SQ Top 5: Safeties
As winter turns to spring, college football starts a new chapter. A new season approaches, but it is still too far off for our liking. Therefore, we will fill these agonizing weeks with our position-by-position rankings of the top five players entering the 2015 season; this week we will name our top five safeties. The only thing we are certain of about next season is that these rankings are sure to be wrong, so let us know why we are full of it in the comments below. Enjoy!
No. 5: Nate Andrews, Florida State
2014 Stats: 93 tackles, 3 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 1 touchdown
Andrews has continued to grow and develop in one of the most talented secondaries in the nation. At 5-11 and 204 pounds, Andrews is not the tallest nor the biggest defensive back for the Seminoles. What he lacks in physical attributes, however, Andrews makes up for in football intelligence and a knack for being around the football. In 2013, he became the first true freshman in Florida State history to lead the team in interceptions with four. Last season he improved as an overall player, and earned a spot in the starting lineup. The former three-star recruit has grown into his role as a leader on this team, and 2015 should see Andrews continue to assert himself as a key member of this fantastic secondary.
William: I’m a big fan of what Andrews brings to the table. He wasn't a highly-touted recruit, but he has made the most of his opportunities and earned what he has gotten. There seems to be a sense of luck surrounding Andrews, as he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. I believe that luck is a byproduct of preparation, and this Florida State safety rarely looks unprepared. Jalen Ramsey draws most of the national attention for the Seminoles' secondary, but Andrews is a quiet play-maker who is just as effective.
Erik: I think Will really put it best when it comes to Nate Andrews. He isn't a guy who will surprise people with supreme athleticism, but somehow he always ends up in the right place at the right time. He has a knack for being around the football, especially considering he neared 100 tackles. Playing in one of the nation’s best defenses definitely helped with Andrews’ success last season. With the Seminoles losing a lot of talent up front, it’ll be up to Andrews and the rest of the secondary to carry that defense.
No. 4: Jamal Adams, LSU
2014 Stats: 66 tackles, 5 passes deflected, 1 sack, 5 tackles for loss
While Andrews has flourished under the radar, the play of Jamal Adams has drawn national attention. As a freshman last season, Adams delivered big hit after big hit while forcing the Tigers’ coaching staff to find him more playing time. Starting in only two games, Adams still managed to finish with 66 tackles, the sixth-highest total on the team. LSU is known for producing outstanding talent in the secondary, and Adams seems next in line. Jalen Mills will return for the Tigers at one safety spot, and Tre’Davious White will continue to shut down receivers from his corner position. Add Adams to the other safety position in a starting role, and the Tigers will have one of the top secondaries in the SEC.
Erik: If Tyrann Mathieu himself calls you “The Next Honey Badger”, you must be doing something right. Mathieu, as we all know, was arguably the most electrifying defensive back in the country during his time at LSU. Jamal Adams might very well be the second coming of the Honey Badger persona. Last year, he received All-SEC Freshman honors, even though he didn’t receive the majority of his playing time until later on in the season. Adams finished sixth on the team in tackles, and also broke up five passes, meaning that he excels both in the box and in coverage. Throw in the fact that he can generate opposing penalties with his elite flopping ability, Jamal Adams might give Mathieu a run for his money atop the LSU greats.
William: Like Erik said, if the Honey Badger calls you the next best cornerback, the nation will pay attention. Adams made the most of the national spotlight, delivering jarring hit after hit. He displayed excellent range and an understanding of the Tigers’ defensive scheme. I will be very interested to see what he can accomplish with more playing time. Some players can be exposed as opposing teams are able to study more film on them, but I have a feeling that Adams will be keeping opposing coordinators up at night.
No. 3: Vonn Bell, Ohio State
2014 Stats: 92 tackles, 1 sack, 6 interceptions, 6 passes deflected
Vonn Bell may be one of the most impactful players in the nation in 2015. The junior is already being predicted to go just outside of the first-round in many of the early 2016 mock drafts. Bell is no stranger to big moments, and seems to thrive under pressure. As a true freshman, Bell was thrust into a starting role in the Orange Bowl against Clemson and Sammy Watkins. Although the Buckeyes lost, Bell performed admirably, earning seven tackles and his first career interception. As a starter last season, Bell was one of the most productive players for the talented Ohio State defense. The sophomore had an interception in three of his last four games, including the Big Ten Championship and the College Football Playoff Semifinal against Alabama. With more experience under his belt, Bell will be a true defensive threat for Ohio State, and one of the best safeties in the nation.
William: I was extremely impressed with Bell’s play in Ohio State’s playoff games. Against Alabama, Bell limited the Tide’s big plays and made them m arch their way down the field. He came up with a big interception in the end-zone midway through the fourth quarter to preserve the Buckeye’s lead. Not many players have had the type of impact in big games that Vonn Bell has had, and I don’t expect that to change in 2015. With Ohio State as the defending national champs, there will be plenty of opportunities for Bell to shine in front of a national audience. The Big Ten will be an extremely talented conference this season, but Bell will still remain one of the best.
Erik: If there was one word to best describe Vonn Bell, it’d be play-maker. I personally didn’t watch many Ohio State games last season, but when I did have the pleasure of watching, there were two guys who really impressed me: Ezekiel Elliott and Vonn Bell. Both of these guys played well in the national spotlight and stepped up when the Buckeyes needed them the most. As Will already said, Bell essentially made the game-turning play when he picked off Alabama in the fourth quarter of the Sugar Bowl. Just when the Tide began to pick up momentum, Bell made a play that gave the momentum back to Ohio State. I expect Bell to be one of the nation’s top play-makers in 2015 and step up big when Ohio State reaches the national spotlight once again.
No. 2: Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
2014 Stats: 79 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 2 interceptions, 12 passes deflected
Jalen Ramsey has started every game for the Seminoles since his freshman season - the first defensive back since Deion Sanders to accomplish the feat - and has played a multitude of positions in the secondary. It is his versatility that has captured the NFL’s attention, and the reason why he was rated as the third-best prospect on Mel Kiper’s 2016 Big Board. Named to the USA-Today First Team All-American squad, Ramsey’s ability to make plays all over the field help him stand out among his peers. On any given play, the junior could be in the opponent’s backfield or jumping a receiver’s route. His talent is apparent, but now Ramsey has the experience to truly impact any game.
William: People like to point to Jameis Winston as Florida State’s team leader over the past two seasons, but Ramsey has been a strong defensive leader in that time. He is a fearless competitor who is not afraid to speak his mind. The Seminoles liked to say that they had attitude last year, and I believe that Ramsey was a key contributor in that department. Unlike others however, he has the talent to back up his mouth. The versatility seen in Ramsey is incredible. When I watch him play, I’m reminded of Jameis Winston in his instincts and range. If his future is anything close to what Bailey’s was, we will be talking about Jalen Ramsey for a long time.
Erik: Jalen Ramsey was part of a loaded FSU defense in 2014. And he was arguably the best player on a squad that produced four draft picks. I agree with Will on the fact that what makes Ramsey so good is his instincts. It’s almost as if he sees plays develop before they even happen sometimes. Along with his instincts, he’s a very balanced defender. His 9.5 tackles for loss shows that he can defend the run, and his 12 passes deflected prove that he can more than hold his own in the back end. I expect Ramsey to finish in the top three of his position next year and most likely be drafted in the first round.
No. 1: Su’a Cravens, USC
2014 Stats: 68 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 1 touchdown
Versatility is not unique to Ramsey; USC’s Su’a Cravens terrorizes opposing offenses from several positions on the field. The linebacker/safety-hybrid has drawn the attention of former USC All-American and NFL Hall-of-Famer Ronnie Lott. The former Trojan recently compared Cravens to another future Hall of Fame safety from Southern Cal, Troy Polamalu. Like Polamalu, Cravens plays with a tenacity that is difficult to counter. He has a knack for being around the football, and making plays when his team needs them the most. Late in the first half of USC’s bowl game against Nebraska, Cravens intercepted Tommy Armstrong’s pass at the Trojan’s 12 yard-line. The interception helped USC hold on to their 7-point halftime lead in a game they eventually won by a field goal. Reports out of Pasadena this spring say that Cravens has grown into his do-everything role for the Trojans, and 2015 could be his coming out party.
Erik: Whether Su’a Cravens is a linebacker or a safety, there is one thing that we all know for sure: he is one of the best players in the nation. As if Jamal Adams’ comparison to Tyrann Mathieu isn’t good enough, Cravens is being referred as “The Next Troy Polamalu." Former USC great Ronnie Lott was the one who made this comparison and, coincidentally, Cravens has even stated that he models his game after Polamalu. Thanks to his outstanding ability to bring down ball carriers in the backfield and pick off passes, that comparison isn't very far off. The safety-turned-linebacker earned 1st-Team All-Pac 12 honors during his breakout 2014 season and will contend with Arizona’s Scooby Wright III for the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2015.
William: As Cravens grows into his role, he will only continue to improve. The hybrid-type player may be the Pac-12’s defenses’ answer to the high-tempo offenses that the conference is know for. If this is indeed a trend, Cravens is the perfect pioneer. Like Ramsey, Cravens makes plays in the opponent’s backfield and in the secondary. He is a sure tackler who also has the reflexes and instincts to excel in any coverage scheme. I don’t think that Craven’s ceiling is as high as some of the others on this list, but he may have the highest floor due to multi-faceted talents.