Early Player Rankings for the NFL Draft: Top Five Safety Prospects


Washington State Cougars safety Deone Bucannon (20) returns an interception in the second quarter against the Colorado State Rams. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With the NFL Scouting Combine only a couple of weeks away, I would like to provide my early player rankings by position for the 2014 NFL Draft. This will be a brief look at who I believe are the top five players at each position. Granted, the draft landscape can change rather rapidly depending how well these players do in the combine and pro day workouts.

Yesterday, we took a look at the top five cornerback prospects. Today, I’d like to finish out the secondary and look at who I believe are the top five safeties in this year’s draft class at this point.

1. Calvin Pryor, Louisville

2. Hasean Clinton-Dix, Alabama

3. Ed Reynolds, Stanford

4. Deone Bucannon, Washington State

5. Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois

I know I’m in the minority here, but I honestly believe after watching several games on both players, that Pryor will be a better safety than Clinton-Dix at the next level.

Don’t get me wrong. Clinton-Dix is a very good player. He’s reliable in the secondary and has great closing speed and football instincts. However, I’m not sure after watching his footage and talking to a reliable draft scout this week that Clinton-Dix will be much more than a solid starter in the NFL. You just don’t see him making a ton of plays on the field and really impacting games like you’d expect from a first round talent.

Oct 18, 2013; Louisville, KY, USA; Louisville Cardinals safety Calvin Pryor (25) celebrates with Louisville Cardinals linebacker James Burgess (13) after intercepting a UCF Knights pass during the first quarter of play at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Pryor, on the other hand, isn’t as polished as Clinton-Dix at this point, but I believe he has a lot more potential. First, he’s exciting to watch. He flies around the field, delivers big hits, is an excellent tackler, and is great at playing the ball in the air. His closing speed seems second to none at the position.

If you want to know what he can do on the field, watch his game against Rutgers this past season. It was nothing short of outstanding. That’s the kind of play you expect from an impact player at the safety position. Pryor is a guy that really makes his presence known in the secondary. He’s also very good at playing up near the line of scrimmage, which makes him versatile between the two safety spots.

Now, there are plenty of things Pryor could work on, like his tackling technique at times and on occasion he gets out of place in coverage, but overall, he’s a playmaker with potential star quality at the next level. He’s also very intelligent and is great at reading and reacting to plays, which is an absolute must for a starting safety in the NFL.

Clinton-Dix and Pryor seem to be the only safeties in this year’s class worthy of first round grades, but there are plenty of guys that could be taken on day two of the draft and make an impact on a team.

Stanford Cardinal safety Ed Reynolds (29) returns an interception for a touchdown. Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Reynolds of Stanford hasn’t been talked a lot about this offseason, but he’s a safety with excellent size (6-2, 206) and cover skills. He intercepted six passes in 2012 and returned three of them for touchdowns. He had a quiet year as a junior in 2013, but from what I’ve heard this has more to do with teams throwing away from him than anything else.

Bucannon was just a flat out playmaker in the Cougars secondary. He tallied 15 interceptions and six forced fumbles in his four years at WSU, and he was also a force against the run. At 6-foot-1 and 216 pounds, he seems to be the ideal strong safety prospect for the NFL, except for one minor flaw in his game.

He really struggles in man coverage, which has caused him to drop down draft boards and could be a big problem at the next level. Bucannon needs to show at the combine that he can move well in space and blanket receivers when he needs to.

Ward might be the exact opposite of Bucannon. He was great in coverage at NIU and at the Senior Bowl, but he’s a bit undersized (5-11, 191) and you don’t see the splashy plays from him, like you do with Bucannon and Pryor.

Florida State Seminoles defensive back Terrence Brooks (31) tackles Florida Gators running back Trey Burton (8). Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Terrence Brooks from Florida State is another smaller safety (5-10, 197) that could enter the top five discussion with good combine numbers. He plays bigger than his size and really excels in coverage. There is a lot to like about his game, but he’ll fall down draft boards because of his height.

Other safety prospects to watch out for are Baylor’s Ahmad Dixon, who is a big time hitter but needs to show better ability in coverage, and Vanderbilt’s Kenny Ladler, who has a nose for the ball but needs to be more physical against the run.

There are also mid-to-late round guys that could surprise some people, like Kansas State’s Ty Zimmerman and Louisville’s Hakeem Smith.

Look for these players and plenty more at the position to impress with their workouts as the NFL Combine gets underway in Indianapolis on Feb. 22-25th.

Check back here at Lombardiave.com for the next position’s top five draft prospects. Also, look for a more in-depth position-by-position breakdown later in the spring as we get closer to the NFL Draft in May.