Ranking Top 22 Safeties

Elam (Kim Klement - USA Today Sports)

Why settle for a pecking order of 10 or 12 prospects when we examine the top 21 safeties in this year's class. No. 1 is Texas' Kenny Vaccaro, and scouts are split on Eric Reid and Jonathan Cyprien.

Here is how Packer Report ranks this year's prospects at safeties, based on conversations with three scouts, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, and the NFL's longtime lead scout, Dave-Te' Thomas.

1. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas (6-0, 214): Our Cream of the Crop.

2. J.J. Wilcox, Georgia Southern (6-0, 213): Our Sleeper.

3. Eric Reid, LSU (6-1, 213): Early entrant was a consensus All-American, the fourth LSU defensive back in the last three seasons to earn that honor. He tallied 91 tackles and intercepted two passes, and finished his career with six interceptions. The scouting community, however, is split. "The best free safety in the draft is Eric Reid from LSU," a scout said. "For a guy who has some great range, has some ball skills, can cover in man, can get to the sideline from center field, he's probably the best in the draft. Widely regarded as a second-round guy but, at the end of the day, if you need a free safety, he could go at the end of the first. How we do it, we typically only grade 15 to 22 guys in the first round. So, while Eric Reid in my view is a second-round-type player, he's the best free safety in the draft. If you had a strong, had a guy that was a thumper and needed a free, and you're sitting there at 26, they might take Reid. The Denver Broncos, with what happened last year, they could take Eric Reid." Countered Thomas: "Can't cover worth a (crap). Eric's whole fascination is going for the INT or going for the PBU. Problem with that, this year 42.3 percent of the passes thrown his way were caught. When I've got a safety, you better give me 30 percent."

4. Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International (6-0 217): He was the best safety at the Senior Bowl, with his physical play and speed to make plays in center field, but there are mixed opinions in the scouting community. "Outstanding hitter," Thomas said. "The guy will knock your (block) off but, as far as coverage ability goes, he has no conception. His whole thing is predicated on putting on the punishing hit." As a senior, he tallied 93 tackles, four interceptions, 3.5 tackles for losses and one forced fumble. "Cyprien from Florida International, he's a hell of a player," a scout said. "I see him going in the middle of the second." Cyprien finished his career with a school-record 365 tackles. He should have had more, with Thomas' analysis showing Cyprien missed 32.3 percent of his tackle attempts.

5. Shawn Williams, Georgia (6-0, 213): Finished second on the team with 98 tackles, adding 5.5 for losses. All four career interceptions came in 2011. While Williams said it wasn't an issue, scouts think he tried to overcompensate due to several early-season suspensions on the defensive side of the ball. At midseason, he criticized the Bulldogs' defense as being "too soft." Coincidence or not, the defense was greatly improved during the second half of the season. "I didn't see that as a negative at all," a scout said. "Should it have gone through the media? Probably not, but you can't knock the results." Said another scout: "Shawn is a good player. Real athletic. I think he's a notch below Cyprien and Wilcox. He'd fit for you guys and probably go in the third or fourth round." Added Thomas: "If I wanted a punishing tackler that's got a brain, that's Shawn Williams."

6. Matt Elam, Florida (5-10, 208): Early entrant. Big-time playmaker who also played the nickel. As a junior, he had four interceptions, 11 tackles for losses, two sacks and a forced fumble. He had 11 tackles for losses and two forced fumbles in 2011. His brother, Abe, just completed his seventh year as NFL safety with the Chiefs. He probably will go higher than we have him rated but the Packers historically have not gone for short defensive backs. There also are concerns about his durability because of his all-guns-a-blazing style. Thomas compared him to former Colts star Bob Sanders in that regard.

7. Phillip Thomas, Fresno State (6-1, 208): Our Overrated.

8. T.J. McDonald, USC (6-3, 219): Led the Trojans with 112 tackles. He added two interceptions and a blocked kick. The three-year starter departed with eight interceptions. McDonald's father, Tim, was a two-time All-American and six-time Pro Bowl safety who picked off 40 passes in 13 seasons for the 49ers and Cardinals. Better toward the line of scrimmage but impressed scouts in center field at the Senior Bowl. "A guy that I think has really come up on the board lately is T.J. McDonald," Thomas said. "I think the system they use at USC, using him more as a linebacker-type, really did not impress on film. When you go back and look at the guy in pass coverage, he's very good in pass coverage. He reminds me a lot of his dad."

9. Bacarri Rambo, Georgia (6-1, 211): Second-team all-SEC as a senior, despite missing the first four games of the season after his second violation of the school's drug policy. His three interceptions gave him 16 for his career to tie the school record set by Super Bowl VII MVP Jake Scott. He was a first-team All-American as a junior with a team-leading eight interceptions — good for second in the nation. The drug tests and a so-so offseason have sent him down boards.

10. D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina (5-11, 208): The hard-hitting Swearinger was second-team all-SEC as a senior with 79 tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a pair of defensive touchdowns. Ran 4.67 at the Combine. A scout put it bluntly: "The problem with D.J. Swearinger is if he was in a race with a pregnant woman, he'd come in third. I need a good straight-forward burst, I need a good downhill player, and he's not it."

11. Robert Lester, Alabama (6-1, 220): Three-year starter who closed his career ranked fifth in school history with 14 interceptions. A team-high four of those interceptions came as a senior, along with 3.5 tackles for losses. Eight of the interceptions came as a sophomore, when he tied Harry Gilmer's 65-year-old school record. Ran in 4.66.

12. Don Jones, Arkansas State (5-11, 191): Jones is the wild card in this class. One scout thought he was a top-10 safety; another thought he'd be a priority free agent. It's easy to see why: In two seasons, he intercepted two passes, and he did not earn all-conference accolades. But he was a champion sprinter in high school who ran 4.40 with a 42-inch vertical at his pro day.

13. Josh Evans, Florida (6-1, 207): In his only season as a full-time starter, Evans led the Gators with 83 tackles and added three interceptions and 2.5 sacks. Ran in 4.58 and the scouts question his football instincts. Better against the run than pass, and has a tendency to bite on play-action. If nothing else, with his hitting ability, he'll be an impact player on special teams from the get-go.

14. Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma (5-11, 213): Early entrant started 34 games in three seasons, tallying eight interceptions, 258 tackles and 18 tackles for losses. He was a second-team All-American and a first-team Academic all-Big 12, with his 119 tackles leading conference defensive backs. He intercepted two passes. Scouts come back to two things. "It looked he was stuck in cement against West Virginia," a scout said. Then he ran 4.75 at the Combine.

15. Rontez Miles, California (Pa.) (6-0, 213): Two-time Division II All-American. As a senior, he tallied 75 tackles and four interceptions. The two-time Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference defensive player of the year set a school record among defensive backs with 257 career tackles and added 10 interceptions, 23.5 tackles for losses and four blocked kicks. Ran 4.62 with 36.5-inch vertical at Combine. "I watched film on him from that Texas vs. The Nation Game and I like what I saw from him," Thomas said.

16. Cody Davis, Texas Tech (6-2, 203): Davis, who wasn't invited to the Combine, put on a dazzling display at his pro day with a 4.41 in the 40 and a 41.5-inch vertical. Both figures would have topped the list of safeties at the Combine. A four-year starter and Academic All-American, he picked off three passes and had 101 tackles as a senior, with his 84 solo stops ranking fourth in the nation. "He's never played to his athletic ability but if you give me someone athletic and smart, I'll take my chances," a scout said.

17. Duke Williams, Nevada (5-11, 203): Three-year starter and perhaps the biggest hitter of the safety class. He earned second-team all-Mountain West honors in each of his final two seasons. He notched 106 tackles, 5.5 tackles for losses, an interception and three forced fumbles as a senior. When lined up in run support, teams averaged 1.7 yards per carry, according to Thomas, and he had 17 touchdown-saving tackles as a senior. He ran 4.48 at the Combine. However, he was suspended from the team two times as a freshman and again for the season-opening game as a sophomore. "You know that whole thing about if you'd trust a guy to baby-sit your kids? I don't think so."

18. Earl Wolff, N.C. State (5-11, 209): Wolff had a huge Combine with a 4.44 40 and a 39-inch vertical. The graduate student, was first-team all-ACC with 139 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble. He finished his career with 400 tackles — passing Bill Cowher, among others, for fifth in school history — and eight forced fumbles. "I like him," Thomas said. "I like him as a late-rounder and he can come in and swing between both of the positions, but I don't see him as the tell-all starter. When you're 210 pounds, I'd like a little more impact with his hits."

19. Zeke Motta, Notre Dame (6-2, 213): Played in all 50 games of his college career. He opened his career as an outside linebacker and safety. Moved to safety as a sophomore, he started eight games apiece in 2010 and 2011 before starting every game as a senior. He closed his career with 16 tackles in the BCS Championship Game loss to Alabama. Ran horrible 4.83 at Combine. "I saw your guy in Milwaukee (Bob McGinn) had him as a first-round possibility back at the Combine. I'm glad his scouting source doesn't work for us."

20. Brandan Bishop, North Carolina State (6-1, 208): Bishop registered 12 interceptions during his career and was second-team all-ACC as a senior. Ran 4.59 at his pro day with 22 reps on the bench. With those numbers, it's no surprise that he's considered more of a run-stopper than a cover guy. Could be a demon on special teams.

21. Daimion Stafford, Nebraska (6-0, 221): First-team all-Big Ten as a senior, with all four of his interceptions coming in league action. In two seasons, the junior-college transfer piled up 176 tackles — fourth-most in school history among two-year players. Ran 4.69 with an underwhelming 30.5 inch vertical at the Combine.

22. Bradley McDougald, Kansas (6-0, 215): Registered 92 tackles and three interceptions as a senior to earn second-team all-Big 12 accolades. As a freshman and sophomore, he was a two-way player, with 52 receptions as a wide receiver, and returned kickoffs. Ran 4.74 at the Combine.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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