Draft Grades for Top 10 by Position - Safeties

By Lance Zierlein
March 29, 2013

Lance Zierlein drops his Drafting the Top 10 by Position Series with safeties.

« Cornerbacks Part 6 of 6

Safety Rankings

Safety School Round
Kenny Vacarro Texas 1st/2nd
Jonathan Cyprien Florida International 2nd
Matt Elam Florida 2nd
Phillip Thomas Fresno State 3rd
Eric Reid LSU 3rd
Josh Evans Florida 3rd/4th
Shamarko Thomas Syracuse 3rd/4th
Bacarri Rambo Georgia 3rd/4th
TJ McDonald USC 4th
DJ Swearinger South Carolina 4th


Living in Texas, maybe I've seen Kenny Vacarro too often and therefore more jaded, but I just don't see the sky-high grade on him that others see.  He has talent and a great deal of aggressiveness, but he needs to harness his aggressiveness and play a more cerebral game.  Vacarro can thump and he is very fluid with his movements, but at times misses tackles because he is going for kill shots.

Jonathan Cyprien is just a shade behind Vacarro as a prospect because we don't quite know as much about Cyprien's ability to play duel safety roles since he was asked to play around the line of scrimmage so often.  Cyprien's aggressive demeanor suited him well in the box at FIU and I think he started to open eyes to his range in coverage at the Senior Bowl.

One of the more interesting things that I've learned from talking to scouts who handle defensive backs is that they love physical size as long as they meet certain size requirements.  If they are below those requirements, they believe that safety's physical play will cause him to prematurely break down due to lack of size.  I'm having some concerns about Matt Elam in that regard.  Elam is a ferocious striker, but with that kind of hitting comes potential for injury.  I don't think Elam can dial it back either.  He's going to thump you.  Elam will miss some tackles because he comes in looking to land big shoulder blows and he has trouble against big WRs down the field due to his lack of length.

There isn't any one thing that I would point to about Phillip Thomas' game that I love, but there is very little not to like.  Thomas has good hips and changes direction easily.  He handles himself well in space against the pass and he   appears to be one of the more instinctive safeties in the draft.  At times, he can be a grab and drag tackler, but he is pretty technically sound.

Like Elam, a huge part of Eric Reid's identity as a player is the way that he hits and how physically he conducts himself on the field.  He has the size to be that type of hitter, but I worry about him in coverage.  I think Reid will be solid between the hashes and with basic 2-deep responsibility, but I think he could have some major issues against more diverse, wide-open passing attacks.  Josh Evans isn't going to rock you like Reid, but he's a steady tackler and is solid coming downhill.  I like him coverage better than Reid, but he has a little more narrow frame than I would like.

Shemarko Thomas is a better athlete than a football player at this point.  He was one of the most athletic players at the Combine, but he does most of his work around the line of scrimmage so that deep speed doesn't come into play as often as you might think.  From an instincts standpoint, Thomas is below average.  He would be best suited in a blitz-happy scheme that allows him to attack.  I won't ignore the physical potential, but the football needs improvement.

Bacarri Rambo put up good numbers in college, but I think there may be some projecting you have to do with him.  I've seen some hints of potential coverage issues and if that is the case, the NFL could expose them a little more than SEC offenses would.  Rambo is a solid player and should be an NFL starter at some point.  T.J. McDonald has the body-type including a long set of arms, but you come away from watching his games wanting more.  He plays around the line of scrimmage so he's always near the ball, but when the game opens up a little bit, he tends to get lost.  As opposed to Cyprien, McDonald did not stand out at the Senior Bowl.

D.J. Swearinger is much bigger looking than his his 5'11/208 frame would lead you to believe.  I almost wonder if he lost a little weight in an attempt to run faster at the combine.  Swearinger is a card carrying tough-guy who looks to get the attention of WRs early on.  He will have to keep playing physical football because he is a stiff player with with average movement skills for a safety.  I don't think his range will allow him to be a consistent starter if asked to play in that style of defense.

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