By Ryan Alfieri, Editor
Despite the fact that the Jets attacked the safety position head-on this year after signing two veteran starter and drafting two additional players, this increasingly-important position is far from being “solved.”
Here is a breakdown of the top draft-eligable safeties for the 2013 draft.
1. Eric Reid, LSU
Reid had a breakout season in 2011 and was one of the best defenders in the SEC last year. LSU used Reid as the “centerfielder” that would rely on his instincts and speed to cover deep receivers. He takes good angles and has the coverage ability to blanket receivers and tight ends.
Reid is also large enough to provide help in run support, evidenced by the fact that he led the team in tackles in 2011. Specifically, he does a tremendous job leading with his shoulder and using proper technique to bring bigger bodies down.
At 6’2, 208, Reid should only improve with time and has the potential to be selected in the top half of the first round.
2. Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
One of the leaders on the Sooner defense, Jefferson’s strengths lie in his coverage ability. His tremendous agility an lateral movement allow him to run with slot receivers and tight ends while covering a lot of ground in Cover-1 roles. Jefferson also boasts terrific ball skills and can even be used as a pass-rusher.
Jefferson is also a stout run defender who loves to lay big hits when he gets the chance. He played the majority of his snaps as an in-the-box defender, using his aggressiveness and physicality in the run game.
If Jefferson elects to enter the 2013 draft, he will be one of the most versatile and athletic safeties in the draft.
3. T.J. McDonald, USC
While he played free safety at USC, he has the versatility to play either safety spot. He has a lot of experience lining up in the slot, which is a coveted trait in today’s NFL. However, he lacks the ideal quickness required to run with NFL receivers.
McDonald is at his best as a deep-coverage player, reading the quarterback’s eyes and reacting quickly to sideline throws. While he does have a tendency to take poor angles, he can lay huge hits in the open field if he lines them up right.
While he does have some areas of his game to work on, McDonald has first-round potential.
4. Robert Lester, Alabama
Playing net to Mark Barron, Lester was given most of the free safety roles in Alabama’s top-ranked defense last year.
While his overall production took a bit of a drop in 2011, he has good size and covers a lot of ground as a centerfielder. Teams looking for an ideal coverage safety should look no further than Lester, who appears to be more of a second-round pick with so many other terrific safeties in front of him.
5. Matt Elam, Florida
A highly-touted prospect coming into Florida, Elam has been a starter since his freshman year. An instinctive playmaker that defends the deep part of the field very well, Elam should continue to improve with time.
With his tremendous upside, Elam could turn into a first round pick with a strong junior season.