Safety Prospects for Packers to Consider in NFL Draft : Packers Insider

Safety Prospects for Packers to Consider in NFL Draft

April 26, 2014 by  
Filed under News

By Brian E Murphy, senior editor

~When Ted Thompson conducted his first draft as Packers GM nine seasons ago, in 2005, his first two picks were perhaps his best picks he’s ever made.

He first chose Aaron Rodgers, who had free-fallen all the way down into the 20’s, and then in the second round, pick #51, he grabbed a cornerback from a historically black school called Bethune-Cookman, named Nick Collins, and he drafted him as a safety.

Nick Collins had emerged as perhaps the NFL’s best safety by the time he helped win Super Bowl XLV for the Packers just over three years ago. He’d only last two more games as his career was unfairly ended in game number two of the 2011 season in Carolina. The Packers have not come close to filling his shoes, either one of them, since then. Ted Thompson has to, finally, invest high in the draft next month to attempt to do this. He ignored the handful of good free agent safeties who could have done this.

Collins was on his way to a Hall of Fame career after six seasons, only to see his prime years taken away in Carolina on a fluke play.

Now, nine drafts after Thompson drafted that cornerback, there is still a huge void back there at safety.

Morgan Burnett is the only legit starter back there, and he was atrocious last season. He didn’t come close to an interception, and he allowed more than his fair share of big plays and touchdowns. He also missed plenty of tackles.

Thompson has essentially ignored the safety position since 2011, when Collins’ career ended. Sure, he tried projects like M.D. Jennings, and Jerron McMillian from another football hotbed, Maine.

As you all know by now, those experiments failed, bombed, crashed and burned.

In the mean time, teams like the Saints (Kenny Vacarro), Seahawks (Earl Thomas), 49ers (Eric Reid), even Vikings (Harrison Smith), invested first round picks on safeties, and saw them pay immediate dividends to their defenses.

So here we are, after none of the handful of free agent safety upgrades were brought in, readying for another draft where Thompson has to fill the safety hole. We all thought, wanted him to do that in 2012, and 2013. He chose to ignore it, wishing and hoping that Jennings and/or McMillian would morph into a competent NFL safety.

By now, most Packer draftniks are well aware of Alabama’s HaSean Clinton-Dix. Ha-Ha is his nickname. He won’t be around by the Packers pick at #21. And he’s not great enough to warrant the rare trade-up anyway. Cross him off.

The next highest rated safety, according to about 95% of the analysts and draft experts, is Calvin Pryor from Louisville. There’s about a 30-40 percent chance he will be there at #21.

Calvin Pryor would be the ideal pick for the Packers at #21. But there’s a good chance he will be gone by then. He offers up the physicality that the whole Packers back end lacks, and has lacked since Chuck Cecil tried to knock people out back in a day it wasn’t “as illegal”.

He has the physicality that the Packers defense lacks on the back end. For as good of cover guys as Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Davon House, Casey Hayward, they aren’t physical and have never been accused of causing opposing receivers to hear footsteps. Same with Burnett.

In that regard, Pryor would help tremendously. But since there’s a strong chance that Pryor will already be gone (probably to Chicago, Dallas, or Baltimore), let’s take a look at some guys who will be available.

Remember, Thompson, and his former protege John Schneider in Seattle, have had success drafting safeties who have been rated as cornerbacks. Both Nick Collins and Earl Thomas were projected cornerbacks.

Earl Thomas is considered the best safety in the game today, and he was not even rated as a safety when he was coming out of the University of Texas in 2010. As great as he is, he’s not perfect, as Darren Sproles showed here last year. And Thomas’ combine numbers, measurements were not off-the-charts. It was a great pick by John Schneider.

What now?
Let’s take a look at a few of the possibilities for the Packers.

Calvin Pryor
5-11, 207, 4.58 forthy, 20-yard shuttle 4.30, 3-cone 6.98, 34” vertical

Calvin Pryor, Louisville

*Pryor was a hard-hitting junior who compiled 69 tackles, 5.5 for a loss, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. In conference play, Pryor ranked 16th in tackles for all positions with 50, or 7.1 per game. He teamed with Hakeem Smith to create perhaps the best safety tandem in the country for 2013. Frankly: If you want a hitter, Pryor is your man. What he lacks in instinct, he makes up for in raw, relentless aggression. – Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange

*Five players who should be on the Green Bay Packers’ draft radar: S Calvin Pryor, Louisville: Given how the Packers’ lack of speed was exposed by San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick to end the past two seasons, Thompson is likely to target a speedy, instinctive defender in the early rounds. Thompson has hit on safeties with later picks in past seasons but the specifics of this class and today’s focus on the pass is working against him. As the NFL increasingly turns to the pass, safeties have increased their value and unfortunately the 2014 crop isn’t equipped to handle the need. Pryor has excellent read and react skills which allow him to close quickly and deliver thunderous hits. – Rob Rang,

Jimmie Ward

5-11, 193, 4.47 forty, 20-yard shuttle 4.24, 3-cone 6.89, 38” vertical

Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois

*Ward has football smarts and puts himself in position to succeed, using his speed and range to cover the deep half of the field. He came off a 95-tackle, seven interception senior season at NIU and then further impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl.’s Rob Rang said Ward was the Senior Bowl’s most impressive pass defender. He set school-record with three punt blocks as a freshman in 2010. Frankly: In an NFL deep in destructive tight ends, Ward would be a first round pick if he were a bit taller, and that is saying a lot for a strong safety. – Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange

*Ward, the top-rated strong safety in this year’s class by who can also play free safety, ran the 40 twice to display his straight-line speed before he soon undergoes surgery to have a screw inserted into his foot.He expects to be cleared to return to the field before the May 8-10 NFL Draft. Ward had 95 tackles and seven interceptions last season, and is considered to be a versatile back-end defender who boasts speed and good instincts despite being relatively small at 5-feet-11 and 193. He was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award as a senior, and has even displayed the ability to drop down to handle slot receivers in man coverage. – The Sports Xchange

Terrence Brooks
5-11, 198, 4.42 forty, 20-yard shuttle 4.56, 3-cone 7.01, 38” vertical

Terrence Brooks, Florida State

*Swiss Army knife on the back seven. Former cornerback who can match up well with those pesky slot receivers and yet is an enforcer who can hit like a linebacker. Brooks is a serious-minded, weight-room fanatic who will light up opponents on special teams. Frankly: Want to toughen up your defense? Brooks will be happy to set the tone regardless of where you line him up. – Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange

*Five players who should be on the Indianapolis Colts’ draft radar: FS Terrence Brooks, Florida State: While the Colts made some strong moves in free agency, the loss of steady homegrown product Antoine Bethea (to San Francisco) makes finding a cover safety to pair with hard-hitting LaRon Landry an obvious priority. Brooks’ relatively slim frame (5-foot-11, 198) and lack of interceptions could push him into the deep second round but he’s a fluid, instinctive centerfielder with speed to burn. – Rob Rang, The Sports Xchange

Deone Bucannon

6-1, 211, 4.49 forty, 4.26 shuttle, 6.96 3-cone, 36” vertical

Deone Bucannon, Washington State

*Bucannon may have set an unofficial record for noisy collisions during a truly impactful four years in which he played in every game. Last year was named first-team All-American after 78 solo tackles, three forced fumbles and six interceptions. Frankly: Nevermind his lack of agility, so-so reaction time in coverage and occasional missed tackle. Put him on the field and listen for the wind being knocked out of runners and receivers as if hit by a Mike Tyson body punch. – Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange

Ed Reynolds, Stanford
6-1, 207, 4.57 forty, 4.49 20-yard shuttle, 7.18 3-cone, 32” vertical

Ed Reynolds, Stanford

*Reynolds is physical, instinctive and has lanky build that teams like for at the position. Shows ability to handle athletic tight ends, which is becoming more important every year in the NFL. Had only one highly-productive season in terms of creating turnovers while playing on a defense with dominant front seven. Father, also Ed Reynolds, was an NFL linebacker for New England and the New York giants (1983-92). – Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange

Brock Vereen, Minnesota
5-11 ½, 199, 4.47 forty, 4.07 20-yard shuttle, 6.90 3-cone, 34” vertical, 25-reps of 225 #1 for position

Brock Vereen, Minnesota


*Five players who should be on the Kansas City Chiefs’ draft radar: S Brock Vereen, Minnesota: Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the losses in free agency didn’t just come on the offensive side of the ball. Kansas City will be looking to replace starting free safety Kendrick Lewis (Houston) and lost depth with veteran Quintin Demps signing with the Giants, as well. Vereen, the younger brother of New England Patriots’ running back Shane Vereen, is an intriguing athlete who split time between cornerback and free safety with the Golden Gophers. He’s athletic, instinctive and physical and created some buzz for himself with a strong performance at the combine. His lack of ideal size (6-foot, 199 pounds) and ball-skills (four career interceptions) are concerns which could push him outside of the top 100 but at this point in the draft he could prove a steal. – Rob Rang,

*Five players who should be on the Patriots’ draft radar: DB Brock Vereen, Minnesota: Belichick and the Patriots haven’t had the best luck drafting defensive backs in recent years, but that doesn’t mean they should quit trying. While cornerback and safety aren’t huge needs, depth is needed at both spots and a versatile player like Vereen, who played at both positions in college, would be a great fit. He is athletic, quick-footed and instinctive, showing a clear understanding of the game and knowledge of how to manipulate the field. Vereen is known as a high character player with a strong work ethic and leadership traits, plus the Patriots had decent luck the last time they drafted a Vereen (Brock is the younger brother of Shane). – Dane Brugler,

Ahmad Dixon, Baylor

6-0, 212, 4.64 & 4.48 forty, 4.50 20-yard shuttle, 7.55 3-cone, 32” vertical

Ahmad Dixon, Baylor

*Ahmad Dixon is a lightning rod for controversy and a catalyst for the Bears. He was suspended for the first half of the Texas game after being ejected in the second half against TCU for targeting. Once he returned to the Texas game, the Bears went on a 17-0 surge that helped put away the Longhorns. But Dixon drew a celebration penalty that negated K.J. Morton’s touchdown on an interception return. – The Sports Xchange

Keith McGill, Utah, rated as cornerback
6-3, 211, 4.51 forty, 4.18 shuttle, 7.29 3-cone, 39” vertical

Keith McGill, Utah

*Former JUCO All-America safety at Cerritos, McGill lasted only five games there with the Utes before a shoulder injury dictated a move to cornerback. McGill shows field awareness of a safety and even baits quarterbacks to throw underneath routes where he excels at closing on the ball. Uses height and long arms well, but lacks unbridled enthusiasm on run support. Frankly: Curiously reminiscent of Nnamdi Asomugha (Cal, Raiders, Eagles, 49ers), who maximized his height and ball skills as a boundary-style cornerback to make All-Pro. Like Asomugha, McGill seems more suited for safety except for that bad shoulder, which may explain why neither of them will be remembered as a big hitter. – Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange

*Defensive back Keith McGill enjoyed a solid workout, as well. The 6-foot-3, 213 pounder was clocked at 4.52-4.54 seconds on his two 40-yard dash attempts — terrific times for a cornerback of his size. Given the copycat nature of the NFL, don’t be surprised if a team drafts McGill in the hopes that he’ll prove to be the next Richard Sherman. According to the Utes’ report, representatives from 20 NFL teams were on hand for the workout. – Rob Rang,

Jaylen Watkins, Florida, rated as cornerback
6-0, 194, 4.41 forty, 4.50 shuttle, 7.13 3-cone, 31” vertical

Jaylen Watkins, Florida

*Older half brother of Clemson wide receiver and top-10 draft prospect Sammy Watkins, Jaylen showed family’s elite athletic genetics since he was a versatile football star at Cape Coral, Fla., High as dual threat quarterback, wide receiver and, oh yes, cornerback. Showed ability last season to play both corner and safety. At combine he clocked 40 yards in 4.41 seconds; 10 yards in 1.50 second and benched 225 pounds 22 times — all better marks than his highly-rated little brother. Frankly: Watkins does not seem like a gamble as a natural football player with the chance of playing either cornerback or safety. Hey, how about emergency quarterback? – Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange

*Five players who should be on the New Orleans’ draft radar: CB Jaylen Watkins, Florida: Florida’s deep secondary will be well represented in the 2014 NFL Draft, but the best pro of the group might be Watkins, who is the older brother of Sammy Watkins. After lining up at cornerback and safety in college, he offers the intriguing versatility that will be attractive to NFL teams, appearing comfortable in off man, press and zone coverage. Watkins has light, controlled feet and does an excellent job in his pedal and hip flip to stay in the hip pocket of receivers down the field. His game needs some refinement, but the natural talent seems to shine through and would make an excellent draft choice in the third round. – Dane Brugler,


Nick Collins 2005 was rated as a CORNERBACK, a 3-4th round prospect, picked 51st overall
5-11, 206, 4.36 forty, 4.16 shuttle, 6.94 3-cone, 40” vertical

*Collins entered the NFL on April 23, 2005 when he was selected in the second round (51st pick overall) of the 2005 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. Collins would become only the second Bethune-Cookman player to make the Packers roster.
Some draft experts felt that the Packers drafted Collins too high, referring to him as “a developmental prospect who is very athletic but very raw” and questioning his ability to fully grasp an NFL-caliber defense.

Though he was listed as a cornerback in the draft prospect list, Collins competed in Green Bay for the starting free safety job for the 2005 season.

Earl Thomas 2010 was rated as a CORNERBACK
, a 1st round prospect, picked 14th overall
5-10, 202, 4.43 forty, didn’t do shuttle or 3-cone, 32” vertical

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