The 2013 safety class is going to be a strong one. At this point there isn’t a top of the draft safety like there was last year, when Mark Barron was chosen seventh overall by the Bucs. But the depth at the position is very good, and teams will find excellent value picks at the position in the third and fourth rounds. Here are the safeties that scouts say are at the top of their boards before the all star games and workouts.
1. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas, 6-1, 218. One front office man compared him to Rodney Harrison; another said he reminded him of Troy Polamalu. Vaccaro is a high energy safety who plays with instincts and physicality. He is highly competitive and has explosive movements. He can go get the football.
2. J.J. Wilcox, Georgia Southern, 6-0, 215. This sleeper has come on strong this season and has scouts buzzing. If he acquits himself well in the Senior Bowl, he can probably lock himself in as a second round pick. He is physical, fast, tough and aggressive, and he has a nose for the football. He just has to show he can play with the big boys.
3. T.J. McDonald, Southern Cal, 6-2, 205. He is a rangy, versatile safety with good bloodlines. His father is 49ers safety Tim McDonald. The younger McDonald is a defensive quarterback. He is big and physical. He did not have a great 2012 season, and some front office men question his instincts.
4. Bacarri Rambo, Georgia, 6-0, 210. He is a pure free safety with a good feel for the passing game. Rambo has good ball skills and makes plays. He isn’t a very physical tackler, but he gets his man on the ground. Two scouts said character issues could affect his draft stock.
5. Zeke Motta, Notre Dame, 6-2, 215. Motta had a fine senior season and climbed up draft boards. He isn’t as highly regarded as his former teammate Harrison Smith, but he could be taken as high as the second round. He has a nice combination of size and speed, and he’s a hitter. Motta has some deficiencies in coverage.
6. Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse, 5-10, 210. One front office man compared him to Bob Sanders. Like the former Colts safety, Thomas is very physical and explosive. He probably will time out as one of the faster safeties in the class, and his stock could jump. He plays with excellent aggression. He should be a hit on special teams.
7. Phillip Thomas, Fresno State, 6-1, 215. He missed his junior season with a broken leg but really helped himself in 2012. Thomas makes plays on the football. He is a very aggressive player who can be a striker. He has enough speed and cover ability. The more scouts look at him, the more they like him, and his stock might not be finished rising.
8. D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina, 5-11, 210. This is a downhill player well suited to play the strong safety position. Swearinger is physical, aggressive and tough, and he can make the open field tackle. He also has shown some ball skills.
Dan Pompei covers pro football for the Chicago Tribune at chicagotribune.com.