INDIANAPOLIS––Coming into the NFL Combine, Deone Bucannon already thought he was the best safety in this year's draft class.
"I don't think there's anyone better than me," said Bucannon on Sunday, "but anybody would say that."
After the Washington State safety's performance in Tuesday's on-field workout, however, analysts might tend to agree.
Bucannon finished among the top four safeties in the 40-yard dash (4.49 seconds), bench press (19 repetitions), vertical jump (36.5 inches), broad jump (125 inches) and three-cone drill (6.96 seconds).
Furthermore, Bucannon put up better numbers in each of the afore-mentioned drills than both Calvin Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, two players generally considered the top pair of safety prospects. And not only did Bucannon put up better numbers than the highly-rated duo, he's also taller (6-1) and heavier (211 lbs.) than each of them too.
Basically, Bucannon was the star exhibit at the human physics experiment that is the Combine. It's far more impressive for a player with longer limbs and a heavier mass to move through space than players that are shorter and lighter.
Bucannon thinks his bigger frame gives him advantage over other safeties.
"It gives me more range around the field," said Bucannon. "I feel like I can get to places quicker than other people. I'm longer. I feel like I'd be able to get to the receiver, the running back. I feel like I'll be able to get there quicker than my respective competition."
One player Bucannon thinks he compares to in the NFL is Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor, and it has nothing to do with both playing their football in the state of Washington.
There are other similarities and parallels that can be drawn, according to former Packers safety Matt Bowen, currently a lead NFL writer for Bleacher Report.
"He reminds me, if you want a comparison––I'm not saying the same skill set but the same style of play––to Kam Chancellor," said Bowen. "He's going to be your guy that's not always in the box. I'll tell you this, there's no such thing as an in-the-box safety any more. That's Steve Atwater, that's guys like that back when we were growing up, 235 lb. safeties.
"Every safety has to be able to play in the run front, work back to the middle of the field and play the deep end, cover a tight end, and if they're in a zone blitz or man pressure, they might have to cover a slot from time to time. That's just part of the deal now. It's part of your résumé; it's part of your job requirement to play."
Bucannon is a versatile safety, one that's dropped down on the box and patrolled the deep end, played half-field and everything in between.
If Bucannon's measurables at the Combine aren't enough to convince observers that he's the best safety, maybe his statistics will. He made at least 80 tackles in each of his four years with the Cougars and made a combined 13.5 tackles for a loss, 15 interceptions, 23 passes broken up and seven forced fumbles over the course his college career.
For his efforts, Bucannon was named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press as well as first-team All-Pac 12, not bad coming from a program that qualified for its first bowl game in a decade this past season.
As far as Bucannon was concerned, there was little anxiety that it would be difficult to stand out for a traditionally moribund program on the Palouse.
"I wasn't worried about the NFL at the time," said Bucannon. "I was just worried about playing football for my team throughout my career. So I wasn't really thinking about the next level yet. It's always been a dream of mine, of course, something that I've always wanted to do.
"But the coaching staff there, they do such a great job of putting you in a position without you even knowing it for the next level. Just the little things, being on time for meetings, just things like that just form you into a better player and eventually a better pro."
If Bucannon is still on the board at No. 21 in the first round, and the Packers haven't addressed the need at safety in free agency, they'll have to seriously consider the Wazzu product.
As of Sunday, Bucannon said he hadn't formally met with the Packers at the Combine, but he may have by the time it concluded. He did confirm that he met with the Packers at the Senior Bowl, although it was just one of many interview with almost every NFL team.
Bucannon seems to have left a positive impression wherever he's gone, whether it's the Combine, his college playing days or an all-star game environment.
"I really liked him at the Senior Bowl, and this guy's big," said Bowen. "He might have been the biggest hitter in college football last year. The question about him is, can he play in space? And whenever someone says that––can he play in space?––they're trying to project that to the NFL level.
"If he struggles at times at the college level, wrapping up or breaking down in the open field, they're trying to project that against pro-level athletes. To fix that it takes repetition and time. I'm not saying if you draft Bucannon, he might not make every open-field tackle in Week 1, but you hope by the middle of the season, you got a guy who can play."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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