The safety class in the 2011 NFL draft is diverse and deep. After top prospect, Patrick Peterson, I believe there is starting quality talent in rounds two through four. While also having some late round guys who can come in and contribute. This works out for the Bengals because they currently have only two safeties under contract for the 2011 season (Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson). Crocker is coming off a MCL injury but is said to be completely ready to go. Reggie Nelson had a promising last four games of the 2010 season where he looked to have secured a starting spot for 2011. Even though the Bengals could head into the 2011 season with both Crocker and Nelson as their starting safeties, they will still need to draft at least one safety in April's draft. Drafting two safeties this year isn't out of the question either because the Bengals haven't invested enough draft picks in the position recently. The only safety drafted by the Bengals on last years roster was Chinedum Ndukwe, and he was a former seventh-round pick. All of these factors combined have created arguably the biggest area of need for the Bengals in the 2011 off season.
I‘ve added a new feature to my positional breakdowns. Everybody has different opinions on these players and I'm not down with the whole dark side dictatorship empire, so I've reached out to other draft junkies to get a second opinions on these prospects. Without further adieu, here are 10 safeties that could be wearing Bengals stripes next season.
Patrick Peterson 6'1" 210 lbs LSU Projected: 1-10
Peterson is probably a top 5 player on every big board. He played corner back at LSU but many scouts believe he may have a better career in the NFL at safety. His build, aggressiveness, strength, and tackling ability have me thinking that this guy would eventually be a better safety as well. I know some people in our Cincy Jungle community have said Peterson doesn't want to play safety, but I haven't seen that at all. I highly doubt his agent would allow him to say that. Either way, if Peterson was the pick for the Bengals in round one, that likely means Jonathan Joseph is gone. Sure, it's always bad to lose a player of his caliber, but I believe Peterson could offer more versatility. In base defense, they could start Leon Hall and Adam Jones on the outside with Patrick Peterson at safety. In nickel packages, Hall covers the slot and Peterson slides outside to corner. Bring in the non-starting veteran safety (Crocker or Nelson) to replace him. Mike Zimmer has been looking for a player that can do this since he arrived in 2008. Remember he really liked former Ohio State and current Saints CB/S Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins; a corner in college, made the transition to safety and is now one of the best in the league.
Second Opinion: "He's got a little bit of stiffness to him. Most comfortable in press-man (but) might be best served at safety... might be an All-Pro safety." - Mike Mayock of www.nfl.com
Rahim Moore 6'1" 196 lbs UCLA Projected: 25-45
Rahim Moore is that ball-hawk type of safety the Bengals haven't had since... ever? He's a free safety by every description of the position. Moore has excellent hands, good deep zone awareness and range. He reminds me of Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd. I'm not saying Moore will intercept 10 passes in his rookie year, but it's also not out of the realm of possibility with his skill set and considering he did have 10 interceptions as a sophomore at UCLA. Like Byrd, Moore needs to be better in run support. His frame doesn't help him shed blockers, so he needs to make sure he takes good angles to the ball carrier, which he struggles doing sometimes. If the Bengals want Moore, it would be with the No. 35 pick. He would compete with Reggie Nelson for the starting free safety spot.
Second Opinion: "I think the run on the best safeties this year start with UCLA Rahim Moore in second round and ends in 4th." - Wes Bunting of Nationalfootballpost.com via Twitter
Ahmad Black 5'9" 190 lbs Florida Projected: 60-90
Ahmad Black is one of my favorite prospects this year. He's a guy I want on my team. I don't care if scouts say he's small or slow. This man can play football. He had excellent production in the SEC (227 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 13 interceptions). His instincts and play recognition are top notch for a safety just coming out of college. Combine that with quick feet and great ball skills, and you have a player who will find a way to succeed in the NFL. Some scouts even wonder if teams would draft him as a cornerback because his feet are that good. Much like Earl Thomas last year. If the Bengals target Black, it would be with their third-round pick. He can play both safety positions and also contribute in nickel packages.
Second Opinion: "With all of the big money safeties being cut Ahmad Black may sneak in the first, especially under the new rookie scale." - www.mockdrafthq.com via Twitter
"An undersized safety prospect who plays bigger than his frame would suggest. Gets a bit overextended at times in coverage and doesn't have great closing range. But he showcases a nose for the football in both the run and pass game, is always around the action and has a passion for the game. Seems like a guy who could see playing time early in his career from the slot and possibly mature into a starter down the line."
DeAndre McDaniel 6'1" 215 lbs Clemson Projected: 40-80
From the comments in this community, I would say DeAndre McDaniel is somebody high on our collective draft boards. I think he's a perfect fit for the Bengals in round three. Even though he's a strong safety, McDaniel's range is like no other safety I've seen. If you watched the Clemson vs. Georgia Tech game from 2009, you might have seen two of the best interceptions ever. The range and ability to catch the ball over the shoulder shows the type of athlete McDaniel is. The problems for McDaniel are his lack of experience in the secondary (moved from linebacker to safety before 2009 season) and his character questions (arrested in 2008 for assault). Sounds perfect, not because he's a typical Bengals troublemaker, but because these questions could push him into the third round, and right into the Bengals lap. He could compete for an opening day starting spot at strong safety and severely upgrade the secondaries play-making ability.
Second Opinion: "I like Clemson SS DeAndre McDaniel as a third-round guy, smooth for size, good ball skills, starting NFL SS in my opinion." - Wes Bunting of Nationalfootballpost.com via Twitter
"McDaniel fits well on the Bengals, but I think the team may want something closer to a ballhawk (a la Rahim Moore.)" - Ryan Lownes of draftbreakdown.com via Twitter
Quinton Carter 6'1" 200 lbs Oklahoma Projected: 60-100
Carter is quickly rising on draft boards because of his perfect size and good production over the last two seasons (185 tackles, eight interceptions). He added more weight before the Senior Bowl weigh-ins so it shows he's been working hard. Only solid speed for Carter, but he makes up for it with good range and taking great angles to the ball carrier. He's more of a strong safety that can play cover one if needed. He's got decent pop when he hits and plays like he's ready to step onto a team and make an impact in 2011. I'll be interested to see Carter works out at the Combine later this month. I want to see how he matches up athletically with the rest of this safety class. Depending on his workout numbers, he's a guy that could go as high as mid second round or as late as forth round. Hopefully the Bengals don't wait until round four to address the safety position, but if they do, they will be lucky to find Quinton Carter at the top of round four.
Second Opinion: "A physical free safety who brings a lot of pop in his shoulder pads. Above average speed and fluid coverage. Can really shoot up boards with a good combine, needs to answer questions about his speed. Great kid and leader on OU squad, instinctive and active against both the run and pass. Has good range and good size. Solid 2nd rounder currently; great combine could push him into late 1st round, bad combine with slow speed = 2nd round." - Alex Brown of the3-4.com via Twitter
Tyler Sash 6'1" 210 lbs Iowa Projected: 70-110
Tyler Sash is going to be drafted a little later than he should because of his lack of speed and overall athleticism. He's not exactly a burner and can be stiff in his hips and slow in his backpedal. While we're at it, Sash is also coming off of shoulder surgery so that will be thoroughly examined at the Scouting Combine. Now that his flaws are out of the way, in my opinion, Tyler Sash is a starting strong safety in the NFL. Sash has the perfect build for a strong safety. He's physical, intense, high energy, and has a non-stop motor. Throw in good range, great zone awareness, solid hands and you have an asset back in the secondary. Again, this year's class isn't overwhelming with top tier talent at safety, but players like Sash, McDaniel, Carter and Black can start day one. Anytime you can find a starter in round three, that is a for sure win on draft day.
Second Opinion: "I see Sash going between rounds 2-3. I actually have him mocked to the Broncos in the 2nd, with their second 2nd rounder. I'd say his biggest weakness is his lack of speed and athleticism. That might hinder his draft stock, but his biggest strength is his ball skills. He just has that innate nose for the ball."
Pro Comparison: "Taller Nick Collins" - Larry McDaniel of WithTheFirstPick.com via Twitter
Deunta Williams 6'2" 210 lbs UNC Projected: 80-120
Deunta Williams had a very damaging senior campaign. Coming off of a stellar junior year (47 tackles, 6 interceptions), Williams was suspended for the first 4 games of the 2010 season. After his return, he started 8 games and had 47 tackles and zero interceptions. Then in his final bowl game as a Tar Heel, Williams broke his right fibula. Surgery was required and he hasn't been able to workout since. This was all part of a huge setback for a very gifted athlete. Williams was recruited as a wide receiver but they converted him to safety before his freshman season. Williams started 46 games in 4 seasons and was very productive, for the most part. Not only was the production there for Deunta Williams, he's also blessed with a physical skill set that would have translated into a higher pick if it wasn't for his injury. Williams is tall, thick, fast, fluid, strong, and instinctive with good hands. If his injury checks out, Williams just needs some refining in technique and scheme understanding. With coaching and good health, he should grow into a starting safety in the NFL. His health will directly effect his draft stock.
"Possesses a gifted skill set, can flip his hips, drive on the football and be physical when he wants. However, lacks a great feel in zone at this point and needs to become a more sound wrap-up guy. Broke his left let in the Bowl game, which likely will cause him to fall due to being unable to perform during the post-season."
Jaiquawn Jarrett 6'2" 202 lbs Temple Projected: 100-140
Jarrett is an underrated prospect because of tag small school tag hanging over his head. Sure, that's a fair argument. We've all seen the struggles of small school prospects jumping into the NFL. So naturally there are questions about what you see on film. Is Jarrett going to be that good against similar competition? Well after Senior Bowl week, Jarrett opened eyes of coaches and scouts. Not only did he fit right in with the higher level of competition, he actually stood out in some areas. Jarrett showed the natural skills it takes to play safety with outstanding awareness and great anticipation. He was even more fluid than I expected when he had to flip his hips and run. They say he has a great work ethic and is a team leader. I think Jarrett ends up hearing his name called between the fourth and fifth rounds. At they very least, he will be a good special teams player and a quality backup, but I think he has the tools to become an eventual starter in the right situation.
Second Opinion: "I started liking Jarrett more at end of Senior Bowl, very fluid." - Shane P. Hallam of draftcountdown.com/draft-blog/ via Twitter
"Jaiquawn Jarrett is one of the top Safety prospects in this years draft. I absolutely love the way he plays. He is very physical and is a great run defender. On the other hand, he has the athleticism and awareness to make plays in coverage as well. He is a complete player that will work hard to get even better. If he played for a big time school, he would get much more recognition." - OGDraft
Jeron Johnson 5'11" 194 lbs Boise St Projected: 100-140
Jeron Johnson is smaller than the average safety, but it's not to the point where it should hurt his draft stock. I don't care how small a player looks, when you see Johnson lay some of the hits he has, you would think he was a 215 lbs safety. To match Johnson's heart and intense style of play, he had solid production at Boise St (325 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 8 interceptions). He has solid cover skills because his size allows him to be more fluid, but he also will help vs. the run, which is his strength. This might raise some durability questions at the next level. Will his small size outweigh his best attribute of defending the run? At the very least Johnson is a serviceable backup and special teams player. I wouldn't take him until round five because the Bengals pick so high in each round.
"Jeron Johnson is a player I really like in this years draft. He does have his limitations, size being a huge one, but I've always been impressed when I've watched him play. He has tremendous instincts and is a great run defender. He's a guy that has the production but doesn't have the size, as opposed to the guys that are athletic specimens but haven't really displayed it on the field. He is at his best playing in-the-box but he doesn't have the size you'd like. He has a lot of question marks but plain and simple, the guy can play." - OGDraft
Robert Sands 6'5" 221 lbs West Virginia Projected 90-140
Sands might be rated higher by other draft analysts, but I'm not sold on him being a quality NFL player.You might look at Robert Sands' size and think being 6'5" 220 lbs would be a good thing, it's not. When you watch him, he's very stiff and heavy footed. You really don't want him in man coverage, not even with a tight end. If a team takes Sands with the idea of developing him into a starter, they better figure out a creative way to use him. He's built like a strong safety, but plays like a free safety... without the coverage skills. I don't want to just bash Robert Sands, he could end up in stripes next year. He did have five interceptions in his sophomore year. So he has good hands and a large wingspan, but that's about it. If I were a scout or General Manager, I'd say he would be a good fit for the Indianapolis Colts as a weak side linebacker in the fifth or sixth round rather than a safety for most teams.
Second Opinion: "Like him enough to take chance in 3rd. But he's probably just the next Pat Watkins. Nothing special." - Ryan McCrystal of draftace.com via Twitter