2014 NFL Draft Positional Preview (Safeties)

By Nick Paulenich

Special to Pro Football Guru

Courtesy of NFL draft writer Nick Paulenich, here is the fifth in our series of positional previews for the 2014 NFL Draft. Nick’s rankings will include the Top 5 players at each position. So far, Nick has previewed the top defensive tackles, defensive ends, as well as the inside linebackers and outside linebackers available in this year’s upcoming draft.

Part 5: Safeties

Overview:  It has been awhile since a safety has been drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft. In fact, the last time was 2010 when Eric Berry (Kansas City) and Earl Thomas (Seattle) were drafted. In this era where multiple receiver and tight end sets are the norm, safeties that can cover both are essential.

Two safeties should be first-round selections this year.  Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is center fielder who can read and react quickly. Louisville’s Calvin Pryor is a big thumper who makes receivers twice think about crossing into his area.  

The draft’s top strong safety is Deone Bucannon of Washington State. Bucannon as well as Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward should both be second-round selections.

The breakdown:

1. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, 6-1 3/8,  208 lbs., Alabama

Last season, Clinton-Dix earned Second-team All-American honors despite missing two games due to suspension (accepted loan from assistant coach). He also earned First-team All-SEC honors.

Strengths:  Has ability to read and react quickly.  Possesses size, speed, range and good ball-skills.

Weaknesses:  Needs to improve wrapping up.

Projection:  First-round pick

2. Calvin Pryor, 5-11 1/8, 207 lbs., Louisville

Pryor was First-team All-AAC in 2013. He missed one game due to suspension for violating team rules (unspecified).  Pryor had 75 tackles last season after recording 100 in 2012, finishing second on the team both years.

Strengths:  Is a punishing hitter who has good range and quickness.

Weaknesses:  Could draw penalties for physical play. Did not cover slot receivers in college.

Projection:  First-round pick

3. Deone Bucannon, 6-1, 211 lbs., Washington State

Bucannon finished the 2013 season as a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award (top defensive back). He also was a First-team All-American. Bucannon finished with six interceptions and 114 tackles in 2013.

Strengths:  Has solid all-around skill set. Hits hard and has good range and ball skills.  

Weaknesses:  Needs to improve on man coverage skills. Can miss on tackle due to over aggressiveness.

Projection:  Second-round pick

4. Jimmie Ward, 5-10 5/8, 193 lbs., Northern Illinois

Ward was named a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe award in 2013 after leading the MAC with seven interceptions. He was a three-time First-team All-MAC selection.  Ward totaled 299 tackles in his last three seasons.

Strengths: Can play corner, disciplined, instinctive, always in position.

Weaknesses:  Can whiff when going for the big hit. Needs to improve strength.

Projection:  Second-round pick

5. Terrence Brooks, 5-10 7/8, 198 lbs., Florida State

Brooks earned Second-team All-ACC honors in 2013. He was the fastest safety at the Combine, recording a time of 4.42 second in the 40.

Strengths:  Is a safety with corner skills. Can provide run support and blitz. Reacts quickly and can hit hard.  

Weaknesses:  Needs to work on wrapping up and ball skills.

Projection:  Third-round pick

Others to Watch:  Ahmad Dixon, Baylor; Jonathan Dowling, Western Kentucky; Craig Loston, LSU; Ed Reynolds, Stanford; Brock Vereen, Minnesota

Small-School Sleepers:  None

Next up: Cornerbacks

Note: Clinton-Dix video courtesy of NFL.com.

Nick Paulenich is an experienced NFL writer and researcher and the founder of The Sports Savant. You can find Nick on Twitter at @npaulenich.