Sunday, April 21, 2013

2013 Draft: Ranking the Safety Class

The safety position has been unstable, to say the least, since Brian Dawkins left. In my opinion, that position was the weakest area for the 2012 Eagles. Blown coverages, missed assignments, all-around confusion marred an already poor defense.

The Eagles signed former Patriot and Oregon Duck Patrick Chung to a three-year deal, and also signed former Giant and first-round pick Kenny Phillips to a one-year deal. While competition at the position has improved, Chip Kelly might want to add some more talent to the position.

In my opinion, the Eagles need a physical player who owns the middle of the field. Dawkins had a legendary emotion that the team's been lacking ever since his departure. In today's NFL, you can't completely compromise coverage for a great tackler, but whiffing on the ball carrier has plagued the team since 2008.

Out of all the positions I've scouted so far, this position is by far the deepest. While there is no Eric Berry in this year's class, there are a lot of good options in the middle rounds.

Here's my top 10 safeties for the Eagles:

1. Eric Reid, LSU (6'1" 213 lbs): Reid is a big, long, downhill athlete. He's known for his explosive hits but he also displays good closing speed, wowing scouts at the combine with elite numbers. Versatility is a key for the talented youngster, showing skills against the run and the pass. Reid's aggressiveness can be a burden at times, and while he provides explosive hits, his tackling could be much more consistent. Reid has good straight-line speed, but his smoothness in coverage needs to improve.

2. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas (6'0" 214 lbs): Vaccaro is the consensus top safety in this class, but for the Eagles' needs, I think he's the second best. He has good size, plays fast, and shows his impressive agility and smoothness. He played a versatile role at Texas and is an aggressive tackler. His best attribute is consistency, he rarely finds himself out of position. Vaccaro must show legitimate ball skills, not racking up the turnovers in college that other top safeties have. He also hasn't shown that center-field ability due, in part, to a stiff backpedal.
Elam plays with a fire you
don't find too often.

3. Matt Elam, Florida (5'10" 208 lbs): I am very fond of Matt Elam. He would be a great fit in Philadelphia, the fans would fall in love with his on-field emotion. He's an athletic kid who plays the position with explosion. He loves to be physical and displays impressive savvy, masking his height deficiencies with good timing and leaping ability. A team captain at Florida, Elam must display NFL-quality coverage skills, playing mostly in the box while in college. I think he can though, he showed good speed at the combine and has good instincts. He also could become more of a sure tackler, looking for the big hit too often.\

4. Jonathan Cyprien, FIU (6'0" 217 lbs): Cyrpien is a hard-hitter and flies around the field. He has an NFL build and pretty solid ball skills. He has little experience, however, playing center-field due to his only average straight-line speed. Cyprien's aggressiveness is impressive, but he must improve his cover skills to become a good starter at the next level.

5. Shawn Williams, Georgia (6'0" 213 lbs): Shawn Williams is that intimidator I was looking for, as mentioned above. He's physical and a good blitzer, destroying everything over the middle of the field, with his linebacker mentality. He's a coordinated athlete who consistently secures the tackle. Williams struggled to force turnovers as a senior, 0 INTs, which leads scouts to question his ball-hawk skills. He's not the most agile athlete either, but there's upside there.

6. Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse (5'9" 213 lbs): Last week I wrote a story on the remarkable journey Shamarko Thomas has traveled. Check it out, it's worth the read. Thomas also has the linebacker mentality that Williams possesses. He tore up the combine, displaying elite athleticism, including a 4.42 second 40-yard dash and 40.5 inch vertical. He's an effective blitzer with fluid and quick movements. He's obviously shorter than ideal and lacks experience in single-high coverage. He needs to improve his hands too, securing the interception when the opportunity arises. Bottom line, he's an inch shorter than Earl Thomas, and if he were over 6'0", he'd be a first round pick.

7. D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina (5'10" 208 lbs): Swearinger throws his body around the field, displaying elite physicality and reckless abandon. He played a versatile role at SC and competes for the ball, showing good acceleration. He has only average height, and might lack the top speed to play single-high coverage in the NFL. His physical play can be counterproductive at times, drawing penalties and over pursuing the play. He has the tools and mindset to be a play-maker at the next level, but his style of play doesn't translate to a prolonged career, see Bob Sanders and Louis Delmas.

8. Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma (5'11" 213 lbs): Jefferson is my top value pick in this safety class. He's athletic, tough, loose and balanced. He's a versatile player, playing center-field and blitzing the QB. He's a good tackler and a team leader, starting 33 games for Coach Stoops. He lacks the ideal bulk and height NFL teams look for. Jefferson also lacks the elite speed and measurables that some other prospects show. If he's available early in the 4th round, it's a downright steal.

Rambo has been an elite
play-maker at UGA.
9. Bacarri Rambo, Georgia (6'1" 211 lbs): Rambo is a household name to the Eagles fans I've engaged with on Twitter. He has a good build and reads the QB well. He displays plus speed and acceleration, showing good ball skills, aided by solid coordination. He has good movements and racked up 16 INTs during his career at Georgia, also making the calls on defense. Rambo is a beast over the middle, making receivers think twice about a 15-yard crossing route. He's inconsistent at times however, and his aggressiveness leads to missed tackles. He has major character questions, which explain his slide down some draft boards.

10. Phillip Thomas, Fresno State (6'0" 208 lbs): Thomas is an athletic play-maker with great ball skills. He has great closing speed and fluid movements. He might be the best center-fielder in this safety class. While he can be physical, he must tackle more consistently. Thomas could use a couple more pounds, needing to add strength. He can be fooled by play-action and there are some speed questions. I think Thomas is a little over-hyped, but he would make sense as a solid third round pick.

Two Point Conversion: Two Names to Remember

- Ray-Ray Armstrong, Miami (6'3" 216 lbs): I wouldn't necessarily call Armstrong a sleeper, but he's a very intriguing player. He missed a lot of action in the past two seasons due to suspensions stemming from improper interaction with a Miami booster. The kid is physically gifted, with rare height for the position. He's aggressive and has solid range. Obviously the character concerns are alarming, and there's no way to tell how far he'll drop on draft day.

- Josh Evans, Florida (6'1" 207): I like Evans as well, he just missed out on my top 10, but he has the upside to be a solid NFL starter. He's a long, attacking player who competes for the ball when tested. He has the range to play single-high, which is a valuable trait. He's too lean though and needs to react quicker to the QB. Once again, no telling where he'll fall this weekend, but he could be a value pick for some team.

Hail Mary

- Find out which which pass-rushers might be on the Eagles radar.

- Also, who will the Eagles add to compete for a spot opposite of Fletcher Cox?

- Chip Kelly will likely add a NT prospect at some point. Who might Isaac Sopoaga be taking under his wing?

- Dee Milliner's stock has been dropping slightly, find out the other top CB prospects in the 2013 Draft.

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