Top Free Safety Prospects for the 2012 NFL Draft

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I think safety continues to be a undervalued position in the N.F.L, but maybe because it’s very difficult to find guys like Troy Polamalu who can play the run and pass equally well. A player like that can really change a defense. I’m not sure there are any of those players in this draft class, but there are some pretty good ones.

Updated 12/4/2011

1. T.J. Mcdonald, USC
2. Robert Lester, Alabama
3. Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State
4. Brandon Taylor, LSU
5. Bacarri Rambo, Georgia
6. Vaughn Telemaque, Miami Hurricanes
7. Aaron Henry, Wisconsin
8. Kenny Tate, Maryland
9. Blake Giddeon, Texas
10. Trenton Robinson, Michigan State
11. Trumaine Johnson, Montana
12. Janzen Jackson, Mcnesee State
13. Neiko Thorpe, Auburn
14. Eddie Whitley, Va Tech
15. George Iloka, Boise State
16. Trulon Henry, Illinois

1. Robert Lester, Alabama, 6’2″ 210 (Junior)

If you throw the ball across the middle of the field against the Alabama Crimson Tide, you had better hope one of two things don’t happen: Number one, you better hope your receiver doesn’t get knocked out, and number two, you’d better hope that Robert Lester isn’t there to pick it off, because chances are, he will be. Lester had a breakout season as a sophomore in 2010 when he had 52 tackles, an SEC-best eight interceptions, a sack, and a fumble recovery. He was absolutely all over the field for Alabama and is likely the best in a very, very talented defensive backfield that includes–by my count–three sure-fire first round picks, or two at the least. He has the ideal size that you look for in a safety prospect, and combines ball-hawking skills with elite athleticism. The 2nd team All-American in 2010 figures to be a key component of one of the most talented defensive groups I have ever scouted, and probably will ever scout.

2. T.J. McDonald, USC, 6’2″ 205 (Junior)

Replacing Taylor Mays seemed to be nearly impossible. How do you replace such an intimidating presence in the Trojans secondary? Enter T.J. McDonald. McDonald stands at 6 ft 3, 205 pounds. He stepped in as a sophomore and did a fantastic job filling the void of Taylor Mays. McDonald is a heavy hitter himself. He accumulated 89 tackles, 1 sack, and 3 interceptions in 2010. He is a great run defender with good closing speed. He is not afraid to pop receivers. He has good instincts as he reacts well to screen passes. This off season, McDonald has worked on being a leader and toughening up is mind. The 20 year old junior has a lot of great football ahead of him. If he has a good year, he could be the first safety off the board in 2012. (Nick Castillo)

3. Kenny Tate, Maryland, 6’4″ 220 (Senior)

**No scouting report yet available**

4. Vaughn Telamaque, Miami (FL), 6’2″ 200 (Junior)

Like his new running mate Ray Ray Armstrong, Telemaque had a breakout season in 2010 as the starting free safety for the Hurricanes, and he combines with Armstrong to give the Hurricanes arguably the top safety tandem in all of college football. He has very good instincts, and is capable of making the big hit on a receiver to jar the football loose. Also showed his playmaking ability last year when he had 58 tackles, a forced fumble, and three interceptions. He was named the team’s most improved player, and returns for his junior season as one of the best playmakers on the Miami defense. He also led the team with three fumble recoveries, and had a whopping 48 tackles as a freshman before going down for the season with an injury.

5. Harrison Smith, Notre Dame, 6’2″ 214 (Senior)

Not going to blow anybody away athletically, but he is the type of player that EVERY NFL team will want to have on their side. Team captain who has played both linebacker and safety for the Irish, but a guy who really broke out in 2010 as a starting safety. Started for the Irish as a linebacker as a sophomore, and played both linebacker and safety in his junior season before becoming a full time safety in 2010. Smith has started 34 of his career 38 games, and has 219 total career tackles to go along with 15.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble, 18 passes broken up, and seven interceptions, all of which came when he moved to safety. If Smith can continue to show improvement as the leader of the defensive backfield, he should be a fourth round pick or better because of his versatility, durability, and toughness. In his first year as a full time safety, he had 93 tackles and seven interceptions–the complete package. These are the kind of players you love to add to your team. He is the heart and soul of the Notre Dame team, and is the team captain for 2011. He is the type of player that you just hate to play against and love to root for.

6. George Iloka, Boise State, 6’3″ 207 (Senior)

Very productive player ever since he stepped on campus, and a converted wide receiver from high school with a nose for the ball. Since his freshman year, he has compiled 174 tackles, seven interceptions, and a sack to go along with having the requisite size and athletic ability to succeed at the next level. One of the best senior safety prospects in the entire country, and a guy who will come into the NFL and contribute immediately on special teams. He is a ball-hawk and really improving as a tackler.

7. Blake Gideon, Texas, 6’1″ 205 (Senior)

Instinctive player who knows where to be at all times. Already a veteran of the game having started for three straight years at Texas (39 starts), and will continue to build upon that in his Senior year at Texas. Really has improved in his overall range as a player. Three time honorable mention All Big 12 selection and a 2008 freshman All American when he had 64 tackles and seven passes broken up to help Texas have one of the most dominant defensive units in all of college football. Gideon really built off of his excellent freshman campaign when he had 62 tackles, six interceptions, and five passes broken up. He followed that up with 68 tackles, two more interceptions, and a blocked punt as a junior. Gideon is one of those guys you just love to have on your team, giving every ounce of effort on every single play. He’s a coaches dream and can contribute on special teams as well as at the safety position. A coaches son who really knows the game well, Gideon is the type of player every team wants to have on their roster. Also a pre-season first team All Big 12 selection by the Sporting News.

8. Eddie Whitley, Virginia Tech, 6’1″ 190 (Senior)

A solid if not great contributor in the secondary and a major upgrade to his predecessor Kam Chancellor (who was drafted in the 5th round 2009). Not flashy, but a reliable open-field tackler (80 in 2010) and shows good instincts that resulted in two interceptions. Can be susceptible to the play-fake. Started a few games at cornerback in 2009 and played nickel sparingly in 2010. Will be the leader of an impressive secondary in 2011, but needs to become more of a playmaker. Not afraid to come up in run support and deliver the hit. (John Callahan)

9. Lance Mitchell, Oregon State, 6’2″ 208 (Senior)

**No scouting report yet available**

10. Aaron Henry, Wisconsin, 6’0″ 211 (Senior)

Henry really burst onto the scene in 2010, and is a guy who is capable of making the big play at any time during the game. Has recovered a fumble for a touchdown, and picked off two passes in 2010 that were both returned for scores. Made the switch from cornerback to free safety in 2010 and really blossomed in that role. Severe knee injury derailed his 2008 season after a very solid freshman campaign, but has now returned to form. Biggest problem I have with Henry is that he will be 24 years old as a rookie, which is by no means the end of the world for him, but will probably prevent him from being a 2nd or 3rd round player. Leader on the defensive side of the ball who had 57 tackles and two interceptions in 2010 on his way to being named 2nd team All Big Ten, and Academic All Big Ten. This is a guy who has good size and speed, and will be a special teams ace early in his career. He will be a very solid contributor early in his career as a special teams player and nickel/dime defensive back who could eventually grow into a starter role at free safety.