Mountain West's Best Safety Prospect: Nat Berhe Or Derron Smith?
By Ken Scudero
Nat Berhe and Derron Smith are both Mountain West safeties. And although they have completely different styles of play, they share a comparable skillset and it’s tough to pick one over the other.
Berhe is in his senior season while Smith is a junior. Going into the 2014 NFL Draft, neither Berhe and Smith are at the top of the defensive back draft class, but I’m going to tell you why they are both interesting prospects.
Nat Berhe, San Diego State
5-foot-10, 190 pounds
2012 Season: 94 tackles, 2 INT, 5 PBU
Berhe is what you want in a strong safety. He rarely lets a receiver get behind him and that’s a strong part of his game -- keeping the play in front of him rather than chasing someone toward the end zone. He’s an excellent tackler, one of the best tackling defensive backs in the country. He only has five interceptions in his career but his ball skills are what they need to be at the NFL level, just check out his highlights. When the ball is floating around in his vicinity, he will grab it. He’s got a little bit of Eric Berry in him but isn’t as fast or ball-hawkish as Berry.
With Berhe’s experience and consistency, an NFL team is sure to draft him, probably on Day 3. He’s the type of player who can run a defense in the years to come, and I expect him to do just that. He isn’t going to make plays like Berry or Ed Reed, but he is a talented safety who understands the game and does what is needed of him.
Derron Smith, Fresno State
2012 Season: 79 tackles, 6 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FF, 1 TD
Smith is more of a disrupter than Berhe. He’s more likely to get in the face of a receiver and swat a ball away or pick it off than to give up a catch and make a tackle. That has a lot to do with the fact that Smith plays free safety and Berhe is a strong safety, even though Smith is slightly bigger. Smith was voted the 2013 Mountain West Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, heightening the expectations for him even further this coming season.
Smith is great around the ball and with it, especially when he returned a pick 34 yards for a TD against Nevada. He can cover, and I see him as more of a nickel corner than a safety. He isn't as strong a tackler as Berhe -- he will miss tackles -- but you can't complain with his 79 total tackles last season. With another big interception season this year, he will excite NFL teams and most definitely climb up the ranks. But he needs work on reading plays. He's only started one season, and this next season will provide him with the experience he needs to succeed at the next level.
So who is the better prospect?
Smith has more hype surrounding him going into the 2013 season, but that doesn’t always translate to NFL potential. They both have good speed, good hands and great instincts. Berhe has the experience, but that’s not why I’m choosing him over Smith. Berhe is the better overall defensive player. He can do everything. His statistics are tackle-heavy and they don’t show the type of player he is. He rarely makes mistakes and makes plays when they are needed; he’s exactly what you want in a safety. I think Berhe may jump in front of Smith after the season, but even if Smith is drafted before him, Berhe will be the better NFL safety.