1. Calvin Pryor, Louisville
While Bridgewater is the leader of the offense at Louisville, Calvin Pryor could be considered the leader on the defensive side of the ball. Calvin Pryor and Clinton-Dix are, for the most part, the top two safeties in this draft and either one could be ranked number one. They have very different skill sets. Pryor is a big hitting safety that can really be a force in the running game. He may struggle against more elusive backs if he whiffs on a hit. His pass coverage is fairly solid as well. He has shown flashes of incredible ball skills making huge interceptions, but his focus is really on big hits that can result in turnovers. As a junior, Pryor has created 9 forced fumbles, 7 interceptions, and over 200 tackles. I rank Pryor over Clinton-Dix because he stands out on a defense that doesn’t have the stars like Alabama does. Much like Vaccaro coming out last season, Pryor’s big hitting ability stands out on a team that isn’t necessarily known for its defense.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor seem to be the top rated safeties on most people’s boards. Both safeties should be very solid starters in the NFL but have fairly different skill-sets. Unlike many safeties, Clinton-Dix is really solid in pass defense. He is great in coverage and is all over the back end of the football field. Clinton-Dix is also fairly solid in run defense. While he may not be a big hitter, he can run up and make solid tackles on running backs. Strength may be a concern when wrapping up tackles as sometimes Clinton-Dix misses tackles when wrapping up. I’m not a huge fan of drafted defensive players from top defensive teams because it’s easy to hide weaknesses when you are playing alongside other talented players. However, Clinton-Dix seems to be an incredibly hard worker, and has great football instincts.
Jimmie Ward, NIU
Jimmie Ward is solid in pass coverage with nice ball skills, good instinct, and a great ability to put himself in a position to make a play. Ward ended the season with nearly 100 tackles and 7 interceptions and 4 blocked punts. Simply put, Ward is a playmaker. Unfortunately, Ward is a bit undersized which will hurt his stock, but it seems as if he plays bigger than he really is. Though he lacks size, he is still solid in run support. Ward totaled almost 300 tackles in his past three seasons which shows tremendous consistency. The skillset is there for Ward but his stock may fall due to his size, and the fact that he has played at a smaller school. While he didn’t have the chance to play incredibly tough competition and Northern Illinois, Ward had a great outing at the Senior Bowl.
Craig Loston, LSU
Much like Eric Reed from LSU last season, Loston is a big hitter. Loston will make receivers scared to go across the middle of the field. While his big hits stick out in the passing game, he is still solid in pass defense. Despite not being an above average cover safety, Loston is talented when it comes to run defense. From the safety spot he has great pursuit in finding the running back and making the tackle. As I said with Clinton-Dix, safeties playing for schools that have a top-notch defense often have some of their weaknesses hidden. I would still say Loston seems to have the potential to be a starting strong safety in the NFL.
Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
I have Joyner as one of my top rated cornerbacks so I’m not going to go into too much about Joyner. He has the ability to play corner or safety in the NFL but size is a huge issue at just over 5’ 8”. The lack of great cover safeties in this draft and the NFL in general should help his stock as a safety.
Dion Bailey, USC
Bailey is an intriguing prospect to me. He switched from linebacker to safety because of his above average cover skills. Many questioned if it would translate to his new position and it seems to work out well. Bailey is above average in coverage despite only playing safety for one year. Bailey is also adept in run defense, which makes sense having switched from being a linebacker. He is a well-rounded prospect with a lot of potential. Some say Bailey may move back to linebacker in the NFL if his coverage skills don’t pan out, but I think he will be just fine as a safety.
Deone Bucannon, Washington State
Bucannon made a name for himself at a small school racking up 114 tackles, 6 interceptions, and a forced fumble. He is a solid tackler in the run game and is good at coming up to make a play in the run game. He is adequate in the pass game against the competition he plays at Washington State, but I am not overly impressed. A few of his interceptions came from overthrown balls, in which it looks like he was the receiver. While he may have not played against tough competition, he did put himself in the position to make the plays. 100+ tackles on a season is solid for any safety in college football, but I question how his coverage skills will translate to the next level.