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Top 5 safety prospects
After a deep 2013 class, the 2014 group is strong, as well
Originally Published: May 14, 2013
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Insider
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a playmaker at safety for the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The 2013 NFL draft was loaded with safety talent. I said during the draft that there were at least a dozen players at the position who I'd project as eventual NFL starters. There was a time when safety seemed like a position of last resort -- too small for linebacker, too slow for corner -- but great modern safeties have become huge weapons for defensive coordinators. Instead of lacking traits to play other positions, more often you see players with extremely diverse skills.
Look at a player like Kenny Vaccaro, who was taken at No. 15 overall by the Saints, and you see what I'm talking about. He can cover both close to the line of scrimmage and over the top; he can step up and become essentially an extra linebacker against the run; and if needed, he can even be asked to blitz and show off the instincts of a pass-rusher.
I don't think the 2014 NFL draft will have quite the depth as the 2013 class did -- in part because of some juniors who left early -- but there are a number of good players to keep an eye on.
Here are my top 5 safeties for the 2014 draft:
1. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Junior, Alabama
A rangy free safety, Clinton-Dix came to Alabama as a prospect with diverse skills, but with the background of a safety, and I could have seen him developing into something else, perhaps an outside linebacker. But he has great instincts in coverage, and combined with his length and solid ball skills, he becomes a ball hawk out there. By the end of the season, he was one of the big strengths of the Alabama defense, because he does a good job of taking away the middle of the field.
What you like about Clinton-Dix is the versatility. His coverage skills are where he'll be prized, but he's become more than a seek-and-hit player. He can step up and wrap up, as well.
2. Ed Reynolds, Junior, Stanford
Stanford often had Reynolds playing, essentially, a deep center field, but even from there he was able to make a big impact. He doesn't have elite speed, but he anticipates really well, does a good job of not getting pushed out of position by quarterbacks who can use their eyes well, and gets himself in position to jump passes.
Reynolds picked off six passes last season, but if you watch the tape you'll see he could probably have had 3-4 more because he had two hands on a few passes and simply couldn't bring them in.
3. Jordan Richards, Junior, Stanford
Safe to say the Cardinal will be well-covered at safety in 2013. Richards is the more physical of the Stanford safeties, an in-the-box presence who is capable of making more plays against the run. He has a great sense of angles on the field, perhaps in part due to the fact he excelled in high school as a running back, wide receiver and as a cornerback.
What I like about Richards is he's capable in coverage, but he can break down and make a tackle in a one-on-one situation when he's the last line of defense.
4. Tevin McDonald, Junior, Eastern Washington
An impact safety at UCLA, McDonald was dismissed from the team and will attempt to put his issues behind him in Cheney, where he'll join a really strong FCS program. An effective tackler, McDonald also has shown a knack for being in the right place to collect interceptions. He should be an impact performer at this level, but mostly needs to stay out of any trouble. If he does, he's got early-round potential as a free safety.
5. Tre Boston, Senior, North Carolina
I might be a little higher on Boston than some others, but I really like his ability to cover. Like a lot of college safeties, he spent time at cornerback and wide receiver in high school. But the thing about Boston is he could have stayed at corner for the Heels and been pretty good, but he has the size and range to be really good at safety. He had a wiry build when he got to Chapel Hill, so I can see Boston adding a little more strength.
Craig Loston, Senior, LSU
The starting strong safety, he'll be one of the few returning starters on defense.
Calvin Pryor, Junior, Louisville
Big, physical and capable of making plays against the pass, Pryor has been good since he arrived.
Lamarcus Joyner, Senior, Florida St.
Extremely fast, Joyner can also plug at cornerback. He's short, but has great range and is also a very good returner.
Nickoe Whitley, Senior, Mississippi St.
Made a ton of big plays, both as a guy capable of the big hit and as a guy who's also shown some good hands.
Ronald Martin, Junior, LSU
He was behind Eric Reid on the depth chart at free safety. Reid went No. 19 overall to the 49ers, who traded up to get him.