We all know the Eagles need one or two, and this year there are some good ones at the top. Currently, the Eagles have Nate Allen, Patrick Chung, Earl Wolff, and Kurt Coleman on the roster. Earl Wolff was the lone safety who played well enough to deserve a shot to start in the future, and Nate Allen played well down the stretch. Nevertheless, the Eagles need an upgrade at the safety position. Here are the top five available:
5. Calvin Pryor, Louisville
Calvin Pryor, profiled by BGN's Mike Kaye earlier today, seems to be the most likely choice for the Eagles based on Chip Kelly and Billy Davis' preference for bigger players. But Pryor is not the best safety in this draft for me. Where his ceiling may be higher than others, he has to go farther to reach that. Without question, Calvin Pryor is an athletic freak. He will be one of the better combine safeties this year, and should he run a sub 4.45, some people will lose their minds. Pryor is a vicious hitter, and most of his power comes from his speed to go through ball carriers. But, at times he will focus too much on trying to make the hit, rather than wrapping up the ball carrier and driving him back. This also will lead to bad angles. In Louisville's game earlier this season, Pryor took the wrong angle towards the running back multiple times, costing the Cardinals defense yards. Another thing that restricts Pryor is his block shedding. Now, at safety it is not often he will need to do this, but when Pryor comes to the box and engages with an offensive lineman, they play is over for the former Louisville star. Overall, Pryor's ceiling is high because of his physical ability. But so was Taylor Mays' ceiling.
4. Deone Bucannon, Washington State
The next safety comes from a smaller school that is starting to make some noise in the NCAA under new Mike Leach. Arguably the best player on that team was Deone Bucannon. He possesses good size and speed, but is a bit more instinctive than Pryor. One of the things he does well, and some do not think about this, is use the sideline. As a safety, usually you are the last line of defense. If you overcommit along the sideline, the ball carrier can cut back inside for a big gain. Bucannon understands this, and that is a key trait in the NFL. One thing Bucannon needs to work on is pushing through blocks. He can shed them most of the time, but is susceptible to big blocks, and not just from linemen, but from receivers as well. Bucannon does not possess incredible speed, but he is fast enough, and a patient enough tackler (will not overcommit) to be a good safety in the NFL.
3. Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
Jimmie Ward was one of the stars at the Senior Bowl, but that is not why he is the number three safety on this list. Ward did everything at Northern Illinois, he was able to cover, play centerfield, make tackles in the backfield, and be a sure-handed tackler in the open field. The only knock on Ward is his size, and the ability of the players he played against. In Mobile he also shined in the one-on-one drills, which is big for a potential free safety. In today's NFL, some of the better safeties are asked to cover a ton of ground. Ward can do just that, he is among the best players in this draft in terms of range, and it will show at the next level. There was one play that sticks out in my mind against Utah State, where he was in man coverage against a receiver running a go route, and he was able to come off of his man and make a tackle ten yards in front of him on a wide open receiver to stop the Aggies on third down. Ward was also a ball-hawk in college, amassing six interceptions in his senior season.
2. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
Some have Lamarcus Joyner as a slot corner, some have him as a third safety in a nickel package of some sort. Most say he is too small (5'8) to play in the NFL. But Joyner is a good football player that I would take on my team any day of the week, and twice on Sundays. Joyner draws comparisons to former LSU star Tyrann Mathieu in terms of ability. While Joyner does not possess the same playmaking ability as the "Honey Badger", he is better in the box as a run stopper. Where he may not be the best fit for the Eagles, should they decide to draft him, he will make Eagles fans happy right away. One of my favorite things that Joyner does is rush the passer. At his size, you wouldn't think he would be able to bring quarterbacks down, but against Clemson this year, he showed just that. Tajh Boyd is no easy target to bring down, especially if you are 5'8, but Joyner brought him down on first contact, and caused a fumble that culminated in a defensive touchdown. Some will be scared away because of his size, but Joyner is still a very good football player, and will contribute right away in the NFL.
1. Hasean Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Clinton-Dix is nearly the consensus number one safety in the draft community, and for good reason. He possesses all the tools needed to be a starting safety at the next level. He can fly around and make tackles while taking good routes, he can cover in zone, and even stick a man on occasion. Clinton-Dix will likely be the first safety taken, and could be gone by the time the Eagles pick at 22. But is he is there, the Eagles should take a long look at drafting him. He is fast enough to stick with most players on a deep ball, and fluid enough to stay with the quick ones underneath. His ability to make a tackle on the other side of the field is also innate. We remember watching Brian Dawkins line up 20 yards deep, and make a tackle on a three yard gain on the other side of the field. Clinton-Dix is by no means Brian Dawkins, but he can also do the aforementioned. Clinton-Dix shows great patience in coverage as well, meaning that he is not going to make the first move (first turn of the hips), but he will wait until the receiver cuts and uses his quickness to say with the receiver stride for stride. The one thing that Clinton-Dix struggles with at times is taking angles toward the ball carrier, but it is not as extreme as some others. He is not a finished product, but Clinton-Dix is the best safety of the bunch right now. The Eagles would be lucky to get him at 22.
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