Intriguing safety talent

Posted April 26, 2012 @ 3:54 p.m.
Posted By PFW staff

This is the final part in a series of 10 features profiling late-rising prospects from the pro-day circuit or developmental talent that just missed the cut in PFW's 2012 Draft Preview, offering a more condensed scouting report than the 400-plus in this year's Draft Preview. Results from more nearly 200 pro days are now featured online in PFW's draft database.

There are few elite safeties in the NFL, and they are difficult to come by, as reflected in the NFL's pay structure. The top 10 safeties in the league earn more than $6 million, but more than half of starting safeties earn less than $2 million. Starters, or at the very least backups and special-teams players, are regularly found in the middle rounds and beyond. Pro Bowler Antoine Bethea was a sixth-round choice, and solid performers such as Sammy Knight, Ryan Clark and Quintin Mikell went undrafted. The following players listed alphabetically, could be among the newest undervalued finds:

ST-SS Nate Ebner, #34
Ohio State            PFW grade: 5.10
Ht: 6-0 | Wt: 202 | Sp: 4.54 | Arm: 31 3/8 | Hand: 9
Notes: Played for the U.S. Under-19 and Under-20 rugby teams (two-time Rugby World Cup MVP) as an Ohio prep and went to Ohio State as a club rugby player. Father, Jeff, was killed defending his business in a robbery in 2008. Nate walked on to the football team in 2009 and played 12 games, recording seven special-teams tackles without a pass breakup or interception. Did not play against Oregon. Played 12 games in ’10 and tallied 12-0-0. Did not play against Purdue. Played 12 games in ’11 and notched 11-1-1. Did not play against Penn State.
Bottom line: An elite rugby player, Ebner did not play football in high school, instead competing internationally on the pitch. Walked on at Ohio State, earning a scholarship and the respect of his teammates by excelling on special teams. Races down the field like a bat out of hell and hunts returners like a heat-seeking missile. Has been a dedicated workout enthusiast his whole life and it showed at pro day — bench-pressed 225 pounds 23 times and ran the 60-yard shuttle in 10.99 seconds, illustrating his conditioning level.  Also recorded surprising athletic numbers, including a 39-inch vertical leap, broad jump of 10 feet 8 inches, short-shuttle time of 4.04 seconds and a 3-cone time of 6.59 seconds. Square-jawed, mentally tough, competitive overachiever with a wedge buster’s mentality (relishes contact) who will be given the opportunity to carve a niche as a special-teams demon. Has leadership traits and is the type you root for.
NFL projection: Priority free agent.

SS Matt Johnson, #5
Eastern Washington            PFW grade: 5.12
Ht
: 6-0 5/8 | Wt: 211 | Sp: 4.58 | Arm: 30 1/4 | Hand: 9 1/8
Notes: His identical twin brother, Zach, is an outside linebacker for EWU. Also played basketball and baseball as a Washington prep. Redshirted in 2007. Suffered a concussion during spring practice but started all 11 games at strong safety in ’08 (wore jersey No. 40), recording 83 tackles, one pass breakup and four interceptions with five tackles for loss. Started all 12 games in ’09, posting 98-3-6 with five tackles for loss, one sack and two forced fumbles. Wore jersey No. 10 all year to honor his brother who missed the season with an injury. Did not participate in spring practice because of a shoulder injury. Notched 105-8-5 with three tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in 15 starts for the FCS Division I champs in ’10. Totaled 52-0-2 with eight tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in seven starts — suffered a subluxating biceps tendon injury in his left shoulder against South Dakota in Week Two and played through pain before opting for season-ending surgery. Fielded punts against Washington. Team captain.
Bottom line: Good-sized with a well-proportioned, toned build, Johnson is a tough, competitive, coachable strong safety with good linear athletic ability. Plays with and trusts his eyes. Drops downhill and supports the run aggressively — gets proper fits, runs the alley and takes effective angles. Effective in halves or thirds, can run with tight ends and has good hands to intercept (17 career interceptions). Smart, experienced four-year starter who made secondary calls. Struggles to man up receivers and shows average range and change of direction. Is not a violent striker and misses some tackles when he isn’t under control. Character player with a professional approach who has an intangible makeup and athletic skill set to make a roster and contribute on special teams.
NFL projection: Fifth- to sixth-round pick.

SS-ROLB-WLB Julian Stanford, #7
Wagner (N.Y.)            PFW grade: 5.10
Ht: 6-1 1/4 | Wt: 224 | Sp: 4.56 | Arm:31 | Hand:9 3/4
Notes: Played defensive end, linebacker and running back as a Connecticut prep. As a true freshman defensive end in 2008 (wore jersey No. 95), played all 11 games and recorded 12 tackles and 3 1/2 tackles for loss (all sacks) with a batted pass. Started 10-of-11 games at outside linebacker in ’09 (wore jersey No. 93), recording 55-8-1 with four pass breakups. Switched to jersey No. 7 in ’10 when he started 10-of-11 games and produced 64-12 1/2-7 with three pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Started all 11 games in ’11, amassing 53-11 1/2-5 with three interceptions (two returned for TD), a forced fumble and a blocked kick.
Bottom line: At first blush is a tweener, as he was an undersized outside linebacker and rush end in college, but Stanford possesses intriguing athletic ability, flexibility and strength (27 bench-press reps). Has a compact, muscular, athletic, physique and displayed explosion at his pro day — recorded a 10-yard split time of 1.44 seconds, a vertical leap of 42½ inches, a broad jump of 10 feet 8 inches, a short-shuttle time of 4.14 seconds and a 3-cone drill time of 6.71 seconds. Faced marginal competition and does not fit neatly into a prototype, but has sheer athleticism teams will want to get an up-close look at. Could be tried as a “Will,” stand-up rusher or maybe even a downhill/blitzing strong safety, especially if he proves useful on special teams.
NFL projection: Priority free agent.

FS-CB Tavon Wilson, #3
Illinois            PFW grade: 5.12
Ht
: 5-11 3/4 | Wt: 204 | Sp: 4.53 | Arm: 31 5/8 | Hand: 9
Notes: First name is pronounced “TAY-von.” Also played wide receiver as a Washington D.C. area prep. Played in all 12 games (one start vs. Northwestern) as a true freshman in 2008, posting 11 tackles, one pass breakup and zero interceptions with half a tackle for loss. Moved into the starting lineup in ’09 and recorded 74-7-1 with 3 1/2 tackles for loss in 12 games (11 starts) at cornerback. After a rash of injuries, he moved to strong safety for the ’10 season and responded with 48-8-1 with two tackles for loss in 13 starts. Moved back to cornerback for the ’11 campaign, where he registered 81-6-1 with 6 1/2 tackles for loss, one sack and one forced fumble in 13 starts — 12 at CB and one (Wisconsin) when he played strong safety and wore jersey No. 9 in tribute to teammate Trulon Henry, who was shot a week prior. Team captain was a 21-year-old senior.
Bottom line: Athletic and well-proportioned, Wilson is a physically and mentally tough defensive back who has played corner and free safety, though his movement skills are more smooth than sudden. At his best in zone where he can keep plays in front of him. Reads and reacts quickly, drops downhill under control and is physical filling in run support. Average pedal speed and transitional quickness, as he lacks range and recovery burst off the hash and does not make impact plays on the ball. Needs to get stronger as a tackler.
NFL projection: Priority free agent.

Other notable pro-day standouts:

FS-CB Johnson Bademosi, Stanford
Ht: 6-0 3/4 | Wt: 201 | Sp: 4.46 | Arm: 32 1/2 | Hand: 9 1/4
College cornerback with insufficient cover skills to survive outside in the pros, but could be a safety conversion candidate after posting a 40-inch vertical leap and broad jump of 10 feet 5 inches. Intelligent, character player who competed on the U.S. Under-18 rugby team in high school and could have special-teams value.

SS-CB Jordan Bernstine, Iowa
Ht: 5-10 1/8 | Wt: 211 | Sp: 4.44 | Arm: 31 1/8 | Hand: 9 5/8
Has the size and mentality of a safety combined with the speed and explosion of a cornerback, as evidenced by his 41-inch vertical leap and broad jump of 10 feet 7 inches.  Played both positions at Iowa, starting at strong safety as a senior, while averaging 24.4 yards on 30 kickoffs. Seeks the big hit, but tackles inconsistently and is not as instinctive as he is athletic. Durability has been an issue, though he could be attractive as a reserve DB/special-teamer.

FS-CB Desmond Marrow, Toledo
Ht: 6-2 1/4 | Wt: 208 | Sp: 4.54 | Arm: 33 3/4 | Hand: 9 1/4
Tall college corner who looks the part — big, long and muscular — but missed a lot of games at Toledo because of head, knee (ACL, meniscus), hamstring and shoulder injuries. Healthy as a sixth-year senior, recorded 83 tackles and 18 passes defended. Can’t survive at corner, but has intriguing size and speed to consider as a safety if he tackles well enough and proves valuable on special teams. Turns 25 in December.

FS D.J. Campbell, California
Ht: 6-0 | Wt: 201 | Sp: 4.54 | Arm: 31 1/2 | Hand: 10
Lean, athletic, one-year starter with good closing speed and experience on special teams. Lacks starter-caliber eyes and instincts and struggles in the box, but could provide depth as a back-half defender in a cover-2 defense.

FS-CB Donyae Coleman, New Mexico State
Ht: 5-9 3/4 | Wt: 186 | Sp: 4.59 | Arm: 29 1/4 | Hand: 8 7/8
A college safety, Coleman is a junior-college product and converted receiver who was forced to clean up a lot of messes on a bad defense — racked up 133 tackles, seven pass breakups and six interceptions as a senior, including two 20-tackle performances (Nevada, Utah State). Is undersized and lacks bulk to withstand the pounding of safety, but likes to play and it shows — brings energy, plays aggressively and tackles willingly. Could be tried as a cover-2 cornerback.

FS Trevor Coston, Maine
Ht: 5-9 7/8 | Wt: 199 | Sp: 4.42 | Arm: 29 3/4 | Hand: 8 5/8
Fleet of foot, finesse, underpowered, cornerback-sized FS prospect who teamed with Jerron McMillian to form one of the most talented secondary duos in the FCS. Showed well at his pro day — 10-yard split time of 1.4 seconds, vertical jump of 43 inches, broad jump of 10 feet 5 inches — but does not play to those numbers. Plays small and durability is a concern, though his speed, range and athletic ability give him a chance to earn a roster spot in an increasingly spread-out, pass-happy league. Is well-respected by teammates and doubled as a productive punt returner. Has a meager 70-inch wing span and managed only six bench-press reps.

SS Matt Daniels, Duke
Ht: 5-11 3/4 | Wt: 211 | Sp: 4.49 | Arm: 33 3/8 | Hand: 9
Thin, high-cut, functionally strong box safety/run supporter with outstanding character, including leadership traits and a professional work ethic. However, is a liability in man coverage given his stiff hips and monotone movement and is not ideally suited to excel on special teams. Propped up his stock with pro-day showing, including a 35½-inch vertical leap.

FS-CB Quinton Richardson, Washington
Ht: 5-11 1/8 | Wt: 204 | Sp: 4.41 | Arm: 32 | Hand: 9 7/8
Well put together college cornerback who might not have the pure cover ability to hang outside in the pros, but has size and outstanding speed to be considered as a FS-conversion candidate. Questionable instincts, tackling and toughness.

SS DeShawn Shead, Portland State
Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 219 | Sp: 4.56 | Arm: 33 | Hand: 9 3/4
Big, strong, long-armed, four-year starter who played safety and cornerback and returned kickoffs. Tested well at pro day — did 24 bench-press reps and recorded a 38-inch vertical leap, a broad jump of 10 feet 1 inch, a short-shuttle time of 4.23 seconds and a 3-cone drill time of 6.76 seconds. Smarter than he is instinctive, Shead’s tape is less impressive than his measurables, as he is restricted by stiff hips and inconsistent tackling.

FS-CB Neiko Thorpe, Auburn
Ht: 6-1 1/4 | Wt: 198 | Sp: 4.44 | Arm: 31 3/4 | Hand: 10 1/4
Long, narrow-framed, underdeveloped, underachieving defensive back whose SEC-caliber athletic ability resurfaced at pro day — 38-inch vertical leap, broad jump of 11 feet 5 inches — but off-putting tape, marginal instincts and questionable character tempers his appeal. Bench-pressed 225 pounds a measly four times.