2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the 10 Best Safeties

Dan Snyder@@dsnyder34Correspondent IApril 24, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the 10 Best Safeties

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    Yesterday, one of the best safeties in the last 25 years of the National Football League hung up the spikes after 16 years of service. 

    Brian Dawkins played with reckless abandon and became one of the most feared defenders of his time. But many are arguing that the Dawkins-type safety is a dying breed in the NFL

    In honor of Dawkins, it's only fair we rank this year's top 10 safeties in the draft. Who knows, maybe we'll be looking at the next Weapon X. 

10. Trenton Robinson, Michigan State

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    Projected Round: 5th

    Robinson has some really nice potential and may even become a starter in this league. His combine numbers really helped his stock, as did a good game against Big Ten rival Wisconsin. 

    Strengths: Does a really nice job reading the 'eyes while playing the "center field" position. Very capable in man-to-man against tight ends, but at his best in zone coverage. 

    Weaknesses: Robinson is a little undersized in terms of bulk and isn't exactly the best form tackler. Is pretty fast but not very quick and doesn't have the best instincts. 

9. Tavon Wilson, Illinois

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    Projected Round: 5th

    Wilson can be a very good developmental project for a team at the next level. After starting out his career as a corner at Illinois, Wilson made the move to safety and has played there the last few seasons. 

    Strengths: Has very good speed and can attack the line of scrimmage very well. Was an excellent special teams player at Illinois which will help him find the field early for an NFL squad. Is a good, hard hitter. 

    Weaknesses: Not very fluid or explosive in the secondary. His footwork is simply atrocious and needs work in the NFL. Doesn't have a great first step or elite instincts. Needs to wrap up on tackles instead of just throwing the shoulder. 

8. Philip Thomas, Syracuse

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    Projected Round: 4th or 5th

    Thomas is one tough kid. He began the 2011 season with a broken jaw and still managed to find his way to the field for Week 1. Through 10 games, Thomas intercepted six passes before being suspended for the final two games for violating team rules. The suspension may have gone into the 2012 season which was the reason Thomas decided to enter the draft. 

    Strengths: Thomas has great range and looks much better on tape than in shorts and a t-shirt. He has good ball-hawking ability, leading the Orange in interceptions. 

    Weaknesses: Team rules incident is obviously going to be an issue for some teams. Other than that, Thomas isn't the ideal size (5'11", 195) and may struggle at the next level tackling.  

7. Antonio Allen, South Carolina

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    Projected Round: 4th or 5th

    Allen had a great senior campaign and ended up being one of the best safeties in the SEC. His 10.5 tackles for a loss were fantastic and he also had two sacks for the Gamecocks. Allen failed to stand out to teams at the Senior Bowl or combine. 

    Strengths: Allen has a great frame and is excellent inside the box. He is a phenomenal tackler and doesn't let ball-carriers gain those extra yards that are so important at the next level. His play against top competition in the SEC also speaks for itself. 

    Weaknesses: He has only average speed and isn't very fluid in his back pedal or his drops. Wasn't ever really asked to play in man-to-man coverage at South Carolina. Played a hybrid position in college. 

6. Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State

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    Projected Round: 3rd or 4th

    Martin is a natural free safety who has excellent range. His 21 pass breakups in the past two seasons with the Cowboys is very impressive, but there's concern about a knee injury that kept Martin out of the combine and from working out for scouts. 

    Strengths: Martin has really good speed and can cover a ton of ground deep down the field. He's very adept in pass coverage and has experience against some of college football's top passing offenses. He's also a better tackler than you may think. 

    Weaknesses: The injury factor is going to be an issue on draft day, but shouldn't affect him long term. Other than that, however, there have been some durability questions. Martin also won't intercept a lot of passes and bites on some double moves. 

5. George Iloka, Boise State

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    Projected Round: 3rd or 4th

    Iloka was a major product of having a fantastic Senior Bowl. His size allowed him to stand out amongst his fellow defensive backs, but also is the reason he plays a little stiff. Iloka might find his NFL home as a tweener between linebacker and safety. 

    Strengths: Iloka has a very high football IQ and is a smart player. His size (6'4", 225) is a major advantage and he has never been one to shy away from contact. Iloka is better than you think in zone coverage as well. 

    Weaknesses: His biggest struggle is in quickness, it just really isn't there for him. Iloka needs to wrap his arms better when tackling and, like Taylor Mays before him, may struggle finding a true position at the next level. 

4. Brandon Taylor, LSU

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    Projected Round: 2nd or 3rd 

    Brandon Taylor is listed as a free safety, but sure plays the game like a linebacker. His violent tackling led him to constantly be around the ball on a defense full of playmakers. Taylor finished the 2011 season with an impressive 7.5 tackles for a loss. 

    Strengths: Taylor is an explosive, violent hitter who is physical with receivers down the field. His instincts are very good. His speed is notably underrated and he'll be able to run with tight ends at the next level. 

    Weaknesses: Taylor's physical play may actually get him in trouble in the new and revised NFL. He can be over aggressive at times and doesn't have the ball skills you'd like to see. 

3. Trumaine Johnson, Montana

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    Projected Round: 2nd or 3rd

    I already know Johnson's listed as a corner, but at 6'3", there's no way this guy's not playing safety at the next level. Johnson also played pretty well against good competition in Tennessee where he had seven tackles and a forced fumble. 

    Strengths: Johnson is big bodied and fluid in his drops. He has excellent zone coverage skills. The Montana defensive back is at his best when he's able to see the ball thrown in front of him, making his value as a safety much higher than as a corner. 

    Weaknesses: Isn't as physical as you'd like him to be and needs to get better tackling. Johnson isn't as effective at locating the ball when he has to turn and run. The competition Johnson saw in college is also a concern. 

2. Harrison Smith, Notre Dame

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    Projected Round: Late 1st or Early 2nd

    Smith's senior season at Notre Dame was less than stellar, but a fantastic Senior Bowl and combine has his stock on the rise. He's also got some major support from NFL Network's draft analyst Mike Mayock. The demand for safety could very well push Smith into the end of the first round to a team like Baltimore or New England. 

    Strengths: Smith has great size and showed good athleticism for a player as big as he is. He's a tackling machine who's got a nose for the football. Smith's leadership skills for the Irish were on display week in and week out. 

    Weaknesses: His biggest problem is that he's not very good at all in coverage and failed to record an interception in 2011. Smith's tackling form is a little off and can be very susceptible to the play action. 

1. Mark Barron, Alabama

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    Projected Round: Top 20

    With teams like the Cowboys, Eagles, Jets and Patriots all having deep needs at safety, Barron's stock is soaring despite an injury that kept him from participating in the combine and might even force teams to move up the board for his services.  

    Strengths: Barron is a bruiser at the safety position and packs a powerful punch on impact. He has elite level instincts and has tons of experience playing in Alabama's complicated 3-4 defense. Barron is also fantastic in underneath coverage and reads the quarterback's eyes very well.

    Weaknesses: Can be over-aggressive at times and is a run-first defender. Isn't the best in coverage and struggles mightily in man-to-man coverage.