This year's crop of top safeties are all aggressive slobberknockers who had great college careers. It was really hard to rank the top 3 as I like Cyprien, Elam and Swearinger a lot. All 3 are going to make big impacts as rookies. So who lands the top spot?
1. D. J. Swearinger - Houston Texans (University of South Carolina)
5' 10" and 208 lbs
244 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 0 sacks, 6 INTs (2 TDs) 22 passes defended, and 4 FF (1 FR for a TD)
Draft position: Texans Round 2 pick #57
D.J. Swearinger was one of my favorite defensive players in this draft. Swearinger had an outstanding college career at South Carolina where he lined up everywhere in the defensive backfield. have been saying for a while that IDP rankings are sleeping on Swearinger but it appears the word is getting out. That probably reflects more on the Ed Reed signing by the Texans than anything else but Reed is still out with a hip injury that required surgery.
Where I rank him: Swearinger's versatility cannot be denied and there are already hints he will play a big role for the Texans. Jonathan Cyprien, who is currently sidelined with a nagging hamstring injury, is ranked around 12 which reflects not only his talent but the fact that he is likely to start and contribute immediately. Matt Elam is ranked in that general area as well. No shade on either of those guys but I like Swearinger better and think that despite Reed he will make as great if not better impact. He is just that kind of player. Also, note that Kenny Vaccaro is ranked around 15. As you can see, I rank Swearinger over all of them. I will put him at 14.
2. Jonathan Cyprien - Jacksonville Jaguars (Florida International)
6' 0" and 217 lbs 38.5 inch vertical jump
365 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 1 sack, 6 INTs (1 TD), 28 passes defended, and 6 FF
Draft position: Jaguars Round 2 pick # 33
Cyprien has excellent range going up for the ball and athleticism though his speed isn't considered a strength. Still, he has an incredible instinct for the ball like the others in my top 3 that makes up for it. He ran a 4.56 40 at his pro time and that's not too shabby. Cyprien had an outstanding showing at the Senior Bowl. Will he play to the level of his competition in the NFL? I think so.
Where I rank him: The injury is tad concerning and something to watch but the kid can play and if healthy WILL play. Put him at 15 just behind Swearinger and keep an eye on the injury situation.
3. Matt Elam - Baltimore Ravens (University of Florida)
5' 10" and 208 lbs
176 tackles, 23.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 6 INTs, 19 passes defended, and 3 FF
Draft position: Ravens Round 1 pick # 32
Like Swearinger, Elam had a highly productive college career in the SEC and like his SEC counterpart, Elam is a hard hitter and shows similar ability to "sniff" out plays. One of the things that stood out for me about Elam was how he generally took great angles to get to the play with very little wasted movement. That is an underrated ability and the great safeties possess it. With the loss of Bernard Pollard to the Titans and Ed Reed to the Texans, Elam is going to play a big part in the Ravens defense as a rookie.
Where I rank him: Again, I think it's close between Swearinger, Cyprien and Elam. Elam is a bit undersized but plays big. He gets the third ranking of the top 3 but it's a close race. Put him at 16.
4. Kenny Vaccaro - New Orleans Saints (Texas)
6' 0" and 214 lbs
231 tackles, 14 TFL, 2 sacks, 5 INTs, 24 passes defended, and 4 FF
Draft position: Saints Round 1 pick # 15
I'm not as big of a fan of Vaccaro as many draftniks and fantasy geeks but he wasn't drafted this high the Saints to sit on the bench. He is going to play in the Saints depleted secondary and has already made a name for being a hard hitter and a guy who won't back down. Has a tendency to whiff that he needs to take out of his game. Doesn't always make the best decisions.
Where I rank him: I rank him closer to Shawn Williams than I do the top 3 which is clearly a deviation from other rankings. I would put him at 22.
5. Shawn Williams - Cincinnati Bengals (UGA)
6' 0" and 213 lbs
209 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 1 sack, 4 INTs, 15 passes defended, and 2 FF
Draft position: Bengals Round 3 pick # 84
Another one of my favorite safeties in this draft and he will do really well in Cincinnati. Nice size and good measurables Williams really had a nice workout at the NFL combine in April, posting one of the better 40 times for defensive backs. Like some of my other favorite safeties, Williams generally takes smart angles and makes good decisions in pursuit. He also had a nice Senior Bowl.
Where I rank him: I rank him just a little bit lower than Kenny Vaccaro and would place him around 27. I really think he will be outstanding playing for Mike Zimmer in the Cincinnati Bengals defense.
6. Tyrann Mathieu - Arizona Cardinals (LSU)
5' 9" and 186 lbs
133 tackles, 16 TFL, 6 sacks, 4 INTs, 19 passes defended, 11 FF (6 FR and 2 TDs)
Draft position: Cardinals Round 3 pick # 69
While I love his nickname I am going to honor Mathieu's wish to move past his troubled past and start a bright new future. Mathieu doesn't sound thrilled to move to safety as he played primarily at cornerback in college but it seems a good move to me. I rank him with the safeties even though it is clear he is playing all positions in the defensive backfield. It sounds like he is already making noise with the Cardinals. Despite his size, this guy plays big and I don't think that will hamper him in the NFL.
Where I rank him: Interesting differences in his rankings but I would rank him above guys like Ryan Clark who come in around 40. So put him at 40.
7. Eric Reid - San Francisco Forty Niners (LSU)
6' 1" and 213 lbs
199 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 0 sacks, 6 INTs, 17 passes defended, and 2 FF (1 FR)
I really hated to put Reid last but that's just how the rankings shook out after I looked back over my research. Make no mistake however Reid can and will play. The latest word out of San Fran is that Reid has earned some time running with the first team defense. Still, the rookie is competing with some vets and it could take some time to earn the starting job. Having said that, I will put my money on the extremely talented former LSU Tiger walking away with the starting free safety spot.
Where I rank him: You could interchange Mathieu and Reid or even rank Reid a bit higher and I wouldn't complain. I think they earn similar rankings. I have seen Shamarko Thomas, who doesn't make my list, come in at 41. I would rank Reid there.
If I had ranked Thomas, he could come in after Reid. Unlike Mathieu, I tend to think Thomas' lack of height could be an issue. He has great speed but it also sounds like he is struggling a bit with the NFL learning curve. He is a player you should keep an eye on but more likely to be a factor in his second year in my opinion.