Joe Arrigo's 2012 Draft Series: S Evaluations


Feb 5, 2010
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So. Cal
The 2012 safety draft class is weak. Mark Barron is the only "stud" out of the bunch and a lock to go in the first round. After Barron, Harrison Smith should be the next safety off the board and then all bets are off on who will be the third safety off the board. The 2013 class should be a lot better then this crop, but like in any draft, there is always a player or two that may surprise and make this group better then what it is projected to be.

My Top 10 Safeties:

1. Mark Barron – Alabama – 6-1 – 213

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The quarterback and leader of the Alabama Crimson Tide National Championship-winning defense in 2011, Mark Barron is a physically intimidating player with an NFL-ready skill-set to start at the safety position. A three-year starter who started 38 career games for Alabama, Barron leaves Tuscaloosa having produced 235 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, five sacks, 24 pass breakups, and 12 interceptions; his best statistical season came during his sophomore year in 2009 when he tallied 74 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, half of a sack, 11 pass breakups, and seven interceptions. Built very well for a strong safety with the height, length (33 inch arms), and strength that you look for, Mark is a well-put together prospect who offers all of the physical tools needed to have a successful NFL career. A true strong safety who is a very reliable tackler in the open field, Barron has a very heady, instinctive ability to sit back while reading the action in front of him before diagnosing the play, locating the ball, and driving downhill to deliver a hit. He's shown the ability to be a head hunter in the secondary and will make opposing receivers nervous about crossing in front of him. Mark is a natural at coming down and lining up in the box as a run defender, often acting as another linebacker for the Crimson Tide defense with his reliability and polished technique as a wrap up tackler. He does a terrific job of filling the hole when asked to and understands run fits up front. He offers a strong grip with good functional strength needed to grab the ball carrier and pull him backwards from his forward progress to prevent him from picking up additional yardage. Barron is a polished prospect both technically and mentally; he understands how to take proper angles to the ball as well as showing the timing, anticipation, and awareness all needed out of a safety in the NFL. Although not stiff in the hips, he's a bit of a high-cut defender who doesn't have ideal flexibility to turn and run that you look for in a free safety; he's not a short-area player who will change directions on a dime, however if asked to cover ground before breaking down to make a tackle, he's more than capable of being productive here. Mark will need to play with more discipline at the
next level; although I love the aggressive attitude that he brings as a run defender, there are times when he will go for the big hit instead of wrapping up and will instead miss the tackle entirely, which is something that he must correct. In coverage, Barron will have more success in zone coverage, as he's a smooth, rangy player who doesn't own elite speed, but enough to cover ground quickly with good range and has proven to be a ball hawk throughout his career. In zone, specifically when covering one half of the field, he reads the quarterback's eyes before breaking on the ball to go up and make a play. His timing here is excellent, showing very good ball skills during his career, having recorded 36 passes defended in the past four years. With his tall height, long arms, and leaping ability, he has no trouble climbing the ladder and competing with a receiver for a jump ball. There are occasions when he can be beaten on play fakes, which is something that he will need to continue to work on at the next level. In man coverage, he has the size, strength and speed to match up very well with tight ends down the field and has the tools needed to effectively mirror some of the bigger, more
athletic tight ends that have entered the league in the past few years. He doesn't own the short-area, quick-twitch agility needed to cover faster receivers in man coverage, and also lacks the recovery speed to catch up when beaten, however if with tight ends and running backs out of the backfield, he should have no problem. Durability could be one big question mark that teams have with Barron, as he missed the Capital One Bowl at the end of his junior season after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in Alabama's game against Auburn. In addition, he was not able to work out at the Combine, nor at his Pro Day leading up to the draft after having surgery to repair a double hernia, which is something that teams and their respective doctors will need to examine closely; if he falls out of the first round on draft day, this is likely the reason. Although character concerns are not something that teams are worried about, Mark was arrested in March of 2011 on charges of hindering prosecution, a misdemeanor charge, after police felt that he was not telling the truth about a one-car accident when he was in his hometown of Mobile, Alabama. While teams figure to question Mark about the incident, it should not affect his draft stock. Mark Barron has the intangibles, physical tools, and raw talent needed to be a very good strong safety for an NFL team for the next 5-10 years. If he can stay healthy, he has the athleticism and skill-set to develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber safety at the next level.

2. Harrison Smith – Notre Dame – 6-1 – 212

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A smart, instinctive safety who figures to be over-drafted in 2012 due to a rather poor class at the safety position, Harrison Smith enters the NFL after having been one of the leaders of the Notre Dame defense the past four years. A 3.5-year starter with 47 career starts who was the Irish's only team captain in 2011, Smith offers elite intangibles, owning the type of leadership, confidence, and work ethic that coaches and scouts look closely for in a player. The only player in Notre Dame history to record at least 200 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and 15 pass breakups, Harrison finished his career in South Bend having produced 309 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 28 pass breakups, and 10 interceptions; his best statistical season came as a junior in 2010 when he tallied 93 tackles, one tackle for loss, seven pass breakups, and all seven interceptions. A reliable and dependable last line of defense whose leadership and instincts were invaluable to Notre Dame the last three years, Smith is a savvy, high-football IQ player who is rarely out of position and provides a non-stop motor to his team. Offering prototypical size for the safety position, Harrison proved to be a physical, active defender in the run game during his career, consistently working his way down inside the box to make plays around the line of scrimmage. A player who reads and reacts very quickly to what he sees, Harrison diagnoses the play before breaking downhill to attempt to make a play. He is a sound, form tackler who can be counted on to make a sure tackle in the open field and has also displayed the ability to provide a pop at the point of contact with the ball carrier. Owning enough of a burst to make an impact, Harrison's instinctive nature kicked in when he lined up in the nickel back position or when close to the line of scrimmage, showing a strong ability to locate the ball quickly before accelerating into the backfield to make a tackle for loss; although he won't offer much as a pass rusher, he has a knack for being a disruptive player around the line of scrimmage and almost always is capable of bringing the ball carrier to the ground when he latches on out on the perimeter. Smith also displays a nice second gear that not all safeties have to
chase a runner down from behind. In coverage, Harrison's instincts and heady play shined through here in college as he recorded 38 passes defended, a great number at a statistic that I look closely for with the safety position. Smith's awareness and anticipation are both strengths in his game, doing a terrific job of dropping back into his zone before reading the quarterback's eyes and attempting to make a play on the ball while it's in the air; his ball skills are very good. Where I could see Harrison struggling at the next level is with
his speed and athleticism. Although he plays faster than he times, he's not one that I would expect to chase a runner down from behind or to beat a running back to the perimeter; he made many of his plays as a result of being in the proper position, not because of his physical tools. Harrison's range is average, showing enough ability to cover ground quickly in college, however I question if he has the type of range and straight-line speed needed to consistently be effective in zone coverage in the NFL. Harrison Smith has the tools to develop into a serviceable starting safety in the NFL for a team who will prove to be a reliable last line of defense against the run and will make enough plays dropping back into zone coverage to be considered a strong safety.

3. Justin Bethel – Presbyterian – 5-11 – 200

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One of the top small-school players in the 2012 NFL Draft class, Justin Bethel enters the NFL with an intriguing skill-set to project to both safety and cornerback at the next level. A four-year starter for the Blue Hose, Bethel recorded 279 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 16 pass breakups, and seven interceptions; his most productive season came in 2011 during his senior year when he led the team in tackles with 87, in addition to tallying 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, six pass breakups, and four interceptions. Justin is one of the best special teams players in this year's draft, also owning the Big South Conference record for most blocked kicks in a career with nine. Owning ideal size for either cornerback or safety, Bethel has good, but not great length with the long arms (32 inches) that you look for. Justin is a very good athlete, which he proved at the NFL Scouting Combine when he recorded the best vertical jump (39.5 inches) and second-best broad jump (10-feet, 11-inches) of any defensive back in attendance. A fluid athlete who offers the ability to open up his loose hips and turn and run down the field without any wasted motion, Justin has great range to cover ground quickly and has the straight-line speed to keep up with the majority of receivers he'll match up with at the next level. In coverage, he's one of the more versatile defensive backs in this year's class, having played both safety and cornerback throughout his career in addition to lining up in the slot and coming off the edge as a rusher. I personally feel that his best fit will come as a free safety in the NFL with his fluid athleticism and awareness for the position. He's further along from a development standpoint at the safety position, as he displays a strong ability to drop back as a reliable last line of defense, read the action in front of him, before diagnosing the play quickly and breaking to make a play. He offers a strong ability to plant and drive on the football, which was shown against California in 2011 when he cut in front of a receiver, intercepted the pass, and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown. He's a smart, instinctive player who I feel projects well at the safety position, but may need time to get accustomed to more complex coverages and schemes at the next level. At cornerback, he would project inside at nickel back early in his career, as he has experience playing here, and his short-area quickness and agility would give him an advantage here when matched up with slot receivers. He offers the upper body strength (19 reps on bench) to get an effective jam at the line of scrimmage, however further refinement of his technique will be needed here. At cornerback, he has shown that he can transition and turn and run to mirror the receiver down the field, however further coaching will be needed with his technique in order for him to better understand leverage and how to play the ball while it's in the air; he recorded more of his interceptions and pass breakups while playing safety and being able to read and react than he did from corner. In addition, his back pedal is still sloppy and will need refinement. Still raw from a technique standpoint, Bethel will need to begin developing at one position so that he can learn the nuances of it and develop his fundamentals, as he jumped back and forth enough times between cornerback and safety during his career that he never had a true chance to grow in one specific role. However, the fact that he was able to make plays from both positions proves that he offers promise with his versatility at the next level. While the jump in talent level from the Big South Conference to the NFL will be a big one, he played well against California, Wake Forest, and Clemson the past two years, had success at the East-West Shrine Game, and stood out as one of the top performers at the Combine, which is why this doesn't strike me as being as big of a concern with him as it is with other small-schoolers. Justin Bethel is a very intriguing prospect because of the versatility he brings to play cornerback and safety, the raw physical tools he possesses, as well as the outstanding special teams play that he offers to teams. In my opinion, he has what it takes to develop into a future starting free safety if given time to develop, learn the nuances of the position, and become accustomed to the speed of the next level.

4. Tramain Thomas – Arkansas – 5-11 – 200

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The most underrated safety prospect in the 2012 NFL Draft, Tramain Thomas is a hard-hitting safety who offers a complete package of skills at the position. A two-year starter with 31 career starts for the Razorbacks, Thomas recorded 236 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, half of a sack, 13 pass breakups, and 12 interceptions; the most productive season of his career came during his senior season in 2011 when he tallied 91 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, six pass breakups, and five interceptions. Offering ideal size for the safety position with fluid athleticism, Tramain is a very instinctive player who displays a heady ability to consistently make plays in the secondary. Being the son of a coach and former quarterback, Tramain has a fantastic football IQ and understanding of the game. An aggressive player who does a great job of supporting his defense in the run game, Thomas is one of the most reliable open field tacklers in the draft, showing a savvy ability to close downhill quickly before delivering a punishing blow to the ball carrier while wrapping up with great technique. He locates the ball very quickly, showing a heady ability to diagnose the play in front of him before breaking quickly and always being in the right position at the right time to make a tackle. From a technical standpoint, Tramain wraps up well, also showing a unique ability to position himself properly to rip the ball away from the runner, having forced six fumbles throughout in the last three years at Arkansas. Tramain plays with great tenacity and feistiness for a safety, something that you don't always see at the position; while there are times when he'll be over-aggressive and miss an occasional tackle or over pursue, this is
something that can easily be corrected with further coaching and experience at the next level. He plays with a great motor and proved over the course of his career at Arkansas that he is capable of playing sideline-to-sideline and always being around the ball. Where Tramain will need improvement is with his strength (10 reps on bench) to bring down bigger, stronger backs at the next level. While he's not an intimidating safety physically, his reliability and dependability as a last line of defense is very valuable to his team. Defending the pass, Thomas is an experienced player at dropping back into zone coverage, reading the quarterback's eyes, before quickly redirecting and accelerating towards the receiver to make a play on the ball; he displays a strong ability to transition quickly in the open field. He offers great ball skills (25 passes defended) and body control to consistently compete with the receiver for the ball while it's in the air. A ball hawk in coverage, Tramain reads and reacts very quickly to what he sees in front of him and has fantastic awareness and anticipation. He's a fast player with plenty of range to cover ground and offers the straight-line speed in order to be an effective player at the next level. Far more comfortable dropping back into zone than covering a receiver in man coverage, Thomas will project well in a two-deep scheme at the next level. Having played in 47 games over the past four years, Tramain proved to be a durable player throughout his career and does not have any injury concerns as he enters the next level; he also does not have any known character concerns and brings good intangibles to the team that drafts him. Tramain Thomas is a complete prospect at the safety position who has what it takes to develop into a solid starting strong safety in the NFL with a year or two of further development.

5. Markelle Martin – Oklahoma State – 6-0 – 203

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With the range of a free safety and the hard-hitting prowess of a strong safety, Oklahoma State's Markelle Martin offers an intriguing blend of physical tools as he enters the NFL. A three-year starter for the Cowboys, Martin recorded 178 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 36 pass breakups, and three interceptions during his career in Stillwater; his most productive season came as a junior in 2010 when he tallied 55 tackles, two tackles for loss, 10 pass breakups, and all three interceptions. With prototypical size for the position, Markelle offers the range, closing speed, and quick-twitch abilities to cover ground quickly from his free safety position. A confident defender who plays with the type of attitude that you look for in a centerfielder in the secondary, Martin's fluidity to turn and run as well as his closing speed gives him the ability to make plays sideline-to-sideline for his defense. Possessing great instincts at the position, Martin does a very good job of reading the quarterback's eyes before breaking quickly to make a player on the ball. With 39 passes defended in four years, Markelle has excellent ball skills with the anticipation that you look for. Although I love the fact that he managed to record 39 passes defended throughout his career, it amazes me that he was only able to turn three of them into interceptions. Being able to hold onto the ball and come down with it rather than batting it away is something that he could really stand to improve on at the next level. He's got the type of mindset you look for with his ability to get to the table and get his hands on it, you'd just like to see him now turn those breakups into interceptions. Martin has experience lining up in the slot as a nickel back in man coverage, although I don't believe this will be his best fit at the next level. Instinctively, he does a nice job of cutting off the receivers' routes by anticipating and driving on the ball, especially on shorter to more intermediate passes. However, with his tall, long frame, he doesn't sink his hips in his backpedal as well as you'd prefer and doesn't own the type of explosive burst to recover if beaten off the line or down the field. An intimidating headhunter in the secondary whose been known to make some big hits throughout his career, Markelle tends to play overboard at times when defending the run or breaking on a receiver in front of him, attempting to lay the wood rather than wrap up for a big tackle. This tenacious play has resulted in a number of failed tackle attempts, which is something that he must change in the NFL. Developing better technique as a form tackler when playing downhill would be my recommendation, as I feel he plays far too wild in attempting to make a big play at this time. He does have the upper body strength needed to chase and wrap up a ball carrier when given the opportunity to do so. Markelle had two injuries during his career that teams will certainly check out, as he missed the first two games during his sophomore season with a hip injury and he missed spring practice before his senior season after having surgery on his left shoulder. A great student in the classroom, Markelle earned Oklahoma State's Nate Fleming Award for his academic success. He does not have any known character concerns entering the next level. Markelle Martin is a player who possesses all of the physical tools and instincts to develop into a solid starting free safety in the NFL, he just needs further development and refinement in a few areas of his game.

The Next 5

6. George Iloka – Boise State – 6-3 – 225

7. Antonio Allen – South Carolina – 6-1 – 202

8. Brandon Taylor – LSU – 5-11 – 202

9. Trenton Robinson – Michigan State – 5-9 – 193

10. Janzen Jackson – McNeese State – 5-11 – 188

Overrated: Janzen Jackson

Underrated: Tramain Thomas

Small School Sleeper: Kelcie McCray – Arkansas State – 6-1 – 202

A dependable three-year starter at Arkansas State, Kelcie McCray offers the measurables and physical tools that scouts look for at the safety position. Over the course of his career with the Red Wolves McCray totaled 220 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 12 pass breakups, and 10 interceptions; his best statistical season came during his sophomore season in 2009 when he made 58 tackles, four tackles for loss, four pass breakups, and four interceptions. Kelcie is a fine athlete with the tall, lean frame and long arms (32 inches) that you
look for at the position. A reliable last line of defense for his team, Kelcie offers the straight-line speed and range needed to cover ground quickly in zone coverage. A natural at dropping back into zone, McCray has the tools needed to effectively cover one half of the field in a two-deep scheme. Kelcie has displayed fine ball skills with the body control that you like to see, having produced 22 passes defended in four years for the Red Wolves. While I wouldn't consider him a ball hawk, he is more than capable of getting the job done if in position to make a play on the ball. Although he's not a quick-twitch or explosive athlete, McCray offers enough fluidity needed to turn and run in transition. Kelcie is not very experienced in man coverage and doesn't project as a player that I would consider to be able to move down to the slot as a nickel or dime back. McCray is still beginning to develop his instincts for the position after having played quarterback in high school; however for the same reason, he sees the field well and understands how to best position himself to make a play on the ball, as he understands the game from the quarterback position. He has yet to fully learn the nuances of playing the safety position and must develop the ability to diagnose plays quicker in order to read and react faster to what he sees in front of him. He is still very much a work-in-progress from a mental standpoint. Having led his team in tackles as a senior (70), Kelcie has shown throughout his career that he is a sure wrap-up tackler who can be counted on in the open field to get the job done. He brings a physical attitude and temperament with the instincts to read run before driving downhill from his safety position and throwing his body into the mix. While he could really stand to continue to get stronger and fill out his frame, McCray does a fine job of breaking down in the open field to secure the tackle and has shown the ability to chase down and make a shoestring tackle of the running back in pursuit. He's not experienced as a rusher off the edge, however is capable of sniffing out screens out on the perimeter and will make a handful of tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Having played in 49 games over the past four years, Kelcie proved to be a durable player for Arkansas State and does not have any known injury concerns as he enters the next level. He brings good intangibles with the leadership that you look for, having been a team captain in high school.

Big E

Jan 4, 2011
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Norfolk, VA
I really like Harrison Smith. A few phrases jumped out from your description of him: "savvy, high-football IQ player who is rarely out of position" and "can be counted on to make a sure tackle in the open field." That's exactly the kind of player we need at safety. Charlie Peprah got himself out of position and missed tackles way too often last year. Like in the playoff game, he gave Hakeem Nicks a little shoulder bump instead of trying to wrap him up and Nicks went on for a 66 yard touchdown. We could use someone back there who is more reliable if Nick Collins can't return. Also, Mike Mayock and Deion Sanders were raving about how smooth Harrison was during the drills at the combine. Deion said that usually you can tell who are the safeties and who are the corners by their footwork and their hip fluidity, but Harrison actually looked better than all of the corners. Plus, he's not just some workout warrior. He's produced on the field, too. I would be happy if he ended up being one of our picks.


May 2, 2010
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Neither Collins nor Burnett were 1st round picks, and neither from a football powerhouse.
I'd expect Teddy to use a 3rd or 4th round pick on a safety this year.

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