Countdown to the NFL draft: SEC safeties
The NFL draft begins April 30 in Chicago, with all 32 teams looking for the next great pro talent to emerge from the SEC.
We’ll take a position-by-position look at the SEC’s draft prospects in the days leading up to the event. We started with running backs, receivers, defensive tackles and defensive ends. We continue today with safeties.
According to CBS Sports, the SEC claims the No. 1 prospects at free safety (Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss) and strong safety (Landon Collins, Alabama) entering the 2015 draft.
Other solid SEC safeties that are leaving include Nick Perry (Alabama), Braylon Webb (Missouri), Ronald Martin (LSU), Justin Cox (Mississippi State), Jermaine Whitehead (Auburn) and Robenson Therezie (Auburn).
Though safeties rarely are considered one of the top three or four commodities in the first round of the draft, NFL teams did select four in the first 30 picks in ’14 as franchises slowly upgrade players involved in pass defense and downgrade run-first commodities.
So what is the current buzz on the draft-eligible SEC safeties?
BIGGEST STAR: Landon Collins, Alabama
Collins has projected as a first-round pick for some time now, and the pre-draft evaluations did little to dissuade NFL teams, as far as we can ascertain.
At 6-foot and 228 pounds, Collins plays with a mean streak in traffic or near the line of scrimmage, finishing 2014 with more than 100 tackles for Alabama. Coverage is his weakness, in part because of poor footwork and in part because offenses sometimes catch him peeking into the backfield.
There aren’t any other safeties in this draft that teams should place anywhere near Collins on their draft boards, and that steep drop-off serves as a sort of insurance policy for Collins. Amari Cooper
RISING: Justin Cox, Mississippi State
Putting cox under the label “rising” mostly is a product of the fact that this is such a poor draft class and it’s difficult to identify any safety who definitely will merit a draft choice other than Collins and Cody Prewitt.
Cox got arrested at the scene of a burglary and charged with aggravated domestic violence, ending his college career early. There’s a strong likelihood that he won’t get drafted. His game video and production at Mississippi State didn’t come close to matching up with his physical attributes.
But he ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the Combine, where he also posted a broad jump of 10 feet, 9 inches. Some team will give him a long look as a potential special teams player as an undrafted free agent due to that athleticism.
FALLING: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
The most recognizable member of a stellar secondary entering last season, and maybe even the defense as a whole outside of Robert Nkemdiche, Prewitt earned first- or second-team All-American status in ’13 and ’14.
Prewitt finished his career with 12 interceptions. He’s a big hitter for his size (6-foot-2, 208 pounds at the NFL Combine), and also possesses plus range.
But he’s not athletic enough to cover NFL wideouts in space. He’s stiff, and even his straight-line speed is borderline. He’s not the biggest and toughest safety, either. Most pre-draft analysis pegs him as a Cover 2 guy who won’t fit single-high schemes. He ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, and I don’t consider a the hand-timed 4.47-second 40 he ran at the pro day to be much faster.
So while some still project him as high as a second-round pick, still others have him remaining on the board until late in the third day.
“Cody Prewitt … is tougher to evaluate when you look at how he plays,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said, according to The Clarion-Ledger. “There are mixed opinions on him with a lot of people. I think he’s in the fourth to sixth round, possible seventh. Very poor safety (group), but he’s in a mix of guys that some think are OK, some are not as high on.”
NON-SEC PLAYERS TO WORRY ABOUT
- Damarious Randall, Arizona State
- Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern
- Jaquiski Tartt, Samford
- Quinten Rollins, Miami
- Derron Smith, Fresno State
THREE BIGGEST QUESTIONS
- Will Landon Collins become the 18th first-round draft pick Alabama has produced since Nick Saban became head coach in 2007?
- After the initial top tier of SEC safeties in the ’15 draft, which other players will make NFL rosters by excelling on special teams? Or will NFL teams overlook the second tier altogether in what’s perceived as a weak class, preferring to find a corner they can convert to safety?
- Will Jalen Mills be the SEC’s top safety prospect in the ’16 draft?
THREE TO WATCH FOR IN 2016
- Jalen Mills, LSU
- LaDarrell McNeil, Tennessee
- Geno Smith, Alabama