Richner: 2015 Top Safeties

Last Updated: 2/25/2016 7:35 PM ET
The recent play by the defensive secondary of the Seattle Seahawks, led by their All-Pro safety tandem of Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, has shown the rest of the NFL that having two elite playmakers lined up in the safety position can have a huge impact. With the explosion of the passing game in the last few years, most teams want safeties that have the speed and quickness to cover ground, similar to a center fielder in baseball. A talented safety is a player who can read and respond accordingly; a cerebral player who has put in the time and effort in the film room to be successful on Sundays. In addition to being the last line of defense, a safety should have the ability to come into the box and be a factor in run support. An elite safety can quickly elevate a good defense into a great one.

Of all the position groups in the draft the safety position is one of the weakest position groups. There are no prospects with a first round grade in this draft class.

One statistic that I incorporate in my evaluations is Impact Points. This is a formula I created that calculates a safeties point value based on total tackles, tackles-for-loss, sacks, forced fumbles, blocked kicks and their team's overall pass defense.

1) Kurtis Drummond (Michigan State): Drummond is a physical presence for the Michigan State Spartans with 35 career starts and has been the vocal leader for one of the nation's stingiest defenses. While most free safeties tend to roam around on the backend, Drummond was an in-the-box type of safety, capable of plugging running lanes and being a physical presence to shut down opponent's quick strike passing attacks.

At 6'1” and 208 pounds, Drummond possesses an elite level of ability to read and react to the quarterback, understand route combinations, and he shows a great deal of football intelligence. He understands his role and responsibility and rarely ever allows a player to get behind him.

His ability to come down into the box and be a run stopper is what separates Drummond from the rest of the pack. He led the Spartans in tackles in 2014 and was one of the top tacklers on the team for the last three seasons. A good tackler, Drummond wraps up his opponent and doesn't back down against contact or shy away from blockers. Drummond will take the lead block head on. With his playmaker mentality, Drummond consistently tries to strip the ball away when teammates are involved in the tackle.

In 52 career games played, Drummond had 187 tackles, 14 TFL, one sack, 21 PB, 12 INT, and three forced fumbles. He had 84 impact plays, an average of 1.62 impact plays per game.

Drummond isn't an explosive athlete like Earl Thomas and he lacks the top-end speed which might make him susceptible to throws over the top in the NFL. A former receiver, Drummond can make the contested catch in traffic and does a nice job of getting his hands on the ball, proven by his 21 pass breakups for his career.

Drummond is a solid starter who will gamble at the appropriate times and is otherwise a heady player who will consistently make the right play when called upon. It might take him a season, but with some experience I believe he could be a solid starting safety in the NFL for the next eight to ten years.

2) Damarious Randall (Arizona State): Randall is a very aggressive, ball-hawking safety who plays like a river boat gambler in some situations. He shows good instincts, has the ability to read a quarterback and has above average speed to cover a lot of ground and disrupt any deep ball threat.

At 5'11” and 196 pounds, Randall has the lanky frame to be a deep free safety who covers the backend. His stats and production at Arizona State show that he doesn't shy away from contact as he led the Sun Devils in tackles in 2014.

A JUCO transfer and former junior college All-American on defense and as a return specialist, Randall is the type of versatile athlete who can make plays on both defense and on special teams.

Showing great anticipation to jump and redirect routes, Randall will bait and encourage a quarterback to throw his direction, quickly turn the tables and make a play on the ball. Once he gets the ball in his hands, Randall becomes a playmaker on defense. With two interceptions returned for touchdowns in his career, Randall is clearly comfortable with the ball in his hands.

In 25 career games played, Randall had 156 tackles, 15 TFL, one Sack, six INT, and four forced fumbles. He had a total of 64 impact plays, an average of 2.56 impact plays per game, the highest average amongst all safeties in this year's draft class.
Randall's average of 6.2 tackles per game is the highest amongst safeties in this draft class as well. He is aggressive in run support, always looking to lower his shoulder and separate the ball from the ball carrier. Randall will need to improve his strength; he showed up with a higher amount of missed arm tackles compared to other safeties in this draft.

Still a bit of a raw prospect, but you can tell that when it fully clicks for Randall, he will become a special player and a true difference maker for any defense. He understands and reads quarterbacks really well for a younger player. Randall is good in zone coverage and when asked, he can slide inside and cover an opponent's slot wide receiver. What stands out most in watching his film is that he is a step or two quicker on breaking towards the football than just about anyone else on the football field.

While not likely a first round selection, look for Randall to be a possible early second round selection.

3) Anthony Harris (Virginia): The first true strong safety on our rankings, Harris has been a leader on a defense that looks to send four or five players to the NFL in this upcoming draft. At 6'1” and 183 pounds, Harris has a lean frame that is not ideal when you consider that he will be matching up against the likes of Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, or Rob Gronkowski in the foreseeable future.

Harris has a nose for the football and has produced a consistent level of play during the past few seasons at Virginia. Opponents might have gone after him, but he was able to make a few game-changing plays and help his team by causing a number of turnovers.
Harris displayed skill when battling and competing against bigger wide receivers and tight ends. Against Miami, tight end Clive Walford had a difficult time when matched up in one-on-one situations with Harris.

In 49 career games, Harris had 217 tackles, six TFL, two Sacks, 19 PB, 11 INT, two FF, and one blocked kick. Harris had a total of 66 impact plays, an average of 1.35 impact plays per game.

Harris' issues show up in his inability to make an impact in run support. He lacks the physical strength and technique to shed blockers and make a play on the ball carrier. Harris isn't a ferocious hitter and on a few occasions, opponents were able to bounce off of him and pick up critical yards after contact.

With the ability to drop into coverage along with the skill to make a play on the football when it's in the air, Harris might be a candidate to move to cornerback. He could add a lot of versatility to a team and could be the type of player who defensive coordinators can plug and play during his first year in the NFL. Watch for Harris to get a lot of snaps at multiple positions this upcoming season. Whatever position he ends up playing, rest assured that he will record a few interceptions and make a couple of big plays for his team.

4) Ibraheim Campbell (Northwestern): A downhill attack safety, Campbell displays the ferocity of a linebacker when he is laying the lumber on an opponent. A student of the game, Campbell has been voted as one of the hardest working members of the Northwestern football team for the past three seasons. Campbell is an experienced starter and has been a special teams mainstay throughout his college career.

Campbell is a physical presence in the middle of the field and opponents appeared to have alligator arms as they tried to make catches in his area. Campbell is at his best when he can keep the action in front of him, read and react. He had some trouble when he had to back-peddle and track the ball on deep pass plays. At 6'0” and 208 pounds, Campbell has shorter arms than most scouts prefer, giving concern that he won't be able to win on contested 50-50 balls.

An effective tackler in open space and good run defender who takes solid angles to the ball, Campbell played more of an in-the-box safety role for the Northwestern defense this past season than he had in prior years. He diagnosed runs quickly and quickly takes away the gap. He missed a few tackles when he lowered his head and shoulder instead of keeping his head up and locating the football. With an aggressive style of play, he can be caught out of position at times. In a few cases in each game, Campbell over-pursued the ball carrier, leaving a big cutback lane which the running back took advantage of. Georgia finished 72th in rush defense last year.

In 46 career games played, Campbell had 254 tackles, 7.5 TFL, one Sack, 24 PB, 11 INT, and six forced fumbles. He had a total of 83.5 impact plays, an average of 1.82 impact plays per game.

Campbell is an aggressive player who is looking to make the big hit or big play. He often bit on the double move and pump fakes by the quarterback. He will have to learn that he can't always make the big play and that sometimes the right play is to live and fight another day.

Campbell is projected to be a day two selection, going in either the late second or early third round. He has potential and his ability to be an effective member on special teams will help him earn immediate playing time during his rookie season.

5) Chris Hackett (TCU): A phenomenal junior season helped propel free safety Chris Hackett from little known NFL Draft prospect to someone for whom scouts were adjusting their late season schedule to watch. Showing great anticipation and awareness, Hackett does a good job of reading and reacting to the ball. His speed and agility show up on his game film, but he didn't score as well as most scouts would have preferred at the NFL Combine.

At 6'0” and 195 pounds, Hackett possess the long arms that defensive back coaches prefer. He looks as though he can add a few more pounds and he will need to increase his strength to help in run support and make it through the rigors of a full NFL season.

What Hackett does best is make game-changing types of plays that help set up his team for a victory. What he lacks in straight line speed, he makes up for in anticipation, film study and quick diagnoses. Hackett isn't a body catcher, but has excellent hands for a defensive back and is able to go up, extend his hand and snag the ball right out of the air with one hand.

In 38 career games plays, Hackett had 183 tackles, 9.5 TFL, two Sacks, 16 PB, 12 INT, and five forced fumbles. He finished with 78.5 impact plays, an average of 2.07 impact plays per game. Hackett had a burn rate of 48 percent last season.

His lack of measurable and sub-prime performance at the NFL Combine will surely hurt Hackett's draft stock. He might not be picked until the middle or later part of day three of the draft. With that said, Hackett is a true competitor and a player who never missed a game in college. He will battle for a spot on the roster and eventually will work his way into the starting lineup.

Best of the Rest
6) Landon Collins (Alabama): Career impact plays 48.5: Impact plays per game average 1.16

7) Clayton Geathers (UCF): Career impact plays 74: Impact plays per game average 1.40

8) Derron Smith (Fresno State): Career impact plays 93: Impact plays per game average 1.41

9) Tevin McDonald (Eastern Washington): Career impact plays 83: Impact plays per game average 1.66

10) James Sample (Louisville): Career impact plays 22: Impact plays per game average 1.38

11) Kyshoen Jarrett (Virginia Tech): Career impact plays 41: Impact plays per game average .77

12) Sam Carter (TCU): Career impact plays 87.5: Impact plays per game average 1.79

13) Cody Prewitt (Mississippi): Career impact plays 80.5: Impact plays per game average 1.58

14) Dean Marlowe (James Madison): Career impact plays 80.5: Impact plays per game average 1.96

15) Tra'Mayne Bondurant (Arizona): Career impact plays 120.5: Impact plays per game average 2.41

16) Gerod Holliman (Louisville): Career impact plays 59: Impact plays per game average 2.19

17) Jordan Richards (Stanford): Career impact plays 80: Impact plays per game average 1.48

18) Ronald Martin (LSU): Career impact plays 45: Impact plays per game average 1.22

19) Ryan Murphy (Oregon State): Career impact plays 63: Impact plays per game average 1.26

20) Durell Eskridge (Syracuse): Career impact plays 40.5: Impact plays per game average 1.09

21) Jermaine Whitehead (Auburn): Career impact plays 58: Impact plays per game average 1.21

22) Isaiah Johnson (Georgia Tech): Career impact plays 63.5: Impact plays per game average 1.22

23) Daniel Fitzpatrick (Tennessee State): Career impact plays 92.5: Impact plays per game average 2.01

24) Brian Blechen (Utah): Career impact plays 85.5: Impact plays per game average 1.78

25) Erick Dargan (Oregon): Career impact plays 70.5: Impact plays per game average 1.50