USA TODAY Sports
After extensive study among the safeties available in the 2013 NFL draft, we take a look at players that should be drafted after the third round.
We all hope the Bengals pick one of the top safety prospects, but if they follow their recent trend in addressing the position with day three selections, these are the safety prospects to keep an eye on. They are developmental or fringe starters that should be drafted in rounds four through six. On average, 18 safety prospects get drafted each year. It's one of the weakest positions in the NFL and more than 20 teams could use at least one addition. It's a race to get 'their' guy and then get any guy. This group has more of the 'any guy' types. You can see our top safety prospects here.
7. Tony Jefferson - Oklahoma - 5'11" 210 lbs.
Jefferson is your typical 'Jack of all trades, master of none' prospect. He was just a piece to the puzzle within Oklahoma's defense. He does his job and moves on to the next play. He's very willing to attack anything in front of him in the pass and run game. He's athletic enough to close quickly in both situations. Jefferson only missed a couple tackles in the six games I watched. He did bite hard on some misdirection and play-action stuff. I couldn't point to one physical attribute that makes me want to target Jefferson in the draft, but he looks like a low-end starter for most teams.
Draft Projection: 3rd/4th Round
8. J.J. Wilcox - Georgia Southern - 5'11" 215 lbs.
Wilcox is a former RB and WR and it's easily to tell with his body build, balls skills, and nose for the run game. He plays low and knifes into the running lanes as the opposing running back hits the hole, showing great anticipation for finding ball-carriers. Wilcox is one of the better tacklers in this safety class.
I didn't get to see him playing deep coverage much in the limited games I watched, but he showed very well during Senior Bowl week playing man to man and deep safety. His natural ball skills stood out and he didn't look outmatched against the "big boys" of college football. I am looking forward to his workout numbers, so I can get a better feel for how athletic he is.
Draft Projection: 4th Round
9. T.J. McDonald - USC - 6'2" 210 lbs.
I should start by saying McDonald is not Taylor Mays. They're similar in size and stiffness, but McDonald isn't the track athlete Mays was and this year's USC safety is more of a natural football player. McDonald is a strong safety all the way. He's at his best in the box where he can play the run, which he diagnoses and anticipates nicely while being one of the better tacklers in this draft class.
He played a S/LB hybrid role against Stanford this year and it really showed his potential as a player in that role. McDonald has some hip tightness that I wouldn't want him covering tight ends or running backs out wide. I don't like him as a deep center fielder either. He can be hesitant and unsure about what he's seeing. Over the middle on short/mid zones or covering backs, he'll be fine. McDonald shows the anticipation and closes well on anything in front of him. I see McDonald as a low-end starter, with upside in a S/LB Nickel role. I would draft him just for his special teams. He'll be on a roster for a long time because of it.
Draft Projection: 4th Round
10. Robert Lester - Alabama - 6'1" 210 lbs.
Lester is thickly built and looks the part. The first thing that jumps out is his athleticism. Lester is a below average athlete. He has slow, heavy feet that get him in trouble. He struggles to plant and drive from his back pedal and quickly get up to speed. One false move and Lester can be beaten without the chance of recovery. He has a free safety mentality with solid ball skills and a finesse play style, but the limited athleticism of a strong safety. The problem is Lester isn't always willing to attack the run and fill the hole as required. Lester has seemed to regress since his sophomore year and I see him as a backup or spot starter.
Draft Projection: 4th/5th Round
11. Phillip Thomas - Fresno State - 6'1" 210 lbs
He's an athletically gifted safety that can cover the slot and play both safety positions. In the four games I watched, Thomas only made two plays in deep coverage; one of which was a personal foul penalty. He's usually blitzing from the slot or playing the run hard.
Thomas frustrated me every time he made a nice and form tackle because the next ten attempts would be half-effort and diving arm tackles. I began to question his effort as the games wore on. Thomas seemed to turn it one when needed and then took the next set of plays off. He routinely jogged towards the ball-carrier and didn't stick his nose into the pile, but put Thomas in a 3rd and 5 play from the 12-yard line, and watch him go full speed and make a strong tackle in the backfield. It was maddening. You can see the athletic ability and the ability for a few snaps each game, but his overall play looks like a career backup. He's probably the worst tackling safety in the draft. His mentality and physical skills tell me he's an NFL free safety that can blitz, but I didn't get to see him in deep coverage enough to be confident in that assessment.
Draft Projection: 4th/5th Round
12. Shawn Williams - Georgia - 6'0" 220 lbs.
Williams is thickly built with a strong upper body. He's comfortable against the run and should be an In-the-box safety at the next level. He's an average athlete and a risk-taker in coverage. That combination spells disaster in the NFL. He doesn't have the physical ability to stick with offensive players in man coverage and he doesn't have the recoverability when he makes a mistake in zone. Williams seems to have tunnel vision; unless he's looking directly at the intended receiver, Williams can easily get lost. I think he's a backup in the NFL.
Draft Projection: 5th/6th Round