When you look at the needs of each team in the league, it seems like 80 percent of them need one or two new safeties. With the emergence of freakazoid athletes at the tight end position, the position is now more important and more difficult to fill than ever before. Gone are the days of a "strong" and "free" safety; both guys need to be able to play the run as well as the pass.
Unfortunately for defenses looking for an upgrade at the position, this year's safety class is, well, pretty bad. Just one player stands out as a possible first round selection: Alabama's Mark Barron.
We all know that mock drafts are a shot in the dark, but I have seen some writers and analysts have Barron going as high as the mid-first round to the Jets. It is not secret that they need a safety, but to me, it seems like a bit of a reach for his college production. So, I decided to check out the film for myself to see if I was missing something.
At first, I was pleasantly surprised by Barron. He was always around the football and was not afraid to get physical in the run game, darting like a missile from centerfield to make a stop. He took a lot of snaps from the nickel linebacker position and was very quick to recognize plays.
When in man coverage, which is now a regular job for NFL safeties, he typically was able to maintain coverage and make a ply on the ball. Playing from centerfield, he can cover a lot of ground quickly and possesses good ball skills.
However, there are a few alarming parts of Barron's game that cause me to hesitance. First even though he does not usually get beat in man coverage, his footwork and backpedal leave a lot to be desired. He can get by with it in college, but NFL tight ends and receivers are going to have a field day with his stiff hips. When he has to turn to get deeper in coverage or even catch a running back breaking open for a big gain, he is simply too stiff and slow. Moving laterally is not one of his strengths.
To me, Barron is good enough to start for some teams right away as a strong safety, but he will experience some growing pains. If a team is patient enough to work with him with his footwork and technique, Barron can develop into a nice player.
Problem is, that is the description of a second or third round pick, rather than a guy you would use your first round gold on. He is, however, going to benefit from a weak safety class and a demand for safeties that is larger than the supply, and I wouldn't be too surprised if a team rolled the dice on Barron and hope to develop him into a star.
It it was up to me, I would rather spend my free agency dollars on on the position than trying to find a young guy in the draft. With so much hinging on the safety position nowadays, I would rather let a veteran play for me as the last line of defense while developing younger players.