Kenny Vaccaro will be the No. 1 safety in the 2013 NFL Draft. - John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE
Watching Colts quarterback Andrew Luck go upside the head of Miami's secondary repeatedly last Sunday was depressing. Luck's a special talent at the quarterback position, no doubt, but many of the throws he launched against the Dolphins indicated a sheer lack of respect for Sean Smith and Co. And that T.Y. Hilton touchdown grab was the ultimate kick in the nuts for a defense already reeling on the back end.
Did you see Hilton go up and take that ball away from Miami's secondary? It looked like the shark attacking the Kintner boy in Jaws. There wasn't a thing Smith or Nolan Carroll could do about that grab, either.
This is probably an unfair comparison, but imagine if Hilton had been surrounded by Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain instead of Smith and Carroll. How many quarterbacks test that water? Few? Zero? And while it's unfair to expect Smith and Carroll to even partially resemble the Crockett and Tubbs corner tandem Miami had in the late '90s and early '00s, it's not unfair to expect more from the corners who start for the Dolphins in 2012. Smith could be a superstar if placed in the right situation. Carroll? Jury's still out. Still, the Hilton catch last Sunday drove home the point that it no longer matters that Miami's defensive interior smashes the run like no other. In a passing league, Miami is most vulnerable against—wait for it—the pass.
This secondary is a strong example of why many people on the site—myself included—obsess about the upcoming NFL Draft each year. Sure, the Dolphins could go and shop for a starting-caliber corner in free agency, but when you consider how stacked the 2013 draft will be at corner and safety, it's nearly impossible to resist the idea of Miami using one of its first two or three picks on a defensive back. Some fans will lament Jeff Ireland's decision to jettison Vontae Davis to Indianapolis for a second-round pick, but the way I see it, the Davis move was the first step in flushing the underwhelming and underachieving play that has haunted Miami's secondary since Crockett and Tubbs left for syndication halfway through the 2000s. That's a long time to play with crummy defensive backs, and it's a big reason why Miami has been a punchline for much of the past decade.
The fix? You know I have one in mind. And if you're familiar with my posts, you know I am going to opt for nabbing a corner and safety in the draft instead of free agency. I want to give defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle an opportunity to take in and mold a rookie corner, and I want to give him that opportunity next April. Here are the prospects I am leaning toward, at both cornerback and safety, in the 2013 draft.
Dee Milliner, Alabama
I don't see Milliner getting out of the top 10 this year. In fact, I think he's the best "total package" corner to come out since Darrelle Revis (high praise, I know). Milliner has excellent technique, strength and agility for the position, and his almost absurd willingness to get after the run will certainly sit well with NFL teams looking to get bigger and more aggressive at cornerback. If the stars align and Milliner falls to Miami, they must take him.
Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
The more I watch Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks, the more I think he could be the Dolphins' guy. Tall, physical, smart, a leader and quite the playmaker, Banks has been the heart and soul of the Bulldogs' defense this season. His stock in the 2013 cornerback class is probably a tick or two below Alabama's Dee Milliner right now, but I see Banks becoming the bigger turnover hound of the two. Plenty of upside with this one, too.
Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
I wrote about Rhodes two weeks ago, but it bears repeating: he has the ability to be the best corner in this draft. And if he somehow falls to the second round, even better for the Dolphins. A technical, physical marvel who might have the best wheels in this group.
37) Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
Oh boy, would the addition of Vaccaro make the Dolphins' secondary a very unfriendly place. Vaccaro isn't yet the biggest name among safeties in this draft, but I expect that to soon change. He's a big hitter and even bigger ball hawk, and has the speed (low-to-mid-4.4) to effectively play centerfield
David Amerson, North Carolina State
It's hard to believe Amerson is considered a second rounder a year after he led the NCAA in interceptions, but that's what a rough start to the season will do for you. He's fought back in some regard, but the freewheeling, aggressive coverage tendencies that helped him notch so many picks last season could keep some NFL teams away next spring. Amerson has the ability and awareness to be a star cornerback at the pro level, but he'll find himself at safety if he doesn't develop some coverage discipline.
Desmond Trufant, Washington
Well, he's a Trufant, so the bloodlines will certainly help his stock next spring, but Marcus' younger brother has become a polished, fluid cover corner during his time at Washington. His lackluster ability against the run relegates him to a round two grade on this list, but he's good enough to be a first-round pick.
Eric Reid, LSU
Entering this season, Reid had a chance to assert himself as the best safety in college football, but he's been just above average for the Tigers this season. Still, Reid has big-time speed (mid-4.4) and hitting ability to make himself a factor in any secondary, and his game compares favorable to former Crimson Tide and current Buccaneers safety Mark Barron (Reid's probably a little faster, actually). Barron ascended all the way to the No. 7 pick last April, so there's no reason to think Reid can't experience a similar climb. For now, though, he's firmly in round two consideration
Matt Elam, Florida
Elam got a lot of attention in my last prospect post, and that's because he projects as a flexible Polamalu-type safety at the NFL level. The Gators have cooled off considerably the last two weeks, but Elam can do a great service to his draft stock by testing well in pre-draft workouts.
Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
Jefferson experienced a fantastic start to this season, but while guys like Vaccaro and Elam can basically do it all at the safety position, Jefferson is more of a pure turnover hound. In many ways, he's the David Amerson of safeties. Still, Jefferson plays centerfield like a champ, and displays fantastic hands for a defensive back.