In the past 10 years of the draft, 12 safeties have been taken in the first round with only one (Roy Williams by Dallas) selected in the top 10. The second and third rounds seem to be where safeties will most likely be picked. Over the past 10 years, 69 safeties have been selected in these two rounds, including seven in 2003. Mike Doss (Colts) and Ken Hamlin (Seahawks) were outstanding rookies last year. Eugene Wilson (Patriots) played cornerback in college but switched to safety and played very well for the Super Bowl champions.
In order to be a top player at this position, you need to be a good tackler as many team now play eight defensive players in "the box" to stop the run. You also have to be a good blitzer and you must be able to cover both the big tight ends and the speedy receivers in pass coverage. It is also important to be a good special teams player.
Only one safety will go in the first round of this year's draft, but that doesn't mean there won't be some good players available. Remember, John Lynch, Brian Dawkins, Darren Woodson, Lawyer Milloy, Mike Brown and Mike Minter were all drafted in the second round. Rodney Harrison, who played so well for New England last year, was the 145th player picked in the 1994 draft by San Diego. Two of the best safeties to ever play in the NFL -- Willie Wood of Green Bay and Cliff Harris of Dallas -- were undrafted college free agents and combined to play in 10 Pro Bowls and helped their teams win Super Bowls.
Size and speed
The average free safety at this year's combine was 6-1 1/8 and 205 pounds, had a 36-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-11 long jump, did 17 strength reps and ran 4.56 in the 40-yard dash.
The average strong safety was 5-11 3/4 and 209 pounds, had a 37-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-1 long jump, did 17 strength reps and ran 4.59 in the 40-yard dash.
Here are my rankings for free safeties. Look below to see my rankings for strong safties.
1. Sean Taylor, Miami, Fla. (6-21/2, 230)
Taylor had a 35-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-1 long jump and 11 strength lifts. Did not run any shuttles. Played running back, defensive back and linebacker in high school, scoring 44 touchdowns his senior year. Scores three touchdowns (two receiving and one rushing) to lead to the Florida 2A State Championship. Played but did not start as a true freshman in 2001 at Miami. Started in 2002 and 2003. All-Big East performer the past two seasons. A strong, physical player with outstanding speed for the position. Had four interceptions in 2002 and 10 in 2003. Very good special teams player who does a good job returning kicks. Should be a top NFL player as a safety.
2. Sean Jones, Georgia (6-1 3/8, 218)
Jones ran his two 40s in 4.55 and 4.57. Had a 361/2-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-2 long jump, 4.50 in the short shuttle, 6.90 in the three-cone drill and 16 strength reps. Played quarterback and defensive back in high school and had 13 interceptions his senior year. Redshirted in 2000 at Georgia. Played but did not start in 2001 and started 12 games at free safety in 2002, recording two interceptions. Started in 2003 and had five interceptions and 100 tackles (62 solo). Has good reactions and good feel for the position. Has improved every year. Will tackle and has good size for the position. Good future as an NFL player.
3. Matt Ware, UCLA (6-2 3/8, 209)
Ware ran his two 40s in 4.48 and 4.51. Had a 391/2-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-11/2 long jump, 4.34 in the short shuttle, 7.23 in the three-cone drill and 15 strength reps. Played quarterback and defensive back in high school for the top football team in the country. Also ran track and played baseball. Started for UCLA as a true freshman and has started the past three seasons, finishing his career with eight interceptions. Has athletic ability to cover receivers. Can block kicks. Received a six-figure signing bonus to play baseball for the Seattle Mariners. I think he is better at safety than corner. A lot of upside with this player.
4. Madieu Williams, Maryland (6-0 3/8, 193)
Williams ran his two 40s at 4.56 and 4.46. He had a 391/2-inch vertical, a 10-foot-10 long jump, a 4.21 short shuttle, an 11.27 long shuttle, a 6.62 three-cone drill and 18 strength lifts. Played defensive back in high school and also lettered in track (hurdles) and basketball. Born in Sierra Leone in West Africa. Started college at Townson State and started nine games in 2000. Transferred to Maryland and redshirted in 2001. Started 14 games for the Terrapins in 2002. Very good athlete with instincts. Physical player and has quickness. Seven interceptions the past two years.
5. Stuart Schweigert, Purdue (6-2, 218)
Schweigert ran his two 40s in 4.44 and 4.47. Had a 36-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-4 long jump, 3.88 in the short shuttle, 6.69 in the three-cone drill and 18 strength lifts. Was an option quarterback in high school, rushing for 1,502 yards and 22 touchdowns. Also played basketball and ran track. Played as a true freshman in 2000 at Purdue, starting nine games and recording five interceptions. Has started the past three seasons and set a Purdue record with 15 career interceptions. Plays hard and will tackle. Can breakdown and come under control. Good at making plays on the ball. Plays on special teams. Has an outgoing personality.
6. Will Allen, Ohio State (6-01/2, 202)
Allen ran his 40s in 4.57 and 4.60. Had a 36-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-7 long jump, 4.25 in the short shuttle and 7.06 in the three-cone drill. Played defensive back in high school and was also a pitcher for the baseball team and sprinter on the track team. Played as a true freshman at Ohio State, but did not start until this past season. Made a big play against Michigan in 2002 to preserve a win. Good athlete that compete on every play. Played for three years as a nickel corner (total of 233 minutes). Has a great attitude with no off-the-field problems.
7. Kentrell Curry, Georgia (6-1, 201)
Curry worked out at the combine and ran his 40s in 4.62 and 4.65. Had a 341/2-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-7 long jump, 6.94 in the three-cone drill and 17 lifts. Ran better at Georgia's Pro Day on March 18 and had a 39-inch vertical jump that day. Played running back and defensive back and ran track (sprints) in high school. Redshirted in 1999 at Georgia and played but did not start in 2000 and 2001. Started 14 games in 2002. Did not play in 2003 due to leg surgery. Has a tall, muscular frame and long legs. Plays hard. Has very good quickness and is a good tackler. Has had a history of injuries going back to a broken ankle in his senior year of high school. Good player if healthy.
8. Jason Shivers, Arizona State (6-01/2, 201)
Shivers ran his 40s in 4.53 and 4.53. Had a 36-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-2 long jump and 19 strength lifts. Did not do any shuttles. Played wide receiver and safety in high school. Also ran track and was state champion in the 100 and 200 meters in spring of 2001. Played as a true freshman, starting nine games. Has started past two years. Fast and athletic. Led team in tackles over the past two years (225) and also had six interceptions. Very aggressive player. Plays better zone than man coverage.
9. Etric Pruitt, Southern Mississippi (6-0 1/8, 197)
Pruitt ran his 40s in 4.60 and 4.63. Had a 391/2-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-8 long jump, 4.60 short shuttle and 7.16 in the three-cone drill. Played high school football in Theodore, Ala. Redshirted in 1999 at Southern Miss. Played in 2000 but did not start. Has started the last three years. A big hitter for his size. Very good against the run. Productive player with 271 tackles over past two years and three interceptions in 2003. Team captain and Two-time all-conference player. Should be a very good special teams player.
10. Glenn Earl, Notre Dame (6-1 1/8, 222)
Earl was not able to work out due to a left knee injury. Had 20 strength lifts. Played wide receiver and defensive back and also played basketball in high school. Redshirted in 1999 at Notre Dame. Two-year starter. Has toughness and skills. Speed looks o.k. but not confirmed because of injury.
1. Bob Sanders, Iowa (5-8 3/8, 204)
Sanders ran his 40s in 4.35 and 4.44. Had a 411/2-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-6 long jump, 3.91 in the short shuttle, 6.70 in the three-cone drill and 15 strength lifts. Played running back in high school in Erie, Pa. Played as a true freshman in 2000 at Iowa, starting three games. Full-time starter the next three years. Player has everything except height. High intensity, great speed, rare physique, big chest and arms. Will play with injuries and is a team leader. Does everything at one pace (fast). Has very good quickness and acceleration. Reminds me of Andre Waters, who played 12 years in the NFL with the Eagles and Cardinals.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Other safeties who will be taken later in the draft and could surprise some people (alphabetical order):
Tony Bua, Arkansas (5-111/4, 209)
Ran a 4.68 in the 40. Makes a lot of plays. Has played outside linebacker and also played some on the Arkansas basketball team.
Brandon Everage, Oklahoma (5-11 5/8, 194)
Had left shoulder surgery and did not work out this spring.
Brett Hudson, Arizona State (6-1 7/8, 215)
Ran a 4.58 in the 40. Has size and speed for the position. Junior College player who has started at corner and safety for Arizona State.
Keith Lewis, Oregon (6-01/2, 204)
Ran a 4.59 in the 40. A running back in high school, he's a three-year starter at safety for Oregon.
Ben Nauman, Augustana College, S.D. (6-11/2, 196)
Very competitive player at this level, he had nine interceptions in 2001. Was a four-year starter. Not invited to the combine, he worked out at Wisconsin's Pro Day and impressed everyone present.
Dexter Reid, North Carolina (5-10 7/8, 203)
Ran a 4.45 in the 40. Had a 39-inch vertical jump and 10-foot-3 long jump. Three-year starter with good athletic ability.
J.R. Reid, South Florida (5-101/2, 201)
Ran a 4.59 in the 40. Three-year starter with 13 interceptions over past two seasons.
Rashad Washington, Kansas State (6-2 1/8, 223)
Ran a 4.64 in the 40. A good athlete who played on Kansas State's basketball team in the 2000-01 season.
Gibril Wilson, Tennessee (6-0 1/8, 197)
Ran a 4.43 in the 40. Junior-college transfer who started six games in 2002. Good against the run but needs to work on cover skills.
DID YOU KNOW?
- The highest pick ever used on a safety was No. 4 when Ken Easley was drafted by Seattle in 1981.
- Head coaches Jeff Fisher of Tennessee and Tony Dungy of Indianapolis both played safety in the NFL.
- Since 1975, five safeties have been selected to the Hall of Fame: Larry Wilason (1978), Yale Larry (1979), Ken Houston (1986) Willie Wood (1989) and Paul Krause (1998)
What scouts look for when grading cornerbacks:
- Ability to learn
- Competitiveness and toughness
- Work habits
- Athletic ability
- Man cover ability
- Zone cover ability
- Break from backpedal
- Run support
- Tackling ability
- Closing quickness
- Deep acceleration
- Play on the ball
Previous Gil Brandt position analysis columns:
Gil Brandt was vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-89. He is now in his eighth year as NFL.com's chief personnel guru. (Brandt is of no relation to Packers VP of Player Finance Andrew Brandt.)