USA TODAY Sports
Since drafting Earl Thomas in 2010, there have been a couple of attempts by the Seattle front office to find some depth at the free safety spot. Mark LeGree was drafted in the 5th round in 2011 as a potential Thomas backup, only to severely disappoint in preseason, and then find himself out of a job before week 1.
Jeron Johnson was signed as a UDFA and has been productive, but more as an "in-the-box" safety defending the run, covering the tight end or blitzing off the edge, and not as a guy with the fluidity and explosiveness to cover a ton of ground deep. Chris Maragos is a speedy, athletic safety but isn't very instinctive in coverage and is more of a special teams standout than anything else. Winston Guy was drafted as strong safety depth, and to be a designated pass rusher in Seattle's bandit package.
I wrote at the beginning of last season that I was concerned about the lack of free safety depth, and discussed the importance of the position in terms of needing that guy who can cover sideline-to-sideline and protect the top end of the defense.
The last couple of drafts haven't featured a ton of talent at this spot beyond the first round, but this year I've identified a guy who could be the steal of the draft at the position.
Duke Williams comes out of Nevada at 5'11, 201 lbs with instincts and explosiveness to play either of the two safety positions. But that's not all. He also may very well be the best man-coverage safety in the draft, exhibiting the agility and speed of a nickel corner when asked to cover the slot, and he's extremely physical when asked to defend the run up in the box. He's a sub-4.5 runner with early play-recognition and an explosive first step to the football, and could give Seattle that big-area coverage depth they need, with immediate special teams and 3rd safety contribution, as well as competition at the nickel spot. In theory, he'd provide depth at 2 or 3 positions, again meeting the "versatility" criteria that this front office and coaching staff value.
The best part of all of this, is that you may be able to get him in the 4th or 5th round.
Here's my scouting report on Williams:
0511 201 4.46
Hug High School
Quick, agile and explosive athlete with versatility to play multiple positions in the defensive backfield. Displays early recognition against the run, and exhibits an explosive first step to the ball. Despite possessing a somewhat slight frame, plays with a level of physicality that you expect to see out of much bigger athletes. Displays fluidity in reverse and quick hips in transition.
Takes good angles against the run, and does a good job of maintaining footing through contact from bigger, stronger blockers. Good zone awareness and route anticipation underneath. Possesses a 2nd gear to chase receivers down from behind. Does not wait for the play to get to the 2nd level before closing, and displays big-time aggression up near the line of scrimmage. Is fluid and agile laterally, and does a good job of mirroring underneath routes in man coverage. Above-average straight-line speed.
Doesn't display the greatest of ball skills or hands. Susceptible to play-action fakes, and shows some indecisiveness in zone, when there are multiple receivers in his vicinity. Doesn't always wrap his target up, and relies more on the hit. Will drop his head and lead with his shoulder at times, both as a tackler and when engaging blockers. There may be concerns about his durability, considering his lean build and physical style of play.
Devin McCourty, Safety, New England Patriots - Williams may go overlooked for several rounds due to his slight build and lower-profile school, but he has all the tools to be an immediate contributor from either of the two safety spots. Like McCourty, he brings rare versatility in being able to line up at corner or in the slot, and his instincts against the run are some of the best in the entire class. A 2nd-round talent with impact starter upside, who could end up being the steal of the draft at the position, between rounds 4 and 6.
You can find more of Derek's analysis at his Seahawks-centric draft, free agency, & pro player personnel site called "ScoutTheSeahawks." Head over and bookmark it - he maintains a really great free agent tracker in addition to his Draft focus that is much more in-depth than most places because of his background doing deep scouting of NFL Draft prospects.