Louisville's Pryor is big hit among safety prospects
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LEXINGTON, KY - SEPTEMBER 14: Calvin Pryor #25 of the Louisville Cardinals celebrates during the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium on September 14, 2013 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Scouting the safeties
1. Calvin Pryor
Louisville, FS, 5-11, 207
Aggressive, sometimes reckless. Plays with the demeanor of a pro. Can play deep as a slot defender or to blitz. Forced 16 turnovers in career. Never avoids contact. Might go higher than more-celebrated teammate Teddy Bridgewater.
2. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Alabama, FS, 6-1, 208
Real name: Ha'Sean. Strong tackler. Didn't blitz much but can cover any type of receiver. Might need more strength in NFL. Sometimes bites on fakes but good recovery skills. Not exceptionally fast; 4.59 in 40.
3. Deone Bucannon
Wash. State, SS, 6-1, 211
Good size. Enjoys playing near line of scrimmage. Made 114 tackles, six interceptions and forced three fumbles in 2013. Two-time All-Pac-12, with 15 career INTs. Needs to improve man-to-man coverage skills. Also played golf in high school.
4. Jimmie Ward
Northern Illinois, SS, 5-10 1 ⁄ 2 , 193
40 time: 4.47. Can play strong or free safety. Gets to the ball well. Blocked four kicks on special teams; seven INTs in 2013. Concerns: size, competition, March surgery on right foot.
5. Brock Vereen
Minnesota, FS, 5-11 1 ⁄ 2 , 199
Brother of Patriots RB Shane Vereen; dad was Bucs' draft pick in 1979. Split last season between safety and cornerback. Good athlete (4.46 speed) but not exceptional in any area and had only four career INTs.
6. Terrence Brooks
Florida State, FS, 5-10 1 ⁄ 2 , 198
Equally effective against run or pass and likes to hit. Not a great tackler. Size and small hands concern some teams; only five career INTs. Concussion last season.
7. Dezmen Southward
Wisconsin, SS, 6-0, 211
Didn't play high school football until senior year but made up for it with 54 college games. Ran 40 in 4.38 at pro day. Not great in man-to-man coverage but has strength to go with speed. Stepfather is assistant coach at Toledo.
8. Dion Bailey
Southern Cal, FS, 5-11 1 ⁄ 2 , 201
Aggressive defender who made five INTs in 2013, his only season at safety. Always looks for the big hit. Past injuries include shoulder, hip. Comfortable playing anywhere on defense, was a linebacker in 2011 and '12.
9. Marqueston Huff
Wyoming, FS, 5-11, 196
Played safety last season after two seasons at cornerback. Also a gunner and return man on special teams. Likes contact. Had 20-tackle game vs. Utah State. He ran the 40 in 4.47 seconds. Big question is what position he'll play in NFL.
10. Kenny Ladler
Vanderbilt, FS, 6-0, 207
Forty time was slowish 4.75 but knows how to get to the ball (nine INTs, seven forced fumbles in career). Has long arms and doesn't let much get past him. Five INTs in 2013. Overaggressive at times.
Best fit for Steelers
Wash. State, SS, 6-1, 211
Size, position versatility and intangibles are just what the Steelers like; led Pac-12 in tackles and played special teams. Three-time team captain could be there in second round.
One to watch
Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama, SS, 5-11, 210
Nearly signed with Pitt, the alma mater of his brother, Tino Sunseri, as well as his father, Sal Sunseri, a Florida State assistant. ACL tear cut short 2013 season. Lack of top-end speed could hurt in NFL.
Dewey McDonald, Cal (Pa.), SS, 6-0, 220
Played first three seasons at Fairmont State. Followed fired coach Mike Lopez to Cal, where Lopez is defensive coordinator. Stats: three INTs, 86 tackles, six tackles for loss in 2013. Runs 40 in 4.42 to 4.5. Could be undrafted free agent signee.
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Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed changed the safety position, making it more of an all-over-the-field job than one based mostly in center field.
The second generation of these safeties includes Earl Thomas, Eric Berry and Jairus Byrd, who recently signed a $54 million, six-year contract with the Saints.
Up next: the latest safety hybrid, Calvin Pryor of Louisville, plus another, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama, who enjoys staying back in coverage and waiting for the big hit.
“I want the ballhawk. I want the guy with range. I want the center field guys, the Willie Mays guy,” said NFL Network analyst Charles Davis, who prefers Clinton-Dix over Pryor.
However, former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah said, “(Jets coach) Rex Ryan used to always say that the one thing that changes a complexion more than anything in a game was not a turnover, but a big hit.”
So teams looking to draft a safety in the first round must make up their minds: Do they want the guy who can take away the home-run ball, or the one who delivers the big hit?
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