Who's The Better Safety Prospect: Deone Bucannon Or Jimmie Ward?
By Bill Lund
Two of the rising safeties in the 2014 draft class are Deone Bucannon of Washington State and Jimmie Ward from Northern Illinois. Each are coming off strong senior seasons, as well as outstanding performances throughout Senior Bowl week. Despite the similarly positive impressions they made in Mobile, the style with which each plays the position could not be more different.
Deone Bucannon, Washington State
Bucannon is a 6-foot, 220-pound specimen. A bruising hitter, Bucannon shows good straight line speed and power at the point of contact on tackles. Bucannon has decent feet, but can be weak in his transitions, making his breaks slowly once he determines what route he’s facing. He has good hip movement and changes direction well, shows good instincts in the pass game but gets his eyes stuck in the backfield, giving receivers and quarterbacks space to work. In zone coverage, Bucannon will chase receivers too far out of his zone at times, giving open windows for the quarterback. His breaks on throws are average, a product of his weak transitions.
As a run defender, Bucannon is a physical hitter who will not shy away from contact. He looks comfortable playing in the box on run downs, but he can also close from deep to be a factor in the run game. Bucannon misses his share of tackles looking for a big hit rather than making a sound tackle. He also takes poor angles at times, creating seams for runners. A few of his missed tackles led to big plays and scores against, as evidenced in games against Oregon, Stanford and Arizona State. Bucannon does make his share of plays in the back end, but at times it seems as if it's feast or famine in his play.
Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
Ward was an under-the-radar recruit out of Alabama, but since his arrival in DeKalb, he's been a playmaker wherever he lines up on the field. Ward arrived at NIU and began playing cornerback, but was soon moved to safety to take advantage of his playmaking abilities.
He demonstrates great speed and fluidity; his great feet allow him to make smooth transitions out of breaks and his loose hips give him great change direction ability. Ward shows tremendous instincts, often being able to play his route, but also make a break on a throw in the opposite field and still be a factor in the play. The Huskies' matchup zone coverage often put Ward in man situations where he showed the ability to cover a tight end or a slot receiver with equal aptitude. Ward is at his best when the ball is in the air, often making up a lot of ground and close on the ball for a deflection or interception. Ward had seven interceptions for the Huskies 2012, his most impressive being the one-armed grab he made against Toledo.
Ward measures in at 5-11, 192, but plays bigger than his size. and plays especially tough in the run game. A fearless hitter, Ward also is a sure tackler who takes great angles and rarely gets beat on a cut back. Ward knows how to slow the game down in his mind, seemingly knowing where to break or where to fit on any given play.
Who is the better NFL prospect?
Bucannon has the size teams prefer in a safety, especially one that is utilized in the box. Though Ward has the toughness and ability to play in the box, NFL scouts may flag him for his size. Bucannon has shown he can be a physical player capable of making tackles in the open field and disrupting routes in the pass game. Ward has a knack for making plays all over the field. Whether it is as a deep safety or as an in-the-box player or matching up in man coverage on a slot receiver, Ward displays a level of versatility that makes defensive coordinators salivate. Bucannon may be the better safety in the traditional sense, but Ward is a better playmaker, much like Tyron Mathieu, and could be as big of an impact for an NFL defense as Mathieu was for the Cardinals. If I had to make the selection, I would chose Ward, for the simple fact he can make plays anywhere a defensive coordinator dreams up.