2010 NFL Draft: Is Eric Berry Worth a Top-10 Pick?

Chris CluffCorrespondent IIApril 15, 2010

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 31:  Safety Eric Berry #14 of the Tennessee Volunteers takes a breather during the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against the Virginia Tech Hokies at the Georgia Dome on December 31, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  The Hokies beat the Volunteers 37-14.  (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

With the sixth pick in the draft, the Seahawks allegedly are torn between two loves: Tennessee safety Eric Berry and Oklahoma tackle Trent Williams.

They have dire needs at both positions, and either player would help. Fortunately, the Kansas City Chiefs probably will make the decision for Seattle by picking one of those two players.

And if the Chiefs pick Williams, the Seahawks will have to decide whether they really want to draft a safety with the sixth pick in the draft.

Over the last decade, five safeties have been drafted in the top 10, and none of them have had the kind of impact players picked that high should have.

Sean Taylor, drafted fifth by Washington in 2004, was just becoming that kind of player when he was murdered in 2006. The others―Washington’s LaRon Landry, Oakland’s Michael Huff, Buffalo’s Donte Whitner and Dallas’ Roy Williams―have simply not been the kind of all-around players Top-10 safeties should be.

That history jibes with Seattle coach Pete Carroll’s experience with first-round defensive backs in New England.

In 1997, he drafted cornerback Chris Canty, and in 1998 he drafted safety Tebucky Jones. Neither panned out.

“There’ve been a lot of great [safeties] that have been lower-round picks that have emerged to become great players,” Carroll told reporters recently. “History has proven itself out that you don’t have to go get guys in that [first] round.”

John Clayton of ESPN thinks Kansas City will take Berry over Williams because general manager Scott Pioli prefers using high picks on defensive players.

“If you look at the history of Scott Pioli,” Clayton said on KIRO 710 radio last Friday, “he doesn’t like taking offensive linemen in the top 10. He likes taking defensive players, as he did with Bill Belichick [in New England].”

But that flies in the face of what Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King at the owners meetings in March.

Said Dimitroff: “I was talking to Scott Pioli about Berry, and I said, ‘Scott, this guy’s your pick.’ And he said, ‘You know how I feel about safeties that early.’ ”

So was Pioli trying to feed misinformation to a competitor? Or does he agree with Carroll that the first round is too high for safeties?

One key thing to measure is value. The sixth pick figures to get about $20 million guaranteed in a deal that averages at least $7 million per year.

The top five safeties in the NFL last year averaged $6.5 million; only tight ends and kickers were paid less. Meanwhile, the average salary of the top five offensive linemen was $10.7 million, which ranked third behind quarterbacks and defensive ends.

Obviously, the value normally lies in the lineman. But Berry is not considered a normal safety.

“Personally, I view only Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh as the better, surer NFL prospect than Berry,” Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com told SeattlePI.com recently. “The dilemma for NFL teams … is that Berry is simply good enough to consider spending the extra money.”

Clayton argues that Berry makes sense for Seattle because Berry played his last season at Tennessee in Monte Kiffin’s defense, which is the same system Carroll uses.

“It’s going to be hard for him [Carroll] to turn down Eric Berry when (1) he knows the system, (2) he can be great in the system and (3) he’s just a sensational player,” Clayton said. “Some people have him as the highest-rated safety they’ve ever had.

“Normally a safety taken that high is usually doomed to failure for some reason,” Clayton added. “It’s hard to justify a safety, but he’s one safety you can justify.”

Again, the Seahawks don’t really have much choice in the matter. If Pioli was fibbing to Dimitroff and decides to take Berry, the Seahawks will get Williams. And then they could look at safety later in a draft that has plenty of good ones.

“For all of the talk about the strength of this year's class being at defensive line, safety is as strong as any class I've seen in the past 10 years,” Rang said, listing second-round options like South Florida’s Nate Allen, Georgia Tech’s Morgan Burnett or LSU's Chad Jones.

But what if the Chiefs pick Williams? Will the Seahawks decide Berry is a rare top-10 talent at safety?

Top-10 safeties in 2000s

Name                   Team           Pick      Year

LaRon Landry         Washington  6th       2007

Michael Huff          Oakland        7th      2006

Donte Whitner       Buffalo          8th      2006

Sean Taylor          Washington    5th      2004

Roy Williams          Dallas            8th      2002


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