2015 NFL Draft Position Review: Safeties

Charlie lays out an overview at the top players from each position for the 2015 NFL Draft. For further information, check out our in-depth analysis of 2015 NFL Draft Prospects by Position.

By Charlie Campbell.
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This page was last updated March 22, 2015. Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

Position Review: Safeties

Safety Class
Early-round talent: C
Mid-round: D+
Late-round: D
Overall grade: D

2015 prospects vs 2014
Landon Collins < Calvin Pryor
Gerod Holliman < HaHa Clinton-Dix
Jaquiski Tartt < Deone Bucannon
Damarious Randall < Jimmie Ward
Anthony Harris < Dez Southward
Byron Jones < Terrence Brooks
Durell Eskridge > Maurice Alexander
Kurtis Drummond > Marqueston Huff

Safety was a strong position in the 2014 NFL Draft class. There was good talent for the first round, though there was a dropoff as you progressed toward depth. This year, safety is one of the weakest positions in the NFL draft. WalterFootball.com knows teams that feel no safety is worthy of going in the first round.

If you were to merge the two classes, Collins would be behind Bucannon and ahead of Ward. Collins will probably go in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, but WalterFootball.com knows that some teams are grading him as a second-rounder. Holliman, Tartt, Randall and Harris would go ahead of Southward. Jones is about equal to Southward. Eskridge and Drummond would go after Brooks.



Safest Pick: Landon Collins, Alabama
Most would think this would be an easy choice as Collins, but I almost went with Randall because of his pass-coverage skills. Still, Collins is a polished player who can contribute in a variety of ways. He is a reliable tackler and can make some plays in pass defense while being an enforcer as a strong safety in zone. Collins may not become one of the elite safeties in the passing-driven NFL, but he looks safe to be a quality starter.

Previous Picks:
2014: HaHa Clinton-Dix
2013: Kenny Vacarro

Biggest Bust Potential: Gerod Holliman, Louisville
There weren’t many options to pick from considering there probably won’t be many safeties selected in the first three rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft. Holliman has some coverage and ball skills, but he struggles as a tackler. That is very concerning considering NFL receivers and running backs will be bigger and faster than the skill position players of the ACC. If Holliman misses a lot of tackles, it result in big plays that could lead to him getting benched and not panning out as a starter.

Previous Picks:
2014: Ed Reynolds
2013: Eric Reid



Safety Rankings by Attributes


Man Coverage:
NFL prototype: Earl Thomas, Seahawks
  1. Damarious Randall
  2. Byron Jones
  3. Durell Eskridge
  4. Anthony Harris
  5. Gerod Holliman
  6. Landon Collins
  7. Jaquiski Tartt
  8. Kurtis Drummond


Recap: The NFL is a passing-driven league, and safeties with the ability to play some man coverage are a hot commodity. Many safeties are too stiff to match up against a slot receiver, a tight end or a receiving running back. Offenses seek out those mismatches, so good safeties have some man-coverage ability.

Randall displayed the ability to line up in man coverage and run with receivers, especially at the Senior Bowl. For the NFL, he looks like a safety who is capable of covering slot receivers and keeping them from getting open. Randall looks like he has loose hips and is fluid in coverage. That could make him a desired free safety for the NFL.

Jones played cornerback and safety at Connecticut, so he has the ability to cover receivers in one-on-one situations. Eskridge also lined up in man against some big receivers and held his own.

Harris and Holliman both showed the ability to play some man coverage in 2014. Neither one may prevent separation as well as the top three.

Collins is better at helping a cornerback than lining up in man coverage. Taking a back out of the backfield was fine for Collins, but he isn’t a safety who can isolate on a receiver in man coverage and prevent separation.

Tartt didn’t show a lot of man-coverage ability in college, but he flashed at the Senior Bowl. Tartt has some potential to develop, but he’ll need time to develop coming from a small school.

Drummond is last because he got burned some in 2014; it was a feast or famine. He did a nice job in man coverage against Michigan’s Devin Funchess for example, but in other games, he had some struggles.

Zone Coverage:
NFL prototype: Jairus Byrd, Saints
  1. Anthony Harris
  2. Byron Jones
  3. Gerod Holliman
  4. Damarious Randall
  5. Jaquiski Tartt
  6. Landon Collins
  7. Durell Eskridge
  8. Kurtis Drummond


Recap: The ability to play well in zone coverage is a must in the NFL. There are teams that weigh this heavier than others due to scheme. Zone safeties need to be intelligent and cover a lot of ground while playing disciplined and instinctive football. They have to be able to pick up receivers who work through the short and intermediate part of the field.

Harris and Jones are my pick as the top zone safeties in the 2015 NFL Draft. They cover a lot of ground via quickness and instincts.

Randall and Holliman are very good in zone coverage as well. They have reaction skills that are strong, but they need to improve their eye discipline for the NFL.

Tartt looked good in zone coverage in 2014 and showed that at the Senior Bowl. Zone schemes will like the fit with him.

In the middle of the field, Collins is quick and physical with the instincts to make big plays. He should be an asset as a zone safety in the NFL. However, Collins isn’t a fit to be a deep free safety playing zone. He could give up some plays downfield to speed receivers if he’s forced into that role.

Drummond is a bit of a gambler who has to improve his eye discipline.



Deep Help:
NFL prototype: Glover Quin, Lions
  1. Gerod Holliman
  2. Damarious Randall
  3. Byron Jones
  4. Anthony Harris
  5. Durell Eskridge
  6. Kurtis Drummond
  7. Landon Collins
  8. Jaquiski Tartt


Recap: This is a must to be a good free safety in the NFL. Safeties are the last line of defense, so excelling in the deep part of the field can keep points off the board. Those who get beaten downfield, frequently find their way to the bench in a hurry. Defending the deep part of the field also includes stopping running backs who break free. Thus, safeties need to be good tacklers in the open field. Luckily for teams seeking this type of defender, there are some good options in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Of this group, there wasn’t one player who particularly stood out. Holliman could end up being the best considering his size, instincts and ball skills. If Holliman continues to be an interception machine, quarterbacks are going to shy away from throwing balls up for grabs with him in the back end.

At the Senior Bowl, Randall showed the ability to be a center fielder who roams the deep part of the field and covers a lot of ground. Jones could be good at this in the NFL given his speed and coverage experience.

Harris and Eskridge were reliable deep free safeties in college. As stated above, Drummond did well at times and poorly at others. Collins isn’t a fit as a deep center fielder.

Tartt has straight-line speed to cover ground, but he isn’t that agile or fluid in the deep part of the field, and that holds him back. Collins is an in-the-box safety rather than a deep-field defender.

Run Defense:
NFL prototype: T.J. Ward, Broncos
  1. Landon Collins
  2. Jaquiski Tartt
  3. Anthony Harris
  4. Damarious Randall
  5. Kurtis Drummond
  6. Byron Jones
  7. Durell Eskridge
  8. Gerod Holliman


Recap: The NFL doesn’t have as large of a need for the big, physical safeties of the ’80s and ’90s who were mini-linebackers. Still, coaches want safeties who are good tacklers and run-defenders who are capable of playing in the box. There are a lot of good run-defenders in this draft class. In fact, all eight of these safeties have shown the ability to be quality run-defenders.

Collins is the best run-defender of this group; it’s not even close. He’s like another linebacker who plays very decisive and attacks the line of scrimmage. As a tackler, Collins is superb and packs a punch. He can lay some serious wood and does a nice job of moving through traffic to make tackles. Collins will be a real asset as a run-defender in the NFL.

Tartt didn’t have a big tackle total (62) last season, but Samford relied on him as its last line of defense because he was more athletic and covered more ground than the team’s other defenders. At the Senior Bowl, Tartt looked like a nice fit as the eighth man in the box.

Harris is a nice mix of free and strong safety. He topped 100 tackles last year, so clearly he can contribute to run defense. While Randall (5-10, 194) is the smallest of these safeties, he also had over 100 tackles last year and showed an ability to make stops on bigger backs.

Coming from the Big Ten and Michigan State’s defense, Drummond is a quality run-defender, as expected. He wasn’t a thumper safety for the Spartans, but he was reliable to contribute to run defense.

Jones had 60 tackles in 2013, while Eskridge had 62 last year. Run defense isn’t a big strength for those two. Holliman’s run defense was bad in 2014. Those duties were handled by teammate James Sample, but Holliman is a poor tackler who needs to make big improvements in the NFL.



Ball Skills:
NFL prototype: Eric Weddle, Chargers
  1. Gerod Holliman
  2. Anthony Harris
  3. Landon Collins
  4. Damarious Randall
  5. Kurtis Drummond
  6. Byron Jones
  7. Durell Eskridge
  8. Jaquiski Tartt


Recap: The NFL is always on the look out for safeties with a knack for picking off passes. Safeties with the ball skills to catch errant throws or slap passes away from receivers are a great asset. Elite safeties have a knack for creating turnovers.

This category is Holliman’s to own. He showed tremendous ball skills in 2014 as he picked off 14 passes and had three more pass breakups. Holliman has good hands and breaks on the ball really well. His ball skills and turnover potential are his biggest asset.

Harris has some ball skills for the next level. He had 10 interceptions over the past two years and 10 passes broken up in 2014. With his instincts and hands, Harris could produce some nice interception totals as a pro.

Collins has good ball skills for a strong safety type. Last year, he had seven passes batted away and three interceptions, including some very athletic picks. In the middle of the field, Collins is dangerous to create turnovers as he is an instinctive player.

Both Randall and Drummond displayed ball skills in college. Randall had three interceptions and eight passes broken up in 2014, while Drummond had four and 11 respectively. I think Randall will produce more of those numbers in the NFL, because he has more speed and athleticism.

Jones was on track to having some nice totals as a senior with two interceptions and four passes broken up through five games, so his ball skills could be underrated considering he missed seven games with a shoulder injury.

Tartt and Eskridge each had one interception last year. Tartt had only one pass breakup, while Eskridge had three. Neither displayed much in terms of ball skills.

Hitting Ability:
NFL prototype: Donte Whitner, Browns
  1. Landon Collins
  2. Jaquiski Tartt
  3. Byron Jones
  4. Kurtis Drummond
  5. Damarious Randall
  6. Anthony Harris
  7. Durell Eskridge
  8. Gerod Holliman


Recap: Even though the NFL is trying to reduce the knockout shots that put some safeties in the Hall of Fame, a safety who is a hard-hitter and can separate the ball is loved by coaches. There is one safety who can really swat in this class.

Collins is an absolute missile on the field, looking to blow up offensive players. He delivered massive shots in every game. Collins is a ferocious hitter, and I was surprised he didn’t land more targeting penalties last year. He is a true enforcer who can be an intimidating presence in the middle of the field. The hits that Collins dishes out are loud, and he arrives with violence to the ball-carrier.

Tartt, Jones and Drummond all are physical players. All three of them are willing hitters who can blast offensive players when given the opportunity. Tartt packs a bigger punch than the other two, which is why he ranks second.

Harris and Randall can flash some hard hits. Holliman is more of a finesse player.

Tight End Defense:
NFL prototype: Earl Thomas, Seahawks
  1. Damarious Randall
  2. Byron Jones
  3. Anthony Harris
  4. Gerod Holliman
  5. Durell Eskridge
  6. Kurtis Drummond
  7. Jaquiski Tartt
  8. Landon Collins


Recap: Coaches are looking for safeties who can match up against the dangerous receiving tight ends who have become a rage in the NFL. Starting with the likes of Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, there is currently a pursuit of receiving tight ends. Ron Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis have been so effective that defensive coordinators have to come up with game plans to defend them. Safeties who can cover tight ends are one of the best ways to defend those play-makers.

You might be surprised that I have Collins ranked last in this category, but if you don’t believe me, watch his game against Ole Miss. Collins was smoked by Evan Engram, and that issue sneaked up a few other times down the stretch of the season. Collins could guard your typical heavy, blocking tight end in man coverage, but he shouldn’t be trusted to cover a fast, athletic tight end.

Jones not only can run with tight ends downfield, but also has the strength to battle them. He could be a big asset to guard the receiving tight ends in the NFL with his skills in man coverage. Randall has an ability to defend tight ends. He has some quickness and agility to run with them down the field, but his lack of length and height hurts him.

Harris, Holliman and Eskridge all demonstrated some coverage ability on tight ends. These three have the size, speed, length and agility to defend tight ends running down the middle of the field.

Drummond shouldn’t be trusted to cover athletic tight ends in man. Tartt might develop that ability, but right now, he needs coaching up as he adjusts from a smaller school.

Tackling:
NFL prototype: Kam Chancellor, Seahawks
  1. Landon Collins
  2. Anthony Harris
  3. Jaquiski Tartt
  4. Damarious Randall
  5. Byron Jones
  6. Kurtis Drummond
  7. Durell Eskridge
  8. Gerod Holliman


Recap: Every year it seems that tackling is getting worse in the NFL. It isn’t hard to see why as players don’t get to practice tackling very often. Even in the rare padded practice, players very rarely take a ball-carrier to the ground. The union has restricted contact, plus teams want to avoid injuries. Tackling is becoming a lost art.

This category is another one that Collins dominates, and there is a precipitous dropoff after him. He is an excellent tackler who can deliver the blow on big running backs and also is able to tackle receivers in the open field. Collins has good technique to not only deliver a hit, but wrap up the ball-carrier. His tackling skills are NFL-ready.

Harris, Tartt, Randall, Jones and Drummond are consistent form tacklers who have the strength to get the job done. Each one is reliable.

Eskridge could stand to improve his tackling. As stated above, Holliman has a lot of room for improvement as a tackler. It is a huge weakness in his game entering the next level.




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