2014 NFL Draft Prospects: Safeties
By Bob Boyles
Here is a look at the top safeties, both free and strong positions, who are seniors or who may declare their early applications for the 2014 NFL Draft. At this time, they are not so strong a group as to have any sure-shot first rounders.
1. Ed Reynolds, Stanford
6-foot-2, 205 pounds
2012 season: AP third-team All-America, 47 tackles, 6 INTs (returned for 3 TDs), 5 pass breakups
After missing all of 2011 with an injury, junior free safety Reynolds burst on the scene last year to come within one yard of tying the 38-year-old NCAA record for interception return yards (302 yards by USC’s Charles Phillips in 1974). Reynolds’ father, Ed, played linebacker for the Patriots and Giants during a 10-year NFL career.
2. C.J. Barnett, Ohio State
2012 season: 56 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2 INTs, 6 PBUs
Along with Christian Bryant, a strong safety who is another senior pro prospect, Barnett forms one of the nation’s most dependable deep secondary combinations. Barnett, the Buckeyes free safety, has started 24 games in his Ohio State career and contributed 140 tackles and four interceptions.
3. Craig Loston, LSU
2012 season: 55 tackles, 3 INTs, 3 TFL
Loston is some people’s choice as the top safety in the country, while the senior likely is the top strong safety on next year’s early draft boards. A hard hitter, Loston also brings excellent speed.
4. Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, Alabama
2012 season: 37 tackles, 5 INTs, 4 PBUs, 1 forced fumble
“Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix came to Alabama in 2011 as Rivals.com's No. 1 safety coming out of high school in Orlando, Fla. He became one of seven true freshmen to earn playing time for the Crimson Tide two years ago. Now a junior, Clinton-Dix may choose to come out early for the draft. His best game last season came in the BCS title tilt against Notre Dame, when he made seven tackles and intercepted a pass.
5. Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State
2012 season: 50 tackles, 5 INTs, 2 PBUs
An All-Big 12 selection, the heady Zimmerman’s father was the youngster’s high school coach. He returned punts with modest results early in his K-State career. Zimmerman looks more slender than his listed weight.
6. Brian Blechen, Utah
2012 season: 58 tackles, 1 INT, 5 PBUs, 1 forced fumble
In his first Utah game against Pittsburgh in 2010, Blechen made a quick impression with an interception on the first play of overtime to set up the winning field goal; he went on to frosh All-America mention. He has since played some linebacker for the Utes and is one of the biggest safeties in college football.
7. Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State
2012 season: 88 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 3 INTs
Last season, Whitley was a bit slow to rebound from a 2011 injury to his Achilles, but retains great promise. He is a very hard hitter as LSU’s Spencer Ware can attest from a 2011 game when Whitley charged up from safety to lay the lumber on the Tigers runner.
8. Hakeem Smith, Louisville
2012 season: 73 tackles, 7 PBUs
Smith is a three-time All-Big East performer, having played both strong and free safety in his career. As a redshirt freshman in 2010, he led the Cardinals defense with 88 tackles. A year later, he improved signiificantly in his cover skills to become a more rounded defender and seems primed for an outstanding senior year.
9. Charles Sawyer, Mississippi
2012 season: 63 tackles, 1 INT, 1.5 sacks, 8 PBUs, 1 fumble recovery, 1 blocked kick
Charles Sawyer has bounced back and forth between cornerback and free safety, playing wherever the Rebels have needed him to help a weak secondary. He was second in team tackles in 2011 with 70, and in his first career start at safety that year, he raced 96 yards on an INT return for a touchdown against BYU. Sawyer’s willingness to adapt his position may have helped his pro stock because he likely has found a home at free safety on a much-improved defense for his upcoming senior year.
10. Tevin McDonald, Eastern Washington
2012 season (at UCLA): 79 tackles, 1 INT, 9 PBUs, 2 fumble recoveries
Tevin McDonald, son of former NFL player Tim McDonald, was dismissed from the UCLA team in March and transferred to FCS member Eastern Washington. If the talented junior can turn a new corner during the 2013 season, he could be headed to the NFL Draft next spring. But, clearly his draft stock has been called into question.