S DeAndre McDaniel (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
NFL Scouting’s Michael DiJulio assesses the top strong safety position in the draft, listing their strengths and weaknesses. Who has the size, who has the speed and who has the intangibles?
In the National Football League, the safety position is becoming less
“black and white” in its distinction between free and strong safeties.
The strong safeties group requires many of the same skills as their
counterparts. In two-deep zone looks they are required to cover half
of the deep part of the field and often line up against tight ends in
man coverage. Athletic ability and instincts are a necessity and ball
skills go a long way in determining an elite prospect. However in many
schemes, the strong safety is sometimes required to drop into the box
and act as an extra linebacker to strengthen the run defense. These
guys are generally bigger than the free safeties and should be solid
POSITION REPORT CARD: This group carries no first-round
prospects, unlike the 2010 draft which saw Tennessee’s Eric Berry
selected fifth overall. In fact, there’s an outside chance all the
players listed here could be on the board heading into day three. This
group simply lacks star power, as well as quality depth. The 2011 crop
of strong safeties receive a solid D grade.
DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson
Good News: Good overall size and length…Good instincts in
coverage…Displays solid route recognition…Also reads the quarterback’s
eyes to get into position…Gets his head around in coverage and can
find the football…Good concentration and hands to come down with the
interception…Comfortable playing in the box and is aggressive in run
Bad News: Appears a bit stiff in the hips and lacks elite
speed…Can get caught looking into the backfield on play-action…Comes
in too high on tackles at times, allowing ball carriers to slip
through his grasp…Needs to consistently take better angles…Some
off-field issues, but has since matured during his time at Clemson.
2010 Statistics: All-ACC first-team selection…Registered 76
total tackles with 5.5 tackles-for-loss…Added four interceptions and
five pass deflections.
Prediction: McDaniel rates as the top strong safety in a
weaker class. The former Clemson star owns good size and length and
has been a ball hawk for the Tigers (managed 15 career interceptions).
Some question his ability to cover the deep half of the field in
coverage, but he’s strong in run support and could excel in a system
that allows him to play in the box from time to time. He carries a
third- to fourth-round grade, but a lack of depth at the position
could see him selected higher.
Tyler Sash, Iowa
Good News: Good instincts in coverage and generally puts
himself in good position…Displays good awareness and smarts in
two-deep coverage…Exceptional ball skills and can cause
turnovers…Aggressive in run support and flies to the ball looking to
deliver a shot…Explosive tackler who can lay the wood and provide an
intimidating presence over the middle.
Bad News: Doesn’t own particularly impressive speed or
burst…Could have a tough time in man coverage against athletic tight
ends...High in his backpedal and isn’t overly fluid turning and
running…Needs to take better angles to the ball and can overrun plays
2010 Statistics: All-Big Ten Conference first-team
selection…Registered 79 total tackles with 3.5 tackles-for-loss…Added
two interceptions and two pass deflections.
Prediction: Sash is a hard-working, blue collar player with
good ball skills. He is very aggressive in run support. Some question
his athletic ability in coverage, but he has good instincts and is
generally in sound position. Sash saw plenty of action in a two-deep
look at Iowa, so a team running a lot of Cover-2 could appreciate his
skill set in the third or fourth round.
Ahmad Black, Florida
Good News: Fantastic instincts for the position…Excellent
ball skills and gets himself into good position to make plays…Fluid
athlete that plays with good balance…Stays low in his backpedal and
possesses very quick feet...Breaks on the football well with good
burst…Fearless against the run despite lack of size.
Bad News: Lacks the size of an NFL safety…Appears to play
fast but posted alarmingly slow 40-yard dash times…Athletically can
run with tight ends and receivers but will struggle against the
strength of bigger players at those positions…Saw action in the box at
Florida but doesn’t own the size to do so at the next level.
2010 Statistics: All-SEC first-team selection…Registered
108 total tackles with 10 tackles-for-loss and one sack…Added five
interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), five pass deflections,
three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Prediction: On tape, Black is one of the most instinctive
safeties in the 2011 class and displays terrific ball skills. He seems
to always be around the football and, despite his size, is aggressive
and willing in run support. However, with his lack of height already
working against him, Black raised even more eyebrows by posting
alarmingly slow 40 times at the combine and his pro day. Short and
slow in the NFL is not good, but if a team can look past the numbers
and focus on the film, they could get a steal in the fourth or fifth
BEST OF THE REST
Joe Lefeged, Rutgers
Notes: Tough and aggressive against the run but lacks elite size
to play an “in-the-box” role at the next level.
Projection: 4th-5th round
Da’Norris Searcy, North Carolina
Notes: Solid ability in coverage but isn’t the physical force you
would expect in a strong safety given his size.
Projection: 4th-5th round
Jeron Johnson, Boise State
Notes: Lacks elite size and athletic ability, but is a ferocious
hitter in the secondary and an intimidating presence over the middle.
Projection: 5th-6th round
Shiloh Keo, Idaho
Notes: Not the most athletic safety, but is strong and physical
and adds the extra value of being an accomplished punt returner.
Projection: 6th-7th round
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