Taboo to draft a safety early? Not anymore

What has amazed me about many NFL teams in years past is the penchant for passing on quality safeties early in round one. Last year, Oakland (Michael Huff) and Buffalo (Donte Whitner) selected back-to-back safeties in the top 10, but that was an aberration and not the norm. It seems like the premium on safeties has been as valuable to some teams as the backup fullback.

However, review the safeties of recent Super Bowl teams: Rodney Harrison (Patriots, ’03 and ’04), Brian Dawkins (Eagles, ’04), Troy Polamalu (Steelers, ’05) and Bob Sanders (Colts, ’06). That list doesn’t even include the versatile Ed Reed (Ravens). Give a defensive coordinator a heat-seeking missile like Reed or Polamalu, and watch his game plan go from cautionary to destructive. This might be a stretch, but I’m willing to bet that having a complete player at safety – that is, one that is fast, smart, instinctive, and plays the run as well as the pass – will be as important in the near future as a competent quarterback.

With that said, there is no shortage of safeties in this year’s draft. At the head of it all is LaRon Landry from LSU, who had a remarkable workout at the combine. Questioned mostly for his coverage skills and top-end speed, Landry ran a 4.35 40, essentially raising his stock higher than Disney’s. Given his overall play making ability, many make a solid argument that Florida’s Reggie Nelson is a better prospect. However, I don’t think he is as NFL-ready at this point as Landry is. Other prospects include: Brandon Meriweather (Miami), Michael Griffin (Texas) and Eric Weddle (Utah). The sleeper might be Sabby Piscitelli (Oregon State), who is strong, athletic and fast for a 224-pound safety. He is a little stiff in his movement, but would be a great value in rounds 4-7.

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