At a time when the value of running backs appears to be diminishing, the opposite is happening at safety, where the need for defensive backs who can cover becomes increasingly important with the continued emphasis on the passing game. Fortunately for NFL teams, the draft has been meeting the demand.
After three safeties were selected in the first round in 2013, there appear to be two likely first-round selections in this year’s class, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor. As many as four others stand a good chance of being selected in the first two rounds, although it doesn’t appear there’s as much depth in this year’s group as there was last year.
The Dolphins have had great success since 2000 drafting safeties in the later rounds. Arturo Freeman (2000), Yeremiah Bell (2003), Chris Clemons (2009) and Reshad Jones
(2010) all became starters after being selected in the fifth, sixth or seventh round, while 2013 seventh-round pick Don Jones
made the NFL’s All-Rookie Team as a special teams performer. The Dolphins have drafted two safeties in the first round in their history — Jason Allen in 2006 and Louis Oliver with their second first-round selection in 1989. BREAKING DOWN THE TOP SAFETY PROSPECTS (In Alphabetical Order)
Terrence Brooks was one of the unsung members of the defense that helped Florida State win the national title last season. After beginning his collegiate career as a special teams contributor and backup cornerback, Brooks started the last two seasons at safety and earned second-team All-ACC honors in 2013. Brooks sealed a victory against Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl in the 2011 season with an interception in the end zone and had two more picks last fall. Brooks, however, is not considered a premier playmaker and he’s also got less-than-ideal size for the safety position. On the flip side, Brooks has tremendous versatility because he can play just about anywhere in the secondary, including the slot, and he also projects as a valuable special teams player.
A four-year starter and three-time captain at Washington State, Deone Bucannon is a big-hitting safety with experience on special teams. Bucannon showed his all-around skills last season when he led the Pac-12 in tackles and also tied for the conference lead with six interceptions. Bucannon has the size and the aggressiveness, and he might rival Calvin Pryor as the biggest-hitting safeties in this year’s draft. Bucannon, however, isn’t considered nearly as good in coverage as Pryor, which is why he’s best suited for a role close to the line of scrimmage. Bucannon, whose brother David is a safety at WSU, nicely bookended his collegiate career as he earned first-team All-American honors in 2013, three years after he was named a Freshman All-American.
Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, better known as Ha Ha, arrived at the University of Alabama as the top-rated high school safety in the nation and he didn’t waste much time making an impact for the Crimson Tide. Clinton-Dix saw action as a true freshman in 2011, then led the team and tied for the SEC lead with five interceptions as a sophomore. Clinton-Dix also showed a knack for producing in big games, recording an interception both in the SEC title game and the BCS Championship Game victory against Notre Dame. Clinton-Dix didn’t have quite as productive a junior season — he missed two games because of a team suspension — but declared early for the draft nonetheless. While Clinton-Dix isn’t likely to be selected as early as fellow safety and former Alabama safety Mark Barron, who was taken seventh overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two years ago, his mix of size and athletic ability could make him a top 15 pick.
Even though he wasn’t nearly as highly regarded coming out of high school, Calvin Pryor is on par with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix when it comes to this year’s draft. Who gets selected first might come down to whether a team wants a playmaker at safety or a big hitter. If it’s the latter, then Pryor would be the choice. His highlight videos feature big hit after big hit, and he’s got the size to go along with the aggressiveness. Pryor, though, also can make plays on the ball as he proved last season with a one-handed interception in the end zone against top quarterback prospect Blake Bortles of the University of Central Florida. Pryor, who became a starter at Louisville during his freshman season, ended 2013 with 5.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions and two forced fumbles while earning American Athletic Conference first-team honors.
Jimmie Ward might have gone a bit overlooked playing in the Mid-American Conference, but his 2013 performance, which included seven interceptions, made him impossible to ignore and he ended up as one of the semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award as best defensive back in college football. Ward only solidified, if not improved, his draft standing at the Senior Bowl when he proved he could compete against anybody by earning Most Outstanding Defensive Back honors for his work in practice. Ward, who might be a first-round pick if not for his lack of ideal size, also had 14 tackles against Florida State when the teams met in the 2013 Orange Bowl Classic. Ward should be able to help on special teams; he set a school record with three punt blocks as a true freshman in 2010. THE BEST OF THE REST (In Alphabetical Order)Dion Bailey
USC Ahmad Dixon
Baylor Craig Loston
LSU Ed Reynolds
Stanford Brock Vereen
Minnesota BREAKING DOWN THE SAFETY CLASS Small-school prospects to watch:
Jonathan Dowling, Western Kentucky; Pierre Warren, Jacksonville State NFL bloodlines:
Minnesota’s Brock Vereen is the brother of New England running back Shane Vereen … Stanford’s Ed Reynolds is the son of former Patriots and Giants linebacker Ed Reynolds … Brigham Young’s Daniel Sorensen is the brother of San Diego Chargers quarterback Brad Sorensen. Long shot to watch:
Jonathan Dowling was good enough in high school to get recruited by the likes of Alabama, Georgia and Florida State, but he chose the University of Florida. His time with the Gators, however, didn’t last very long because he was dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules. Dowling ended up at Western Kentucky, where he earned All-Sun Belt honors the last two seasons. A 6-foot-3 defensive back with long arms, Dowling showed tremendous playmaking ability at WKU with nine interceptions and eight forced fumbles over the past two seasons.