Game changing safeties are rare and special in the NFL. The ability to be a ball hawk that can read the quarterback’s eyes but also impacting the run defense is a combination scouts are paid to find in draft prospects. In 2014, experts are debating between two players that are competing to be the first safety taken off the board.
1. CALVIN PRYOR (LOUISVILLE) 5-11/207
Calvin Pryor hits like the late Sean Taylor. I have not seen a safety bring that much contact in a while, especially out of a 5-11 frame. He can play free safety or strong safety and plays with great instinct. His coverage will improve in time but I have seen some splash plays from Pryor in the secondary. The only red flag is the amount of aggressiveness he brings with his hits. It is clear that he will be called for unnecessary roughness and helmet to helmet contact by referees. Those hits will also take a toll on his body but if he can learn to play within the rules, his career will last long.
2. HA HA CLINTON-DIX (ALABAMA) 6-1/208
For some reason I don’t trust Alabama defenders as pros. There are some good ones…but there are some really bad ones (see Rolando McClain). Maybe it’s because these players come from a star-studded defense in college and make each other look better than what they really are. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix may prove me wrong and he is the top safety on many experts’ rankings. He is rangy and athletic with a lanky build but he isn’t afraid to tackle. Clinton-Dix will lead with his shoulder at times which can cause injuries and is overly aggressive so he may be fooled by misdirection plays. Overall, he is coming out of a Nick Saban defense and should be fine with defensive Xs and Os, plus his ball skills are above average.
3. JIMMIE WARD (NORTHERN ILLINOIS) 5-11/193
Last year we saw Johnathan Cyprien (Florida International) represent a small school and still be drafted way higher than many thought. In 2014, we may witness Jimmie Ward from Northern Illinois be taken in the first round. Don’t be surprised. Ward is a wiry and aggressive strong safety that can help in run support but also stay on top of receivers. He has logged many starts during his college career and finished 2013 with 95 tackles and seven interceptions, one of those picks went 62 yards for a score against Purdue. Stats and big plays against big competition have made Ward’s stock skyrocket in the past week.
4. LAMARCUS JOYNER (FLORIDA STATE) 5-8/184
Lamarcus Joyner is a poor man’s Tyrann Matheiu. Joyner was an elite defensive back recruit that is scrappy and plays with special instincts. His intangibles are traits that coaches will fall in love with but what they won’t be fond of is his size. At 5-8 he is a tiny safety that won’t be able to go up with the big body receivers but he can carve out a career like a Bob Sanders who was productive at strong safety for years. With that said, being that small will cause more damage to his body over time. Bottom line, Joyner is a steal in the mid rounds and will fight for playing time.
5. DEONE BUCANNON (WASHINGTON STATE) 6-1/211
NFL-sized safety with big hit radius. Compares to Brian Dawkins and has that crazy look in his eye that will intimidate receivers after the first time he contacts them. Have not seen him truly excel in coverage so that will drop his stock. Put him at strong safety and you basically have an extra linebacker roaming around. Three-time captain shows that he is a trusted teammate and loves the game. Started all 13 games in his last season and led the team in special teams tackles. Bucannon will have to earn his spot on a squad first by covering kicks.