Taking a Look at the Safeties the Ravens Could Draft to Replace James Ihedigbo

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVMarch 28, 2014

The Baltimore Ravens weren't able to keep strong safety James Ihedigbo on the roster, with the six-year veteran agreeing to a contract with the Detroit Lions which the Ravens chose not to match.

Ihedigbo, Pro Football Focus' 16th-ranked safety for 2013 (subscription required), had spent the last two seasons with the Ravens and was promoted to starter last season after the team cut loose Bernard Pollard. He had 101 combined tackles for the season, along with two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, three interceptions and 11 passes defensed. 

Though the Ravens picked up former St. Louis Rams safety Darian Stewart, they are still quite thin at the position. Stewart played only 65.6 percent of the Rams' defensive snaps in 2013 and started just six games. He may be in the mix to start this season, but Ihedigbo's departure means the Ravens will probably need to use a draft pick on a safety for the second consecutive year.

Safety could be addressed as early as the first round, depending on who is still available and how high of a priority the position is to the Ravens this year. Let's take a look at the safety prospects who may be of interest to the Ravens this year.


Calvin Pryor, Louisville

Louisville's Calvin Pryor has played both free and strong safety, which gives him the type of range and versatility that could benefit the Ravens' secondary immediately. He's a hard hitter, amassing 75 tackles in 2013, along with three interceptions, four passes defensed and two forced fumbles.

Bleacher Report's Ian Wharton points out that Pryor's explosiveness and ability to get to the football and make the tackle is both his biggest strength and his weakness. While it can often result in "highlight-reel plays," and thus he "makes a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage due to physicality and aggressiveness," the sometimes-reckless nature of his playing style can result in overpursuit and missed tackles. 

Calvin Pryor Stats, Career & 2013
via Sports-Reference.com

However, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Pryor is a prototypical safety. He's just as strong against the run as he is in pass coverage and he doesn't shy away from being aggressive. The Ravens would be far better off with Pryor and his recklessness than a timid or less explosive player. 

Even better, Pryor excels on special teams, where first-year defenders generally need to prove their worth the most. Though Pryor may need a little more discipline in his tackling, he's a first-round prospect. The Ravens may not be able to pass up drafting him if he's still on the board. Though young, he's the type of player who could give the Ravens a much-needed edginess to their secondary.


Dion Bailey, USC

Though safety is one of the Ravens' needs, it's not their biggest one—that would be offensive line, or perhaps tight end or wide receiver. If they opt to wait until the second or even third round to add another strong safety to the roster, then USC's Dion Bailey could be among the players they target.

Bailey is a former linebacker who was converted to safety for the 2013 season. This is both a drawback and an asset to his NFL potential. On the one hand, his coverage abilities—especially in man to man—aren't fully developed and his speed isn't ideal. On the other hand, he's a very willing tackler and has good size and power and can diagnose plays accurately and quickly.

Dion Bailey Stats, Career & 2013
via Sports-Reference.com

Bailey had a good 2013 season, with 62 tackles (6.5 for a loss), five interceptions, a half-sack and six passes defensed. However, though he had so many tackles (and 221 over his career), he does a lot of arm tackling and trying to get the big hit rather than wrap up the ball-carrier. This will be an area he'll need to improve upon in order to wrest the starting strong safety job away from anyone else on the Ravens roster and make it his own.

Bailey would make a good addition in Baltimore; he could be a starter as a rookie despite not having a first-round pedigree. It will just take a bit of work on the Ravens' part to polish his fundamentals. 


Craig Loston, LSU

If the Ravens are confident that Darian Stewart (or even Jeromy Miles) could at least start for one season at strong safety while grooming their starter of the future, then LSU's Craig Loston could be a good mid-round option at the position. 

Loston has the right size and speed to be a strong safety in the NFL. He's strong in man coverage (though less so in zone), with a marked ability to stay with tight ends and slot receivers over the middle of the field, per Ian Wharton. He keeps track of the football and can hit hard enough and stay active enough to force fumbles and to intercept the ball. 

Craig Loston Stats, Career & 2013
via Sports-Reference.com

In 2013, Loston had 57 combined tackles, three passes defensed and three interceptions. He's extremely athletic, which has helped him reach collegiate success, but he may need more development of his technique before he's ready to start in the NFL. However, he also played special teams for the entirety of his college career, making him valuable to the Ravens and worth the effort it will take to get him completely NFL ready.

The biggest drawback with Loston is that he's missed 16 games in college due to various injuries. His durability could thus come under question. This can make him a very good value pick for the Ravens, but it could also turn them off of drafting Loston entirely. His on-field performance for LSU would need to overshadow how much time he's spent off of it rehabbing injuries.


Deone Bucannon, Washington State

Perhaps the best safety prospect for the Ravens' needs isn't a first-round talent like Calvin Pryor; it very well may be Washington State's Deone Bucannon, whom Ian Wharton describes as "physically intimidating," which may as well be the Baltimore defense's middle name.

That intimidation factor is why, though Bucannon is "not a dominant coverage safety," he can disrupt the routes of receivers and tight ends, even in the middle of the field. His presence is felt when he's on the field. It doesn't hurt that he's a forceful, hard-hitting tackler (it does, but not figuratively). 

Deone Bucannon Stats, Career & 2013
via Sports-Reference.com

Bucannon had 114 tackles in 2013, along with three forced fumbles and one pass breakup, and had seven interceptions from 2011 through 2012. He carried his defense, to the point that Wharton notes, "he was forced to try to compensate for miscues by his teammates regularly." Unsurprisingly, Bucannon has excellent play-recognition skills and his technique is superb.

He still needs help with certain fundamentals of safety play, like drawing the quarterback to throw his way and playing in the zone. These are all things that can be learned on the field, however. If the Ravens draft him, Bucannon should see playing time beyond special teams in his rookie season, though he may not be ready to be the outright starter.

Another plus? Wharton's current NFL player comparison for Bucannon is James Ihedigbo, the safety the Ravens need to replace. Bucannon would likely be a second-day target for the Ravens.


Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State

If the Ravens want some depth and a developmental prospect at strong safety and not someone in the mix to start right away, they could use a later-round pick on Michigan State's Isaiah Lewis. 

Lewis is "an old school strong safety" according to With the First Pick's Peter Smith, meaning that he's a very aggressive run-stopper who needs to develop his coverage skills to be an every-down player in the NFL. He has to play catch-up to many receivers he's assigned to cover, though he has had some success doing so against tight ends.

Isaiah Lewis Stats, Career & 2013
via Sports-Reference.com

As a run-stopper, though, there may be no better safety in the draft class. As Smith notes, Lewis "can take on the biggest running backs in college football," and tackle them with the proper form. He takes great angles to tackle backs and can work his way through players to reach them.

His talent against the run, though, makes his susceptible to being faked out by plays. He "seems to be looking for the run first and second in his reads," which also belies how relatively green he is as a coverage safety. He's more like a linebacker in this respect, hence the "old school" designation by Smith.

Lewis had 58 tackles in 2013, along with two interceptions and 10 passes defensed. With such strong tackling skills, he can spend at least his rookie year on special teams and maybe getting a little playing time in sub packages on defense.

Lewis is a developmental player with a high upside, as long as he's given the chance to hone his coverage skills. If the Ravens would rather wait until the third day to take a safety, he'd be a good fit. 


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