The NFL Combine is one of the final opportunities for NFL Draft prospects to raise their stock with on-campus Pro Day workouts perhaps being the very last chance.
Their college careers are over, the all-star circuit is over. For many players, the Combine is an opportunity to put an exclamation point on their football résumés. And for those that perform well enough, they might decline to even perform certain drills at their individual Pro Days.
What follows is the most important part of the Combine for the top safety prospects in this year's draft class.
I apologize I don't have the time to do this for every position. But it is good fortune that not only do I create the safety profiles for our annual "Pro Football Draft Preview" guide, but it's also perhaps the No. 1 need for the Packers entering the 2014 season.
The order of the prospects is a pre-Combine ranking of how I view this year's class of safeties, subject to change before the Draft:
- Calvin Pryor, Louisville, Position Drills––There isn't much Pryor has to prove. His film says it all. Not even a slow time in the 40-yard dash can sink him, because he hasn't shown to be slow on the football field. His instincts, angles and ability to close will make up for any shortcomings. What Pryor doesn't have is elite ball skills, intercepting a maximum of three passes in any one particular college season. Ideally, the top-ranked safety in the entire class would be a better ballhawk, not that his coverage skills are lacking entirely. A good performance in position specific drills such as the "speed turn" and "pedal and transition" tests would likely cement his status as the No. 1 safety.
- Deone Bucannon, Washington State, 40-yard dash––At the Senior Bowl, Bucannon got a bad rap for getting beat in one-on-one drills against receivers. While a legitimate concern, it's not going to be much of a problem for any team that utilizes him as a back-end safety where he would play zone coverage more often than not and keep the action in front of him. Still, a good time in the 40-yard dash would prove that Bucannon has the speed to stick with receivers and make up ground in the event he does get beat.
- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama, Interviews––Clinton-Dix should pass the eye test at the weigh-in and likely won't raise any red flags in the measured drills if his past performance is any indication. But in 2013, Clinton-Dix was suspended two games for accepting a small loan from an assistant coach at Alabama. In the grand scheme of things, there are worse things the Tide safety could have done, but he was guilty of poor judgement and teams are going to probe to find out if there's any other skeletons is the closet before the potentially investing a first round draft pick into a player that goes by "Ha Ha."
- Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt, Measured drills––The film on Ladler is largely impressive. He makes a lot of tackles and creates a fair amount of turnovers. But guys like Bucannon and Clinton-Dix get the benefit of the doubt and a higher ranking because they're 210 lbs. or more while Ladler was 199 lbs. at the Senior Bowl. To overcome the relative lack of bulk, he's going to have to put up bigger numbers than them in almost all measured drills. It doesn't matter if it's timed like the 40-yard dash and three-cone drill or tape-measure drills like the vertical and hortizontal jumps or even the bench press. They're all important for Ladler.
- Craig Loston, LSU, Medical examination––When healthy, Loston is a good safety, the next in a long line of good defensive backs from LSU. One hang up, however, is that he seems to miss time almost every season due to a variety of injuries ranging from his wrist to toe to groin. The good news for Loston is that he's never missed more than three games outside of his redshirt freshman season, but there always seems to be something nagging. He doesn't want to gain a reputation as an injury-prone player and checking out well in the medical examination portion of the Combine will put a few minds at ease.
- Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois, Vertical jump––Ward has perhaps the best coverage skills of any safety in this year's draft class and his stock is rising after a good performance at the Senior Bowl. But there are major drawbacks for a player that measured in at just 5' 10 3/8" and 191 lbs. One way for a player to overcome concerns about height are to have a terrific vertical jump, showing that he can compete with NFL wide receivers and tight ends that are 6' 2" and higher.
- Tre Boston, North Carolina, Bench press––While not quite as small as Ward, Boston is also slightly less than ideal size, reportedly checking in at 5' 11 5/8" and 198 lbs. at the East-West Shrine Game. He also showed he had above-average ball skills during his college career, but can he withstand the pounding an NFL safety takes when you're south of 6' 0" and 200 lbs.? Putting up over 20 reps on the bench would alleviate some of those concerns.
- Ed Reynolds, Three-cone drill––In film study, Reynolds ended up sprawled on the ground more than any other top-ranked safety, too frequently missing tackles, particularly in 2012. Teams are going to need to see Reynolds can stay on his feet and not be juked by opposing ball carriers, and one way to see that is how he performs when changing directions like he will in the three-cone drill.
- Ahmad Dixon, Baylor, Position drills––The enforcer of the group, Dixon is a hard hitter and sure tackler. Strength will be one of his strong points and putting up big numbers in the bench press shouldn't be an issue. His coverage skills are far behind that of his peers, however. Like Pryor, the individual position drills will be of utmost importance, showing he's not going be get twisted out of shape when a receiver puts on a double move.
- Terrence Brooks, Florida State, Measured drills––Yet another undersized safety at 5' 11" and 197 lbs., Brooks will need to put up big numbers in all measured drills to prove he can overcome the issues with size. Like Ladler, it doesn't much matter if it's the timed or the measured drills. All will carry weight for Brooks.
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 [email protected].
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