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2016 NFL Draft: Jared's Gems at Safety

Examining some of the more interesting 2016 draft prospects at the safety position.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Well Kam is back. I had been working on a college draft piece on safeties prior to his return, and upon his return I posed the question on Twitter of whether to finish the story…it was near-unanimous to do so. So let’s do it.

Safety is a position that doesn’t really have any blue-chip prospects to start the year. It had Jalen Ramsey…but then he was moved to CB. Literally the highest-ranked safety right now is Ohio State’s Vonn Bell at #34 overall. Which meant most of this whole story was a discovery for me. I just sat down and watched stacks of safety tape.

A lot of my draft position group studies I will close with a small school find, but today I’m opening with him. Doug Middleton is a 6’0"/210lb combo safety (both strong and free) that totaled 74 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 4 INT, and 6 PBU in 2014. For some reason, he only has ONE tackle and no other boxscore contributions in 2 games in 2015. There may be an injury here that I couldn’t find info on in my research.

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It’s never ideal to scout from a highlight reel. While it does showcase the ceiling of the player, it’s important to know what kind of, and how many, mistakes he makes. But this is all I’ve got to work with.

I LOVE watching players that are reading plays. If you’re meeting a RB in the backfield, or breaking on a screen pass before the ball leaves the QB’s hand, you’re ahead of the game. If you have the athleticism to get there before the offensive player’s athleticism can win, then you’re hitting on multiple levels as a prospect. If, after you read the play, after you react to the play, you are also able to put some punishment on the player, then you look like a Seahawk defensive player. I think Middleton is showing all of this.

Draftscout has Middleton as the #172nd overall player. A late 5th round projection. Which is actually pretty high this early in the year for a small school player. But it’s also a nice spot for a Seahawk safety.

Deon Bush is listed 6’1"/205lbs (looks smaller to me) and my first impression of him was him hitting 230lbs Jameis Winston with a fairly glancing-looking blow, but it knocked Famous back about 12 feet. "Ooh…6-inch punch!!!" I thought to myself. You have my attention!

Bush’s 2014 stat line: 53 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 2 INT, 3 PBU…and a spicy FIVE forced fumbles. In fact, even before looking up his stat-line, I watched three different game tapes on Bush, and he had a forced fumble in each tape.

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Bush is primarily a free safety, and needs to be more consistent wrapping up his tackles. But he has some thump, he’s a ball-hawk, and athleticism seems fine. Draftscout has Bush at #99 overall. That basically equates to the Seahawks’ Byron Maxwell 3rd round comp pick. Not my favorite value for a Safety.

I’ve been waiting on WVU’s Karl Joseph for 4 years. As a Freshman, Joseph had 102 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 2 INT, 6 PBU, and 3 FF. Not to mention a reel full of hard hits. He’s now, finally, a Senior and now lists at 5’11"/197lbs. He just reminds me so much of Earl:

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The most interesting part of that video, however, might not even be Joseph. Safety #9 on WVU is KJ Dillon. Listed at 6’1"/203lbs, Dillon is more the strong safety build of the two. Dillon finished last year with 62 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3 INT, and 7 PBU. Joseph is ranked #136 overall, Dillon is #457.

Kevin Byard is an interesting study. He’s listed only 5’11" but he’s also 220lbs. Watching his tape, he reminded me of Karlos Williams before he converted to RB fulltime at FSU. Last year, Byard finished with 66 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 6 INT, 4 PBU, 2 FF and a blocked kick. He also had 1 punt return. His lone punt return went 76 yards for a TD. That is in the tape:

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What you can’t see in that game tape is how much time Byard has spent watching game tape. This is a kid who STUDIES the game really hard. He also brings really good physicality. Byard is currently ranked #229 overall. I’d take him in the 5th.

Lastly today, I’m bringing my current favorite safety I’ve watched this year. Elijah Shumate is listed 6’0"/224 but carries it so smooth that it makes him look much smaller.

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Believe it or not, this is my favorite play from that whole game:

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Much like we see in the Deon Bush tape, Shumate is showing some of that 6" punch power - just one-hand shoving the receiver off his block. Keep in mind, the footage of Shumate vs Stanford is from 2014. I think Shumate has looked even better when I’ve watched him live in 2015. Elijah is currently draftscout’s #110 overall player.  That’s right on the border of where I would start to consider a safety (4th round…depending where the Seahawks end up slotted).

One safety I've spotted from a measurables and production standpoint, but haven't seen on tape, is Kai Nacua from BYU. Listed at 6'2"/213, Kai has great size. And with 4 INT's and 3 PBU in only 3 games, he's also shown some nice ball skills in the young season. I'm keeping my eyes open for him.

Although Shumate is my favorite safety in this story (in a vacuum), I think my preferred combination of player/talent/value to actually draft, would be going after one of the small-school guys (Doug Middleton or Kevin Byard) with a 4th-5th round pick.

Who do you like?