Examining 2013 NFL Free Agency: Safety

Rick Stewart

Folesmania, free agent safeties of interest, mock draft 2.0... let's dive in.

I made a commitment a few weeks ago to start looking ahead to the offseason, and I'm sticking to it. That will start in the next paragraph. Sunday's thrilling and cathartic victory over the Buccaneers was extra sweet because, like douches, they celebrated the Super Bowl team that broke our hearts nearly ten years ago. It was good to have that (forgotten) winning feeling again, and I hope it proves to be a taste of what Nick Foles can do as a starting quarterback in this league. Two or three years from now, maybe we'll fondly look back on this game as when we first got a glimpse.

By now you've read about Foles' performance, both negative and positive -- but mostly positive. I don't want to minimize that he missed some throws and should've been intercepted to end the game right before brilliantly concocting the fourth down play to Jason Avant. I just want to emphasize that the natural attributes Foles did show were highly impressive and indicative of the type of quarterback who has classically dominated the position. His pocket presence was sharp and subtle mobility Brady-esque, all the way down to slowly but smartly scrambling for crucial yards. Foles' football IQ, game awareness and general feel for the position are unlike what we, as Eagles fans, are used to seeing. Let's just say I'm somewhere between cautiously and enthusiastically optimistic. Tonight's game against the tough Bengals defense will be a key litmus test of his progression. After the stones -- moxie, savvy, poise, HUGE BALLS -- Foles showed on Sunday, I can barely suppress my glee and am thisclose to anointing him the real deal. Do you realize he did something that no other Eagles quarterback had achieved since the Elias Sports Bureau started keeping records in 1970 by throwing the winning touchdown pass on the game's final play? If you don't believe me, take it up with Merrill Reese.

Anyway, after last week's article, taking a look at the upcoming free agent class seems like the next step. Just remember, Eagles fans, as you know full well free agency can be a minefield of fool's gold. This first installment will feature the position you figure the team will target first and foremost, safety. There's a nice crop slated to become available, but I'm skeptical any of the best candidates will reach market due to getting re-signed or slapped with the franchise tag. Here are the top names (minus Ed Reed and Ronde Barber for obvious reasons):

Jairus Byrd - FS - Buffalo Bills - 5'10" / 203

One of the league's most dangerous game-changers on defense, Byrd would bring much-needed stability and playmaking ability to a flaccid Eagles secondary. His level of consistent excellence as a pro has been marvelous, and given the fact that he turns 27 next season, it's reasonable to think he still has at least four or five elite seasons remaining. Understandably, the Bills have already reached out with the intent to re-sign Byrd. They'll have to pay him as the top safety in football because his numbers warrant it. At worst the Bills will be forced to franchise Byrd, so I don't see him being on the market.

Dashon Goldson - FS - San Francisco 49ers - 6'2" / 200

First established himself in 2009 and, as far as the numbers go, has been producing well ever since. Pro Football focus harpooned his 2011 season and labeled him a "seemingly average player." I haven't intently watched enough 49ers games (aside from seeing their offense thanks to the glorious NFL RedZone Channel) to accurately assess Goldson this season, so I'll leave that up to the readers who can. Somehow I get the feeling he'll be commanding a sizable contract. Turns 29 next season, not worth big money to me.

William Moore - SS - Atlanta Falcons - 6'0" / 221

He just might be the most underrated safety in the league. I really liked Moore in the 2009 draft coming out of Missouri; the Falcons selected him in the second round, a few picks after the Eagles took LeSean McCoy. Yeah, can't say I would've wanted it to happen differently. Another player who will stay with his current team one way or another.

Under the radar options:

Louis Delmas - FS - Detroit Lions - 5'11" / 202

Like Moore, Delmas was a top-rated safety (of the free variety) in the 2009 draft. Like Moore, Delmas is a player of whom I thought highly. After making an immediate impact and looking like a potential All-Pro his first two seasons in the league, Delmas has been hit hard by injuries and seen his performance drop off. If the Lions don't retain him, he represents an intriguing low risk/high reward investment. One I'd endorse, for the right price.

Kerry Rhodes - FS - Arizona Cardinals - 6'3" / 212

Got two of his four interceptions against former teammate and all-around jag Mark Sanchez, so I'm not sure if we should count those (half joking). What sticks out to me most about Rhodes, however, is his high number of solo tackles. You might also remember him for causing this. Solid player overall but turns 31 next season and isn't worth breaking the bank. On a short-term deal, you talk me into it.

Others: Kenny Phillips, LaRon Landry, Sean Considine (just kidding)

Ready for dessert? I think I'll finish with another mock draft, because, well, why not -- it's a chance to introduce a new fleet of prospects. Plus, today's version includes something that so many fans are suggesting. I'm about to tickle the fuck out of my fancy with a fantastical trade down in the first round to acquire an extra pick (or two).

Trade (based on current draft order): #4 overall (1800 points) to San Diego for #9 (1350 points) and #41 (490 points). Points are based on the draft pick value chart.

* = underclassman

1 (9, via SD): *Taylor Lewan - OT - Michigan - 6061 / 310 - 4.98

Assuming he declares, Lewan has ideal measurables and is around the Luke Joeckel level athletically. Good length and a better run blocker than pass blocker; plays with a certain toughness and nastiness that would appeal to all of us who long for Jon Runyan, but the style is a double-edged sword. In the past Lewan was prone to instances of undisciplined play and letting his emotions get the best of him, which resulted in personal foul penalties that hurt his team. However, it seems as though the maturation process has paid dividends and caught up with his natural ability. After some early struggles, Lewan bounced back to have a quality (redshirt) junior season for the Wolverines and was voted the Big Ten Conference Offensive Lineman of the year.

I need to watch more tape (only seen a few Michigan games this season), but to be honest, Taylor Lewan is likely going to make or break his pro potential to me with how he performs in the Outback Bowl against Jadeveon Clowney, the projected first overall pick in 2014. That will be the lasting impression in forming my opinion.

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If the Eagles want to trade down even further in the first round and get a king's ransom for their pick, they should target Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews (Joeckel's bookend partner and son of Hall-of-Famer Bruce), Central Michigan OT Eric Fisher, or Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson. All of them should end up going in the 10-25 range.

2 (36): *Justin Hunter - WR - Tennessee - 6035 / 200 - 4.49

Like fellow Volunteers wide receiver Cordarelle Patterson, I'm skeptical Hunter, if he declares (which appears imminent), would even last this long since I expect him to kill it at the Combine. Former track star who has everything you look for in a number one wide receiver and is the big, dynamic weapon the Eagles need to complete the offensive arsenal. Hunter has a long, wiry frame and is a fluid, freakish athlete with deft body control and mid-air adjustment capabilities; length creates a huge catching radius and propensity for high-pointing the ball, while he's shown ability to pluck passes out of the air with ease. An advanced route runner who can create separation with his speed, acceleration and ability to sink hips without decelerating, Hunter is a game-breaker who can make defenders miss and rack up yards after the catch. Sometimes loses focus and drops passes because he doesn't look ball into his hands (already has head turned upfield) or lets it get into his chest. Slender build and needs to get stronger, but that should come with continued maturation and NFL weight training. Superstar potential if mental component catches up with elite physical talents.

Justin Hunter would likely be a surefire top-15 pick in 2014 and steal at the top of the second round in 2013. Ah, I'm deluding myself, once the predraft process is over he'll probably be a top-20 pick in April.

Note: Hunter tore his ACL in the third game of 2011 season, and I wonder what kind of effect the injury had on his 2012 season. Profiles as a candidate to break out as an NFL rookie in 2013, when he'll be two years removed from injury.

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2 (41): *Matt Elam - S - Florida - 5102 / 202 - 4.53

Here's what I wrote about Elam back in early October:

On defense, Matt Elam has been compared to Brian Dawkins (*drool*). A complete safety with elite instincts, he covers ground, plays center field and can match up with tight ends and running backs. Elam is good against the run, a physical hitter who flies to the football and blows up ball carriers (though his tackling can be erratic and is something I need to hone in on when I examine him more closely), while also showing flashes of being a dangerous blitzer and disruptive force in the backfield. Plays violently and toes the line, but can sometimes let emotions get the best of him. To that extent, my only real concern about Elam at the next level is his size and whether he'll be able to sustain his current style of play. A scheme-flexible hybrid who could play probably both safety spots in the NFL, he has all the makings of a stud difference-maker at the next level. Capped with a dominant performance in Gator Bowl win over Ohio State (6 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack), Elam was the best player on Florida's defense last year -- what I loved most is that he actually led the Gators in tackles for loss with 11 -- and remains so now. Seriously, Brian Dawkins-level unique skill set for the position, leadership intangible included. I want Matt Elam on my football team, but we might have to talk about wearing a bigger jersey. This isn't the 1980's.

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Future note: In one of these mocks I'll address the potential (likely?) scenario that neither DRC nor Nnamdi will be back with the Eagles in 2013 and therefore spend two of the first three picks on cornerbacks.

3 (68): Chase Thomas - OLB - Stanford - 6036 / 248 - 4.74

Has the size, strength, skill set and rugged, physical style of a throwback era linebacker. Thomas is my favorite player on what's a ferocious, pro-caliber and highly enjoyable to watch Stanford defense. He's instinctive, always around the ball and a tremendous tackler. Quick and anticipatory as opposed to fast. A little stiff and most effective down near the line of scrimmage instead of in space, Thomas developed pass rush skills as an outside linebacker in Stanford's 3-4. While an average athlete at best, he should be able to play on his feet just fine in a 4-3.

As we saw in the Bucs game, Mychal Kendricks is best suited to play weakside linebacker, where he can utilize his elite speed (to close on the ball) and special athleticism (in coverage). With DeMeco Ryans in the middle and Chase Thomas ready to step in immediately, this selection would truly solidify the starting linebacker corps. I can't even express to you how ecstatic I'd be if the Eagles draft him.

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4: Jordan Poyer - CB - Oregon State - 5111 / 190 - 4.49

Well-rounded player who impressed me with each successive viewing. Showcases the kind of versatility that appeals to NFL teams and lined up all over the place on the Oregon State defense. Poyer has experience covering outside wide receivers, slot receivers and tight ends. Great athlete with elite awareness and innate feel for both man and zone coverage. Unafraid, always in attack mode. Ball skills are tremendous, perhaps best among cornerback prospects in this draft. What sticks out to me most, however, is how well Poyer's able to turn and locate the ball while running with a receiver, so that even if he can't necessarily make a play on the ball, he's not face-guarding the receiver and committing pass interference. Not the prettiest tackler, but it's not for lack of effort or desire; size just prevents him from being anythig more than average in this area, and getting off blocks will be an issue. Poyer can be outmuscled by bigger wide receivers and must get stronger, but he has the undeniable skill set of a top-notch NFL corner.

Unfortunately, Poyer was robbed of a chance to match up with Keenan Allen when the latter was sidelined with an injury for Oregon State/California, as I was looking forward to seeing how he would fair against one of the nation's top wide receiver prospects.

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Based on talent alone, another CB I'd want at this spot is Georgia's Sanders Commings (6012 / 216), but I can't in good conscience advocate selecting him. He was suspended for the first two games of the season and has a troubling history of domestic violent complaints.

5: Brandon Williams - DT - Missouri Southern - 6016 / 328 - 5.09

Williams might hail from Division II Missouri Southern, but he has everything you look for in a prospect and profiles as a player whose talent transcends that lower level of competition. In addition to being an unstoppable force, Williams' size, strength, quickness and versatility (played all along the defensive line) will appeal to NFL teams. So too will his character and personality. The thought of pairing Williams with Fletcher Cox has my salivary glands going haywire.

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(Had to include this picture)

6: Larry Webster - DE - Bloomsburg - 6062 / 240 - 4.74

Second Division II player in a row. Webster popped up on my radar about a month ago while I was putting together a scourting report on Maryland DE/DT Joe Vellano, a personal favorite of mine. At the time, Vellano was ranked one spot behind Webster by NFL Draft Scout. A defensive end who's 6'6", 240 pounds and runs a 4.74? Well, with such enticing physical attributes he passes the eye test with flying colors, so I had to know more. Turns out Webster is the son of former 11-year NFL veteran defensive tackle Larry Webster, so put a check under favorable bloodlines. The junior Larry, a four-year starting center for the Bloomsburg basketball team, hadn't played football competitively since high school until this season. His length, athleticism, raw ability and seamless reintegration to the sport -- where he was immediately dominant, even recording a sack and interception in the season opener -- drew the attention of pro scouts. One of those "pieces of clay" who could be molded into something special with the right coaching. Very high ceiling, the type of talent you take a chance on at this point in the draft.

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Another consideration here is Marquis Jackson (DE - Portland State - 6032 / 260 - 4.87). He's a former USC recruit and Texas Southern transfer who brings a ton of raw ability to the table. With the size and talent to be an NFL defensive end, Jackson is a project who could blossom in the right situation.

7: Adam Smith - OG - Western Kentucky - 6045 / 325 - 5.46

This Adam Smith might not be the father of modern economics, but he is a player whose sheer mammothness (not a word) caught my eye. A classic road grader-type; limited athlete who relies on simply engulfing and overpowering opponents. I imagine I'd learn everything I need to know about Adam Smith's NFL potential by watching the Alabama game (as an aside, this is when teammate Quanterus Smith sent his draft stock soaring with a three-sack performance), which is a tape I've been meaning to get my hands on.

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7 (via DEN, Brodrick Bunkley trade): Drew Frey - SS - Cincinnati - 6026 / 212 - 4.58

Obligatory Cincinnati pick. Frey is a try-hard thumper in the classic SS mold who's effective down near the line of scrimmage and a liability in coverage. Athletic limitations and one-dimensional nature confine him to being a backup safety, but a player I envision earning his keep on special teams.

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How do you like that Missouri Southern-Bloomsburg-Western Kentucky trifecta in rounds five, six and seven? God, I love the draft.

Finally, here's to tonight's game perpetuating the happy and hopeful feelings for the future. Here's to Folesmania continuing.

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