By Aaron Hyden
PSDC College Football Contributor
In football, safeties are literally and figuratively the last line of defense, sometimes the only things between opposing offenses and the end zone. More and more, safeties are asked to be Jacks of All Trades, capable of playing against the run or the pass, and to see the entire field play out in front of them. This requires people playing the position to be smart, instinctive and to have the ability to be versatile in what they do. This year’s class of safeties is certainly no different, with many players who have experience at multiple positions, or in multiple schemes.
1. Nate Andrews, Florida State – Perhaps the surest tackler of any safety in the country, Andrews is a tough, physical player that plays all over the field. He isn’t the biggest (5’11”, 210 pounds) or fastest (4.52 40) player you’re going to find, but with his intelligence, instincts and nose for the football, he doesn’t have to be.
One of Florida State’s top leaders, he leads by example and is, arguably, the hardest worker on the team. His teammates love his attitude, and they play hard for him. That type of leadership, especially at a young age, is very attractive to NFL front offices, who are often dealing with “me first” types of players.
Swarming to the ball the way he does assures a high number of tackles, and with 93 of them last season, Andrews proves that. His instincts always seem to place him in the right place at the right time to make plays, making him one of FSU’s most clutch defenders. He is already pegged as a first-round talent in most mocks for 2016, but another strong season will launch him into discussions as a potential top 10 pick.
2. Tony Conner, Ole Miss – If you’re looking for versatility, Conner delivers that and more. Ole Miss has pretty much played him at every defensive back spot imaginable, plus some time at outside linebacker, as well as some time as a speed rusher on the outside. No matter where he lines up, one thing about his game stands out… he loves to hit people. NFL.com ranked him as the second most physical player in the country for the upcoming season (with the player who ranked ahead of him still to come on this list).
He still isn’t the best in coverage, but the improvements he’s made in that area since he first stepped foot on campus are remarkable. He is becoming much more fluid in that area, using his hips more, and working on being more than someone that is coming in for the kill on every play. If he continues to make those strides in his play, his stock could really rise in 2015, and he will compete for the top spot on lists like this.
3. Karl Joseph, West Virginia – Joseph is 5’11” and weighs 200 pounds, but if you watch him play, you’d think he was 6’3” and 240 with the way he lays the lumber and attacks everything he does. He is absolutely fearless in his game, going after any and everyone with the same joy, whether they happen to be receivers catching passes, running backs trying to find holes to run through, or offensive linemen who happen to outweigh him by 150+ pounds sometimes. That type of fearlessness appeals to fans and teammates alike, making him a lot of fun to watch. As an added bonus, he is very durable, starting all 38 games of his college career, which is no easy feat for anyone, let alone a player with such a physical style.
Like Conner, he does have some improvements to make in the coverage part of being a safety. I’ve seen some project him as more of a slot cornerback in the NFL, where he can battle against smaller WRs, hiding his flaws and allowing him to play closer to the line of scrimmage. As a senior this year, he has one more chance to work on his flaws and improve on them, showing pro teams that he can be a successful safety in the NFL. Barring a setback, he should be knocking on the door of the first round, and could even sneak in.
Other names to watch out for are Ohio State’s Vonn Bell, Duke’s Jeremy Cash, LSU’s Jalen Mills and Florida’s Brian Poole. It is another relatively deep position, with the second, third and fourth rounds probably being full of safeties. It shows that the Class of 2016 is a very intriguing one overall, with so many deep positions and prospects that are facing such big seasons to “show and prove,” so to speak.