Joined: January 26th, 2005, 9:34 pm
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Interesting article about FS and SS by Pat Kirwan
Safeties in numbers? Not in this year's draft
By Pat Kirwan
NFL.com Senior Analyst
(April 14, 2005) -- Teams that got their draft research done early at the safety positions probably concluded they better hit the free-agent list if they needed to upgrade or replace a starter. With a thin draft crop this year, there is a possibility there will no more than eight first-day picks between free safeties and strong safeties. The 32 teams in the NFL will carry at least four safeties each on their final roster, which means the league needs to have close to 140 safeties. It is a position that requires speed and that usually means younger men.
Before I take a look at the limited talent pool, it's important to quickly review how much interest the NFL teams had in safeties to date in free agency. The Falcons may still need to take a safety in the draft, but they went out and signed Ronnie Heard and Rich Coady just in case the draft list dries up before they get to picking someone. Darren Sharper was cut by the Packers and wasn't "free" for more than a day or two before the Vikings grabbed him. The Lions made one of the better business decisions at safety in the offseason when they recruited and signed Denver safety Kenoy Kennedy. Pierson Prioleau turned down a restructured contract in Buffalo because he believed he would get employment as soon as the Bills set him free. And even though Prioleau's not a fulltime starter, he was in Washington in no time at all. At last count, 15 safeties switched teams in the past few months and another seven returned to their team with new deals.
There are a few guys left in free agency that could still get signed and help a team get through the 2005 season. With a new coaching regime now in place in Cleveland, the Browns let Earl Little go, but with 27 starts in the past two years and six interceptions and nine passes defended in 2003, he will appeal to a team that misses in the draft. Chris Hope is also still available and saw a lot of playing time for the 15-1 Steelers in 2004 when he got credit for 89 tackles and 18 starts.
As for the draft, it is important to split the safeties into two groups. Free safeties are the players whose best quality is to play the deep middle of the field and are considered better pass defenders than run defenders. Strong safeties are well known for their ability to support the run defense. In truth, all safeties in the NFL need to be able to do both jobs well and, maybe even more critically, be able to line up on wide receivers or super backs like Tiki Barber and cover them. NFL offensive coordinators are constantly looking for matchup advantages and it always starts with getting safeties isolated with different personnel groupings and formations. Maybe that's the main reason there aren't many safeties graded as first-day choices.
From my estimation, at least 10 teams need to come out of the first day of the draft with a safety that can line up this season and play. St. Louis has made some interesting changes to their defense and are now considering linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa at strong safety and moving strong safety Adam Archuleta to free safety, but they will still look for a deep middle safety that can play the passing game. Dallas needs a free safety to compliment Roy Williams, Green Bay has to replace Sharper, Indianapolis lost Idrees Bashir and the Jets, Raiders, Bengals, Broncos and Chargers are also shopping for safeties. So, who's in the draft to meet the needs?
Brodney Pool, the free safety from Oklahoma, appears to be the top player to come off the board. He should not be in the top half of the first round but more likely will go sometime after the 20th pick. He has the size and ability to leap, but his short-shuttle times are not great. He will get tested when he has to line up on slot receivers and quick running backs.
If a team wants to wait until the second round, they may see better value with Vincent Fuller from Virginia Tech. While Pool ran a slow 4.5 short shuttle, Fuller ran the fastest short shuttle at the combine with a blazing 3.75. He's a former high school quarterback who leans on those skills to play smart and has cornerback skills, which will help in the matchup game.
A late second-round candidate could be Ernest Shazor from Michigan. He has elite size, but his lack of speed (4.7 in the 40-yard dash) probably means he's headed for strong safety. Georgia Tech's James Butler has moved up draft boards recently because of the lack of depth. Lastly, I got a chance to talk with Oshiomogho Atogwe form Stanford the other day on my Sirius radio show and he is getting some serious interest late in the evaluation process.
If strong safety is a priority, the first place teams will look is Thomas Davis. the Georgia "tweener." A linebacker-type safety, Davis ran the 40 in 4.43 at 227 pounds and will be a disruptive force in the secondary. He would be an excellent replacement in Denver for the loss of Kenoy Kennedy. After Davis comes off the board, Oklahoma strong safety Donte Nicholson and Iowa's Sean Considine, who has enough ability to play strong or free safety, will come off the board.
Finally, safety is a position that teams have hit it big late in the draft or by switching a corner to safety. There is no doubt that this draft sets up as a year that defensive coaches will have to be creative to find enough players to fill in all the open spots on NFL rosters.