Every NFL draft analyst and expert's discussion about the top players of the upcoming NFL draft always begins and ends with Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy. Rightfully so because these are two exceptional talents at a key position. Others believe a quarterback like Sam Bradford or Jimmy Clausen should be included in that upper echelon of players. There is another player that belongs in this discussion though. While most mock drafts show him respect as a top five pick, people have not truly grasped the concept on how great this player is. The player in question is Eric Berry, a defensive back from Tennessee.
Eric Berry exploded onto the scene in 2007, when he won the SEC Defensive Freshman of the Year award. Berry led all freshmen in tackles with 86 and set the Tennessee record for interception return yards with 222. He also had 5 interceptions. This was just the beginning for the All-American.
As a sophomore, Berry would be named a team captain for Tennessee. He would live up to expectations. Berry intercepted 7 passes (1st NCAA) and broke the SEC record for interception return yards in a career with 487. He made his presence felt all over the field. Not only did he set records by intercepting passes, he put up all around numbers with 72 tackles, 6 pass deflections and 3 sacks. Berry would go on to be voted a unanimous All-American, the SEC defensive player of the year and the winner of the Jack Tatum Award.
In 2009, as a junior, Berry would not put up the defensive statistics he had in previous seasons. This is for good reason, as opposing offenses gameplanned around him and did not throw near him. He is a playmaker and most coaches and their quarterbacks weren't willing to gamble on him. However Berry would still put up respectable numbers with 83 tackles, 7 pass deflections, 2 interceptions and a forced fumble. He made his presence felt. Once again he was a unanimous All-American, won the Jack Tatum Award and even added the Jim Thorpe Award this year.
After 2009, Eric Berry announced that he would fore-go his senior year and enter the NFL draft. This was a moment that scouts and general managers have been waiting a long time for. Berry is a once in a decade talent at the safety position and should without a doubt be selected in the top 5. However, it could be argued that Berry is the best player in this draft period.
Safeties taken in the top five in the past twenty years have been: Sean Taylor and Eric Turner. The list ends there. Two safety have gone in the top five of the NFL draft in the past twenty years. Both Taylor and Turner were all-pro caliber players. Turner had 30 interceptions in 109 career games. Taylor had 12 interceptions in 55 career games. Coincidentally, both players died while playing. However, that is no forecast for Eric Berry. The forecast for Eric Berry is the statistical dominance both of these players showed. The fact that those have been the only two safeties taken in the top five in the past twenty years says a lot about the position's value and what it means when a player like Berry is projected as a top five pick.
Most mock drafts have Berry going somewhere between 3rd to the Tampa Bay Buccanneers and 5th to the Kansas City Chiefs. He could be of use to any team willing to draft him. He is primarily a safety but also has the ability to play any other position in the secondary. Not only that, but he could play a vital role in the return game.
Berry is a playmaker of the Ed Reed variety and certainly has the capability of leading the NFL in interceptions like a cornerback. He has a nose for the ball and the ability to make plays with it.
The New Orleans Saints showed that having playmakers in the backfield who make interceptions and are ballhawks in general can help to carry a team to the Super Bowl. They led the league in takeaways and turnover difference. The Saints essentially beat the Colts in the Super Bowl on an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
The team that drafts Berry should envision him making these types of plays. He may not have won a national championship at Tennessee but Berry is a winner and plays bigger when the game is on the line. Berry should be a top five pick given his versatility, playmaking abilities and athletic ability. However, he could be the best player in the upcoming NFL draft. If Berry lives up to expectations, he is going to be an All-Pro for years to come and follow in Ed Reed's footsteps. Just the way he carries himself on the field is Reed-esque. He should make an immediate impact wherever he is drafted.