Is there a risk in drafting a safety in the top 10 of the NFL Draft? That’s the concern surrounding the University of Tennessee’s Eric Berry as we descend on the month of April.
Ask most personnel men in the NFL and they’ll tell you that franchises are built up front on the offensive and defensive lines. Safeties are luxury items, and only every so often does one come into the league who’s viewed highly enough and grades out on tape, at the combine in Indy and in his personal workouts to rise into the top 10.
In fact, going back to 2000, only five players who entered the draft as safety prospects have been top-10 picks: LaRon Landry (Redskins) in 2007, Michael Huff (Raiders) and Donte Whitner (Bills) in ‘06, Sean Taylor (‘Skins) in ‘04 and Roy Williams (Cowboys) in ‘02. That’s it. And of those five, we can only point to Taylor as a player who had the type of impact you’d expect from a top-10 pick.
But Taylor was a rare athlete and, in my opinion, was the best football player I have ever seen from a size/speed impact on the NFL game.
Is it time to put Berry in that group? The former Vols' star has a unique talent set because he can be a game-changer from the free safety position. And in reality, NFL clubs have no issues paying top dollar to a defensive playmaker who can control the secondary, get from the middle of the field over the top of any vertical route outside the numbers, and — like Berry during his time in Knoxville — make plays on the football.
Every championship-style defense has a free safety who not only becomes a playmaker but also forces opposing offensive coordinators to game plan for where they’ll be on the field. They become disruptive throughout the course of a game. Think of Darren Sharper in New Orleans or Ed Reed in Baltimore. Safeties who can make plays in the intermediate passing game and also get off the numbers in Cover 2 and have that unique burst in between the hashes.
In Berry’s case, we can’t predict this, but NFL clubs will have to look at that from a projection standpoint. His play in the SEC got him to this point, and he’s considered the top defensive back in the draft. In his latest mock draft, NFP scout Wes Bunting had Berry pegged at No. 5 to the Chiefs. And if he doesn’t go there, it will be hard for the Browns — who need playmakers in the secondary — to pass on him at No. 7. And don’t count out the Jaguars at No.10 if he slips that far.
I think we can all agree that this draft is loaded when it comes to talent — top-10 talent — on both the offensive and defensive lines, but that doesn’t mean teams will pass on Berry. He has the tape and he has the grades of a top-10 prospect.
Yes, it’s still a risk — an expensive risk. But if you draft him, you expect to see a decade of results in the secondary.
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