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This year’s safety class features several big names, but questionable substance. North Carolina State junior DaJuan Morgan, Miami (Fla.) junior Kenny Phillips, and California senior Thomas DeCoud are the consensus top three prospects at the position. Morgan is the tackling-machine that as the season progressed, emerged as the flavor of the month amongst talent evaluators. Phillips was a star sophomore, but failed to live up to expectations this season and was arguably hampered by a young and battered Hurricanes’ secondary. DeCoud flashes knockout power, but seems to whiff on as many tackles as he makes.

The unquestioned sleeper in this class is Arkansas State’s Tyrell Johnson. At a verified 5-11 1/2, 200-pounds and boasting a 4.52-40 yard dash as of the spring, Johnson certainly possesses the measurables. Throw on the tape, though, and he jumps off the screen. This season vs. Texas and Tennessee, Johnson was arguably the best player on a field that included draft prospects RB Jamaal Charles (Texas), S Marcus Griffin (Texas), WR Limas Sweed (Texas), QB Erik Ainge (Tennessee), and LB Jerod Mayo (Tennessee), amongst a slew of others. And in an environment against top-flight competition, where other smaller school players might have been overwhelmed, Johnson rose to the occasion, and was seemingly everywhere at once. The game seemed too easy for him.

Johnson is a tremendous tackler – he sinks his hips and drives through the ball carrier – and a phenomenal last-line of defense. He plays bigger than his size would suggest, sheds blockers with ease and filters through traffic extremely well, shows nice closing speed, and flashes good ball skills, having intercepted both Texas’ Colt McCoy and Tennessee’s Ainge. Perhaps most impressive is the control with which Johnson plays the game. Again, he is not overwhelmed by speed or competition, and plays the game unreal poise, composure and control and thus rarely makes mistakes in the open-field. He moves so fluidly, understands leverage, and made tracking down Texas speedster Charles look like a jog in the park.

Johnson is not without his flaws, and does not show great awareness in pass coverage, allowing receivers to get over the top in zone coverage, but could step in from Day One at strong safety as uncanny tackler and reliable last line of defense. Absent all the fan fare awarded the likes of Morgan, Phillips, and DeCoud, Johnson could potentially emerge as the best safety in this year’s class.

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