NFL Draft Preview 2015: SS Jaquiski Tartt
The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, the focus is on safeties, and today’s prospect at strong safety is Jaquiski Tartt out of Samford University.
Attending a small school like Samford, Tartt was able to catch the eyes of NFL scouts with his play as a Bulldog. After being redshirted in 2010 and only registering 23 total tackles in 2011, Tartt's coming out party was on the horizon. As a sophomore and a full-time starter in 2012, the safety totaled 94 tackles, four interceptions, and 10 pass break-ups. The accolades followed: first-team All-American, first-team All-Conference, and a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award (goes to best defensive player in Division 1-FCS or 1AA). Tartt would come back the following season to collect similar honors (All-Southern-Conference and second-team All-American) and numbers: 98 tackles, a pick, and nine passes broken up. In his final year as a Senior, Tartt was once again FCS All-American, but his production would decline.
Although Tartt played free safety for the most part in college, he is listed and is better suited for playing on the strong side of the defense. Tartt possesses an ideal build for the strong safety position at 6'1", 221 lbs, and he harnesses all of it to lay big hits on defenders in run support. While there is no glaring niche in his game, this is most likely his strongest attribute. He does a nice job of flying down aggressively to stop the run; Tartt can chase down a ball carrier on the perimeter and prevent big gains. As far as coverage goes, for the most part, he is pretty aware and alert to what is going on around him. What he does best in this aspect of his game is break on the ball well to coincide with his big hit ability. When he can recognize where the quarterback is going and make his move, Tartt becomes a dangerous football player. Good ball skills and versatility are also in his arsenal, a product of having playing experience at free safety. Defensive touchdowns were also a familar friend for Tartt.
If Tartt wants to become a starting safety at the next level, there is a lot he is going to need to clean up. Perhaps the most alarming concern is for as good as he is in run support, he can look equally as poor at times. I weighed Tartt's performance against Auburn this season heavily in my evaluation, due to the fact it was the closest thing to NFL-caliber competition he faced. As expected, the tougher opponent made a difference in terms of performance.
Tartt took poor angles at times when pursuing the ball and surprisingly looked a little hesitant in coming up to stop the run. He also had an issue getting off of blocks in that game. As shown below, receivers and backs effortlessly cleared out Tartt to take him out of plays. By no means can a player be judged on one game, but when you play at a small school like Samford, scouts want to see you perform big when you get the opportunity to play the upper echelon programs. The NFL is the best of the best as we all know, so there is no doubt Tartt will need to overcome the lack of talent he faced in college. Otherwise, other negatives I pulled out in other games were letting receivers get behind him for the big play and a lack of consistency. The window for success in the pros closes pretty quickly for those who are not consistent.
The fact that Tartt has shot up draft boards at this point is a good indicator of the potential he offers at the next level. He presents the measurables (ran a good 40: 4.53 sec) and physicality of the prototypical strong safety in the NFL, and that is what makes him so intriguing. He reminds me of one of the top safeties I reviewed a year ago, Deone Bucannon out of Washington State. Bucannon seemed like a second or third round pick to most including myself, but he was surprisingly taken in the first round last spring. This won't be the case with Tartt who looks like more of a third or fourth round pick, but with almost identical size and play style when compared to Bucannon, don't be shocked if he is taken earlier than expected given what he could become potentially. If Tartt is brought along correctly, he has the chance to become a good starting strong safety in this league.
How about a pair of NFC East rivals? The Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants are two teams that could use the services of Tartt while developing his skills appropriately. In a division with Alfred Morris, DeMarco Murray, and that Dallas offensive line, having a guy in the box who can help slow down the running game is crucial. Enter Tartt who specializes in that department and could contribute off the bat to two teams desperate for safety help.
In New York, Tartt would be in good hands under head coach Tom Coughlin and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The two would find the right way to deploy him effectively on Sundays. On the Eagles, the pressure to perform right away would be limited thanks to the surplus of talent on that defense. Tartt would also be offered a veteran counterpart to learn from in Malcolm Jenkins and could help to heal the suffering Philadelphia secondary from a year ago.