2013 NFL Combine - Safety Analysis
Florida S Matt Elam
Florida S Matt Elam
Posted Feb 26, 2013

Breaking down the top safeties in the 2013 NFL Draft.

2013 NFL Pre-Combine

Top Ten Safety Rankings

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- 2013 CFN Pre-Combine Safety Rankings, No. 11 to 25 
1. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas 6-0, 214 (SS) Proj. 1
Positives: Smooth. Looks and plays the part of an NFL safety, able to work in any style and in any way. He could be used as a free safety who can become a ball hawk, or become a solid run defender who can get physical. He can do it all. … Can get into the backfield. Gets off the line well and has great timing. There’s no problem with his confidence, and he plays with an attitude. … An elite special teamer who makes big things happen. He could be used as a punt blocker with the ability to fly in off the edge.

Negatives: Needs to be functionally stronger. His weight room strength is fine for a defensive back, but considering he’s going to be considered a gamechanging defensive back, he needs to be a bit stronger for the ground game. … A bit inconsistent, he misses from time to time and isn’t always in the right position. He didn’t always have to be sound on a defense full of elite athletes, but he’ll have to be better play in and play out. … The elite wheels aren’t there. He’s not going to be able to stay with the speed receivers on the deep balls.

Really, What’s He Going To Do In The NFL? He’ll be a good, steady starter for the next ten years with a few Pro Bowl appearances sprinkled in here and there.

2. Jonathan Cyprien, FIU 6-0, 217 (FS) Proj. 2
Positives: Plays fast, talks fast and makes big things happen. He brings the swagger and the attitude to set the tone for a secondary. There won’t be any problems getting him pumped up. … A jack-him-up hitter who brings the lights-out shots. Extremely physical and tough against the run and blasts receivers who come across the middle. … Instinctive and smart. Knows what he’s doing and doesn’t take many wasted steps.

Negatives: Where is he going to play? He’s not really big enough to be the blasting strong safety he was at times in college, and he’s not quite athletic or fast enough to be an elite free safety. … Will go for the big play when the routine will do. There will be times when he’s burned by being too aggressive. … Could be a lightning rod. He’ll do his share of yapping, for good and bad.

Really, What’s He Going To Do In The NFL? A terrific talent who’ll be a major factor. He’ll be a fan favorite and a star. There will be a few trips to Hawaii.

3. Matt Elam, Florida (Jr.) 5-10, 208 (FS) Proj. 1
Positives: A phenomenal playmaker, he lived up to his prep hype with a huge 2012 making some of the biggest plays of the college football season. He was the best player on one of the nation’s best defenses. … Can do a little of everything well. Sound and solid against the run, disciplined and quick in pass coverage and strong when he needs to be against the more physical teams. … A fiery leader, he brings the A effort and the fight to every play of every game. Motivation will never be a problem.

Negatives: Too small. A bit too short and without any bulk. He’ll have to be very smart and very careful about his body. … Not a blow up hitter. The form and results are fine, but he’s not going to intimidate anyone even though he tries to come up with the pop. … While he comes up with a ton of wow plays, he’s not consistent. Not in on every play like some of the top safeties in the draft.

Really, What’s He Going To Do In The NFL? You wouldn’t want a whole secondary of Matt Elam’s – there need to be a few thumpers – he’ll be a terrific playmaker who’ll do huge things for a secondary. He’ll be more splashy than consistent – and that might not be a bad thing.

4. Eric Reid, LSU (Jr.) 6-1, 213 (FS) Proj. 2
Positives: A baller with the nose for the ball and the big play. He’s a good, sound, smart safety who’s always around the ball and always in the right position. Very easily, he’ll be a quarterback of a secondary who’ll know what everyone else is supposed to do. … Looks the part with the NFL size and ability. Works in any system and any scheme; he can do whatever the coaches ask. … Beats up receivers on the way to get the ball. As aggressive as they come.

Negatives: Can be beaten at times by going for the big play. He tries to get all over the field and he’ll occasionally get caught. … There are a few too many wasted steps. Free lances a bit too much – for good and bad. … Surrounded by superior talent. He was a part of one of the most talented secondaries in college football over the last few years. He didn’t have to do as much as other top safeties.

Really, What’s He Going To Do In The NFL? Expect a smart leader from Day One and a longtime starter. He’ll make a secondary all his.

5. D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina 5-10, 208 (FS) Proj. 3
Positives: Experienced and savvy, he has seen it all at the highest of college football levels. A terrific leader who gets his defense going. A tone-setting. … Packs a wallop. A massive hitter who destroys a ball-carrier and seems to love mixing it up. Fights through the traffic well to make the play. … Moves well. Cuts on a dime and adjusts well in pass coverage and when chasing down a play.

Negatives: The size isn’t quite right. He’s too short and not thick enough to hold up to be the big hitter like he was in college. He’ll have to scale back his game a bit – will that change around his production? … The deep speed isn’t there. A better athlete than a speedster, he needs help and can’t cover the receivers with the top wheels. … He might not have a proper role. He might be at his best strong safety, but he’ll play around with his positions.

Really, What’s He Going To Do In The NFL? Coaches, fans and teammates will love his physical style, but he might be lacking a bit against the pass. He’ll be a productive starter.

6. Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma 5-11, 213 (FS) Proj. 3
Positives: One of the best run-stopping defensive backs in the draft. Oklahoma used him like a linebacker and he more than held his own. He doesn’t miss plays. … Quick enough and fast enough to be used in a variety of ways. He can play any type of safety job. … Ultra-aggressive and self-motivated. Coaches will love him and players will follow his lead.

Negatives: Shockingly weak in the weight room considering his style of play and his production. He’ll have to get functionally stronger to hold up at the next level. … Needs to be a better form tackler. Yes, he hits well and will pop, but he gets sloppy. … While he’s not all that tall and not huge, his size shouldn’t be that big a deal. However, he’s not big enough for a player whose game is built on being physical.

Really, What’s He Going To Do In The NFL? A pure football player. He might not have all the measurables, but the tape doesn’t lie – he’ll be a strong starter.

7. Shawn Williams, Georgia 6-0, 213 (SS) Proj. 3
Positives: A true leader in several ways. It seemed like all the Georgia defensive backs were suspended for a stretch last year, but Williams wasn’t one of them. Sets the tone both on and off the field and isn’t afraid to ramp up everyone’s effort. … A good hitter, he does all the lunch pail stuff and takes on the big plays against the run. Never afraid to get physical. … A rock. Extremely strong both on the field and in the weight room.

Negatives: Doesn’t cut all that well. Good in a straight line but will struggle with the quicker and speedier receivers. … Plays a bigger game than his size. There’s a chance he could have problems staying healthy if he has to hold up against bigger linemen on a regular basis. … Pass coverage will be an ongoing issue. He needs to play in a box surrounded by faster defensive backs.

Really, What’s He Going To Do In The NFL? He’ll be a rock-solid starter who’ll be a strong leader for an NFL secondary. He was already a leader for an NFL-caliber defense at Georgia.

8. Phillip Thomas, Fresno State 5-9, 213 (SS) Proj. 3
Positives: When 100% healthy, he’s a do-it-all star who came up with a whale of a senior season. Not only great when the ball was in the air, but he improved his play as a run defender. No defensive back in college football had a more complete year. … Built like a lighter linebacker with a compact frame. Hits like a ton of bricks. … Excellent ball skills. Great when the ball is in the air and attacks the pass.

Negatives: Doesn’t really have the right body type for all schemes. While his size is good to grow into a hitter against the run, he’s not long or lean. … Everything turned out fine with his whale of a season, but there might be injury concerns after suffering a badly broken leg two years ago. … Deep speed is lacking. He’s good at sniffing out plays, but he doesn’t have the recovery wheels.

Really, What’s He Going To Do In The NFL? While he might not come up with the spectacular season he cranked out as a senior, he’ll be a good starter for a long time.

9. T.J. McDonald, USC 6-2, 219 (FS) Proj. 4
Positives: A massive hitter and intimidating force who’s destined to shell out tens of thousands of dollars in fines at the next level – he’s going to blast away on anyone who comes across the middle. … Big with the right side and the right frame. He’ll be used as a free safety but he can work in any spot. … Great at getting physical and bring the man down. If he gets his hands on a runner, it’s over.

Negatives: Yes, he’s a huge hitter, but he can be destroyed in space by quicker runners. Whiffs way too often. … Not all that athletic. It’s all about working like an extra linebacker, but he’s going to have problem with fast receivers on the move. … Man coverage is a problem. He needs to be surrounded by faster defensive backs so he can do the hitting.

Really, What’s He Going To Do In The NFL? A big tackler who’ll make an impact in a variety of ways. There will be issues with his style, but he’ll be a tone-setting starter.

10. John Boyett, Oregon 5-10, 204 (SS) Proj. 4
Positives: A powerful defender who packs a wallop with strength and terrific toughness, he’s a pure football player who’ll beat people up. … Doesn’t make mistakes. He’s always in the right position and he sniffs out plays well before they happen. Great instincts. … Quick and cuts well. Stays with receivers by being a half step ahead of them and not playing catch-up.

Negatives: Short and squatty. He doesn’t have the build to be an NFL defensive back with the lack of height considered a problem. … If he doesn’t read the deep pass play before it’s happening, he’s in trouble. The make-up speed just isn’t quite there. … There may be a short shelf life. With his physical style he’s always going to be beaten up.

Really, What’s He Going To Do In The NFL? The lack of height isn’t a big deal, but his health will be. He’ll be a terrific starter for five years before he breaks down.

 - 2013 CFN Pre-Combine Safety Rankings, No. 11 to 25