Indianapolis Colts' 2011 Draft: The Best Safeties to Replace Bob Sanders
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How do you replace an All-Pro like Bob Sanders? You don't really. Not right away at least. The guy was only the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2007 and a two time Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection. No big deal right?
That being said, the Colts have played without him for long stretches this year and last and could be fairly well equipped to handle his absence if not affected by free agency. But with Melvin Bullitt an unrestricted free agent looking for a long term deal, all that may change. Thus the Colts will likely look to fill their need and draft a safety in this month's upcoming draft if not to replace Sanders and Bullit, then at least to provide insurance.
According many indications and reports, Colts' Vice Chairman Bill Polian is finally recognizing the need to draft an offensive lineman with the first pick, meaning safety will have to wait at least until after the first round and possibly longer. Here are a handful of potential prospects who should be around when the Colts look to address Sanders' departure later in the draft.
Safeties Who Will Likely Be Gone: Starting with Rahim Moore
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Unless the Colts brass is ballsy enough to ignore their blood-curtling screams from fans and more importantly, the more taciturn but equally fervent whispers by Peyton calling for an upgrade to their offensive line, the top three safeties probably won't be around when Colts address the position in the third or fourth rounds.
Fortunately for the Colts, free safety is usually in higher demand and those safeties come off the board first. UCLA's FS Rahim Moore is the highest rated safety followed by Oklahoma's FS Quinton Carter and Georgia Tech's Free Safety Jerrard Tarrant.
The first true strong safety predicted to be selected will be DeAndre McDaniel from Clemson. Many thought Ahmad Black from Florida would be up there but his stock seems to be dropping.
Therefore this preview will start with the players realistically anticipated to be still on the board.
Mark Barron off Colts' Draft Board
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Nothing will cause you to fall harder than an arrest a month before the draft.
If Colts' fans were interested before, not any more. After being arrested for a misdemeanor for 'hindering prosecution' Barron, who was nicknamed Superman at Alabama, is going to need a heroic public relations effort to prevent crashing and burning. The guy can play but his March 21st arrest was not his first run-in with the law so for the Colts, he is officially persona non grata.
Too bad too because he is good too.
1. Robert Sands Free Safety West Virginia
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Robert Sands is an interesting prospect. Very few safeties are built like the hard-hitting Mountaineer. At 6'4 217, Sands wiry build is a far cry from the more compact missile-like 5'8 210 Bob Sanders.
Nonetheless, the two time first team All-Big East safety is fast (4.58 time in the 40) and relishes going out and hitting people.
Desperate for toughness, Sands is the Colts kind of prospect and would be a nice backup to Bullitt if he stays or a potential compliment to Bethea if not. Even though he is a true FS, Sands could easily convert as he is adept and willing to play up along the line of scrimmage.
Not only is he an aggressive tackling machine, he is also a ballhawk intercepting six passes during his three year career in Morgantown. Sands should be on the board in the third round and possibly the fourth. If the Colts are serious about pursuing Sands, waiting any longer would be playing with fire.
2. Strong Safety Ahmad Black Florida
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The Outback Bowl MVP finished with double digit tackles in four of his last seven games. He also was also voted a consensus All-SEC pick by the coaches.
He led the Gators and finished tied for eighth in the nation with 102 tackles and tied for eighth in the SEC with three interceptions bringing his career total to 13.
So why exactly is Ahmad Black falling down draft boards?
One concern is his size. Two, his speed.
The diminutive Black posted a miserable 4.70 time in the 40 at the combine in Indianapolis and somehow managed a worse 4.83 at his Florida pro day leaving scouts concerned he would not be able keep up as a last line of defense at the next level.
All the better for Colts fans! Scouts have raved about his natural instincts, abilities for game changing plays and his tackling skills.
Too small, too slow but plays smart and can hit? Remind you of anyone? Say Gary Brackett or Bob Sanders??
Colts' fans hope he keeps dropping! Right now he is a borderline third or fourth round pick.
Did I mention he excelled returning punts and kicks too?
Fall baby fall!
(no thats not the Tea party hoping the government crashes)
3. Jermale Hines Strong Safety Ohio State
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At 6'1 215 pounds, Hines is a prototype big, strong, hard hitting safety from the Big Ten. During his time at Ohio State Hines finished with 155 career tackles in 28 starts which was enough to get him recognized as First team All-Big Ten this past season.
After dropping his 40 speed from the 4.6's to the 4.5's at his pro day, Hines has seen is stock rise slightly. The Colts tend to like Big Ten players so don't be surprised if they go for him in the 4th or 5th rounds if they haven't targeted one of the above to that point.
4. Strong Safety Joe Lefeged Rutgers
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The strong safety out of Rutgers is fast (he ran a blazing 4.42 in the 40), strong (he benched 18 reps at 225 lbs), big (he's 6'0 210) and can tackle (238 career takedowns).
Even better for Indianapolis, he can return kicks. With the Colts perennially in search of a spark to jump start their return game, Lefeged may be their guy. Last season Lefeged broke the Rutgers school record with 948 yards on 38 returns averaging a shade under 25 per return.
While finding a safety has to be their number one priority, if Bullit stays, Lefeged suddenly becomes much needed depth that can be used in kickoff situations without fear of injury.
Definitely a nice luxury if it happens it would come at a relatively cheap price too. Lefeged shouldn't go any higher than the late 5th round (and that's being generous).
5. Strong Safety Jeron Johnson Boise State
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No one has more career starts to his name at safety than Johnson, who recorded 44 starts as the linchpin of the Boise State defense.
Johnson led the Broncos in tackles each of his last three seasons so he comes NFL ready will plenty of experience. Not only was Johnson on the field a lot, he also played well enough to earn first team All-WAC in 2010, and second team All-WAC in 2008 and 2009. His 318 tackles ranked him 12th all-time at Boise State.
Johnson is not particularly big, only 5'10, nor fast, he only ran a 4.52, but he does everything well, a trait that should make him appealing to the Colts.
Johnson should be around in the 7th round if the Colts still need to fill the position.
6. Strong Safety Shiloh Keo Idaho
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Of all the safeties listed, Shiloh Keo of Idaho might be the closest clone to Bob Sanders. That doesn't mean he will play like him, but Keo is a small and compact dynamite hitter. He is leaving the Vandals as the school's fifth all time leading tackler (358 tackles) and finished tied for sixth all-time with 11 interceptions.
He is also injury prone, missing most of the 2008 season with an injury shoulder.
A winner of the team's most valuable player award, Keo was the cog of the defense that kept it going. While there are many similarities between Keo and Sanders, Keo must prove he can play on a bigger stage.
Hidden tucked away in Idaho Keo will have to overcome the small school rap if he wants to be drafted.