NFL Draft 2013: Tracking the Best Available Safeties
This year's safety class has been regarded by some as one of the deepest and most talented classes in recent years. There are eight safeties total who have a chance to go inside the top 100—not to mention three of those eight could hear their names called on Day 1 of the 2013 NFL draft.
With the help from some of the best talent evaluators around the Internet, here are the 12 best safeties available. The rankings are based on Matt Miller's big board, and the scouting report info is from Bleacher Report's scouting report database, Rob Rang and NFL.com.
7. Tony Jefferson
You can view Tony Jefferson's complete scouting report from Rob Rang by clicking here.
Even though Jefferson isn't the top safety prospect, he is still often compared to former Kansas City Chiefs safety Abram Elam. Here's why (per Rang):
Versatile performer and isn't restricted to a specific position, showing the defensive instincts to line up in the box or drop in coverage in both man and zone looks. Doesn't shy from contact and enjoys blitzing and making plays in the backfield (22 tackles for loss in his three-year career). He has loose hips and a balanced center of gravity to quickly change directions and close in a flash on the play. Reliable tackler who plays with good awareness. Extensive experience with 33 starts for the Sooners.
Despite the high praise, there are a couple of glaring weaknesses in Jefferson's game. Let's take a look (per Rang):
Lacks ideal bulk and strength for the position and needs to clean up his tackling technique. Has a tendency to duck his head, too often leading with his shoulder (or worse, with his crown), with ballcarriers occasionally bouncing off to gain extra yardage. Comes in a bit out of control, lunging at ballcarriers and giving quicker opponents opportunities at cut-back lanes.
Overall, Jefferson is the seventh-best safety prospect in the 2013 NFL draft class.
1. Kenny Vaccaro
You can view Kenny Vaccaro's complete scouting report from Sigmund Bloom.
Largely considered the nation's top safety for the majority of the season, Vaccaro is a do-it-all safety who is always around the football. His versatility, athleticism and playmaking skills are second to none in this year's crop of safeties.
Vaccaro's strengths per Bloom:
Vaccaro plays fast, with the mentality of a linebacker. He throws his body around with great physicality and aggressiveness and will level a ball-carrier from time to time. You might even call his playing style "violent."
Vaccaro is a supreme athletic specimen with good size and strength, and he plays with a decisive downhill style. He can disrupt plays in the backfield and has the physical ability to capitalize greatly when he sniffs out a play.
He's a guy that any defensive coordinator would love to work with.
Vaccaro's weaknesses per Bloom:
Vaccaro's aggressiveness often gets him into trouble. He overcommits and takes himself out of plays multiple times a game and borders on playing out of control at times.
While reading the quarterback's eyes and peeking in the backfield can result in splash plays, it also makes Vaccaro a beat behind the play or out of position when he doesn't guess right.
Vaccaro's fundamentals, especially when making a tackle, can be inconsistent. His game could use more finesse and deliberate decision-making.
You can argue that his aggressive style of play is a major cause for concern, but he's too talented for safety-needy teams to pass on.
Overall, Vaccaro is the best safety prospect in the 2013 NFL draft class.
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 15, New Orleans Saints
3. Eric Reid
You can view Eric Reid's complete scouting report from Eric Stoner by clicking here.
The former Tiger is as imposing a figure in the secondary as you'll find in this class. At 6'1", 213 pounds, you know he can bring the wood.
Reid's strengths per Stoner:
Intimidating size and great length
Enforcer over the middle
Range to play multiple coverages
Ideally, he's a guy who needs to keep things in front of him.
Reid's weaknesses per Stoner:
Undisciplined eyes, gets manipulated by quarterbacks
Leggy out of breaks and tall in his backpedal
Doesn’t make plays on the ball
With the right team, in the right system, Reid could make a big impact immediately.
Overall, Reid is the third-best safety prospect in the 2013 NFL draft class.
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 18, San Francisco 49ers
6. Matt Elam
You can view Matt Elam's complete scouting report from Ryan Lownes by clicking here.
Despite his smaller stature, Elam is a wrecking ball coming out of the secondary—the Florida safety is arguably the hardest hitter in this entire draft class.
Although 5'10", 208 pounds, he's the last person any player wants to see over the middle in this class.
Elam's strengths per Lownes:
Versatile, played several roles for the Gators
Excellent stopping force, packs a punch
Strong intangibles, a leader with a good football IQ
Good motor, a high intensity player
At his best he could be a player like Bob Sanders.
Elam's weaknesses per Lownes:
Lack of height, at a shade under 5'10", could hurt him
Not a playmaker in coverage
Technique, footwork in man coverage must improve
Misses too many tackles going for the big hit
The height issue may worry some, and he's not going to dominate anyone in coverage, but when put in the right position he could be a star.
Overall, Elam is the sixth-best safety prospect in the 2013 NFL draft class.
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 32, Baltimore Ravens
2. Jonathan Cyprien
You can view Jonathan Cyprien's complete scouting report from Ryan Lownes by clicking here.
Cyprien flew relatively under the radar during the regular season but burst onto the scene once given a chance to showcase his skills with the big boys during the draft process.
Cyprien's strengths per Lownes:
Looks the part with great size and a muscular build
Nonstop motor, relentlessly flies around the field
A physical striker with closing speed and range
Team captain, a high-energy leader
His ability to get around the field is something every coach covets.
Cyprien's weaknesses per Lownes:
Relatively inexperienced in man coverage
Aggressiveness sometimes takes him out of position to make a play
Below-average timed speed in the 4.6 area
Rarely challenged by top college competition
Despite these shortcomings, Cyprien still has a ton of potential and could start in the NFL for a long time.
Overall, Cyprien is the second-best safety prospect in the 2013 NFL draft class.
Drafted: Round 2, Pick 1 (33), Jacksonville Jaguars
5. D.J. Swearinger
You can view D.J. Swearinger's complete scouting report from Ryan Lownes by clicking here.
Another hard-hitting SEC safety, Swearinger rose up boards steadily throughout the draft process and could become one of the bigger surprises in this draft class.
Swearinger's strengths per Lownes:
Versatile, occupied several roles for the Gamecocks
An enforcer capable of making ball-carriers pay
High-energy defender with a great motor
Good against the run, showing instincts and toughness in the box
The former Gamecock is a guy who'll make plays when in position.
Swearinger's weaknesses per Lownes:
Aggressiveness is a double-edged sword
Below-average speed for the position
Technique in man coverage needs work
Tackling form leaves something to be desired
He'll never be a complete superstar, but he'll be a good starter and do what's asked of him.
Overall, Swearinger is the fifth-best safety prospect in the 2013 NFL draft class.
Drafted: Round 2, Pick 25 (57), Houston Texans
11. T.J. McDonald
You can view T.J. McDonald's complete scouting report from Ryan Alfieri by clicking here.
McDonald isn't the top safety prospect, but he is still often compared to Tennessee Titans safety Bernard Pollard.
T.J. McDonald's strengths according to Alfieri:
Physical, big-time hitter
Excellent blitzer, understands leverage
Good range and ball skills
Able to cover tight ends
Despite the high praise, there are a couple of glaring weaknesses in McDonald's game. Let's take a look (per Alfieri):
Stiff player, tight hips
Late to react in deep coverage
Limited experience in Cover 1
Poor tackling technique
Overall, McDonald is the 11th-best safety prospect in the 2013 NFL draft class.
Drafted: Round 3, Pick 9 (71), St. Louis Rams
12. J.J. Wilcox
You can view J.J. Wilcox's complete scouting report from Rob Rang by clicking here.
Wilcox isn't the top safety prospect, but he is still often compared to longtime NFL safety Atari Bigby. Here's why (per Rang):
Athletic frame with a thick lower half. Stands out at this level due to his athleticism and proved he deserved to be on the same field with the top prospects in Mobile. Good lateral agility. Surprisingly adept as an open field tackler. Attacks the line of scrimmage when he reads run but while fast to the action, breaks down pretty well, showing enough balance, patience and strength for the effective stop. ... Showed some instincts and range operating as a single-high safety during Senior Bowl drills. Good leaping ability and body control.
Despite the high praise, there are a couple of glaring weaknesses in Wilcox's game. Let's take a look (per Rang):
Questionable straight-line speed. Looks like a one-speed player who glides with normal acceleration rather than showing the suddenness to run with NFL wideouts. A work in progress regarding his technique, though in all fairness, this is to be expected. Tends to bend at the waist rather than the knees. Attacks the line of scrimmage as a run defender, slipping by most blocks but too often is tied up when he they do get to him.
Overall, Wilcox is the 12th-best safety prospect in the 2013 NFL draft class.
Drafted: Round 3, Pick 18 (80), Dallas Cowboys
9. Shawn Williams
You can view Shawn Williams' complete scouting report from Marques Eversoll by clicking here.
Even though Williams isn't the top safety prospect, he is still often compared to former Detroit Lions safety Sean Jones.
Shawn Williams' strengths per Eversoll:
Williams is a physical player. He's not afraid to get into the mix and make a play in the running game—he also packs a punch in the passing game. Williams is among the best tacklers of all the defensive backs in this year's draft.
He does a great job of reading the quarterback's eyes and making a play on the ball. And when the ball is within striking distance, Williams is usually the guy to come up with it. He'll jump, dive or do whatever is necessary to come up with a turnover.
Versatility is a strength of his game. Georgia often moved both of its safeties around the defense to confuse the offense and generate takeaways. Williams could find the field early in the NFL.
Despite the high praise, there are a couple of glaring weaknesses in Williams' game.
Shawn Williams' weaknesses per Eversoll:
While he has solid straight-line speed, Williams isn't exactly a fluid athlete. He has stiff hips, which can limit his ability to recover if he makes an incorrect read.
Sometimes his aggressive nature causes him to overpursue in the running game. He's a good, physical tackler but can be susceptible to whiffing against runners with good change-of-direction moves.
Overall, Williams is the ninth-best safety prospect in the 2013 NFL draft class.
Drafted: Round 3, Pick 22 (84), Cincinnati Bengals
8. Shamarko Thomas
You can view Shamarko Thomas' complete scouting report from Sigmund Bloom by clicking here.
The Syracuse safety may be most famous for his flop during the 40-yard dash at the combine, but he can play some football too.
Thomas' strengths per Bloom:
Thomas pops off the screen because of his range, closing speed and hitting ability. He is a fast, decisive, physical presence on the field, and he makes a lot of plays near the line of scrimmage even though he often lines up at least 10 yards off it. He can blitz and cover slot receivers one-on-one with effective press coverage, and Thomas can also play as an extra linebacker in the box against the run. He gets low and moves like a linebacker one-on-one against a running back in space and routinely blows up screen passes.
He's another guy who flies around the field and loves to hit.
Thomas' weaknesses per Bloom:
"Reckless" and "out of control" are two ways to describe Thomas when he is at his worst. He'll take poor angles and miss tackles because he puts his head down or leads with his shoulder to make a big hit. His overaggressive nature causes him to be shaken easily in the open field.
Thomas bites on moves in coverage and will struggle in man-to-man coverage when his jam doesn't throw off the timing of the route.
Like others in this class, his "reckless" style is a cause for concern, but put in the right system, he could flourish.
Overall, Thomas is the eighth-best safety prospect in the 2013 NFL draft class.
Drafted: Round 4, Pick 14 (111), Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Phillip Thomas
You can view Phillip Thomas' complete scouting report from BJ Kissel by clicking here.
A complete ball hawk in every sense of the word, Thomas has the game-changing flair every team looks for.
Not many defensive backs have the ability to morph into an elite ball-carrier after intercepting a pass, but you'd be hard-pressed to find another safety who feels as comfortable as Thomas with the pigskin in his hands.
Thomas' strengths per Kissel:
Of all of Thomas’ strengths, the most impressive skill he possesses is his ability to get the ball back to his offense.
His ball skills are elite. He’ll go up and make a play out in space and get the ball at its highest point. He breaks well on out routes and has the change-of-direction agility to hop those out routes and take them back to the house.
He had eight interceptions last season, three of which were pick-sixes.
Thomas' weaknesses per Kissel:
Thomas had trouble taking the proper angles to make a tackle from both a deep-safety position and within the box. He would over-pursue and allow the runner to cut back on him, or he’d give up outside contain and let the runner get a lane to break it outside and up the field.
He also needs to do a better job of getting to the point of contact under control when out in space.
Any team that needs turnovers would be wise consider the former Bulldog.
Overall, Thomas is the fourth-best safety prospect in the 2013 NFL draft class.
Drafted: Round 4, Pick 22 (119), Washington Redskins
10. Bacarri Rambo
You can view Bacarri Rambo's complete scouting report from Ryan Alfieri by clicking here.
Even though Rambo isn't the top safety prospect, he is often compared to Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Dashon Goldson.
Bacarri Rambo's strengths per Alfieri:
Reads and reacts to quarterbacks' eyes in deep coverage
Excellent ball skills
Good range and timing on hits
Able to deliver big hits
Despite the high praise, there are a couple of glaring weaknesses in Rambo's game. Let's take a look (per Alfieri):
Takes poor angles in run game
Difficulty controlling speed
Stiff hips, slow backpedal
Not a good form tackler
Overall, Rambo is the 10th-best safety prospect in the 2013 NFL draft class.