We have already taken a look into the 2013 class of wide receivers. Now we will take a look into the 2013 safety class. Like the receiver class, this year’s safety class is quite underrated. In fact, this class may be one of the best in recent years. Headlined by a all around playmaker from Texas, two hard hitters from the SEC, and a ballhawk in from Fresno State.
This originally had photos to break up all the wording, but I still haven't really figured out how to place photos on this.
Kenny Vaccaro, Texas:
Weight: 215 lbs
Speed: A one speed safety who lacks ”burst”. It isn’t that Vaccaro isn’t fast, he just has trouble stopping and getting back to top speed quickly. He is fast enough to play nickel corner though. Will have trouble covering receivers with top end speed.
Ball Skills and Hands: Shows good body control and hip flexibility. Has the ability to go up and make catches, but usually is a body catching guy.
Zone and Man Coverage: Oddly, Vaccaro is a better man coverage guy than zone. Due to his time in the nickel, he shows fluid hips and size to bump and run slot receivers. Vaccaro plays half field Cover Two well, but sometimes gets out of his zone in other zone coverages. Backpedal is high and stiff.
Tackling: Vaccaro is a very good tackler and will lay a hard hit on whoever has the ball. He is also very physical with receivers in the run game and will shed blocks to make a stop. Sometimes he will come downhill out of control missing the tackle. Usually takes good angles to the ball carrier, but sometimes loses focus and takes bad angles.
Instincts: Gets caught freelancing and looking in the backfield in zone coverage during play action. Just overall very aggressive in his nature, which leaves him susceptible to over committing.
Overall: Vaccaro is probably the best safety in this class due to his ability and measurables. Confident player who played in a big time conference against big time teams. Needs to work on his last line of defense instincts.
Projected Team:Dallas Cowboys, Round 1: Pick 18
Cowboys are switching to the 4-3 this year, and originally I thought they would go for a defensive tackle who would push the pocket on passing downs. Instead of a defensive tackle I think they take something they have been missing since Roy Williams departed, a safety. Vaccaro will come in and help the run stopping game and be extremely useful in 3rd and long situation.
Matt Elam, Florida:
Weight: 205 lbs
Speed: Elam has the potential to be a high 4.4 40 guy, but realistically he is going to run in the mid 4.5s. His game day speed is faster than his workout speed.
Ball Skills and Hands: At 5’10” Elam won’t be the safety to match up against premier NFL tight ends. Sometimes he will make interceptions with his hand, but more often he will do so with body catches.
Zone and Man Coverage: Very good zone coverage over the top and in the hook to curl area. Can play some man, especially in nickel, but will get burnt by faster receivers.
Tackling: If Elam locks on to you he will ruin your day. At the same time he goes for the big hit too often, leads with his shoulder, lunges, or leaves his feet too often instead of wrapping up the ball carrier.
Instincts: Average instincts for a player ranked so highly. Takes good angles to the ball carrier. Doesn’t seem to have urgency on every play.
Overall: Probably the hardest hitting safety in the class. Height will hinder his ability to cover tight ends, but overall a very good safety prospect.
Projected Team: New England Patriots, Round 1: Pick 29
The Patriots have been looking for a big time safety since Rodney Harrison, and Elam could be that guy. He is a hard hitting safety that give solid over the top coverage. Adds much needed help to a weak secondary. Remember how I said he’s too small to match up against premier tight ends? Well he has two less he needs cover because they are on his team.
Eric Reid, LSU:
Weight: 208 lbs
Speed: Reid has the speed that you would come to expect from a big hitting safety. He shows excellent closing speed on the ball.His recovery speed is questionable.
Ball Skills and Hands: Has the height and vertical ability to go up and win jump balls. Takes advantage of poor throws and will undercut receivers and catch the ball away from his body with his strong hands.
Zone and Man Coverage: Reid is a zone coverage guy. He is not fast enough to match up against the faster receivers in the NFL. His zone coverage is above average and has the instincts to jump routes coming into his zone. At times he does get overaggressive and open up the back half of the field sometimes.
Tackling: This is the strength of Reid’s game. He is an explosive downhill hitter that will make ball carriers pay. Sometimes attacks with his shoulder and lunges. Still probably the best tackler in this class.
Instincts: Good awareness in zone coverage, knowing who is coming and going from his zone. Needs some more coaching.
Projected Team: St. Louis Rams, Round 2: Pick 46
The Rams could use a force in their secondary. Reid will give over the top help while providing hard hitting run support in the box. With Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins, the addition of Reid would help build a Seahawks like secondary.
Phillip Thomas, Fresno State:
Weight: 215 lbs
Speed: Thomas is quick enough to stay with tight ends and average speed receiver, but will have trouble keeping up with quicker slot receivers.
Ball Skills and Hands: Thomas has the best ball skills and coverage ability in the class. He puts his body in good position between the ball and the receiver to knock it down or make the interception.
Zone and Man Coverage: Thomas’ zone coverage is excellent, but his man coverage could use some coaching. Thomas shoes almost corner level hip fluidity in his direction change.
Tackling: Tackling ability is good, but he isn’t Reid or Elam. Thomas can play in the box, but right now is more center fielder type of safety. Good blitzer off the edge.
Instincts: His coverage awareness is great, but lacks the instincts in the run game. He needs to be coached up on taking better angles to the ball carrier and forcing them out towards the sideline.
Overall: If Thomas get is together in the tackling department of his game he could be the best safety in this class. He has excellent coverage skills and can give a team great over the top coverage.
Projected Team: Washington Redskins, Round 2: Pick 51
The Redskins need someone to make some plays in their secondary. The Redskins secondary last year was very bad. Thomas can come in and make plays and create turnovers.
T.J. McDonald, USC:
Weight: 205 lbs
Speed: McDonald’s speed is relevant to that of an in-the-box safety. Lacks the ability to turn-and-run with receivers. Shows good downhill burst to the ball carrier.
Ball Skills and Hands: When he is able to keep with receivers and tight ends McDonald has very good hands and good ball skills. He uses his strong hands to go and get the ball at it’s highest point and puts himself between the receiver and the ball.
Zone and Man Coverage: McDonald’s coverage ability reminds me of Taylor Mays when he was coming out. He covers really well sometimes, but sometimes he just looks lost and out of place.
Tackling: This is the strength of McDonald’s game, just like Mays a few years. He is a very physical safety and will lay the wood to anyone in his zone, or while coming downhill in the run game. Sometime he does not wrap up, but instead he goes for the big hit and misses.
Instincts: Here is another strong suit of McDonald. As the son of NFL Pro Bowl safety Tim McDonald, he is extremely well coached up in his knowledge of the game and his position. He will make plays on instinct alone.
Overall: Though he may not be a sideline to sideline safety, he could make a very solid career in the NFL. Roy Williams had a great career as a hard hitting in-the-box guy who improved his coverage skills with good coaching.
Projected Team: Baltimore Ravens, Round 2: Pick 62
Ed Reed could be leaving the Ravens this year, if not in the near future. Someone needs to be brought in to take over for Reed, or to learn from Reed before he departs. McDonald isn’t the same kind of safety Reed is, but if Reed can coach him up on better coverage skills McDonald could be lethal in the Ravens secondary.
Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma:
Weight: 212 lbs
Speed: Fast enough to keep up with receivers, but will lose coverage on better slot receivers on crossing routes unless he can use his physicality at the line.
Ball Skills and Hands: Jefferson does a nice job making catches with his hands and not his body. Doesn’t have the size to force himself into good position to make a play on the ball, so he must skillfully time his approach.
Zone and Man Coverage: Does a nice job in zone and man coverage, but due to his size he will simply just be out played for the ball. Does a good job coming out of his zone to attack the ball carrier. Can match up against slot receivers.
Tackling: This is where Jefferson and Elam are very similar. Both are good tacklers and big hitters. Jefferson may even do a better job wrapping up.
Instincts: Jefferson shows good awareness in his zone of who he needs to cover. During Oklahoma’s game against Notre Dame this year he forced a fumble and recovered it all in one play.
Overall: Jefferson is like a poor man’s Matt Elam, but he has better leadership skills. Due to his size he will have trouble covering tight ends, and at times will be eaten up by offensive linemen. Reminds me of T.J. Ward of the Browns, and quite frankly Ward is a very good safety.
Projected Team: Tennessee Titans, Round 3: Pick 70
With declining play from Michael Griffin, and the lack of another safety, the Titans could use some more help in their secondary. Jefferson may not be the starter day on, but could easily work his way into the lineup.
Jonathan Cyprien, FIU
Weight: 210 lbs
Speed: Cyprien posesses enough speed to have good range in zone to cover his ground, and quick enough to man up in the slot. Could really impress at the combine.
Ball Skills and Hands: Average ball skills and hands. Could use some coaching in this field. He uses his bigger frame to get between the ball and receiver, but doesn’t always position himself correctly.
Zone and Man Coverage: Good zone coverage ability, but at times gets caught on play action while looking in the background. Lacks elite change in direction and recovery ability. Can man up against tight ends, but doesn’t do as well against quick receivers.
Tackling: This class is full of hard hitting safeties, and Cyprien is defiantly one of them. All of Senior Bowl week when there was a good hit it was most likely Cyprien. He flows to the ball carrier very smoothly and lays the wood.
Instincts: Playing for FIU, Cyprien’s level of competition wasn’t the best. So his instincts look good, but how are they against other players with the same superior instincts?
Overall: A player in the NFL that Cyprien reminds me of is Yeremiah Bell. A player with solid coverage skills, but isn’t going to become a master ballhawk. He is a player who will take you out if you have the ball though. The Senior Bowl was a coming out party for Cyprien. He was laying the wood to whoever put their hands on the ball.
Projected Team: Pittsburgh Steelers, Round 3: Pick 70
Troy Polamalu isn’t getting younger or healthier. Ryan Clark has always just been serviceable as well. Cyprien could come in an learn from one of the best players in the past decade as well as a replacement for Ryan Clark.
Bacarri Rambo, Georgia:
Weight: 210 lbs
Speed: Rambo will run in the mid 4.5 40 range, so he has average speed for his position.
Ball Skills and Hands: He has strong hands and is able to contest jump balls from receivers.
Zone and Man Coverage: Reads routes and quarterbacks eyes very well. He moves well with receivers downfield and helps limit yards after the catch.
Tackling: Rambo is a strong tackler and comes downhill fast and hard. Physical receivers can block him and prevent his ability to make the tackle.
Instincts: Needs to work on his read an react skills and his angles to the ball. The biggest problem for Rambo was his off the field issues.
Overall: First of all, Bacarri Rambo may have one of the coolest names in the draft. He also reminds me a lot of ex-Bulldog Rashad Jones of the Miami Dolphins. Yet again his off the field issues were the biggest issues. Rambo also had a good Senior Bowl week where he got an interception in the game.
Projected Team: Minnesota Vikings, Round 3: Pick 83
Minnesota drafted Harrison Smith last year and they could add Bacarri Rambo to help bolster their secondary even more. Rambo may not be an instant starter, but if he can do what Rashad Jones did for Miami the Vikings would be happy with that.
J.J. Wilcox, Georgia Southern:
Weight: 215 lbs
Speed: Wilcox has deceptive speed. I would rather call it quickness. At the combine Wilcox could surprise some scouts with his speed.
Ball Skills and Hands: J.J. Wilcox has the best hands in this safety class. For his first three years at Georgia Southern Wilcox played receiver. “ During that time, he rushed 137 times for 964 yards - a nifty 7 yards per carry average - and 13 touchdowns. He caught 45 passes for 898 yards and four scores.” (nfldraftscout.com) He goes up and gets the ball at its highest point with his strong hands.
Zone and Man Coverage: Wilcox’s coverage skills in both man and zone are good but need some work. He does well in coverage due to his time at receiver and knowing how routes work and what he is looking at.
Tackling: In his senior year, Wilcox made 84 tackles which is very good, but he will be playing in the NFL now. Not D1-AA. He has the frame to make the hits, just not the best technique for a converted receiver.
Instincts: Wilcox has a nose for the ball due to his time at receiver, but doesn’t have a full grasp of taking angles to the ball or his exact coverage assignment at times.
Overall: Wilcox will most likely be a centerfield player initially when he enters the league, but could evolve into a very good safety if he improves on his tackling ability.
Projected Team: Cincinnati Bengals, Round 3: Pick 84
The Bengals had a good year for their secondary (top 10), but Wilcox with a little coaching could be a ballhawk in any secondary. I think the Bengals will be in the market for safety this spring to add to an already very good secondary.
Shawn Williams, Georgia:
Weight: 220 lbs
Speed: Williams goes down in this class as one of the slower safeties. He will be one of those safeties that runs in the 4.6 40 time at the combine. His game speed is faster than he will run though.
Ball Skills and Hands: He is not a ballhawk and won’t come down with many interceptions.
Zone and Man Coverage: Good in single and two deep zone coverage, but he is a liability in man coverage. Can cover tight ends, but will be eaten up by more athletic tight ends. Reads quarterbacks well.
Tackling: Powerful tackler that asserts his authority over the middle. Will come up into the box and make punishing hits on ball carriers. Lunges sometimes and goes for the big shoulder hit leaving him susceptible to missed tackles.
Instincts: Williams reads the quarterback's eyes well helping himself in coverage, and takes good angles to the ball.
Overall: Williams is just a big hard hitting strong safety. He will more than likely come in and play a situational roll to begin his career but has the ability to become a full time guy.
Projected Team: Detroit Lions, Round 4: Pick 97.
The Lions are going to need a safety. The are probably going to let Louis Delmas walk and then behind that they really have nothing. The Lions also have a lack of depth at corner as well, so a enforcer at safety will make receivers think twice about their route choices.
Robert Lester, Alabama:
Weight: 212 lbs
Speed: Lester is in the same boat as Shawn Williams. His 40 time will not be that impressive.
Ball Skills and Hands: Has strong hands and a good vertical hight-point to go up and get jump-balls.
Zone and Man Coverage: Hustles in his coverage and will track down receivers coming across the middle. Has the ability to cover not as athletic tight ends, but doesn’t have the hip fluidity to keep up with quick tight ends and receivers.
Tackling: Does a good job dropping his hips and exploding into ball carriers. Lester gets his long arms around ball carriers and wraps them up before bringing them to the ground.
Instincts: Their are times Lester looks like he has it all together and looks like he picked up right where Mark Barron left off at Alabama. Then their are times that Lester just falls apart and is helpless. Inconsistency is the key to why Lester has been on a consistent slide.
Overall: Lester is just a very inconsistent player, but some team will take a shot on him due to playing for the monster Alabama defense and being a really good athlete.
Projected Team: Philadelphia Eagles, Round 4: Pick 98
The Eagles need a safety, and they have needed a safety since Brian Dawkins left. Lester may not be the guy to fill that void, but if he gets his game consistent he could be a pleasant surprise. The Eagles may even spend an earlier pick on a safety.
Ray Ray Armstrong, Miami:
Weight: 227 lbs
Speed: For a player at 6’3” 227, Armstrong will run about a mid 4.5 40. That’s what you will see hard hitting safeties like Reid and Cyprien run, but add 15 to 20 lbs to the frame. That is pretty quick for a safety his size.
Ball Skills and Hands: You won’t call Armstrong a ballhawk, but he has really good hands for a safety. He probably has the best ball-in-air focus out of all the safeties in this class.
Zone and Man Coverage: Zone is his strength and he keeps tabs on who is coming in and out of his well. In man coverage he will compete with tight ends, but isn’t fluid enough yet to really shut down top tier NFL tight ends.
Tackling: Armstrong will punish you with his tackling ability. He takes good angles coming downhill to put a lick on ball carries, and puts a shoulder into the gut of crossing receivers.
Instincts: He knows his responsibilities in zone coverage and keeps tabs on the players that belong to him. Usually a good tackler, but some times leaves his feet when he is the last line of defense leading to missed tackles and big yardage allowed.
Overall: Why did I skip every other safety prospect in this class and go to someone who probably won’t get drafted? Because Ray Ray Armstrong is a first round pick if his off the field life wasn’t a mess. He was one of the top college safeties until he was kicked out of football for his senior year. He didn't even get kicked out for something all that horrible either. He was removed from the program because he was talking to a booster and getting money. How many players have done that over the past few years? If he would have declared for the 2012 draft he would have been in contention with Mark Barron for the top safety spot.
Projected Team: Miami Dolphins, UFA
Some Dolphins fans will scoff at this idea, but with how their safeties played last season they really don’t need to spend anything higher than a 5th (assuming they re-sign Chris Clemons). At that point why not spend all your picks on other positions and grab a guy from Miami to play in Miami. If Armstrong can do what Vontaze Burfict did for the Bengals, then Miami will have a potential Pro Bowler for potentially a seventh rounder or less.