-time special teams contributor

Why not get him - lacks great bulk and strength, lacks experience in man coverage, occasionally overpursues, can be easily washed out of plays by lineman and fullbacks

Summary - Finally, a safety that appears to have weaknesses that are manageable.  He still has his problems but it isn't some serious problem that pretty much ruins the chance he'll ever be a starter.  TST has the same opinion apparently with 6 stories on him.

Projected Round - 4th

9.  Shiloh Keo, Idaho - 5'11, 219 - 12 GS, 61 tackles, sack, FF, 3 INTs, 5 PDs - 23-years-old - SS

Why get him - good bulk and strength, provides value as a returner, physical, hard-hitter, good leadership, versatile, good athleticism to cover backs and TEs, will take out legs of charging offensive lineman 

Why not get him - lacks awareness needed, not very instinctive, doesn't possess good straight-line speed, tends to duck and leave his feet in order to lay big hit not relying on hands to wrap ballcarrier

Summary - Most of his value is in his toughness, leadership, and physicality... but that only gets you so far.  Keo does not seem like a NFL-caliber safety.

Projected Round - 4th-5th round

10. Joe Lefeged, Rutgers - 6'0, 210 - 84 tackles, 2 FF, 2 sacks, INT, 6 PDs - 22-years-old - SS

Why get him - great backfield awareness, fills running lanes, good balance and agility, excellent tackler, reads QBs eyes well, good in run defense

Why not get him - little experience in pass coverage, takes poor angles in pursuit, does not disguise blitzes well, falls for head fakes in open field

Summary - Lefeged will probably not be a starter at the next level because he is mostly just a run defender and will probably never be an adequate pass coverage man.  He did block two punts in one game last year and his special teams contributions could get him drafted.

Projected Round - 5th

11. Chris Culliver, South Carolina - 6'0, 190 - 7 GS, 34 tackles, sack, FF, 2 PDs - 22-years-old - FS

Why get him - good instincts, versatile (may play CB in NFL), explosive vertical and good timing, quick and active hands in press coverage, understands role of each member of secondary, quick feet

Why not get him - can allow receiver too easy of release, questionable ball skills (0 INTs past two years), backpedal is high and choppy, injury concern as he tore pectoral muscle forcing him to miss 4 games and Combine

Summary - Culliver is a very meh candidate to me for reasons I can't explain.  Maybe it is because nothing jumps out at me, weaknesses or strengths.

Projected Round - 5th 

12. Jermale Hines, Ohio State - 6'1, 219 - 13 GS, 68 tackles, sack, INT, 4 PDs - 23-years-old - SS

Why get him - the look of prototypical SS, good speed and agility, good closing speed, long arms, strong hands, powerful hitter

Why not get him - fails to get off blocks when engaged, can be fooled by misdirection, needs to wrap consistently instead of lowering shoulder

Summary - Unlike his competition around this time, Hines looks like he could become a starter.  Yes he has some concerning weaknesses, but his strengths may be enough to overcome that.

Projected Round - 5th

13. Da'Norris Searcy, UNC - 5'11, 223 - 10 GS, 37 tackles, 4 INTs, TD, 3 PDs - 22-years-old - SS

Why get him - good instincts for position, good closing burst, good enough agility to cover TEs and some slot receivers, primary punt returner last two years for UNC, takes good angles in pursuit, good ball skills

Why not get him - suspended for first three games due to scandal, might be a tweener who can't play SS or FS well enough to be a starter, not intimidating hitter

Summary - Well, his draft prospects are all up to how you look at tweeners: guy who can't start or capable backup.  I'd consider both of those answers to be correct but neither to be appealing.

Projected Round - 5th-6th

14. Chris Conte, Cal - 6'2, 199 - 11 GS, 72 tackles, 2 FF, INT, 3 PDs - 22-years-old - FS

Why get him - possesses prototypical size for FS position, versatile as he played as reserve cornerback early in college career, good balance, speed and agility, long arms and good timing to break up passes, reliable open-field tackler

Why not get him - last season was first year at FS, instincts are still not fully developed, can be caught out of position on play action

Summary - Well, again this all depends on how you look at his situation: inexperienced or still improving.  I for one think you cannot get this kind of potential late and would tend to lean towards the latter.

Projected Round - 5th-6th

15. Jeron Johnson, Boise State - 5'10, 212 - 13 GS, 82 tackles, FF, INT, 6 PDs - SS

Why get him - great instincts, takes good angles to ball, excels in run support, good awareness, good balls skills, plays with aggressive and physical mentality, hard hitter

Why not get him - undersized, injury risk at the next level (Think Bob Sanders), lacks ideal speed and range, does not wrap up consistently.

Summary - Johnson is a free safety that plays like a strong safety making him an injury risk.  I guess if his best case scenario is Bob Sanders (without the injuries), then he might have some potential.

Projected Round - 5th-6th

16. Jerrard Tarrant, Georgia Tech - 6'1, 204 - 12 GS, 58 tackles, 3 FF, 3 INTs, TD, 2 PDs - 21-years-old - FS

Why get him - good size and length, excellent straight-line speed (4.50 Combine), jumps routes and capable to take it to the endzone (2 career INT TDs), goes for strip if ballcarrier is tied up (3 FFs)

Why not get him - a tweener between CB and FS, lacks good arm strength, leaves feet too much, still learning safety position, accused of sexual assault in '08

Summary - Between tweeners (I'm not a fan in case you didn't notice) and his sexual assault case, Tarrant is not very appealing to me.

Projected Round - 6th round

17. Eric Hagg, Nebraska - 6'2, 206 - 13 GS, 49 tackles, sack, FF, 5 INTs, 3 PDs - 21-years-old - FS

Why get him - great ball skills (6 career INTs), very experienced, fluid athlete, good closing burst, able to stay with TEs and slot receivers, sure wrap-up tackler, intelligent

Why not get him - he plays for Nebraska, does not always diagnose plays in time, he plays for Nebraska, can be run over at times, he plays for Nebraska, below-average top-end speed for position, he plays for Nebraska, lacks quickness necessary to be good in man coverage, did I mention he plays for Nebraska?

Summary - I refuse to grade prospects without bias so I reserve the right to list "he plays for Nebraska" as a weakness.  Obviously I'm a Mizzou fan.  Also, he doesn't appear to have good starter potential, but might become a solid one-dimensional sub.

Projected Round - 6th round

7th round prospects

18. Chris Prosinski, Wyoming - This free safety was a tackling machine in college who also just happened to run a 4.39 40 time at Pro Day.

19. Nate Williams, Washington - This undersized safety prospect was perceived to be quick and fast, but ran just a 4.70 - A slower, undersized safety does not have much of a place in the NFL.

20. David Sims, Iowa State - This athletic, speedy and undersized safety has some legal issues that he needs to mount in order to get drafted.

21. Dejon Gomes, Nebraska - Gomes had an impact all over the field with 93 tackles, seven pass breakups, 3 interceptions, and a sack, but he plays for Nebraska.

22. Will Hill, Florida - Hill has good size for a free safety, but apparently went on a Twitter rampage discussing weed and blow jobs - I kid you not.

The Rams will surely draft one of these 22 men and hopefully that man can become a starter in the immediate and long-term future.  Being able to do so will go a long way towards building a lockdown defense.  Since safety is typically drafting in the middle rounds, they may actually be able to find a starter while still solving their other issues. 

The unfortunate departure of OJ Atogwe made me add this position to ours needs list when earlier I probably would never have made a safety prospect list in the first  place.  Here's to finding a gem that no one else believes in.  Don't count on it though.

As always, these are not my opinions, but mostly the opinions of analysts from Walter Football and CBS Sports among other minor outlets.  Except for the part where I bash the Nebraska kids.

I'll leave you with the typical poll.

 

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