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Prospects To Watch: Safeties

ericberrys

If you scroll down a few posts you’ll see that I have quarterback as the Vikings top draft need.  This is based off of the possibility of both Brett Favre and Tarvaris Jackson being off the roster next season.  Also, the pickings are incredibly slim in free agency at the quarterback position.

I have safety as their second biggest need.

This is based off of the performance of our current guys and the fact that this may very well be the easiest starting position on our roster to upgrade.  That being said, I don’t think the Vikings or the fans should completely give up on Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson yet.  Williams improved the passing defense significantly when he was able to return from injury in the middle of the 2008 season and Johnson is a second year player who has shown enough promise to keep around. 

While they both have missed tackles, taken poor angles, and been out of position on plenty of occasions this year one has to remember this is a team sport.  What I mean by this is that even though our linebackers are generally thought of as a solid unit, they do lack the range required for effective coverage and also the Vikings corners are all better at tackling than covering. 

In the end, I think Williams and Johnson both need to step it up a notch though.  Jamarca Sanford may be a promising young prospect, but it is time for the Vikings to at least bring in some serious competition at the safety position.

Before we look at the draft prospects at the position, I must mention that competition at safety could be brought in during free agency.  Dawan Landry of the Ravens and Nick Collins of the Packers, both only 27 years old, will headline the free agent class of safeties.  Both of these guys would be considered good enough to compete for, and likely win, a starting job in Minnesota.

Here is a look at my top safety prospects possibly entering the 2010 draft:

 

  1. Eric Berry, Tennessee – Seldom does a safety prospect like this come around.  Eric Berry is considered a once in a decade prospect and is drawing comparisons to Ed Reed.  Consider his 2008 stats of 44 solo tackles, 3 sacks, 7 interceptions, and 2 touchdowns all with a shoulder injury.  While his production has dipped a bit in 2009, it’s not a reflection of how he is playing.  I could list off all the traits that make him great, but lets just say that he is nearly perfect in all aspects of the game.  He may fall out of the top 5, but that is only because of the value of the position he plays, not the level at which he plays it.  Berry is quite possibly the best player in this year’s draft.  I would not be sad if the Vikings gave up a lot to trade up and snag this guy.
  2. Earl Thomas, Texas – While a little under sized and possessing limited experience, Earl Thomas has made the most of his opportunities.  In 2008, Thomas had 52 solo tackles, 4 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions.  In seven games in 2009, Thomas already has 20 solo tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 6 interceptions.  He also has 2 touchdowns.  Thomas has some incredible speed and very solid cover skills.  The Vikings would be lucky to have him fall to them if he declares this year… and they’d give him serious consideration in the first round.
  3. Taylor Mays, USC – Taylor Mays will be one of the most hyped prospects in this draft.  That’ll only get worse after he blows everyone away at the combine.  The athletic freak of nature stands at 6’-4” and 225 pounds.  Chances are good he could pull off a 4.4 forty time to boot.  Mays can really hammer a ball carrier in the open field, and this is particularly impressive when he’s tossing around college kids, but will be less effective when facing the pros.  He needs to refine his wrapping up skills as well as some pretty poor (at times) coverage skills and instincts.  Somebody will bite on Mays in the top 15 because of his incredible upside, but I do not think he is the answer to any of the Vikings safety woes.
  4. Nate Allen, South Florida – Here we have one of the best free safety prospects in the draft.  The senior had a break out sophomore year, and then a down junior year (USF struggled as a whole in 2008), and is back to being very solid this year.  Through eight games in 2009 Allen has 23 solo tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 4 picks.  Allen has very good size and speed for a free safety and should be able to get drafted early in the second round.  He helps out tremendously on run defense and is pretty solid in coverage.  Make sure to watch him play in the Senior Bowl and stop back to let me know if you think it’d be a reach for the Vikings to use their late first rounder on the kid.
  5. Morgan Burnett, Georgia Tech – Morgan Burnett may not be a name you know… yet.  If Burnett declares for the draft this year (he’s a junior) then I predict that he rises up draft boards ever-so-quickly.  In 2008, he managed a whopping 62 solo tackles, 1 forced fumble, 7 picks, and 1 touchdown.  Burnett’s tackle total has dipped dramatically this year, but he still has managed 4 picks in 9 games.  He has the all the measurable to be effective at either safety position, and my guess is that if he goes to the combine this year and does well then he will surpass everyone but Eric Berry on this list and become the #2 safety prospect in the nation.  He may have to ride the bench for a year or two, but sooner rather than later Morgan Burnett will be a top 10 safety in the NFL.

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