It’s not often that you see the safety position offering great depth of talent in the NFL draft, but come spring time the centerfielders figure to dot each round of the draft this April.
“It’s a great safety class – best safety class I’ve seen in years,” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. “Maybe not with a bunch of first-round guys that you’re going to run around and say, ‘That’s my guy,’ but there’s depth with this class.”
Bills GM Buddy Nix agrees with Mayock’s assessment.
“I think there’s a good number of safeties,” Nix told Buffalobills.com. “There are more safeties than I’ve seen that are graded. Sometimes I’ve seen us with not more than three or four (safeties) in the top four or five rounds and there are a lot more than that this time. I think it’s a deep position.”
Mayock, a former NFL defensive back himself, realizes that the safety position isn’t a glamorous one, but in an era where spread offenses are taking over, safeties that can cover are in high demand. At the top of the class is Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro, widely forecast as a mid-first round pick.
“Vaccaro to me is a really good football player on tape,” said Mayock. “I’ll be surprised if he gets past the top 15 or so, which is pretty high for a safety. Matt Elam from Florida, another really good football player; I have him in the second round. And then after that, I have at least 10 or 12 safeties jumbled together”
Certainly there are prospects in this draft pool that are specifically strong or free safeties, but what Mayock feels makes this particular class of safeties so attractive is the versatility and quality of safety a team could land on day two of the draft.
“Some could play both that you can get in the second and third rounds,” he said. “But they’re all kind of jumbled together right now.”
Some of the names in that group include Georgia’s Bacarri Rambo and Oklahoma’s Tony Jefferson.
“I like Bacarri Rambo a lot,” said Mayock. “I think he's got real good movement skills and he's probably a third round safety. He's got to convince people he's a solid kid.”
Rambo failed two drug tests during his time at Georgia, but has 16 career interceptions on his college resume.
Mayock has more reservations about the play of Oklahoma safety Tony Jefferson.
“Jefferson is a really talented kid,” said Jefferson. “I really like him on tape. What I don't like is how many tackles he misses. And I think I put the West Virginia tape on, and he must have missed seven, eight, nine tackles. He's talented, he's got straight line speed, he flashes ball skills, but I think he's probably going to go in the middle to late third round, and he probably should be a better player than that.”
One of the harder hitting safeties in the draft class is South Carolina’s D.J. Swearinger. Head coach Steve Spurrier has a good history of producing NFL caliber defensive backs in his time with the Gamecocks, and Swearinger has experience at cornerback, nickel corner and safety. Whether he can fill all those roles at the NFL level has been debated by NFL clubs after he ran a 4.67 at the NFL Combine.
“Swearinger, I like him on tape,” said Mayock. “I want to buy into him as a person. I want to check out his work ethic and everything else. He's got a fourth round grade right now.”
Some of the other popular prospects include LSU’s Eric Reid, Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien, Georgia’s Shawn Williams and Fresno State’s Phillip Thomas.
All told a dozen safeties could come off the board before day two of the NFL draft is over. Last year there were only five selected in that span.