I wouldn’t call the safety class this year “great” by any means, but it is above average and clubs can find some players who can come in and play right away. There is a good mixture of both free and strong safety types as well as some players who can most likely play either position.
Keanu Neal – Florida
Neal is an underclassman with size, length and athleticism. He looks and plays faster than the 4.59 that he timed. He does a very good job keeping things in front of him and he is a very aggressive run support player and tackler. In short, he is a quick twitch athlete with explosiveness and instincts, He has the flexibility to turn and run with receivers and can transition and close. Neal has the capability to play strong or free and will start very early in his career.
Vonn Bell – Ohio State
Like Neal, Bell does a good job keeping things in front of him. He is instinctive with quick reactions. Bell is more quick than fast but he can cover man to man and is very alert in zone. Vonn will need to get a little bigger and stronger to play at the NFL level but he has the traits to play either free or strong safety. He has good ball reactions and hands as his 9 career interceptions show. Bell should be rafted sometime in the second round.
Darian Thompson – Boise State
Going into the Combine, Thompson was one of my favorite safeties in this class. On tape he looked and played fast and was a big time playmaker. He had 19 career interceptions while at Boise.
At Indy, Thompson did not run well and some evaluators got a bit down on him. It turns out that he had a stomach virus and that was the reason for his poor time. Earlier this week he ran 4.52 at the Boise St. Pro Day and that time puts him back up with the better safeties in this draft.
In short, Thompson is a ball hawking free safety. He has great instincts and you seldom see him out of position. He plays the run well and for the most part he is a consistent tackler. He can be so aggressive trying to make a tackle that he will get out of control and miss. That weakness should be easily corrected. I can see Thompson going in the second or third round.
Justin Simmons – Boston College
Like Thompson, Simmons did not run as well as expected at Indy. He came back at his Pro Day with a time in the low 4.5’s.
Simmons is a former corner with excellent height and length. While he has a bit of a narrow frame, he is strong (16 reps) and explosive (40” VJ). I see him as being the ideal NFL free safety. He has awareness and range in coverage and reacts very well to the ball in the air. His experience at corner helps in that he is a better man to man cover guy than most safeties. Simmons is a solid run support safety and consistent tackler. I see him coming in and starting right away for most clubs. He is a solid day two selection.
Tyvis Powell – Ohio State
At just under 6’3 – 211 with 4.46 speed, Powell is just what clubs are looking for in a strong safety. He has the frame to easily carry 220 without losing any speed. Powell is a consistent run support player and a good tackler. He has registered over 70 tackles in each of the last two seasons. In coverage he is best on zone where he shows awareness and range. While he is very fast, he lacks the suddenness needed to be a top man cover guy but he should have no problem with NFL tight ends.
Powell isn’t a finished product by any means, but he has the traits and upside to continue to improve. His physical capabilities are hard to find.
Karl Joseph – West Virginia
Had Joseph not been injured, he would be ranked right up near the top of this list. In the fourth game of last season, Joseph tore an ACL and missed the rest of the season. He is not ready to play yet and where he gets drafted will be determined more by the medical people than the personnel staff. Rest assure when he is ready to go, he is an excellent prospect and he will become a very good NFL free safety.