Home > Draft, NFL > 2012 NFL Draft Rankings: Safeties

2012 NFL Draft Rankings: Safeties

As alluded to in the piece on cornerbacks, the safety class looks better and better everyday, no doubt as a byproduct of a deep corners class where the talent exceeds the demand.  Tape study demonstrates the ability to find late round values in this class, though that’s going to do nothing to deter the interest in Alabama S Mark Barron, who like Kenny Phillips four years ago, is far and away the best safety in this class.

1. Mark Barron, Alabama, late-first round grade
2. George Iloka, Boise State, second round grade

Barron is going to get drafted between pick number 10-19, which means he is going to get somewhat overdrafted by about ten picks.  That doesn’t mean that teams should fear that they won’t get the return they are anticipating, perhaps like they may with Ryan Tannehill on the offensive end.  He’s a cerebral player with good not great range, who is a good fit for the modern safety position and can play cover two.  He’s not a true deep middle safety, but he makes up for it with the requisite (though not particularly valuable) ability to play inside the box.

But I would say that there is an alternative to trying to trade up and get Barron if you are a team like the Philadelphia Eagles or New England Patriots.  Actually, there are a number of alternatives, as listed below.  But the one I bumped up into the class with Barron is my personal favorite, George Iloka of Boise State, who may actually have a bit more range in coverage.  Iloka is somewhat limited athletically, but is instinctive and can run.  He’s not a free safety that gives you that added advantage of man to man ability, but Barron probably isn’t either.

3. Christian Thompson, South Carolina State, second round grade
4. Harrison Smith, Notre Dame, second round grade

I like Thompson enough to advocate him going in the second round because I think you can put him at the deep free safety position in a man scheme, and he’s an asset for you back there instead of a liability.  It’s a benefit to have a scheme fit for a player.  Thompson’s issue is that he’s not exactly Ed Reed with his instincts, and couldn’t read route combinations well enough to get consistent playing time at Auburn.  With coaching, he can be taught to stay over the top and find the football.  There’s work that needs to be done before he can be considered a field-ready NFL player.

Smith is a more complete player than Christian Thompson, but teams are going to have an issue finding a spot in their scheme from him.  As a true free safety, Harrison Smith is athletically limited, possibly to the point of being a coverage liability.  In the box, he’s small, and his intelligence goes to waste.  He’s probably best suited to be the centerpiece of an NFL secondary: he’s got the potential to be a foundation player you can build around.  But the difference between Smith and Mark Barron is that Barron can join whatever secondary composition already exists on a pro team, whereas Smith will need more help from the scheme to maximize his success in the NFL.  If his NFL career mirrors his Notre Dame career (where he started at linebacker before playing free safety), Smith will be picked on early on by offenses.

5. Brandon Hardin, Oregon State, fourth round grade
6. Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State, fourth round grade
7. Janzen Jackson, McNeese State, fourth round grade
8. Sean Richardson, Vanderbilt, fifth round grade
9. Winston Guy, Kentucky, fifth round grade
10. Kelcie McCray, Arkansas State, fifth round grade

Here is where my evaluation of the safety class differs from other more common evalutations: I believe this class of third tier safeties (fringy starting prospects, but likely backups) is much greater in quantity than most others.  There probably will only be four or five safeties off the board in the first two days, but I think that number is going to double in the next 45 picks.  That’s partially because of need, but also maybe a little bit because secondary coaches can do some work with this group to get it ready to go sooner rather than later.

11. Tysyn Hartman, Kansas State, fifth round grade
12. Trenton Robinson, Michigan State, fifth round grade
13. Phillip Thomas, Syracuse, sixth round grade
14. Johnny Thomas, Oklahoma State, sixth round grade
15. Justin Bethyl, Presbyterian, sixth round grade

None of these guys profile as NFL starters, but the raw skills to play on the back end of an NFL defensive scheme exists.  Plus with teams needing to reach deeper and deeper into their rosters to stop the pass, these guys grade out as a cut above the rest of the safety class in terms of either tackling ability, range, or ball skills (or two out of the three) despite lacking a complete skill set.

16. Aaron Henry, Wisconsin, seventh round grade
17. Tony Dye, UCLA, seventh round grade
18. Antonio Allen, South Carolina, seventh round grade
19. Eddie Pleasant, Oregon, seventh round grade
20. Duke Ihenacho, San Jose State, priority UDFA
21. Charles Mitchell, Mississippi State, priority UDFA
22. Sean Cattouse, California, UDFA
23. Matt Daniels, Duke, UDFA
24. Eddie Whitley, Virginia Tech, UDFA
25. Cyhl Quarles, Wake Forest, UDFA

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