Unfortunately seeing the Rams get carved up in the air has been a common theme this year. While many fingers are being pointed and blame is easy to send around the entire secondary, it's obvious to anybody watching(and it was pretty obvious last year, let's be honest) that the Rams need help at Safety. With two first round picks and some first round Safety talent in this draft, now is as good a time as any to take a look at the top Safety options to find our Free Safety of the future.
Calvin Pryor: Louisville
What he does well
Vision: Pryor is an absolute dynamo playing deep center. He reads and reacts superbly, not being fooled by QB’s eyes on passing downs, not biting on Play Action, and immediately reaching the line on run plays. He also has a penchant for reading routes when necessary, and makes great decisions on which WR to shadow when forced between two.
Physical ability: Pryor is a big, strong, aggressive safety who has deceptive speed and can go toe to toe with just about anybody in College Football, and probably the NFL too. He also has a tremendous vertical leap and, in one play in particular, went up for the ball like Anthony Davis did in Kentucky.
Work Ethic: Pryor never rests. He’s always in the thick of things and because of this he can make things happen. He’s almost hyper aggressive in the run game, and darts around deep when playing the pass. That extreme energy will be a huge boost to any team’s secondary.
Tackling: Pryor likes to use his strength, and it bites him from time to time. He tends to go for big hits rather than wrap up tackling and he takes some very odd angles when going for tackles. He can usually nip the heels of opposing RB’s, but he’ll need to be a bit more on target in the NFL
Vs. running QB’s: Pryor gets tricked by running QB’s easily. He’ll come down to stop the run, then watch as they loft a pass right by him. He needs to be more disciplined in his zone and trust that his LB’s will make a play.
Lateral agility: This will probably show up a lot more clearly in the Combine, but Pryor has some trouble moving from side to side. This means that shiftier WR’s can get around him a bit easier. While not a fatal flaw, it will need to be corrected if he’s going to be a truly elite FS.
A big big BIG thanks to Tampa_Ram for pointing me in Pryor’s direction. Wow. This guy is an absolute stud. He has all the physical tools, and most of the mental ones. He has no outstanding character issues that I know of, and is flat out dominating his competition. While there most certainly is an argument to be made that his competition isn’t extremely stiff, it’s not like he’s a JUCO player trying to make it big. He’s a smart talented player that’s going to do very well in the NFL.
HaSean "HaHa" Clinton-Dix: Alabama
What he does well
Quickness: HaHa is quick to the line, quick on receivers, quick on reads, quick to the left, quick to the right, quick everywhere. He’s really really fast is what I’m trying to say, both laterally and when running up and down hill. He can chase down WR’s if he has to, but more often than not he doesn’t have to.
Mentals: Everything about HaHa’s mentals are off the charts good. He’s already NFL ready in this regard, as he has tremendous vision, cuts off running lanes, can make adjustments to the DB’s, and reads most QB’s like a book. He’s the total package here, and this is where most of his praise is coming from.
Tackling: This is where HaHa’s maturity really shines through. He always wraps up, and more often than not is able to get his opponent’s bodies rather than having to nip at their heels.
Strength: HaHa is not a particularly strong safety, and while his foot placement negates most of the negative effects(IE Power backs running over him) he would still benefit a lot from a more intense strength program. Because of his pedestrian strength he may have trouble dealing with some of the better WR’s and RB’s in the NFL. Thankfully he’s got the frame to bulk up.
Jump ball: When forced to go one on one with a jump ball situation, HaHa wins with his positioning. If, however, he can’t get that, his hands often let him down. While he can catch well enough, he has trouble ripping the ball from WR’s and making plays when somebody bigger than him is his target.
Man, I struggled real hard with this. There’s not a whole lot wrong with HaHa’s game. He can play excellent man and zone, he’s got great patience, he knows how to work the run and the pass, he’s really just a do it all kinda guy. When your biggest flaws are both really the same thing, and are easily correctable, you’re a special player. I want him. I want him more now than I did before, and I wanted him a lot before.
Deone Bucannon: Washington State
What he does well
Vs. the Run: Deone is a strong player who can make things happen vs. the run. He lays down big hits like it’s nobodies business, but knows when to wrap up as well. When his CB’s miss he can more than make up for them and he has the ability to stop every RB in the league.
Man coverage: When asked to cover man, Deone can cover just about any route but the Go. He’s not quite fast enough to keep up with the Desean Jackson’s of the world, but most WR’s will have a tough time shaking him off.
Special teams experience: Deone has had some experience working special teams, and could be especially useful on kickoff returns. When he gets up a head of steam running downfield, any returner in his way will wish they weren’t.
Physicals: Bucannon is strong, but not much else. His vert is average, and his speed leaves something to be desired. While this is a bit easier to cover up when playing Safety, he’ll be a clear target for opposing speedsters.
Recovery: When Bucannon is wrong on his read and bites on play action(which he does with some regularity) he takes longer than most to recover from it, leaving huge gaps for the Offense to penetrate.
Vs. TE’s: Bigger TE’s give Bucannon fits, despite his strength. This means even with his instincts in the run game, and even with his superior strength, he’ll have trouble on well executed run plays.
Bucannon is the only Strong Safety in this list, but he’s not a bad one. With some strong hands and a big frame, he’ll look to do some damage on running downs. Now unfortunately he’s a liability in the pass game, so he’d have to be subbed out in those situations. But, honestly, he’s worth a look for any team that needs a SS on day 2. Just not the Rams
Nickoe Whitley: Mississippi State
What he does well
Hands: Whitley has extremely good, nearly WR level, hands. He can use them to disrupt players at the line, knock them off routes, and catch any balls that may come his way.
Spy: Whitley has a lot of patience when dealing with running QB’s. He’s very disciplined when running spy, and it isn’t often that a QB can get by him.
Recovery: Whitley is great at covering his own mistakes. If playing Man and a WR beats him, he’s quick to get back on the route. If he’s playing zone and leaves it, he’s quick to realize it and get back.
Coverage: Whitley just plain has coverage issues. He has trouble with jamming players at the line in man situations, and let’s WR’s blow up his zone with alarming regularity. He lets players get past him, he falls into double teams, he’s just not great at coverage.
Tackling: His angles are poor at best, and his tackling technique leaves a lot to be desired. Whitley seems to flail around a lot and that will leave him as a target in the NFL, pure and simple.
TE’s: Tight Ends kill Whitley, almost no exceptions. He doesn’t know how to cover them when he has to, he can’t get around them in run plays, and if he has to tackle one? Forget about it.
This is probably the shortest report I’ll do from here on out, and that’s entirely because there’s not much to say. Whitley isn’t NFL ready, and he doesn’t have the physical ability to be a project player. He might be picked up for a practice squad, that’s about all you can expect from him. Well, that and to see him EVERY THURSDAY ON THURSDAY NIGHT IMPACT! SEE THE HEADHUNTER NICKOE WHITLEY TAKE ON THE ICON STING IN A NO HOLDS BARRED MATCH! SPECIAL GUEST REFEREE EARL THOMAS!
Kurtis Drummond: Michigan State
What he does well
Reactions: Drummond plays in a very respectable Defense, and he’s a big part of that team. While he does have physical players like Darquez Dennard to help him out, Drummond is no slouch himself in coverage. He has great reactions and can keep up with a streaking WR. Don’t expect him to get blown up on a Seam play.
Reads: Drummond shows a keen eye in zone, and usually has a good idea of where a QB is going to throw the ball. Combine this with his above average speed and reaction time, and it’s hard for most WR’s to get past him.
Size: Specifically length, Drummond comes in at a respectable 6’1 tall, and weighs in at roughly 200 lbs. This means he’s a tall lanky guy, who can put on some muscle if needed to help out in the run game. Thanks to his long arms he’s able to make a few plays that most other Safeties can’t.
The Run game: One of the common themes for these Safeties is their inability to stop the run. Well, there’s a reason for that. I’ve been looking at Free Safeties who, more often than not, are asked to play deep coverage. Because of that, they don’t have as much experience blitzing or stacking the box. Drummond is no different. Shifty RB’s can slip by him and power RB’s can run through him. It’s something he needs to work on for sure.
Tackling: Drummond likes big hits, which is not bueno at all. He just doesn’t have the proper frame for these 1980’s style knock-em-out hits that he wants to do. And even if he did, he lacks the proper technique that is an absolute necessity when playing FS. Drummond will get a lot of flack early in his NFL career for missing tackles unless he drastically improves in training camp.
Strength: This is something he can probably improve with a good Strength and Conditioning program, but Drummond’s frame will hurt him against the big bodied WR’s and TE’s he’ll see in the NFL. A good 15-20 pounds would be a good goal for him and shouldn’t hurt his speed at all.
Drummond should be available in the 4th round, and he might even last until the fifth or sixth, and could be a solid contributor on any team. While he needs to bulk up, and probably will need to impress at the Combine to get drafted on the 2nd day, he should be an instant Special Teams contributor, and if anyone wants to groom a FS he might be the best option to pick up. When it comes to the Rams, if we don’t get the HaHa/Pryor combo I’m drooling over, I wouldn’t mind picking up Drummond.
Tre Boston: North Carolina
Where he succeeds
Positioning: Boston has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. While he clearly has a good eye for reading QB’s, he’s also more than a little lucky. And luck can be a pretty good thing to have. He works extremely well in open space and helps limit big plays.
Strength: Boston is a stout defender with good size and a thick frame. While he’s not the bulkiest guy around, he puts his muscle to good use. He can drive players backwards and is hard for even the biggest players to bowl over.
Angles: This goes back to his positioning, but when making tackles Tre always seems to take the right approach. This makes it very hard for people to get around him, and combined with his strength he could be a terror to a RB who gets to the third level, or a WR that slips by his man.
Speed: Boston has poor burst and poor straight line speed. If not for his fantastic mentals and on the field knowledge, he wouldn’t even be considered for the NFL. It’s very, very noticeable. While he can improve this, it’s drastic enough right now that it will hurt his stock immensely.
Blitzing: This goes back to the speed issue, you cannot count on Boston to blitz. Not only will he get outrun by most players, he’ll occasionally get caught up in dealing with Linemen. He doesn’t know how to utilize his strength there, and it really hurts him.
Tackling technique: He can get away with it a lot due to his superior positioning and football IQ, but Boston doesn’t like wrapping up. It’s all fine and dandy in the ACC, but in the NFL he’s not going to be able to just thump everybody that gets in his way.
Boston is another project FS. He has the IQ to pull it off, but really needs to work on his physical ability. If he was just faster he would probably be a second or even late first round candidate, but he just doesn’t have "it" yet. He’ll be a solid FS/SS hybrid player eventually, but anyone who picks him up will be best off if they do it purely for depth.
Ty Zimmerman: Kansas State
Where he succeeds
Versatility: Zimmerman can be slotted in quite a few places. He can stack the box, he can play FS, he can play SS, heck I’ve even seen him line up in Nickel and do well. He’s developed a very good all around game and is a good joker player for any defense in the league.
Discipline: Zimmerman is a very disciplined player. He doesn’t draw penalties, he doesn’t leave his zone until it’s absolutely necessary, and he never stops hustling. Something tells me this transfers over to the locker room as well.
Technique: Zimmerman shows very good technique in everything he does, especially when tackling. He wraps up more often than not, and if he can’t stop them he’ll slow them done enough to limit the damage done.
Speed: Another Safety with speed problems, Zimmerman has a tough time when up against fast skill position players, and when plays break down he’s an easy target.
Reactions: Zimmerman is slow to react, when compared to NFL players at least, and that will make him a huge liability against speedsters, even more so than he already is. It also means that when he moves into the box, if a smart player makes him bite he’s going to have a hard time getting back on his man.
Vs. Blockers: Zimmerman is a bit of a liability in the run, because if a blocker can get to the third level, they can easily tie him up and make it so Zimmerman never stands a chance at getting back on his man. He lacks any kind of power or technique move to get off a blocker.
Zimmerman could prove to be a competent backup, but he just doesn’t have the twitch ability you look for in a starting FS. Even with his usually sound technique and versatility, his lack of physical ability or ways to get off his man will prove to be his downfall. Look for Zimmerman to go late to a team that’s looking to build depth in the backfield, and don’t expect him to show up for anything other than pure passing downs.