The safety position seems to become more important every year, but it still ranks behind cornerback when the draft comes around.
In the 2005 NFL Draft, the first safety picked was Thomas Davis by Carolina with the 14th pick in the first round. Three cornerbacks had already been taken by that point. There were a total of five safeties taken the first day of the draft and another seven were selected in the fourth round. Over the last 10 years, only two safeties were top-10 picks -- Roy Williams by Dallas in 2002 (eighth) and Sean Taylor by Washington in 2004 (fifth).
In 1998 we had three first-round picks -- Donovin Darius, Jacksonville; Tebucky Jones, New England; Shaun Williams, N.Y. Giants. That is the most first-round safeties taken in any draft in the last 10 years. However, not a single one was taken in the first round of the 1997 or 2000 drafts.
In the same 10-year time frame, 67 safeties have been picked in the second and third rounds combined. Two of the three taken last year were starters -- Nick Collins in Green Bay and Josh Bullocks in New Orleans. The third was Brodney Pool in Cleveland, and he is scheduled to be a starter this year.
Only one, and possibly two, safeties will go in the first round this year. But that doesn't mean there won't be some good players in the following rounds. Remember, last year Chris Harris (Chicago) and C.C. Brown (Houston) were both picked n the sixth round. Not only did they start for their teams, but they played well and held on to their jobs.
In order to be a top player at this position, one needs to be a good tackler, as many teams now play eight defenders in the box against the run. You have to be a good blitzer and be able to cover big, fast tight ends, and speedy receivers. It also doesn't hurt to be a good special teams performer. Rodney Harrison (New England) and Brian Dawkins (Philadelphia) are perfect in that respect.
Two of the best safeties of all time -- Willie Wood of Green Bay and Cliff Harris of Dallas -- were undrafted free agents. The two combined to play in 13 Pro Bowls and helped their teams to win Super Bowls. Larry Wilson (Cardinals) could also be considered one of the best ever at the position, and he was drafted in the seventh round and played in eight Pro Bowls. Wilson and Wood are both in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Size & Speed
Seven safeties had vertical jumps of at least 40 inches with Reuben Houston of Georgia Tech leading the way at 411/2 inches. Eight safeties had 40-yard dash times of under 4.50 seconds, with two -- Daniel Bullocks (Nebraska) and Antoine Bethea (Howard) -- having at least one 40 timed under 4.40. The average speed was 4.61. The tallest safety is Pat Watkins of Florida State, who comes in at 6-foot-43/4, and the average height is 6-0 3/8.
1. Donte Whitner, Ohio State (5-10 1/8, 204, 4.45)
Whitner had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran his 40s in 4.40 and 4.49, had a 40-inch vertical jump, 11-foot long jump, 4.12 short shuttle, 6.79 three-cone drill, and did 18 lifts. He played defensive back and wide receiver in high school. He played, but did not start as a freshman in 2003. Started five games in 2004 and all 12 games in 2005. He has a great feel for the game, an outstanding competitor, strong, has quick feet, great anticipation, outstanding leadership, and is a very good football player. Smaller size is a little bit of an issue, but because of his football abilities, Whitner could do well as a safety or even a cornerback. He has Pro Bowl potential and outstanding character.
2. Daniel Bullocks, Nebraska (6-01/2, 212, 4.40)
Bullocks had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran his 40s in 4.39 and 4.41, had a 38-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-4 long jump, 4.16 short shuttle, 6.91 three-cone drill, and did 18 lifts. He was a quarterback and free safety in high school, and was named Mr. Tennessee for football in 2000 when he rushed for 1,432 yards, passed for five touchdowns and also caught 10 passes. After redshirting in 2001, he started 10 games in 2002 and '03, and started 23 games in his junior and senior campaigns. He is a very competitive player, physical, very instinctive, great character, and is a hard worker with good athletic ability. However, he lacks good hands and will drop some interceptions. Bullocks will play at a high level for a long time.
3. Darnell Bing, USC (6-2, 225, 4.58)
Bing did not have a complete workout at the Combine, but did have a 34-inch vertical jump, 10-foot long jump, 4.07 short shuttle, 7.25 three-cone drill, and did 17 lifts. He ran at the USC Pro Day on April 2 and clocked 40 times of 4.57 and 4.59, had a 6.75 three-cone drill, and did 21 lifts. He was a USA Today All-America defensive back in high school, and he also ran track. Signed to play at USC in 2002 but did not qualify and attended Long Beach City College as a part-time student not playing football. Got back to the Trojans and started 36 of 38 games over his three-year career. Bing is an in-the-box type of safety, well built, good straight-line speed, and can be a big hitter when healthy. There are some questions about his ball skills and might be a bit too heavy at 225 pounds. Should be good if he can get his weight under 218, and should be a good special teams player.
4. Danieal Manning, Abilene Christian (5-103/4, 202, 4.51)
Manning had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran his 40s in 4.46 and 4.55, had a 39-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-3 long jump, 4.07 short shuttle, 7.23 three-cone drill, and did 17 lifts. He shaved off about a half second off his three-cone drill time at the Pro Day on March 11 with a 6.74 and a 6.78. Manning also worked out at Texas A&M on March 4 and looked very good. In high school, Manning finished second in Texas in the 100 meters and fourth in the 200 meters as a track star. Signed with Nebraska for the 2001 season, but never attended the school. He enrolled at Abilene Christian in January of 2002. He played in 10 games with six interceptions, returned kickoffs for a 35.9 average and punts for a 9.2 average, and caught six passes for two touchdowns in 2005. Was outstanding at the East-West Shrine Game. He has outstanding athletic ability, great instincts, good hands, and can do it all. Manning should be a starter after one year, and can also help out as a kick returner.
5. Ko Simpson, South Carolina (6-1, 205, 4.45)
Simpson had a complete workout at the Combine. Ran his 40s in 4.40 and 4.48, had a 401/2-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-2 long jump, 4.17 short shuttle, 7.09 three-cone drill, and did 11 lifts. He was a defensive back and wide receiver in high school. He signed with South Carolina in 2003 but didn't get to school until the spring semester of 2004. He started 11 games that year at free safety, had six interceptions and was named the Southeastern Conference Defensive Freshman of the Year. Followed that up by starting 12 games in 2005. Has very good ball skills and good range. His best position is free safety, as he makes a lot of tackles (103 in 2005). But he is not a strong tackler (not explosive), has a thin build and did not impress teams with interviews at the Combine. Played only two years and 23 games of college football.
6. Anthony Smith, Syracuse (6-0 1/8, 194, 4.74)
Smith had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran his 40s in 4.71 and 4.77, had a 41-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-5 long jump, 4.35 short shuttle, 6.75 three-cone drill, and did 18 lifts. He ran better at the Syracuse Pro Day with 40 times of 4.57 and 4.67. Smith was a defensive back and running back in high school beginning his freshman year. Rushed for 1,787 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior, and 1,475 yards and 26 TDs as a junior. Also picked off 12 passes those last two seasons. Played as a true freshman in 2002, then started 35 games over the next three years. Played with a broken right hand in 2004. Collected 14 interceptions in the past three seasons with six coming in 2005. Has very good anticipation and ball skills, can cover the slot receiver, tough and physical player, and has good hands. Not real big for the position, and what he may lack in speed, Smith makes up for it with instinctive play. Played hard on a Syracuse team that only won one game in 2005. Coaches say he has great character.
7. Pat Watkins, Florida State (6-43/4, 211, 4.48)
Watkins had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran his 40s in 4.42 and 4.50, had a 41-inch vertical jump, 11-foot-1 long jump, and had 14 lifts. At the Florida State Pro Day on March 16, he had a 4.08 short shuttle and a 6.83 three-cone drill. Watkins played safety in high school and also returned six kickoffs for touchdowns in his senior year. Played as a true freshman in 2002. Played, but didn't start in 2003. Ended up starting 25 games over his final two seasons. Had 11 interceptions in three years. A player that has good athletic ability and range for his height, however, he wasn't as consistent in 2005 as he was in '04. Has good quickness to make plays and good coverage skills. The only negative is Smith's very small lower body (legs). It's hard for quarterbacks to throw the ball over a guy like this who is almost 6-foot-5 with 34-inch arms. He will be a good special teams player.
8. Roman Harper, Alabama (5-11 7/8, 198, 4.50)
Harper didn't work out at the Combine because he said he had a left hamstring problem. But at Alabama's Pro Day on March 15, Harper ran his 40s in 4.45 and 4.51, had a 34-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-9 long jump, 4.32 short shuttle, 7.09 three-cone drill, and had 19 lifts. He played quarterback and free safety in high school, but missed some of his senior year with a broken leg. Redshirted in 2001 and played in 2002 with one start at strong safety. Harper has started 37 games the past three years, switching to free safety in 2004. Seems to play faster than his timed speed. An outstanding person, disciplined, very instinctive player, will tackle, good, but not great, athlete, and will be very productive on special teams. Harper can be a starter and should play well.
9. Calvin Lowry, Penn State (5-11, 200, 4.55)
Lowry had a complete workout at the Combine. Ran his 40s in 4.49 and 4.58, had a 36-inch vertical jump, 10-foot long jump, 4.20 short shuttle, 7.16 three-cone drill, and did 15 lifts. He played defensive back and wide receiver in high school, and was also a sprinter on the track team. Played as a true freshman for four game in 2002 and started against Nebraska, but broke his leg against Iowa. Played, but didn't start in 2003. He was mostly used to return kicks that year. Started every game in 2004 and '05, and has nine career interceptions. Lowry is a smart player with good instincts for the position, and good, but not great, athletic ability. Not real strong and may not be a full-time starter, but he will play to the best of his abilities because of the character and intelligence.
10. Bernard Pollard, Purdue (6-1 5/8, 224, 4.61)
Pollard worked out at the Combine, but didn't lift or do the shuttles. He ran his 40s in 4.57 and 4.63, had a 361/2-inch vertical jump, and a 10-foot-11 long jump. At Purdue's Pro Day on March 10, Pollard had a 4.11 short shuttle, 6.88 three-cone drill, and did 18 lifts. He was a defensive back and wide receiver in high school that also played basketball and ran track. Pollard played as a true freshman for the Boilermakers in 2003 and started 12 games. Started 12 games in 2004 and 11 in 2005. Pollard, and most of the Purdue defense, didn't play well this past season, but he has the size needed for the position. He is a very good hitter that will punish people, but not all the time (inconsistent). He was suspended for three days prior to the first game in 2005, but still has a lot of talent. Could even be a weakside linebacker for some teams that run a 4-3 defense.
11. Eric Smith, Michigan State (6-1, 209, 4.64)
Smith had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran his 40s in 4.57 and 4.69, had a 40-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-6 long jump, 4.10 short shuttle, 6.89 three-cone drill, and had 21 lifts. He turned in a 3.97 short shuttle at the Michigan State Pro Day on March 18. Did it all in high school, playing defensive back, quarterback, running back and wide receiver. Was a medical redshirt in 2001 with a torn meniscus in his left knee. Started five games at free safety in 2002, and nine games in 2003 at strong safety. Started 22 games over the past two years. Smith has good size for the position. He is a smart player with good instincts and good, but not great, athletic ability. Has had a lot of injuries and will have trouble keeping up with speedy players.
12. Greg Blue, Georgia (6-21/4, 215, 4.65)
Blue had a complete workout at the Combine. Ran his 40s in 4.61 and 4.70, had a 371/2inch vertical jump, 10-foot long jump, 4.28 short shuttle, 7.09 three-cone drill, and did 16 lifts. He played defensive back and returned kicks in high school. Also played on the basketball team. Redshirted in 2001 at Georgia, played, but did not start in 2002, and became a part-time starter in 2003 at free safety. Started every game in 2004 and '05. Blue has the size you want for the position. He is a good tackler, but only has average hands. Not a real instinctive player and has average coverage skills. Some question his ability to play in the NFL, but he could contribute on special teams.
13. Antwan Marsh, Pikeville (6-13/4, 216, 4.51)
Marsh was not invited to the Combine, but he worked out March 8 on campus. He ran his 40s in 4.50 and 4.51, had a 31-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-11 long jump, 4.28 short shuttle, 6.97 three-cone drill, and did 11 lifts. Started school at a junior college in Mississippi, playing outside linebacker. Spent the last two seasons at Pikeville in Kentucky as both a wide receiver and a defensive back. Marsh is an outstanding athlete at this level with nine interceptions the past two years. Caught 18 passes for four touchdowns in 2005. Some teams might want to take a chance on this guy.
14. Jarrad Page, UCLA (6-0 3/8, 239, 4.65)
Page had a complete workout at the Combine. He ran his 40s in 4.63 and 4.67, had a 38-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-7 long jump, 4.14 short shuttle, 6.68 three-cone drill, and put up 14 lifts. At 239 pounds, he is actually 14 pounds lighter now than from the Combine. Page was drafted in the fifth round by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2002. He started 10 games as a true freshman, which was the most starts for a freshman safety in 25 years at the school. Started a total of 46 games in his four-year career for a good program. The former minor league baseball player definitely has the athletic ability. Totaled nine interceptions at UCLA.
*The following players are listed in alphabetical order. Every player listed below has some ability to play in the NFL, and most likely they will be picked in Rounds 4-7. *
Antoine Bethea, Howard (5-11, 203, 4.43)
Bethea worked out at the Combine. He ran his 40s in 4.39 and 4.46, had a 361/2-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-7 long jump, 4.11 short shuttle, 6.99 three-cone drill, and did 19 lifts. Teams should take a chance on this three-time All-MEAC player.
Darrell Brooks, Arizona (6-0 3/8, 195, 4.75)
Brooks worked out at the Combine. He ran his 40s in 4.72 and 4.77, had a 351/2-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-5 long jump, 4.36 short shuttle, 6.97 three-cone drill, and did seven lifts. He has started 40 games for Arizona, but lacks speed for the position.
Marcus Demps, Arizona State (5-113/4, 196, 4.75)
Demps worked out at the Combine. He ran his 40s in 4.70 and 4.80, had a 31-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-9 long jump, 4.09 short shuttle, 6.91 three-cone drill, and did 17 lifts. He has played both safety and cornerback positions. Demps' brother, Will, came into the league as a free agent and now plays for the Baltimore Ravens.
Chris Harrell, Penn State (6-0 3/8, 208, 4.74)
Harrell worked out at the Combine. He ran his 40s in 4.70 and 4.77, had a 401/2-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-11 long jump, 4.12 short shuttle, 7.02 three-cone drill, and did 15 lifts. Outstanding high school athlete -- an all-state basketball player and track star. Just need to check out a prior neck injury. If the medical report looks solid, then Harrell is good to go.
Dawan Landry, Georgia Tech (6-0 7/8, 220, 4.70)
Landry worked out at the Combine. He ran his 40s in 4.67 and 4.72, had a 371/2-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-4 long jump, 4.27 short shuttle, no three-cone drill, and had 18 lifts. Landry went to Georgia Tech as a left-handed quarterback but switched to safety in 2002. He started for three years and turned into a good second-day pick.
Nate Salley, Ohio State (6-13/4, 215, 4.67)
Salley worked out at the Combine. He ran his 40s in 4.63 and 4.69, had a 40-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-3 long jump, 4.15 short shuttle, 6.79 three-cone drill, and did 14 lifts. He was a three-year starter at safety and will compete hard at the NFL level. His former high school athlete from Florida could see a move to outside linebacker.
Dwayne Slay, Texas Tech (6-31/2, 215, 4.83)
Slay worked out at the Combine. He did not run well by getting 40-yard dash times of 4.78 and 4.87. He had a 321/2-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-4 long jump, 4.40 short shuttle, 7.29 three-cone drill, and did not lift. Slay's numbers question whether or not he could play as a defensive back in the NFL. Seems to play faster than his timed speed. He will be a great special teams player.
Did You Know?
Donte Whitener of Ohio State will not turn 21 years old until July 24 of this year. He will be one of the youngest players drafted.
Daniel Bullocks of Nebraska has a twin brother, Josh, who was the 40th overall selection in the 2005 draft by the Saints.
Daniel Manning of Abilene Christian returned a kickoff, a punt and an interception for touchdowns in 2005.
Darnell Bing of USC had to receiver permission from athletic director Mike Garrett (1965 Heisman Trophy winner) to wear Garrett's retired No. 20 jersey.
Pat Watkins and Antonio Cromartie played on the same high school team, Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Fla.
The highest picked used on a safety since the 1967 merger was in 1991when Cleveland took Eric Turner No. 2 overall.
Head coaches Tony Dungy of the Colts and Jeff Fisher of the Titans both played safety in the NFL and both started at least 45 games.