Compare and contrast: The strong safety

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 tacklers.

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
6:00.1-217-4.69


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 support…Hard-working player.

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
6:00.0-211-4.71


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 at times.

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
5:09.4-184-4.77


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 round.

BEST OF THE REST

Joe Lefeged, Rutgers
5:11.5-210-4.44

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
5:10.5-223-4.64

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
5:10.2-212-4.61

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
5:11.2-219-4.76

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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