NFL Draft: Strong Safety Spotlight
For many years, teams in the NFL had a free safety who was a good cover guy with good ball skills and an in-the-box safety that was basically a slightly more athletic (and smaller) version of a linebacker. The job of the in-the-box safety was to be quick enough to get from his safety position, up into the tackle box and help in run support. In today’s game of 4-wide and sometimes 5-wide offenses, the in-the-box safety position has become obsolete. Today’s defensive coordinators are trying to find players that are not only good tacklers, but also show tremendous cover skills in order to combat this.
A guy like Kansas City Chiefs Safety Eric Berry is the perfect example of what coordinators are looking for. Berry is tall, athletic, physical and has tremendous quickness and hip fluidity, making him a solid cover safety as well. Guys with Berry’s physical features and ability are hard to come by, but it won’t stop coordinators from looking for them.
True Strong Safeties Finding it Difficult to Find Playing Time
Last year in the 2013 NFL Draft, only three of the strong safeties chosen saw significant playing time on defense (Jonathan Cyprien, Jacksonville; Kenny Vaccaro, Texas; and Matt Elam, Baltimore). Other than that, the true strong safeties were strictly special teams’ players or were put on the practice squad in 2013.
The thing that Cyprien, Vaccaro, and Elam all have in common is they all were very solid tacklers, physical players, and knew how to defend the pass. They all have incredible ball skills and instincts. Coordinators are looking for smaller outside linebackers who can cover and move well in space, and safeties that can be physical, but cover the pass like cornerbacks. They need to be able to defend slot receivers, as well as, tight ends. This is the way the league is headed.
Common Traits in Today’s Safeties
The most common thing that scouts will be looking for in the 2014 class are guys who are between 5’11” and 6’1” and between 205-215 pounds. They are looking for guys who have superior athletic ability and play the game fast. Safeties have to have top instincts, to react quickly and get to the ball no matter if it is a pass or a run. They need to have ball skills similar to cornerbacks, and be able to explode to the ball just like corners. Safeties also have to show that they can cover man-to-man. A safety that can cover will never come off the field on defense and will never be a liability in passing situations. Below is a list of strong safeties that show most of the traits consistently on tape and could be players that defensive coordinators covet in the draft:
- Calvin Pryor (Louisville)
- Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois)
- Deone Bucannon (Washington State)
- LeMarcus Joyner (Florida State)
- Antone Exum (Virginia Tech)-played bit in college but will play safety in NFL