The Top 5 Safeties in the 2015 NFL Draft

With NFL offenses playing more four and even five receiver offenses, the safety position has become more important than ever. When I started in the league in the early 1980’s, you could play with a rangy free safety who could come off the hash, and a bigger, tougher guy, who could play close to the line of scrimmage and act almost as another linebacker. The strong safety didn't need to cover as well because his main concern was a big “Y” tight end who rarely ran faster than 4.8. Seldom was a safety taken high in the draft. While there may be an exception or two in any given year, safeties usually started coming off the board in about the third round. That has changed in today’s NFL. Clubs need to find safeties who have more corner-like traits because of the spread offenses we are seeing. They are locked into coverage more and have to have the feet, hips, and transition similar to what corners have. That being said, this is not a strong year for safeties in the draft. Between what scouts have told me and what I have seen with my own evaluations, there are only a few that we can be sure will become quality starters in the NFL. There are a few more that may have a chance to become a good starter but will need a period of development. As of now, the rest look like guys who can be good backups, but based on how they played in college, you don’t want them to be starters. 1) Landon Collins – Alabama Collins is the only first round tier safety in this draft. He is more of a strong safety with his size (6000 – 225), but he can cover. Last year, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had more range and could do more in coverage. Collins is a more physical player than Clinton-Dix. With his size, he can play down low in sub packages or deep. He is that kind of athlete. Clinton-Dix went in the middle part of the first round, and that is where I see Collins going. Where a team could match up Clinton-Dix on a slot wide receiver, I don’t see Collins being able to do that on a consistent basis. He should have no problem with any of the athletic move tight ends. He’s a good solid player, but I don’t see a potential pro bowl type. 2) Gerod Holliman – Louisville Holliman has excellent size and speed and can cover as well as any safety in the draft. He has excellent hands and ball skills and should have no problem matching up on slot receivers. He has some corner-like traits. Where Holliman needs to improve is in run support and tackling. While he weighs 218 pounds, he plays like a 190 pound guy. There is no physicality to his game, and at the safety position, being physical is an important trait to have. Because of his coverage and ball skills, he will go fairly high, perhaps as high as the second round, but unless he can become more physical, he won’t be more than a nickel type player. After those two, there are a number of safeties who are bunched together, some are better in coverage, some are better playing close to the line of scrimmage. It really will depend on what your favorite club is looking for. 3) Derron Smith – Fresno St Smith is a three-year starter with 15 career interceptions. He is instinctive with good ball skills, but at 5100 – 200, he lacks the size teams want at the position. His overall play dropped off in 2014, and he didn’t play as well in run support. Off of what I have seen on tape, he looks to be more of a nickle safety. He has a chance to become an eventual starter, but he needs to be in the right situation. 4) Durell Eskridge – Syracuse Eskridge is a fourth-year junior coming out. He has been a starter for two years. At 6’3 – 208 he has ideal size but he runs 4.63. He is aware in coverage and plays faster than he times. He is instinctive, keeps good position in zone, and has good ball skills. As big as he is, he needs to become more physical. While he is a very willing tackler, he misses some because he doesn’t wrap well. Because of how slow Eskridge ran at the Combine, he needs to run better at his pro day. His play speed is in the 4.55 range, and he needs to run like that in order to get drafted as high as the third round. If he doesn’t improve, he could drop. Still, he has impressive tape, but he plays a stop watch driven position. 5) Jaquiski Tartt – Samford When all is said and done, Tartt may move ahead of Eskridge. Right now, I have Eskridge on top because of level of competition. Tartt is another guy with ideal size (6’1 – 220) and he ran 4.53. He plays to his size and can be a physical run support player. He can have some trouble in coverage because he lacks top awareness. He doesn’t have the suddenness needed to be play man on a slot, but he can match up on tight ends or backs. Overall, Tartt is still a work in progress but he has upside. He will need some time to develop, but in the end, he may become a solid starter at strong safety. He is a top character guy and the game is important to him. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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