2013 Preseason All-American Projections: Safeties

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2013 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation’s leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and this coming fall’s stars could be the headline players next April for the 2014 NFL Draft.

First-Team Safety:

HaHa Clinton-Dix, Alabama

Alabama has been a factory for NFL defensive backs for the last few years. Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dee Milliner were all first-round picks and Clinton-Dix looks like the next in line to extend the streak. The 6-foot-1, 209-pound Clinton-Dix has good size to go along with great speed and instincts. Clinton-Dix was excellent as a center fielder in the deep part of the field during his first season of playing time. He had demonstrated impressive instincts and ball skills despite limited playing time.

Clinton-Dix platooned with Vinnie Sunseri last year to replace Barron. Senior Robert Lester was the leader of the secondary, but Clinton-Dix provided the most splash plays. Sunseri had more snaps in running situations while Clinton-Dix was used more in the passing game. The sophomore had 37 tackles, five interceptions, four passes broken up and a forced fumble.

Clinton-Dix and Sunseri should be the Crimson Tide’s starting safeties in 2013 since Lester has moved on to the NFL. Clinton-Dix has a great athletic skill set and could be better having experience under his belt. Alabama figures to have a lot of leads, so teams should be throwing the ball often in the second half of games. With an improved pass rush up front, Clinton-Dix could have a lot of interception opportunities. The athletically talented junior could put together a huge season and be the top safety in the nation.

Ed Reynolds, Stanford

Reynolds was one of the top safeties in college football in 2012. The junior recorded six interceptions, five passes broken up and 37 tackles. The first-year starter did an excellent job of playing off Stanford’s good pass-rushers. The Cardinal returns an excellent front seven, so he should see similar opportunities this fall.

Reynolds (6-2, 205) has a nice skill set with good size and speed. What really stood out in his debut season were his good instincts to make impact plays. When Reynolds got his hands on the ball, he made the most of his opportunities. Three of the six picks were returned for touchdowns. Another interception came against UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship Game, and Reynolds returned that pick 80 yards to the 1-yard line.

The senior needs to improve his run defense, eye discipline and tackling this year. Stanford has consistently lined up Reynolds in the deep part of the field in the past, and a lot of his run support came after a running back broke into the secondary. Reynolds’ open-field tackling could definitely stand to improve. The Cardinal has a good coaching staff and it wouldn’t be surprising if Reynolds becomes a more complete safety as a senior.

Second-Team Safety:

Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt

Ladler was impossible to ignore when watching Vanderbilt play last year. The 6-foot, 205-pounds safety was always around the ball and made his presence felt. He also did a nice job of shutting down the deep part of the field and helping his cornerbacks over the top. The quick and instinctive Ladler is able to cover a lot of lot of ground while consistently lining up downfield.

Ladler led the team last season with 90 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, one sack, one pass broken up, one interception and one forced fumble. He totaled 53 tackles, one tackle for a loss and one interception in 2011. Ladler has also seen good preparation in practice from going against standout wide receiver Jordan Matthews.

A lot of the top safeties in the SEC from last year have moved on to the NFL. That group includes LSU’s Eric Reid, Florida’s Matt Elam, Alabama’s Robert Lester, South Carolina’s D.J. Swearinger, Georgia’s Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams. Ladler is one of the top safeties returning to the SEC and it wouldn’t be surprising if he is recognized as such at the end of the season. If the senior repeats his 2012 performance while adding some more splash plays, he could contend for First-Team All-American status.

Craig Loston, LSU

Loston replaced Brandon Taylor in LSU’s starting lineup in 2012 and had an impressive debut. Loston was named a Second-Team All-SEC selection after making 55 tackles, three tackles for a loss, one pass broken up and three interceptions. The Tigers are expecting him to lead their secondary this year after losing Eric Reid to the NFL. Many are projecting Loston as a preseason First-Team All-SEC selection.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Loston has some physicality to his game and delivers some hard hits. The senior could stand to improve his pass coverage and considering he is his team’s most experienced starting safety, he could be asked to do more in man coverage this fall. That was the case for Reid in 2012 after Taylor left, and Reid had some struggles. Loston is fast and athletic, so he has the physical tools to get the job done.

The LSU defense has lost a ton of talent from its 2012 unit, and the coaches are counting on Loston to provide a big impact as a senior. Loston will have a big opportunity in 2013.

Third-Team Safety:

Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama

While HaHa Clinton-Dix received more attention last year, in part because of his name, Sunseri also had a solid debut. The duo combined to replace Mark Barron and Alabama’s defense didn’t miss Barron because of the play by the sophomores. In fact, one could argue the secondary was even better than the 2011 unit that also helped win a National Championship.

Sunseri was used more for his run defense while Clinton-Dix came in for passing situations. Sunseri had 52 tackles (34 solo) and six tackles for a loss for the season. He also had three passes broken up and two interceptions.

With Robert Lester moving on to the NFL, Sunseri should combine with Clinton-Dix to give Alabama an excellent safety combination in 2013. Sunseri is a natural football player with great instincts. His brother was a starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Panthers and his father, Sal Sunseri, is the defensive coordinator at Tennessee after serving as Alabama’s linebackers coach. Vinnie Sunseri (6-1, 210) could be poised for a breakout season in the SEC.

Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State

Zimmerman has stood out in the pass-happy Big XII for his disciplined pass defense over the past three seasons. He isn’t the biggest or fastest safety, but he has good instincts and is intelligent. That allowed him to become a starter as a freshman and provide a lot of stability for Kansas State in the back end.

Zimmerman started 12 games in 2010 and totaled 74 tackles, four tackles for a loss, three interceptions and three passes broken up. In 2011, the sophomore recorded 58 tackles, five passes broken up and two interceptions. His best season came last year when he snagged five interceptions to go along with 50 tackles and two passes defensed. The junior made a big impact for a Kansas State team that went 11-2 in 2012.

Zimmerman will need to be a leader and play-maker for Kansas State in 2013 since Arthur Brown has moved on to the NFL. At this point, the experienced Zimmerman should be able to take advantage of the passing offenses in the Big XII.

Honorable Mentions: USC safety Dion Bailey, Louisville safety Hakeem Smith, Georgia Tech safety Isaiah Johnson, Mississippi State safety Nickoe Whitley, Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon, Arizona State safety Alden Darby, Georgia safety Corey Moore, Eastern Washington safety Tevin McDonald, Ohio State safety C.J. Barnett and Florida State safety Lamarcus Joyner.

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