With all the emphasis on passing in the NFL nowadays, teams can’t afford to overlook the safety position because they need to make sure they’ve got someone trustworthy as the last line of defense in front of the goal line. The top safeties available in this year’s draft are pretty impressive, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few quality defensive backs that will be available in the later rounds. Here are a few potential sleepers at the safety position:
Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma – Jefferson has received a few bad reviews, which would cost him, but he may be able to sneak into the middle rounds and surprise some people once he gets into the league. He racked up 119 tackles last season and was great at coming up to line of scrimmage to help stop the run, while also defending the perimeter well, which is what you look for in safeties. He has three good years of college under his belt, including the honor of Big 12 freshman of the year back in 2010. He’s got good size and can cover a lot of ground in the secondary, which will give him a real chance to start on Sundays.
Brandan Bishop, N.C. State – Bishop was overshadowed in N.C. State’s secondary by David Amerson, a top cornerback prospect, but he deserves plenty of praise and attention from NFL scouts. At 6’2’’ he’s a big safety that’s strong and a good tackler, but he also has some real good ball skills, which can be rare for a safety his size. Bishop has a knack for creating turnovers in a variety of ways, and that should give him a chance to play in the NFL.
Prentiss Waggner, Tennessee – Waggner had a bit of a whirlwind career at Tennessee, constantly moving positions, but he always stood out as one of the better defensive backs in the SEC, even on bad defenses. He will probably play safety in the NFL, but he played a lot of cornerback in college with a lot of success, so he has good coverage skills. At 6’2’’, he’s at his best when he’s playing centerfield and patrolling the deep secondary, where he can cover a lot of ground. He’s talented enough to be considered a third or fourth round pick, so if he falls beyond that he’ll be a major steal. With his size and versatility, there’s no way Waggner doesn’t find a home somewhere in the NFL.
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Ray Ray Armstrong, Faulkner – The former Miami safety will be hurt by having to transfer to an NAIA school and then being ruled ineligible and not playing, but that doesn’t take away how talented he is. There are few players at the safety position that are as big, fast, and physical as Armstrong, which will entice someone to give him a chance, either in the later stages of the seventh round or as a free agent. Armstrong will have to get his head screwed on right to make it in the NFL, but if he stays out of trouble and stays focused on football, there’s no telling what he can do.
Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse – Thomas drew some attention with a great 40-time at the combine, and also by comically falling down right after. Few players in this draft love playing football as much as he does, and that passion can help carry him a long way. Despite being a little undersized, Thomas plays with reckless abandon and is as physical as any safety available. He will chase down running backs and punish them with bruising hits. He’s not great in pass coverage, but he’ll make a team with his effort and special teams play, and then become a useful situational player that can make an impact if put in the right position. Don’t sleep on a player that loves playing the game as much as Thomas.