CFF Overview: S - Top of the Crop
For a safety class that’s long been set aside as ‘weak’ while attention is focused on the positions that’ll produce more first-rounders, there are a number of interesting options that stand out in one facet or another and should generate interest during the draft’s first two days.
This first group has sorted to the top, though a few more names should follow not far behind — we’ll get to them in an upcoming post. For now, here are the handful that stood out:
Landon Collins, Alabama
Everyone’s top safety in the class holds his spot at top of the list only partly due to his own play. There’s no disputing Collins’ size and athleticism combination – at nearly 230 pounds, his easy acceleration during the play is unmatched – and he is effective coming forward against the run or routes breaking in front of him. Where he falls short is in coverage as he can struggle with angles, sense in space, turn-and-run situations, and recovery.
The lack of any other true standouts in the class (especially as single-high options) has helped push him higher than he might otherwise be – he feels like a second-rounder who could go in the back half of the first thanks to a scarcity threat at the position and his raw tools.
Collins will use his body and deliver a blow and can close on wide runs better than any, but is limited to being a box player at this stage with a way to go before he can be trusted vs. the NFL’s take-the-top-off WRs. He brings a lot to the table that will be attractive to teams looking for help at the position, will challenge for playing time right away and, in time, could become a force as a high/low half-field pro.
Signature Stat: His 33 defensive stops were sixth-best at the position and the 15 of them that came against the pass was the top total.
James Sample, Louisville
Perhaps the best mix of abilities in the class, Sample is a decisive mover who is quick and sure when reacting up and capable in coverage. Unlike his Louisville counterpart, Gerod Holliman, Sample displays a strong desire to get to the ball-carrier and takes on more than a support role in the run game as he’s a confident defender who will hit, wrap and win one-on-one in space. His body control is excellent and he works through traffic well to get to where he needs to go.
Grading well across the board in our CFF analysis, his tape didn’t disappoint, he ticks more boxes than any other, and he fits in among the handful of Day 2 hopefuls who can find an immediate role in an NFL backfield.
Signature Stat: Sample was in the Top 10 in Run Stop Percentage and Tackling Efficiency, and his 12 combined plays on the ball (four INTs, eight PDs) were second among safeties only to Holliman’s 15.
Damarious Randall, Arizona State
Randall looks and plays light but his quick feet and game speed set him apart. His over-eager, out-of-control style, however, needs some serious roping in. That’s a coachable issue, though, and one that’s much more appealing than dealing with a timid player at the position. While not the surest tackler, he’s certainly not afraid of contact and will stick his nose in at every chance.
He lands high on the list because he’s one of very few in the class with the range to seriously be seen as a single-high option, and though he’s relatively unreliable as a last-line run defender, covering as much ground as he can up top will always be coveted. Playing more than a quarter of his snaps down over a slot WR and, thanks to his quickness, performing well in those chances adds another plus to his résumé.
Signature Stat: Randall was one of six safeties in the class who saw at least 60 targets into their coverage in 2014. His 53.2 completion percentage allowed was lowest of that group.
Anthony Harris, Virginia
Harris may be this draft’s best pure over-the-top cover man and that’s good because he’s hit-and-miss against the run. Fitting in best as a split-field deep man, Harris is also at home in off-man situations over receivers, handles under routes with ease and can track crosses if needed. Regularly puts his coverage instincts on display to come off his primary assignment and find work when the ball is headed elsewhere. A smart, smooth athlete with something of a long stride, Harris will body up on receivers despite his thin frame and should be attractive as a true top-of-the-defense safety.
Signature Stat: One of only two safeties (with Minnesota’s Cedric Thompson) to end up in the Top 10 for most missed tackles against the run and in the Top 10 for run stops.
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