2011 NFL Draft: The Top 5 Strong Safeties in the NFL Draft

Unlike in years past, the safeties aren't tracking as high this year. Defensive tackles and hybrid defensive end/ outside linebackers seem to be all the rage this time. That doesn't mean that there aren't quality players out there that will help solidify secondaries for the foreseeable future. Game changers? Not as many, but there seems to be plenty of technically sound players who should contribute right away. 

While I thought about lumping both free safeties and strong safeties into one category, I realized that it wouldn't do many of the players justice.

Without further adieu, the top five strong safeties in the draft. 

1. DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson 

Honored with a First-Team All-ACC selection, McDaniel had a team-high 73 tackles (5.5 tackles for a loss) to go along with another team leading four interceptions and six pass breakups. Lined up across from FS Marcus Gilchrist, Clemson's secondary formed a dynamic duo that really shut down opposing offenses. 

Strengths: 

With 14 career interceptions, McDaniel has the bawl hawking skills that differentiate decent safeties from starting safeties. Scouts credit his feel for the game and natural instincts which, are the hardest skills to teach. At 6 ft. 217 lbs, McDaniel has the build to be a feared safety and is not only capable of big hits but he is also able to reach in and disrupt long passes. 

Weaknesses:

McDaniel's Combine speed was on the slow side. He also tended to get caught out of position a fair amount. Without the speed to recover, positioning suddenly becomes more problematic. The biggest knock though on McDaniel is character issues, which are often a scarlet mark. In fairness, McDaniel had an apparent difficult childhood and has matured a great deal as a team leader. Still a 2008 arrest for assaulting his girlfriend could make teams think twice.

Combine Stats:

Mcdaniel isn't a standout player. He will be a good starting safety, but is no Bob Sanders. Expect Mcdaniel to likely go somewhere in the third round.

Combine Invite: Yes
Height: 6001
Weight: 217
40 Yrd Dash: 4.63
20 Yrd Dash: 2.59
10 Yrd Dash: 1.60
225 Lb. Bench Reps: 
Vertical Jump: 35
Broad Jump: 09'08"
20 Yrd Shuttle: 
3-Cone Drill: 
4.46/4.54/4.64 40 range before Combine

Dates: 03/10/11 
Height: 6001
Weight: 217
40 Yrd Dash: 4.67
20 Yrd Dash: 2.76
10 Yrd Dash: 1.69

225 Lb. Bench Reps: 
Vertical Jump: 
Broad Jump: 09'10"
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.39
3-Cone Drill: 7.07

 

 Stats courtesy of nfldraftscout.com

2. Ahmad Black, Strong Safety Florida

Black's near free fall down draft boards is surprising and shows just how overvalued the Combine and workout stats are. Black finished his distinguished Florida career on a high note winning the Outback Bowl MVP (not an easy feat as a safety) as well as recording double digit tackles in four of his last seven games. On top of all that he was voted a consensus All-SEC pick by the SEC coaches. 

During his last season in Gainsville, Black finished tied for eighth in the nation with 102 tackles and tied for eighth in the SEC with 3 interceptions. He finished with 13 for his career. 

So the question is, how exactly is he no longer a projected top 64 pick?

Strengths: 

Like McDaniel, and maybe even more so, Black has all the traits you can't teach and the skills, which separate the best from the rest in their craft. Scouts rave about his natural instincts and his ability to change the game with one well-timed big play. 

He is also technically sound and makes up for his slight stature by wrapping up well. Not really related to being a safety, Black was also a excellent punt and kickoff returner which makes him a more complete pick and a stronger candidate for a team like the Colts. 

Weaknesses:

Black is small. Worse, at 5'10, 184 lbs. he is slight, and while he loves to hit, players like Black are injury prone (Colts fans let out a collective sigh). The other big knock on Black was his terrible 4.70 Combine time and his pro-day time of 4.74 which was somehow slower and that much more shocking. Being small and slow gets you blacklisted almost as much as a character concern.

Combine Stats:

At one point Black was a borderline first round pick. After his Combine performance and pro-day, he will be lucky to go in the third round. Whoever drafts him though will be even more fortunate in the long run as they will get a sure starting safety. 

Combine Invite: Yes
Height: 5094
Weight: 184
40 Yrd Dash: 4.70
20 Yrd Dash: 2.61
10 Yrd Dash: 1.59
225 Lb. Bench Reps: 18
Vertical Jump: 35 1/2
Broad Jump: 09'11"
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.20
3-Cone Drill: 6.85
4.43/4.51/4.59 40 range before Combine-C

Dates: 03/15/11 
Height: 5094
Weight: 184
40 Yrd Dash: 4.74
20 Yrd Dash: 2.69
10 Yrd Dash: 1.62

225 Lb. Bench Reps: 
Vertical Jump: 36 1/2
Broad Jump: 
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.12
3-Cone Drill: 6.77

Stats courtesy of Nfldraftscout.com

3. Tyler Sash, Strong Safety Iowa 

Sash certainly comes highly touted. In 2010 he was voted to the First Team All-Big team by league coaches and the media and was one of 10 semifinalists for the 2010 Jim Thorpe Award for the best college defensive back in the country. After starting all 13 games at safety he was also honored with a place on the National Champs.net First Team All-America team and was voted to the second team All-America by Sporting News.  

People certainly recognize his talents to say the least but then how many college players start in their first 37 straight games and don't get noticed?

Strengths:

Having started and played in every game in his college career, it is clear that unlike his Iowa predecessor Bob Sanders, Sash is durable. Like Black he is also a ball hawk recording the same number of interceptions (13) during his three years in Des Moines as the Florida standout. 

What scouts seem to like most about Sash is that he saves his best games for the biggest stages as evidence by his 2009 Outback Bowl performance against South Carolina during which he recorded 2 picks, one which he returned 48 yards. Another plus is his size and strength (6'0, 210 lbs), but most impressive about Sash my be his NFL readiness and his leadership skills. Having played in a two-deep zone, Sash was forced to read and react quickly and served as a coach on the field as the eyes of the defense. 

Weakness: 

At times Sash is a little careless and over pursues. Part of that is because he was forced to react so often that it is engrained in him to go full speed and he can jump the gun. While Sash would be perfect in a Colts' cover 2 shell, he has little experience in man coverage and has trouble shedding blocks closer to the line of scrimmage. In many ways, he reminds people of a more durable but less explosive Bob Sanders. 

Combine Stats:

While he might not be as highly rated as the other two safeties, Sash could actually end up going higher as he is a niche type fit and player. In a zone defense he has a chance to be great. 

Iowa Pro day: DB Tyler Sash (6-0, 210) ran 4.61 and 4.66 40s, had a 33-inch vertical and 9-4 broad jump, and 14

bench presses. He didn’t do the shuttles. - Gil Brandt, NFL.com (via nfldraftscout.com) 


4. Mark Barron, Strong Safety Alabama

I hesitate ranking him this high because while Barron is an incredible physical talent, emotionally and mentally he is just not there. His maturity is terrible, as is telling by his arrest last month. 

Arrested for speeding thirty miles an hour over the limit and for later hindering the police investigation, Barron's arrest was the latest in a series of run-ins with the law. Nothing will kill a player's draft stock faster than an arrest a month before the big event. It's fair to say if Barron was ever on the Colts' draft board, he isn't anymore, a sentiment surely shared by a lot of other teams as well, especially with Goodell's shift in league policy not to tolerate any such misbehavior. 

Strengths:

Barron is an All-American strong safety who lead Alabama's secondary with 75 tackles. Physically you couldn't ask for anything more. At 6'2, 210 lbs. Barron is big, imposing and incredibly strong. The guy strikes fear in imposing receivers and is known like Bob Sanders was, to simply erase the mistakes of his teammates. On top of that Barron posses incredible speed for a player of his stature, allowing him to make up for when he over-pursues a play. 

Weaknesses:

As his off the field record might indicate, Barron is a head case. The guy is always in trouble off the field as he is mentality and emotionally immature. His immaturity translates on the field as well as he makes simple mistakes goes whole halves where he looks lost. His focus needs to greatly improve before the next level or else he will get constantly picked on by veteran quarterbacks and receivers. He is the classic case of living off his natural physical abilities. 

Combine Stats:

Barron ran a 4.56 which is surprisingly fast for a guy his size but all the mental mistakes and immaturity will keep him from being a first or second round pick. At this point there is talk he might slide all the way down to the fifth or sixth rounds after his arrest. Somebody will take a gamble and select him as he is the ultimate high risk high reward player. 


5.Joe Lefeged, Strong Safety Rutgers

Playing for Rutgers, Lefeged didn't receive the hype and attention he deserves. He is fast (he ran a blazing 4.42 in the 40), strong (he benched 18 reps at 225 lbs), big (he's 6'0 210) and can hit (238 career tackles).
Sounds pretty good right? He can also return kicks. Last season Lefeged broke the Rutgers school record with 948 yards on 38 returns averaging a shade under 25 per return. Essentially Lefeged is a guy that Colts' fans should keep their eye on.

Strengths: 

All of the above. He might be the most complete safety package in terms of doing everything well and after the combine and as he is going through his individual workouts, he is starting to get noticed. 

Weaknesses:

Lefeged was one of the 10 Jim Thorpe Semifinalists as well and you watch his highlights you see why. Most of time, Lefeged was outstanding. Then there are the occasional games such as against Cincinnati last November where Rutgers got absolutely lit up and Lefeged was nowhere to be seen. In fact he would be left in the dust. Consistency, or lack there of, is a trait that scares GM's and scouts. Another concern is that in the Big East, Lefeged didn't face many aggressive and elite pro style offenses so he is still a relative unknown.

Combine Stats:

The positives and the fact that Lefeged is both physically gifted and technically sound make Lefeged an attractive prospect. Round four is where he is projected to end up, but Lefeged is the hardest of the free safeties to predict.

Combine Invite: Yes
Height: 5115
Weight: 210
40 Yrd Dash: 4.42
20 Yrd Dash: 2.50
10 Yrd Dash: 1.52
225 Lb. Bench Reps: 18
Vertical Jump: 36 1/2
Broad Jump: 10'02"
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.13
3-Cone Drill: 6.82
4.50/4.58/4.65 40 range before Combine-C

Dates: 03/09/11 
Height: 5115
Weight: 210
40 Yrd Dash: 
20 Yrd Dash: 
10 Yrd Dash: 

225 Lb. Bench Reps: 
Vertical Jump: 
Broad Jump: 
20 Yrd Shuttle: 
3-Cone Drill: 6.72

 


Courtesy of nfldraftscout.com



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