Draft Preview: Safety

Posted Apr 18, 2012

Notre Dame's Harrison Smith is widely regarded as the second best safety in the draft.

Since tight end is considered the thin offensive position in this year’s draft, it’s a bit ironic that the position that would ideally have players capable of covering those tight ends is also considered a weak point on defense.

The 2012 safety class is not considered to be particularly deep or top heavy, though there are at least a couple of guys that figure to go in the first round while it’s possible that no tight ends could go in the first 32 selections.

“This is another pretty weak class,” NFL Network analyst Chad Reuter said. “If a guy falls to you, it’s a guy that has either tackling problems or athleticism problems. When you are picking safeties in the fourth, fifth round, there’s a reason they are available there.”

That’s good news for the Rams considering their needs at safety are far less than they are at a number of other positions.

With veteran Quintin Mikell performing well in his first year with the Rams after signing a lucrative free agent contract and young Darian Stewart developing well alongside him, the Rams seem to be set in terms of their starters.

Likewise, veteran Craig Dahl is expected back and he provides depth at both safety spots.

That likely takes the Rams out of the running to use one of their early picks on one of the top safeties in this year’s class, namely Alabama’s Mark Barron and Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith.

Barron is widely regarded as the top safety in this year’s class after a productive four-year career with the Crimson Tide. Although safety isn’t generally considered a premium position, NFL Network’s Charley Casserly believes that Barron could be a great value in the top 15.

“Everybody loves this guy,” Casserly said. “Safeties can go in the top 10, we know that. I think this guy after you take those top six guys – and you could make an argument this guy is better than some of those six guys – you could put him next. Somewhere in there someone is going to get a heck of a player.”

The Rams almost certainly won’t take Barron with their first round selection and it’s extremely unlikely he’d fall to them in the second round, where the Rams hold two picks.

One player who might give the Rams something to consider in round two if they wanted to look at a safety is Smith.

Smith has excellent speed and was a four-year starter for the Irish. He’s projected as a late first round to early second round pick.

“Harrison Smith of Notre Dame, big guy, smart, can run, aggressive but sometimes misses tackles, has a little tightness but I think he can cover tight ends OK,” Casserly said.

More likely, should the Rams opt to make a play for a safety; it will come no earlier than round four. LSU’s Brandon Taylor is one player Casserly believes could be a sleeper.

“Another guy in here I think is interesting Brandon Taylor of LSU,” Casserly said. “I like him, I see a physical guy, I see a guy that can run and has instincts. I can’t figure out why he wouldn’t be a good, solid safety in the league.”

Beyond that trio, there is a cluster of players all grouped together that are hard to tell apart. Wisconsin’s Aaron Henry, South Carolina’s Antonio Allen and Syracuse’s Phillip Thomas could be some mid round options.

There are also a number of sleeper type prospects who could draw attention in the later rounds. McNeese State’s Janzen Jackson, South Carolina State’s Christian Thompson and San Jose State’s Duke Ihenacho might be worth a late round flier.

“There are just a lot of guys that are difficult to differentiate,” Reuter said. “You never know when a player like Jeron McMillan from Maine, you pick him in the sixth or seventh round, kind of like a Darian Stewart and he grows on you as a player, is a good tackler and there are a couple guys like that in this draft that could work themselves into a starting role.”

Top Five Safety Prospects
1. Mark Barron, Alabama
2. Harrison Smith, Notre Dame
3. Brandon Taylor, LSU
4. Phillip Thomas, Syracuse
5. Antonio Allen, South Carolina

Safety: Janzen Jackson, McNeese State