NFL Draft: Breaking Down the Top Safety Prospects

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Northern Illinois Huskies safety Jimmie Ward (15) returns an interception for a touchdown. Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

 

TIER TWO

3. Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois: 5-11, 193 (4.47)

Ward is one of the few players in this class suited to play either safety position. He’s a bit undersized as a strong safety, but he plays aggressive and is a very solid tackler.

He excelled playing up in the box in college, and he’s not afraid to lower his shoulder and deliver a hit on a back twice his size.

Listed as a strong safety, Ward may be a better fit as a free safety in the NFL. He has tremendous vision and uses his short-area burst to close in on throws and make a play on the ball.

Ward recorded 11 interceptions and an incredible 25 pass breakups as a three-year starter for Northern Illinois. He also finished near the 100-tackle mark each of those three seasons, and proves to be a versatile safety prospect heading into the draft.

Ward still lacks ideal size and may struggle matched up against bigger receivers and tight ends in coverage, but overall, Ward is one of the more complete safeties in the draft.

(Draft Projection: Round 2)

 

Washington State Cougars safety Deone Bucannon (20). Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

4. Deone Bucannon, SS, Washington State: 6-1, 211 (4.49)

If you were drafting a safety on potential alone, you would have to put Bucannon at the top of your list. It’s rare a safety with Bucannon’s size comes along and can run a sub-4.5 forty.

Bucannon has all of the measurables to excel as a safety in the NFL.

He also comes out of college with an impressive resume as a playmaker. As the star and leader on a struggling WSU defense, Bucannon recorded a whopping 15 interceptions as a four-year starter and led his team in tackles three of those four years.

Bucannon can hit, run, make a play on the ball, and move up in the box to stop the run. He seems to be the prototypical strong safety that every NFL team desires.

So why is he only ranked fourth and seen as a late-second or third round pick?

Bucannon can roam the middle of the field, but match him over a tight end or receiver in the slot and he’s toast. Bucannon’s inability to cover in man-to-man was severely exposed and well documented at the Senior Bowl down in Mobile this past January.

Bucannon struggles to flip his hips and stick with his guy as he changes direction. This is an inefficiency that won’t take NFL offense long to expose.

Bucannon has a ton of upside, but he needs to shore up this part of his game if he expects to see the field in the NFL any time soon. Despite his ability to play in the box and roam the field, teams simply won’t play him if they feel he can’t cover.

(Draft Projection: Rounds 2-3)

 

Florida State Seminoles defensive back Terrence Brooks (31). Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

5. Terrence Brooks, FS, Florida State: 5-11, 198 (4.42)

Brooks is a safety prospect that is steadily rising up draft boards. A blazing 4.42 forty time at the combine is certainly one of the causes for this dramatic jump. Another reason is people are beginning to learn more about Brooks’ game as they revisit the Florida State film.

Brooks played on a defense with big-time players, like Lamarcus Joyner, Telvin Smith, Christian Jones, and Timmy Jernigan. It’s understandable why his play didn’t always standout.

Brooks seems to be the safety prospect that isn’t great at any one facet of the game, but does everything at the position well. He’s a solid tackler. He can swarm to the ball and make a play. He can use his speed to chase ball carriers down in the flats or blanket a receiver downfield.

At times, Brooks disappears on film. He didn’t make a ton of impact plays in college, but he also didn’t make a lot of mistakes either.

Brooks can deliver that big hit you want from the safety position, but he can also get himself in trouble at times by being too aggressive and over-pursuing the ball carrier.

Overall, Brooks is a reliable player in coverage and solid against the run. He’d be a great value pick in the third or fourth round.

(Draft Projection: Round 3)

 

Stanford Cardinal safety Ed Reynolds (29). Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

6. Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford: 6-1, 205 (4.45)

Reynolds is a savvy safety with some playmaking ability. As a sophomore, he exploded on the college scene with five pass breakups and six interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns.

Reynolds is great at roaming the back end and breaking on throws. He seems to have a nose for the ball and tends to be in the right place at the right time. A skill that is intuitive and difficult to teach.

Reynolds did see some decline in production as a junior in 2013, but many scouts have noted this had more to do with the fact that quarterbacks just weren’t throwing his way.

The former Stanford Cardinal has a lot of upside as a safety prospect, but he still has plenty of areas to work on improving going into the NFL.

Reynolds needs to improve his tackling technique. He can lay a big hit and doesn’t shy away from contact, but he also misses just as much as he delivers that knockout blow. Reynolds also has some lapses in coverage and has given up his fair share of big plays.

Overall, there is a lot to like about Reynolds’ game. With some good coaching and time to develop, he could be a very good player at the next level.

(Draft Projection: Round 3)

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