It’s no secret the Philadelphia Eagles need to invest heavily in the safety position this offseason. Whether it means drafting a player in the first round or signing a high-profile free agent, GM Howie Roseman can’t ignore the position any longer.
Recent halfhearted attempts by management haven’t panned out. The Eagles seem to sign a veteran safety annually—Marlin Jackson, O.J. Atogwe, Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung—and they’ve gotten little to no results from the lot.
Draft picks like Nate Allen, Macho Harris, Jaiquawn Jarrett and Kurt Coleman haven’t panned out. Last year’s fifth-round selection, Earl Wolff, still has a chance, but he’s not an ideal starter for 2014. If the Eagles don’t sign a player like Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward in free agency, they have to spend their 22nd overall pick on a big-time player. Here are the top five safeties Philly should target in this year’s NFL draft.
Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is viewed as the top safety in the 2014 NFL draft, although the gap between Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor has narrowed as of late.
Clinton-Dix is likely a top-15 overall pick, which would make him the fourth safety drafted that high since 2010. He’s a big player, listed at 6’1” and 208 pounds. Clinton-Dix registered 51 tackles, two interceptions and four passes defensed as a junior in ’13. He is fast and covers well.
Simply put, the Philadelphia Eagles have been waiting for a player with Clinton-Dix’s natural ability. Even if the team does sign a Pro Bowler in free agency, it might still be a good move to add a safety in the first round. Whether or not the team re-signs Nate Allen shouldn’t factor into this draft pick; Allen is just an adequate starter, and the team needs a player with a higher ceiling. Clinton-Dix projects to be a star in the National Football League.
Some people will prefer Louisville’s Calvin Pryor over Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Pryor is a ferocious safety who can lay a hit on a player. The Seattle Seahawks’ success with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor—mainly Chancellor—emphasizes the importance of a tone-setting player in the defensive backfield.
Pryor isn’t Chancellor’s size (no one quite is), but he’s a solidly built 6’1” and 210 pounds. He can come up in the box and play the run, but he can also stay deep and defend against the pass. The Philadelphia Eagles haven’t had a safety with that ability since the days of Brian Dawkins or Quintin Mikell.
Pryor’s rapidly increasing draft stock means he may not be available when the Eagles select 22nd overall. A handful of teams in the middle of the first round could use a safety. If Clinton-Dix is off the board and Pryor slips past the New York Jets at No. 18, Howie Roseman should trade up a few spots to secure him.
Jimmie Ward isn’t the hard-hitting safety that the first two on this list are. What he is, though, is a bona fide stud center fielder who can make a quarterback pay for a mistake.
Ward recorded seven interceptions last year, running them back for 102 total yards and a touchdown. He is a small player (5’10”, 190 pounds) from a small school, but he has a shot to go in the first 40-50 overall picks. How he tests at the NFL Scouting Combine will really influence his draft stock.
Should Ward be available when the Philadelphia Eagles make their second-round pick, he’s worth taking to upgrade this unit. Nate Allen has a total of one interception in his past 31 NFL games. Ward would make an immediate impact as a rookie, something the team hasn’t gotten from Allen recently.
USC’s Dion Bailey is a ball-hawking safety who could also upgrade the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive backfield. Bailey is 6’0” and 200 pounds, but he’s athletic and physical enough that he played linebacker as well as safety this past season.
Bailey recorded five interceptions, giving him 11 in his three-year collegiate career. He is a solid defender of the run and can give defensive coordinator Billy Davis a versatile player who can play deep at safety or move up in the box on obvious running downs. His likely draft stock is the late second or the third round.
If the Philadelphia Eagles are looking more for a ball-hawking safety to defend against the pass, Deone Bucannon is a player to strongly consider. Bucannon finished with 15 interceptions in his college career, the third-most of any player in Pac-12 history.
Bucannon had a tremendous senior campaign in 2013. He led the conference with 114 tackles, adding six interceptions and three forced fumbles. That’s a whole lot of big plays. He would be a huge upgrade from the likes of Nate Allen and Patrick Chung.
He has plus size, and he played without the benefit of a talented group of defenders around him while at Washington State. Bucannon is a Day 2 pick, possibly in the late second round.