Finny’s 2012 Thumbnail Guide to the Draft: Safeties
While I am in the minority on the importance of drafting a safety, it’s a well-trodden topic of discussion to note the dropoff in the defense’s performance when Polamalu is out of the lineup with injuries. That, and the ages of Polamalu (31) and Clark (32), beg the question of who will take over if either starter is not in the lineup, not to mention the idea of grooming for a future without both starters. Backup Ryan Mundy is JAG, charitably, and Mundy gets the start whenever the Steelers play in Denver. Will Allen and Damon Cromartie-Smith (no relation to Penso) are also on the roster; neither is the answer to any question not relating to trivia.
Replacing Polamalu’s skill set is impossible, so when examining SS candidates, expectations must be tempered. Clark’s FS skill set favors violent hitting, getting to the ball-carrier quickly, and playing smart ball. He may not be the fastest FS or your typical ball-hawk, but he knows his responsibilities and isn’t afraid of getting his nose into the action. Football smarts will beat out 40 times in the LeBeau defense.
With the improving talent at CB (Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown primarily) being well coached by DB coach Carnell Lake (yay!), the defensive backfield may see more slash type players in the nickel, with Allen taking over the duties in the slot but being available to support the run if needed, similar to safety. (Myron Rolle is listed as a CB, and presumably would play a similar role.) And with better corner play on the outside, the safeties may transition from covering quarters/thirds to playing the ball more. It will be interesting to see how the backfield assignments morph in response to the league basically becoming a passing league, but it seems clear that LeBeau wishes to keep the 3-4 intact, with a cover 6 shell (deep thirds, or fourths, depending) and the safeties active at all three levels.
Once more, from Finny’s 2011 S Draft Guide (maliciously deleted by that fucker Penso-Cromartie-Douchenozzle-Rothschild-Moutonnee-Von Trapp-World Peace): there was no 2011 S Draft Guide, alas.
The average number of safeties taken in the draft is 19, 11 of them FS and 8 SS. Since there is some considerable disagreement over whether a player is FS or SS, I’m going to analyze all these players as a group without necessarily pigeonholing them.
Only five prospective safeties get R1-3 grades from NFLDS, and one of the five is listed as an OLB. 10 are given R4-5 grades. 6 are given R6-7 grades. That comes to 21, or slightly more than the average number drafted; safeties past the elite talent tend to drop in the draft, so there’s not a compelling reason to dig much deeper than that.
The clear consensus best S of the class is Mark Barron,
[/u] 6’1”, 213#, 4.56, ranked 14th. The Cowboys, at 14, have given Barron a lot of attention and it seems unlikely that he will be there when the Steelers are set to pick. Barron is more SS than FS, but he can drop into coverage some. Like Polamalu, he’s always around the action, and he plays a physical brand of football that would be perfect for the LeBeau defense. He’s an on-field leader with the smarts to handle complex schemes. I would take Barron in a heartbeat, and would consider trading up to 1.18 to get him if he fell there.
Nebraska’s Lavonte David,
[/u] 6’1”, 243#, 4.65, is ranked 41st, and per my ILB Guide, I think he’s a better fit in the 4-3. (It is worth noting that he’s about the same size as Lawrence Timmons was when he was drafted, and that Tomlin likes shaking the prototypes a bit.) David’s frenetic style of play would, IMO, translate to the 3-4 as a SS, and he showed that he could cover receivers and exhibited great instincts versus the pass. Bo Pelini called him a “coach’s dream,” and his ability to process info on the field compensates for his 40 time. Not as fast as Polamalu coming out of USC (4.40), but worth a 2(a) pick as a potential successor; a sleeper candidate for a high Steeler pick.
Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith
[/u], 6’2”, 213#, 4.57, is ranked 46th, and likewise plays a bit like a LB/SS hybrid. Harrison brings to mind another ND safety with similar measurables, Tom Zbikowski, drafted by the Ravens 3.23 in 2008. Zbikowski, 5’11”, 211#, 4.44, also timed well and looked great in workouts, but it was difficult to see much stand out in the tepid ND secondary. Déjà vu all over again. Smith is getting a lot of talk as a 2(a) or even 1(c) player, but I don’t see him as an impact player. Incidentally, the Ravens let Zbikowski walk and the Colts are trying him out. Smith is a smart, hard-working player who appears to be perfectly adequate but not special, and is likely to be overdrafted; a R4 guy in my book.
Montana’s Trumaine Johnson
[/u], 6’2”, 204#, 4.61, ranked 62nd, is a CB/S hybrid. In my CB ratings, I wrote:
A plus-sized DB with 36 career PBUs and 15 INTs, there is some question as to what Johnson’s true linear speed is, but it appears he will have difficulty transitioning downfield with faster NFL receivers, so FS is floated as a possible pro position. Does not appear to have much of a taste for tackling or run support though, so at best he appears to be yet another package corner who can match size, R5.
Johnson has the skills to be a solid FS, but I have concerns over his LOC and his attitude. Like Smith, he’s going to be overdrafted, and while I like his positional flexibility and upside, he’s a R5 for me as a FS as well as a CB.
Boise State’s George Iloka
[/u], 6’4”, 225#, 4.66, is ranked 81st, and he has plus size and closing speed. Questions about whether he can transition smoothly in coverage, as is common with taller DBs, and whether he is a willing tackler, make me question his fit here. May not have the on-field maturity we need, either. A R5 guy only.
So much for the safeties ranked R1-3. Less than impressive. On to those given a R4-5 grade.
Oregon State’s Brandon Hardin,
[/u] 6’3”, 217#, 4.43 (pro day), is ranked 99th. Hardin is another taller prospect who played some CB collegiately, and has an outstanding linear speed. Moreover, he actually transitions well for such a tall player. Was not overly productive at Oregon State and had numerous injuries (shoulder, hand, wrist). Not a guy who looks like a fit for the physical aspects of the LeBeau D, but worth a late round pick based on size and speed, say R5.
LSU’s Brandon Taylor
[/u], 5’11”, 205#, 4.58, is ranked 105th, and reminds me a hell of a lot of Ryan Clark. One of the knocks on Taylor is his size, but he’s exactly the same size (and about the same speed) as Clark. Had a leg injury in 2010 but seems to have recovered. Extremely high character guy and considered a smart, disciplined player. What would you give up for a Ryan Clark clone? Taylor’s fly-to-the ball frenzy and football smarts pushes him all the way to a R2 rating for me. Most evaluators are rating him too low.
Michigan State’s Trenton Robinson,
[/u] 5’9”, 195#, 4.52 (4.46 pro day), is ranked 118th. He’s too damned small to be a FS and, IMO, is more of a nickel CB, so R7 as NCB only.
Oklahoma State’s Markelle Martin[/b][/u], 6’1”, 207#, is ranked 126th, and did not run at the combine or his pro day, but was clocked in the 4.6 range a couple of weeks ago for a late workout for scouts. Had knee surgery after an injury in January, there’s a lot to like about Martin’s game. More of a splash play guy than Taylor, he’s still not afraid to mix it up, and he’s someone who could also play either safety spot. Very good academics, and on-field awareness. Besides the injury, only ding is stiffness in transition. I don’t know that I would downgrade him that much for the 40 time since he ran a 4.45 at his junior pro day, but the knee injury is worth checking out completely. I have Martin ranked a little lower than Taylor, but he’s worth a R3 pick, and might slide – making him a very good day 3 value.
South Carolina’s Antonio Allen
[/u], 6’1”, 210#, 4.67, is ranked 142nd, and plays a bit like a lanky linebacker. Looks like a special team guy and backup, unless he can add some serious bulk and transition to ILB. How’s he fit here? Pass.
Wisconsin’s Aaron Henry
[/u], 6’0”, 208#, 4.54, is ranked 148th, and has played CB and WR as well. Might be a better CB than FS, with an iffy nose for the action – both instincts and tackling ability. A R6 CB due to good hands and decent size, but not a S here.
South Carolina State’s Christian Thompson
[/u], 6’0”, 211#, 4.50, is ranked 150th. Transferred from Auburn, but didn’t make a huge impact at this LOC, major knock is his mental aspect, processing info on the field. He tackles well, but it’s not enough. Pass.
Presbyterian’s Justin Bethel,
[/u]5’11”, 200#, 4.58, is ranked 174th. Bethel was productive at his low LOC, and is another CB/S sort of tweener. Deep developmental prospect will need time to be anything more than a special teamer, so R7.
Preacherman can probably give a better reckoning of Furman’s Ryan Steed,
[/u] 5’10”, 195#, 4.68 (4.55 pro day), ranked 175th. Marginal size and speed, played at a low LOC. That said, Steed’s a baller. Fluid on the field, good football smarts, has a good sense of what’s happening, and isn’t tackling-shy. Doesn’t have the speed to play corner, but could fit at FS playing back off the LOS. Game notes: fared well against Alshon Jeffery, who’s also not a speed guy. A developmental guy I think has upside despite the knocks, and would take him R5 ahead of better known and bigger safeties.
Rounding out NFLDS’s R4-5 prospects is Cal’s D.J. Campbell,
[/u] 6’0”, 201#, 4.54 (pro day). One-year starter with OK-fine size and speed but iffy instincts. Really? Pass
And on we move to the lightning round. Prospects will be ignored, shunned, as the Amish are wont to do, if I feel like it. Evals shortened, niceties shelved. Here we go.
San Diego State’s Duke Ihenacho
[/u] is, somehow, NFLDS’s 5th SS overall. At best he’s a backup somewhere, not here. Pass.
The good news is that Oregon’s Eddie Pleasant
[/u] is a thick, tough rover, who also played LB, RB, and S in HS. The unpleasant news is that he doesn’t have the mental makeup to fit here, and will have to dwell on fond memories of HS and the NCAA. In a word, no.
Illinois’s Tavon Wilson
[/u], 6’0”, 205#, 4.52, is ranked 212th, and played CB and SS at Illinois. Lacks some punch tackling, but a productive DB who fits as a R7 developmental guy at FS, and could flourish with good coaching.
Arkansas State’s Kelcie McCray
[/u] is a lanky guy who’s going to get trucked at the pro level. Pass.
Duke’s Matt Daniels
[/u] has the same frame as Ryan Clark and Brandon Taylor, has good character traits, and gets points for run support. But appears to lack the smoothness to be anything more than a backup. I’ll give him a R7 on traits the Steelers value.
Former Vol Janzen Jackson
[/u] ultimately played at McNeese St., after being highly recruited by tons of schools. Has plenty of athletic skills, but looks like he has a Hummer full of suitcases with all the baggage he’s carrying. DND.
Oklahoma State’s Johnny Thomas
[/u]: close, no Macanudo. Syracuse’s Phillip Thomas
[/u], ditto. Guess I’m doubting Thomases.
Auburn’s Neiko Thorpe,
[/u] 6’1”, 198#, 4.40, is a FS/CB tweener who would be better served moving back to CB. R6.
Stanford’s Johnson Bademosi
[/u], 6’1”, 201#, 4.46, was a CB at the college level but could be a very interesting FS project, said to have high intelligence and character in addition to plus-plus measurables. That gets you to R5.
UCLA’s Tony Dye
[/u] is a classic SS with the talent to be a day 2 pick but with some weird lingering neck pain issue that’s pushed him off most boards. Too risky; pass.
That should about do it. 13 safeties, of which only 4 are worth a R1-3, and one of whom is most widely seen as an OLB, plus 3 CBs:
R1 – Mark Barron, Alabama
R2 – Brandon Taylor, LSU; Lavonte David, Nebraska
R3 – Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State
R4 – Harrison Smith, Notre Dame
R5 – Ryan Steed, Furman; Johnson Bademosi, Stanford; Trumaine Johnson, Montana; Brandon Hardin, Oregon State; George Iloka, Boise State
R7 – Justin Bethel, Presbyterian; Tavon Wilson, Illinois; Matt Daniels, Duke
R6 – Neiko Thorpe, Auburn; Aaron Henry, Wisconsin
R7 – Trenton Robinson, Michigan State