As NFL offenses have become increasingly pass oriented, the role of safeties has evolved. It’s not rare for these guys to be the under-the-radar heroes of defenses around the league. This year’s draft class isn’t safety-laden, so we’ve lumped free safeties and strong safeties together on our list. Even though there aren’t a ton of options, some of them are very good, so if you’re a fan of a team named the Green Bay Packers or the Dallas Cowboys, you should be in decent shape when the time comes to bolster your secondary.
1. Hasean (Ha Ha) Clinton-Dix (FS-Alabama) - One of the advantages that Clinton-Dix brings to the table is the fact that he was coached in a pro-style D in college. This should make his transition to the NFL fairly smooth. Clinton-Dix is flexible and fast, which are both important traits in a FS. It would behoove Clinton-Dix to spend some time bulking-up, but he’ll easily become a starter immediately regardless. Look for him to be drafted in the first round.
2. Calvin Pryor (FS-Louisville) - Pryor clocks-in at 6’1 and 210 pounds, which will appeal to NFL scouts. Pryor also has great instincts and confidence on the field. The downside to this confident demeanor is that Pryor sometimes make rash, illogical decisions. Still, though, Pryor will be an instant asset to the D that drafts him. I see him as a second-rounder at the latest.
3. Deone Bucannon (SS-Washington St.) - Bucannon, though not the fastest guy on this list, has an incredible physical presence on the field. Bucannon isn’t afraid to make tackles (in fact, he led the Pac-12 in tackling in 2013) and he’s built to be an asset not only on defense, but on special teams. Bucannon will probably be off the table somewhere in the third to fifth rounds.
4. Craig Loston (SS-LSU) - Loston knows football; he’s smart and vocal on the field. This is something that NFL coaching staffs will appreciate right off the bat. Loston has had some injury issues, but seems to recover speedily. Given Loston’s intelligence and leadership potential, I think he could go late in the second, but is more likely to be a third or fourth-rounder.
5. Terrence Brooks (FS-Florida State) - Brooks, a likely mid-rounder, started all 14 games in 2012 and all but one in 2013. Brooks has great energy on the field, which can ignite the players around him. If Brooks can become a more effective tackler, he has NFL starting potential; if nothing else, though, Brooks’ll bolster just about any special teams squad.
6. Brock Vereen (FS-Minnesota) - Vereen is a dedicated player, starting 32 games at both S and CB over the courses of his last three seasons. Vereen is an excellent overall athlete who innately understands the game. 5’11, 199 pound Vereen has small hands and isn’t as bulky as NFL scouts like, but his durability and solid instincts should see that he’s drafted in a later round.
7. Ahmad Dixon (SS-Baylor) - Dixon will be, in all likelihood, most effective on special teams in the NFL. Dixon lacks the instincts and football intelligence that some the other 2014 safeties possess, but still has good size and tackling abilities, which is sure to be attractive to certain front offices.
8. Dion Bailey (SS-USC) - Bailey is, as with several of this year’s S options, likely to play the biggest role on special teams in the pros. Bailey’s skills at SS aren’t fully developed, but he does have potential to become a quality back-up in time.
9. Vinnie Sunseri (SS-Alabama) - Sunseri, at 5’11, 210 pounds, has the size that NFL scouts are looking for; he also exhibits appealing leadership skills. However, Sunseri only started 15 games during his college career and suffered a torn ACL in 2013. If the results of Sunseri’s medical examination at the combine are positive, it could improve his draft stock somewhat. Look for Sunseri to go in a late round.
10. Ed Reynolds (FS-Stanford) - 6’1, 205 pound Reynolds is sizable enough to cover large NFL tight ends effectively and has solid on-field instincts. Reynolds, does, however, have the tendency to miss tackles and have inconsistent numbers from game to game. Reynolds is likely to become a back-up and should go in a mid to late round.