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

To round out the safety position here are the top 5 freesafeties in the 2011 draft class. Unlike their unheralded strong safety counterparts, the several in this group could go in the earlier rounds. 

1. Rahim Moore, Free Safety UCLA

Rahim Moore says he "almost started crying" when he had a chance to talk with his idol Ed Reed. That's certainly a good player to emulate and shows Moore has a good vision for the type of player he wants to be.

Moore impresses on many levels including that he stepped in as a true freshman and has gone on to start 37 consecutive games. He is the first true freshman start for UCLA since Matt Ware did it in 2011 and almost immediately Moore assumed a leadership role on the defense. Partnering with teammate and fellow first/second round draft prospect Akeem Ayers, the two stood out on an otherwise suspect UCLA defense. 

Strengths 

Moore was named to the First-Team All-American by The Sporting News and Third-Team All-American by the AP.

Last year Moore lead the nation with 10 interceptions mostly relying on good instincts and a quick ability to read, react and decipher the opposing plays. Good technique such as quick and steady feet, balance and straight-line downhill speed helped keep Moore in position and allowed him to flow to the ball. 

Weaknesses:

More than anything else scouts are concerned in his stark drop off in production from last year to this past season. When asked about it at the Combine, Moore countered that teams avoided his side of the ball and that he was forced into more of a strong safety role because of the youth and inexperience of the defense. Still a drop off from 10 to one interception is fairly significant.

 

Technique wise, while is rarely initially out of position, he can over pursue on runs leaving cutback lanes open, which on a poor defense may have just been Moore trying to force the issue and do to much. 

Lastly a factor that will weigh heavily on his draft stock is how exactly did a Bruins defense with two potential top 20 picks give up 60 points to Oregon and 55 to ASU. I know Oregon was a potent offense but allowing 55 points to ASU is hardly satisfactory. The question remains to be seen if teams will take that as a slight to his leadership ability. 

Combine Stats:

Moore is a little undersized at only 5'11 and 202 lbs. His 40 time of 4.62 was slow especially considering he has sold himself as a speed guy rather than bulkier big hitter. He also only benched 11 reps of 225 lbs.

Still, Moore has the chance to be the top free safety taken. He will probably fall somewhere between pick 25 and 50. It's a wide range but people have very different opinions as to Moore's value. 

2. Quinton Carter, Oklahoma

Carter has serious game and even bigger potential. In 2010, the Oklahoma safety was rated First Team All-American by AFCA, the AP and Sports Illustrated. 

Carter is an interesting pick as he is extremely athletic and versatile. At 6'1 208, he is a the prototype build for a free safety. While his 4.57 speed in the 40 wasn't anything special, it's fast enough for teams to move him around. While he is rated as a free safety he could easily wind up in the strong safety spot.

Strengths:

If you watch his highlights you see incredible closing speed. The guy just swarms the receiver or runner. He can close wide gaps faster than most and actually at times looked like he surprised ball carriers who thought they more open space in front of them. Another aspect of his game is the monster hits which he can lay on opponents on a moment's notice. His amazing leverage and balance is critical to Carter stopping on a dime and simultaneously launching himself it his opponent. 

Another strength is Carter's ability to play either safety position and perhaps he could even cover bigger slot receivers in the pros as well. 

Weaknesses:

Carter's instincts have been questioned which is troubling because awareness can't easily be learned. Another area he must improve, one that he should make great strides in with a little coaching, is his tackling skills. 

He has no problem making the spectacular hit that drives fans into a frenzy, but for every hit, he also misses numerous easy tackles. 

Combine Stats:

Physically Carter is ready for the pros. No doubt about that. Mentally he has a little ways to go. He has to cut done on the mistakes and prove he has the awareness to focus to not get caught out of position or fooled by top quarterbacks.

ombine Invite: Yes
Height: 6005
Weight: 208
40 Yrd Dash: 4.57
20 Yrd Dash: 2.60
10 Yrd Dash: 1.62
225 Lb. Bench Reps: 23
Vertical Jump: 34 1/2
Broad Jump: 10'01"
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.06
3-Cone Drill: 7.05
4.48/4.57/4.67 40 range before Combine

3. Robert Sands West Virginia 

Sands is probably the most interesting safety prospect of the bunch. 

At 6'4 217 lbs. (people say he looks even taller) he is almost too big to play safety but too light to play linebacker. You almost wonder why coaches didn't recommend him for receiver. 

The reason is that the wiry Sands is a huge hitter. The two time All-Big East safety out of West Virginia is fast and loves to sneak down to the line of scrimmage and stop runners in their tracks. 

His size is actually an advantage as well because it allows him to disrupt deep passing plays with his long and lanky reach. Teams shouldn't overlook is thin build and take it to mean a lack of strength. Sands has shown a knack for toughness is his three year career and relishes the role as an enforcer. 

Strengths:

He has had some experience at corner and has to ability to go up with receivers to challenge the ball. Having not missed a game to injury he is extremely durable (a welcomed sign for Colts fans) and seems able to take contact without getting nicked up. Sands is also a versatile player. In his sophomore season he had five interceptions splitting his time at SS. This year, Sands played closer to the line of scrimmage in more of a run support role and totaled 6.5 tackles for a loss. 

Weaknesses:

He is still learning the game. He has a habit of taking bad angles to the ball and still plays out of control. As the game continues to slow down for him, he should begin to play with himself and not over pursue or react without understanding how the play is unfolding. 

NFL teams would also probably like him to add a few pounds to his frame.

Combine Stats:

Because of his versatility and unique combination of height, speed and power, Sands will probably fall somewhere in the 3rd round. 

Combine Invite: Yes
Height: 6043
Weight: 217
40 Yrd Dash: 4.53
20 Yrd Dash: 2.59
10 Yrd Dash: 1.59
225 Lb. Bench Reps: 12
Vertical Jump: 35
Broad Jump: 10'04"
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.06
3-Cone Drill: 7.03
4.47/4.57/4.68 40 range before Combine

4. Chris Culliver South Carolina 

Culliver like Sands, is intriguing because of his versatility. A 2009 second-team All-SEC Free Safety Culliver was off to a good start after transitioning to during his senior season to cornerback before a torn pectoral muscle ended his final season in Columbia. 

Culliver impressed at corner for the seven games he played, convincing many scouts that the athletically gifted Culliver should be able to make a smooth transition to the NFL. 

Strengths:

Culliver signed with South Carolina as a wide receiver and even started a game for the Gamecocks at the position back in 2007. After one game as a receiver, Culliver made the transition to free safety for his next 23 starts, which was where he played the majority of his career.  As a safety and defensive back, Culliver averaged 61 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 pass breakups during his three years in the secondary (Again mostly as free safety). 

 

Scouts are confident that the athletic Culliver can make the jump to the NFL because of this versatility. He played wide receiver so he has good ball skills and the advantage of the understanding of a wide receiver mentality which he can use against his opponents.

At 6'0 199 lbs, Culliver might be a little bit on the light side, but in some ways that only adds to his versatility and intrigue because he could slide over and play the role of a press corner or bulk up slightly and stay at free safety. This especially helps given his blazing 4.36 speed in the 40. 

On top of that, one of his most underrated qualities may be his return skills. Culliver finished as South Carolina's career leader with 2,476 return yards (remember he missed half a season with injury making it that much more impressive).

Negatives:

Anytime you are coming off a season ending injury, especially a chest or shoulder injury for safeties, their are going to be concerns and doubters. Furthermore while his versatility should ultimately help him, some teams may pass on Culliver because they will look for a targeted need rather than a player who could vacillate between positions. Lastly, teams will surely ask Culliver why he changed roles so many times? Not having four years at one spot, occasionally Culliver made mistakes that a more seasoned vet wouldn't, but he will cut down on those errors with practice.

 

Combine Stats:

The intrigue surrounding Culliver is high. Many have him in the 4th or 5th rounds although the third round is a possibility as well.

Combine Invite: Yes
Height: 6003
Weight: 199
40 Yrd Dash: 4.36
20 Yrd Dash: 2.49
10 Yrd Dash: 1.50
225 Lb. Bench Reps: 
Vertical Jump: 38 1/2
Broad Jump: 10'03"
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.08
3-Cone Drill: 6.88
4.38/4.47/4.58 40 range before Combine

5. Jerrard Tarrant, Free Safety Georgia Tech

Having also split his reps at quarterback, Tarrant is very similar to Culliver only a tad less athletic. However what he lacks in speed and athleticism, he makes up for with energy.

Strengths:

Scouts rave about his relentless effort determination to get to the football. Not only did he lead the team with three interceptions (including a 33 yarder he returned for a touchdown), he also forced three fumbles and scooped up three more fumble recoveries. When he wasn't pursuing a loose football he was chasing down those who had it. Tarrant recorded 58 tackles, 2.5 which came in the backfield. Plus, in 2009, Tarrant returned two punts for touchdowns and was considered one of the ACC's best punt and kickoff return specialists, which adds another interesting dimension. 

Weaknesses:

Tarrant really isn't a free safety. 2010 was his first year at the position and he played well and held his own, but Georgia Tech's personnel probably had more to do with that than anything else. Furthermore he isn't a big hitter and won't strike fear in opposing receivers coming across the middle. Like Culliver, he has versatility but he really is a corner who can get by playing in the center field role. If teams are willing to use him in that regard, then he will thrive. If they attempt to use him more as a traditional free safety, questions remain.

Combine Stats:

Still, many think Tarrant will go sometime in the latter parts of the third round or the early fourth.  His combine stats and workouts were good, which is especially important for an early entrant candidate. 

(stats courtesy of nfldraftscout.com)

Combine Invite: Yes
Height: 6003
Weight: 204
40 Yrd Dash: 4.57
20 Yrd Dash: 2.61
10 Yrd Dash: 1.54
225 Lb. Bench Reps: 14
Vertical Jump: 33
Broad Jump: 09'08"
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.21
3-Cone Drill: 6.92
4.47/4.53/4.59 40 range before Combine

Dates: 03/09/11 
Height: 6003
Weight: 204
40 Yrd Dash: 4.50
20 Yrd Dash: 2.60
10 Yrd Dash: 1.58
225 Lb. Bench Reps: 
Vertical Jump: 
Broad Jump: 
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.37
3-Cone Drill: 

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