John Lynch: The Decision, Part Three

John Lynch: The Decision, Part Three

This is a four part article that will be taking a look at one of the best safeties to ever play the game, John Lynch. A decision about his retirement looms, and its ripple effect will be felt throughout the Broncos organization as everything from the Free Agency period to their potentially strong, 8-pick draft will be shaped and altered by whichever lot he tosses into the murky pool that is the Broncos' defensive future. Will it be the decision to retire, leaving $2 mil on the table? Will it be the decision to return, possibly having to accept less playing time and risking injury?

MHR's own Hoosierteacher took some time to look at the John Lynch situation with me, and provided some of his excellent knowledge and analysis of not only Lynch but of the difficult and oft misunderstood nature of the position he plays. We will be getting his take on the situation throughout this series.

Part One was a look at John Lynch the player and the safety position in general, and looked at what Lynch has done for the Denver Broncos since signing in 2004. Part Two was a more in depth look at John's performance through the 2007 season, a campaign that saw the Denver Broncos post only their second losing season under Mike Shanahan while fielding one of the lowest ranked defenses in the NFL. Part Three will take a closer look at the situation the Broncos are in, and what their options are at the safety position. And finally, Part Four will be the conclusion and the opinions of HT and myself regarding what the best decision should be.

Part Three

Was Lynch utilized correctly during the season?

HT: Game tape may prove me wrong, but I feel the answer is "yes". Early in the season Lynch was used in deep coverage where his position dictates he should be used in a contain scheme. The team failed to execute the scheme, and was getting gashed by the run.

Lynch was correctly moved into the box to assist a terrible run defense. There he had more opportunity to do what he does best, which is play in a tighter zone near scrimmage (since his speed has declined). He continued to do what he does well; hit people and hit them hard.

From Part Two I can confidently say that the game tape proves HT quite right. In fact, the only improper use of Lynch would probably been to have kept him back in a deep zone at free safety. It should be noted that in the first three games (prior to injury and then being moved into the box) Lynch’s coverage was near perfect, even in the deep zone. His first step is exemplary of on-field intelligence and experience, and in today’s NFL it is often enough to appear to have your bases covered at first blush.

Paired with the terrific coverage of Bailey and Bly, Lynch relied on his experience and instincts to be at the best point to cover the play, and only twice in three games did I see him guess wrong. Unfortunately, one of those times Bly also guessed wrong, biting on the inside move. Both players recovered quickly, but in a game of inches a miss is as good as a mile. The play was a touchdown.

There is no doubt that Lynch can hold his own in the NFL, but he is also on a tremendously precarious razor’s edge: at no time in his career has he been more qualified to read the play correctly, to guess correctly and to make the strategic moves correctly. And at no time in his career has he been more dependent on having to do all of the above, or fail in his duties. In a 16 game season, that is a lot of perfection to ask for…

Speculation on if Lynch returned

HT: If Lynch were to return we would face several problems. There can be no doubt that Lynch would play up in the box, NOT because he would necessarily be needed there, but because he just no longer has the speed to play deep. These problems include:
  • 1. Bailey and Bly are once again put in man coverage with little support behind them to make the risks they need to make to get turnovers.
  • 2. We will have to rely on Hamza to play in a deep center zone with no support. As good as I think Hamza will be, he doesn’t have the experience to excel through the course of an entire season covering the entire deep field. Letting him cover half of the deep field allows for some errors of judgment, and buys him time to learn.
  • 3. We lose coverage potential against the elite tight ends in our division (and on our schedule). I don’t think our current OLBs are up to the challenge, and I don’t think a rookie OLB (no matter how much impact he has in his first year) will be either.
  • 4. There has been a little bit of talk (only at MHR to my knowledge) about making Lynch a LB. With no disrespect intended, this just cannot happen. The LB skill set is vastly different from the skill set possessed by an aging but hard hitting safety. It echoes the talk about (down the road) putting an aging Bailey in a safety position. It sounds good, but from the standpoint of football positional understanding, it just isn’t workable.
  • 5. And of course, the potential for an injury that would leave us all feeling horrible. A neck injury has the potential to be crippling or fatal, and he’s had two now. Beyond the suffering for him and his family, the impact on the team (both emotionally and in terms of bringing in a back-up) could affect the season.
Speculation on next season without Lynch
HT: There are some benefits to a team with Lynch’s retirement behind them. This shouldn’t be construed as disrespect for one of the best safeties to play the game. Rather, it just reflects my opinion of sound management and coaching.

First, the financial impact benefits the team. A new, young safety is cheaper than Lynch, plus we save on Lynch’s salary as well.

Second, the team (already young) starts developing a talent this year instead of next year. If ’09 is really our target year for a deep playoff run, do we really want a rookie safety in that year?

Third, while the replacement will undoubtedly lack Lynch’s football intelligence, this is true of any replacement in any year. The sooner the replacement comes in, the sooner he starts learning.

Fourth, the replacement (while lacking Lynch’s experience), will undoubtedly be faster. And speed is a prime prerequisite for a safety.

In Part Four we will look closer at the choice’s open to Lynch in this event, but here today, we will take a closer look at the choices open to the Denver Broncos. The above situation is what they are faced with going into the 2008 offseason, and both free agency and the draft are going to be affected.

The following is as comprehensive of a list as I could reasonably put together. I cannot account for trades beyond the obvious situations where a safety might want out of town somewhere, though to my knowledge there are no such opportunities. Hoosierteacher and I would like to make an open call for help to anyone who has any additional information on the following opportunities and prospects, as well as any that did not make it onto the following lists.

John Lynch: The Decision, Part Three

This is a four part article that will be taking a look at one of the best safeties to ever play the game, John Lynch. A decision about his retirement looms, and its ripple effect will be felt throughout the Broncos organization as everything from the Free Agency period to their potentially strong, 8-pick draft will be shaped and altered by whichever lot he tosses into the murky pool that is the Broncos' defensive future. Will it be the decision to retire, leaving $2 mil on the table? Will it be the decision to return, possibly having to accept less playing time and risking injury?

MHR's own Hoosierteacher took some time to look at the John Lynch situation with me, and provided some of his excellent knowledge and analysis of not only Lynch but of the difficult and oft misunderstood nature of the position he plays. We will be getting his take on the situation throughout this series.

Part One was a look at John Lynch the player and the safety position in general, and looked at what Lynch has done for the Denver Broncos since signing in 2004. Part Two was a more in depth look at John's performance through the 2007 season, a campaign that saw the Denver Broncos post only their second losing season under Mike Shanahan while fielding one of the lowest ranked defenses in the NFL. Part Three will take a closer look at the situation the Broncos are in, and what their options are at the safety position. And finally, Part Four will be the conclusion and the opinions of HT and myself regarding what the best decision should be.

Part Three

Was Lynch utilized correctly during the season?

HT: Game tape may prove me wrong, but I feel the answer is "yes". Early in the season Lynch was used in deep coverage where his position dictates he should be used in a contain scheme. The team failed to execute the scheme, and was getting gashed by the run.

Lynch was correctly moved into the box to assist a terrible run defense. There he had more opportunity to do what he does best, which is play in a tighter zone near scrimmage (since his speed has declined). He continued to do what he does well; hit people and hit them hard.

From Part Two I can confidently say that the game tape proves HT quite right. In fact, the only improper use of Lynch would probably been to have kept him back in a deep zone at free safety. It should be noted that in the first three games (prior to injury and then being moved into the box) Lynch’s coverage was near perfect, even in the deep zone. His first step is exemplary of on-field intelligence and experience, and in today’s NFL it is often enough to appear to have your bases covered at first blush.

Paired with the terrific coverage of Bailey and Bly, Lynch relied on his experience and instincts to be at the best point to cover the play, and only twice in three games did I see him guess wrong. Unfortunately, one of those times Bly also guessed wrong, biting on the inside move. Both players recovered quickly, but in a game of inches a miss is as good as a mile. The play was a touchdown.

There is no doubt that Lynch can hold his own in the NFL, but he is also on a tremendously precarious razor’s edge: at no time in his career has he been more qualified to read the play correctly, to guess correctly and to make the strategic moves correctly. And at no time in his career has he been more dependent on having to do all of the above, or fail in his duties. In a 16 game season, that is a lot of perfection to ask for…

Speculation on if Lynch returned

HT: If Lynch were to return we would face several problems. There can be no doubt that Lynch would play up in the box, NOT because he would necessarily be needed there, but because he just no longer has the speed to play deep. These problems include:
  • 1. Bailey and Bly are once again put in man coverage with little support behind them to make the risks they need to make to get turnovers.
  • 2. We will have to rely on Hamza to play in a deep center zone with no support. As good as I think Hamza will be, he doesn’t have the experience to excel through the course of an entire season covering the entire deep field. Letting him cover half of the deep field allows for some errors of judgment, and buys him time to learn.
  • 3. We lose coverage potential against the elite tight ends in our division (and on our schedule). I don’t think our current OLBs are up to the challenge, and I don’t think a rookie OLB (no matter how much impact he has in his first year) will be either.
  • 4. There has been a little bit of talk (only at MHR to my knowledge) about making Lynch a LB. With no disrespect intended, this just cannot happen. The LB skill set is vastly different from the skill set possessed by an aging but hard hitting safety. It echoes the talk about (down the road) putting an aging Bailey in a safety position. It sounds good, but from the standpoint of football positional understanding, it just isn’t workable.
  • 5. And of course, the potential for an injury that would leave us all feeling horrible. A neck injury has the potential to be crippling or fatal, and he’s had two now. Beyond the suffering for him and his family, the impact on the team (both emotionally and in terms of bringing in a back-up) could affect the season.
Speculation on next season without Lynch
HT: There are some benefits to a team with Lynch’s retirement behind them. This shouldn’t be construed as disrespect for one of the best safeties to play the game. Rather, it just reflects my opinion of sound management and coaching.

First, the financial impact benefits the team. A new, young safety is cheaper than Lynch, plus we save on Lynch’s salary as well.

Second, the team (already young) starts developing a talent this year instead of next year. If ’09 is really our target year for a deep playoff run, do we really want a rookie safety in that year?

Third, while the replacement will undoubtedly lack Lynch’s football intelligence, this is true of any replacement in any year. The sooner the replacement comes in, the sooner he starts learning.

Fourth, the replacement (while lacking Lynch’s experience), will undoubtedly be faster. And speed is a prime prerequisite for a safety.

In Part Four we will look closer at the choice’s open to Lynch in this event, but here today, we will take a closer look at the choices open to the Denver Broncos. The above situation is what they are faced with going into the 2008 offseason, and both free agency and the draft are going to be affected.

The following is as comprehensive of a list as I could reasonably put together. I cannot account for trades beyond the obvious situations where a safety might want out of town somewhere, though to my knowledge there are no such opportunities. Hoosierteacher and I would like to make an open call for help to anyone who has any additional information on the following opportunities and prospects, as well as any that did not make it onto the following lists.

Free Agency

I will mention the Bronco free agents under "Roster" below.

Mike Doss, 6th year 5-10/207 UFA, Minnesota Vikings

Doss was the stud 2nd rounder from the Colts, who got dumped in 06 and found his way to the Vikes. In 07 he had a measly 8 games with only 6 tackles. Made 1mil on a 1 year contract, probably won’t be resigned. He also had legal troubles while with the Colts, involving firing a handgun in a crowded nightclub.

Ken Hamlin, 6th year 6-2/209 UFA, Dallas Cowboys

2003 high second round pick of the Seahawks, became a starter with the Cowboys in 2007, and had 5 INTs in 2007 to go with 62 tackles (45 solo). He made $2.5mil in 07, after signing a 1 year contract after missing most of 2006 after sustaining a major head injury (off-field) with the ‘Hawks.

Omar Stoutmire UFA Washington Redskins

Well travelled safety, who hasn’t really contributed the last few places he has been. He entered 07 in training camp with the Redskins, but failed to make the cut. He later resigned after Taylor’s death, contributing one tackle in week 16 and being deactivated in week 17.

Gibril Wilson, 5th year 6-0/209 UFA New York Giants

Fifth year player out of Tennessee, Wilson had a strong year, after being signed to a high end RFA contract in 07 that paid him $1.3mil. Amassed 92 tackles (78 solo) and 4 INTs. Missed three games in December with a sprained knee. He returned strong and has so far amassed 30 tackles in the past 4 games, including 4 and 10 in playoff games versus TB and DAL respectively.

Eugene Wilson, 6th year 5-10/195 UFA New England Patriots

Recorded 31 tackles (27 solo) and an INT in an injury plagued season. He missed 5 games through November and December, and didn’t start in a sixth. He is considered to be one of the Patriots best coverage safeties, and is a one time cornerback converted to safety. Injuries make it unlikely he will return to the Pats, as he had chronic hamstring issues in 05 and 06 and a sprained ankle that wouldn’t heal in 07. After getting 4 INTs in his first two seasons, he has only one since.

Gerald Sensabaugh, 4th year 6-0/218 RFA Jacksonville Jaguars

2005 fifth rounder, missed all of 07 after tearing the labrums in both shoulders, requiring surgery. He will likely have the lowest tender placed on him as an RFA, and is not expected to make the starting lineup in Jacksonville. This after he managed to make the starting lineup ahead of first round pick Reggie Nelson, before injuring his shoulders.

Bryan Scott, 6th year 6-1/219 UFA Buffalo Bills

Has travelled lately, going from ATL, to NO and ending up with the Bills in07 where he was to replace Ko Simpson at SS. Eventually he lost his spot to Leohnard, but eventually returned when Leohnard went down with a calf injury. Amassed 27 tackles (7 solo) in 15 games.

Gerome Sapp, 6th year 6-1/216 UFA Baltimore Ravens

Former 6th rounder for the Ravens. Made 16 tackles in 8 games before getting injured and going to IR by the end of the season. Lifetime STer.

Nate Salley, 3rd year 6-1/216 RFA Carolina Panthers

Former fourth round pick, Carolina signed him to the practice squad for a year, then to the active roster where he had four tackles before injuring his right knee and being placed on IR for the entire 2007 season.

Pierson Prioleau, 10th 5-11/188 UFA Washington Redskins

Key backup and ST contributer for Washington, he notched 44 tackles in 2007. He injured his ACL in week 16, and was subsequently put on IR.

Kalvin Pearson 4th year 5-10/200 RFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers

CFA who found his way to TB where he has been a hard-nosed ST standout, playing in all 16 games in 2006 and 2007, including one playoff game and one start. He amassed 44 total tackles in 2007, as well as 8 in his lone start in week 17.

Donnie Nickey, 6th year, 6-3/210 UFA Tennessee Titans

Another ST standout, he has amassed over 50 ST tackles, and was given an increased role in nickel and dime defenses in 2007, totalling 8 tackles.

Mel Mitchell 7th year 6-1/225 UFA New England Patriots

A big guy the Patriots signed to bolster a weakened ST unit, he added much needed depth at safety as well. Compiled 11 tackles (10 solo) and showed no lingering effects form season ending biceps surgery the year before.

Brandon McGowan, 4th year 5-11/205 RFA Chicago Bears

Amassed 68 tackles (58 solo) and 1 forced fumble and 2 INTs. Routinely led the team in tackles through their 2007 campaign.

Marquand Manuel, 7th year 6-0/209 UFA Carolina Panthers

Signed after being cut by Green Bay, he managed only 18 tackles 1 forced fumble and 1 INT working from a reserve role for the Panthers. Did not have much impact on STs. Expected to be released.

Jim Leonhard, 4th year 5-8/185 RFA Buffalo Bills

A notorious overachiever he played solid (think Engleberger) for the Bills, amassing 54 tackles (44 solo) and 2 INTs. He was also injured and missed 3 games, then returned but did not start nor record any stats in 3 others.

Herana-Daze Jones 3rd year 5-11/205 RFA Cincinnati Bengals

ST standout who led the team in ST tackles through 2006 and 2007 up until injuring his knee and requiring arthroscopic surgery. Even missing the final 7 games he still managed to hold onto the ST tackles lead up till near the very end. Hands down there top STer. Plays like someone who has something to prove.

Bhawoh Jue UFA Arizona Cardinals

"Where did you come from where did you go, where did you come from Bha-woh Jue…" You aren’t really reading all of these are you? o.O

Sammy Knight, 12th year 6-1/215 UFA Jacksonville Jaguars

Solid player in the twilight of his career. Signed by the Jags to a one year deal, he turned out to be a great pickup, logging 93 tackles (79 solo), 1 forced fumble and 4 INTs. Will probably want to resign with the Jags.

Rob Lee RFA Buffalo Bills

2nd year player on Bills practice squad. Worth noting that with all the turnover they had at safety he was never promoted this year.

Matt Giordano, 4th year 5-11/200 RFA Indianapolis Colts

A not very stellar player on a not very stellar ST unit. Doubtful he could break any starting lineups in the NFL.

Vincent Fuller, 3rd year 6-1/190 RFA Tennessee Titans

Amassed 31 tackles and 2 INTs in 2007, and added a sack in a losing effort vs. the Broncos. One of the INTs was returned 76 yards vs. ATL and was key to sealing that game with less than 2 minutes remaining. Good instincts, has come along slowly but surely in the NFL.

Glenn Earl 5th year 6-1/216 UFA Houston Texans

Starting SS for the Texans he had 76 tackles (60 solo) a forced fumble an INT and 2 sacks in 2006, but suffered a Lisfranc injury during the 2007 preseason and spent the year on IR.

Keith Davis, 6th year 5-11/205 UFA Dallas Cowboys

An on and off starter for the Cowboys, Davis is considered at best an adequate FS. Has led the team twice in ST tackles, and leads all NFL players in innocent bystander of drive by shootings, notching 2 in 3 years. Averaged 1 tackle per game in 07.

Jerome Carter, 4th year 5-11/194 RFA St. Louis Rams

SS who broke his foot in the middle of the season and was placed on IR. Never became a significant part of the Rams plans in the secondary, and is expected to receive the lowest tender on his RFA contract.

Oliver Celestin, 5th year 6-0/207 UFA Arizona Cardinals

4th in line on the Cards depth chart, notched 12 tackles in 5 games with Arizona in 07. Part of a very deep secondary did not break into the starting lineup even with injuries to both safeties ahead of him.

Deke Cooper, 6th 6-2/210 UFA Carolina Panthers

A big guy, has bounced around, making adequate contributions at all stops, most recently with the Panthers, notching 59 tackles (46 solo) one forced fumble and 3 INTs. Considered a solid depth guy, and a solid community guy.

Chris Crocker, 6th year 5-11/192 UFA Atlanta Falcons

Solid player who was worth a fourth rounder to the Falcons in 06 as part of a movement to revamp one of the worst secondaries in the league. Started all 16 games in 06 but missed the first two in 07 with a concussion. Returned to amass 55 tackles (51 solo) and INT and a sack.

James Butler 4th year 6-3/215 RFA New York Giants

Career backup in college and the NFL has had a good year for the Giants, notching 61 tackles (45 solo) and an INT, while missing 3 games to an aggravated hamstring injury. Finishing the year strong, including averaging 6 tackles per game in the playoffs.

C.C. Brown, 4th year 6-0/208 RFA Houston Texans

Converted LB, plays SS and had a strong year with the Texans. Amassed 84 tackles (64 solo) 2 forced fumbles and an INT. Solid tackler, solid starter who stepped in as a rookie when injuries downed both starters at safety for the Texans. Not considered to be very fast.

Yeremiah Bell, 5th year 6-0/200 UFA Miami Dolphins

Bell earned a starting spot in Dolphins secondary in 06. In his first season as a starter Bell has recorded 62 tackles, 2 sacks, and 11 passes defended. Dolphins defensive standout Jason Taylor said of Bell, ""The guy just makes plays, no matter if it's special teams, defense or whatever. He always makes plays for us." Was put on IR after tearing his Achilles Tendon in the 07 opener.

O.J. Atogwe, 4th year 5-11/210 RFA St. Louis Rams

Speedy FS with a nose for the football. Forced 5 fumbles in 06 but none in 07, instead he was content to log 8 INTs (1 returned for a TD), as well as 75 tackles (66 solo). He is expected to draw 2nd round or higher tender on his RFA contract.

The Draft

Kenny Phillips JR 6-2/210/4.50 Miami (FL)

The nation's top safety prospect finished with 84 tackles, six interceptions, three fumble recoveries, four defensive touchdowns and three punt returns for touchdowns. As a junior he had 54 tackles and seven picks. Through seven games as a senior Phillips had over 50 tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery.

Phillips could play either safety position but he's better suited to play strong safety at the next level because he supports the run so well. Phillips is a big hitter and physical. He runs very well and has a nose for the ball. Phillips has good coverage skills at this stage. He has a great break, hips and field awareness and is good enough to play cornerback. Phillips is very much a true student of the game, always working harder to get better in every phase of his game.

Jonathan Hefney SR 5-9/190/4.50 Tennessee

Hefney certainly has the quickness and instincts that teams want, even though he lacks size. If a back is in the flat, Hefney will appear from nowhere to cut him down. Very smooth pedal and transition in drills, but got beat by tight ends up the seam a few times. Also returned punts for the Vols.

Hefney is a versatile defensive back prospect. He has experience at both safety and corner, and has played well at both positions. He has the quickness and speed to play corner, but also the toughness and aggressiveness to play safety. Hefney also shows very good ball skills as his 26 career pass breakups suggest. He also has experience returning punts, which may only enhance his value in the NFL.

As a safety, Hefney is undersized. He has average to below average size as a corner, but is very undersized as a safety. He may not be able to take on blocks as he approaches the line of scrimmage, and lacks the size to match up down the field with bigger receivers.

Quintin Demps SR 5-11/204/4.60 UTEP

First among active NCAA Division I-A players with 17 interceptions. He posted 72 tackles (55 solos), 4.5 tackles for losses, two fumble recoveries and a blocked kick in 2007. He led the team with five interceptions (for a school-record 220 yards) and nine pass break-ups. Demps, who saw action at both safety and cornerback this year, scored on 100-yard interception returns at New Mexico State and UCF. He was UTEP's 2007 defensive captain. Ranked 15th nationally in punt returns with a 13.3-yard average.

Craig Steltz SR 6-1/213/4.64 LSU

Played in 43 games with 19 starts . Has 180 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two sacks . Ranked among LSU’s all-time leaders in interceptions with 11, including a career-best six in 2007. 2007: A veteran safety who is in his first season as a full-time starter . Emerged as the Tigers’ leading tackler after a pair of 16-tackle performances against Florida and Arkansas . Has 97 stops, a total that includes a team-leading 66 solo tackles . Is LSU’s interception leader with six . That total also leads the SEC and ranks eighth in the country . Has also been credited with five tackles for loss, a sack, seven pass break-ups, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery this year . His 13 passes defended ranks eighth in the SEC.

Steltz is a very instinctive football player. He quickly diagnoses the action and flows to the football. He shows excellent awareness in coverage and is always in position to make a play on the football. He is active in run support, and will aggressively come to the line and bring down the ball carrier. Steltz has good size, is physical, and has good quickness.

Steltz does not have ideal speed or athleticism for a defensive back. He can lose a little ground in coverage when matched up with a receiver, and lacks the speed to recover. Steltz is a very solid strong safety prospect. His size, instincts, and toughness should allow him to develop into a dependable safety in the NFL. He may never be a true gamebreaker, but he is a player that will come to play every Sunday and help his team win.

Simeon Castille DB 6-1/193 Alabama

Castille is a versatile defensive back that can help out against the pass, the run, or as a blitzer. He is a good athlete, with good quickness and shows the ability to stay with receivers on intermediate routes. He has a very good nose for the ball when it is in the air, and knows how to find it and make a play on it. He is aggressive in run support when he diagnoses the action and is not afraid to come up and make the play. Castille’s size, athleticism, and aggressiveness could allow him to move to free safety in the NFL along with his experience as a corner.

Speed may be the biggest question mark with Castille and his future at corner in the NFL. He can be beaten vertically because he lacks the pure speed to keep up down the field. It also hurts him because he gambles too much sometimes and lacks the speed to recover. He may be better suited for safety because of this.

Marcus Griffin SR 5-11/205/4.65 Texas

Senior Marcus Griffin has posted 229 tackles, a sack, three TFL, four INTs, eight PBU, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in his 48-game career. In addition, he has recorded eight 10-tackle games during his career. Griffin, who was named first-team All-Big 12 by the league’s coaches, leads the team in tackles with 97 to go along with a TFL, three INTs, five PBU, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He also has posted five 10-tackle games in 2007.

DaJuan Morgan JR 6-0/200/4.55 North Carolina State

D.J. Parker SR 5-11.5/190/4.50 Virginia Tech

Played cornerback as a freshman, but made the move to free safety and has since started 32 games at the position. He had a career-high 11 tackles at LSU and has 57 on the year. He returned a pick 32 yards for a touchdown to open the Clemson game. He also has six pass break ups and two interceptions in 2007, four for his career.

Jamar Adams SR 6-2/212/- Michigan

Has played in 46 career games and made 33 starting assignments at safety . Contributed 163 career tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, one sack and four interceptions. Team's active career leader with 22 pass breakups . All-Big Ten second team (coaches) ... All-Big Ten second team (media). Brandstatter-Beckmann Coaches Award recipient as the U-M senior football player that best demonstrates passion, dedication and commitment to the team. Started all 12 games at strong safety. Leads secondary and is tied for second on the team with a career-high 83 tackles. Third among Big Ten defensive backs in tackles this season. Tied for 16th in the league in tackles per game (6.9 avg.). Leads team with a career-best 13 pass breakups and is tied for top honors with three interceptions. Tied for seventh on Michigan's season pass breakup list. Seventh in the Big Ten and 51st nationally in passes defended (1.08 avg.). Also contributed 1.5 tackle for loss.

Jamar Adams has been making plays ever since he set foot on Michigan's campus four years ago. The senior safety tallied 83 tackles this season for the Wolverines. He also notched 1.5 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, and broke up 10 passes in coverage. Adams started all 12 games for a Michigan defense that failed to live up to its preseason hype. Adams however, never failed to carry his share of the load. He has started 33 of his 46 games as a Wolverine with career totals of 163 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 4 interceptions, and 19 passes broken up in coverage. Adams has good height for a safety, at 6'2". He excels in coverage, picking up slot receivers, tight ends, and running backs, all with ease. Adams has slightly above average speed for the position and is as good as anyone in the country at breaking on a ball in the air to deflect the pass. Adams will need to get stronger to help against the run in the NFL. His slender 214 lbs. frame will need to be bulked up. He does however, blitz from the defensive backfield very well. Adams will make a fine reserve safety and with some work and experience, could emerge as an NFL starter someday.

Thomas Decoud SR 6-1.5/200/4.59 California

Leads the team with 106 tackles (fourth in the Pac-10). Has five double-figure tackle games this year and seven in his career. Has tallied 39 tackles in the last three games alone. Posted an 11-tackle performance against Stanford. Registered a career-high 16 tackles (13 solo) against Washington. DeCoud closed out his career with an excellent season, leading the team with 106 tackles, two for loss, one sack, and one interception.

DeCoud is a solid safety prospect. He has good size, and the room for more growth. He is a very good athlete, and has shown the ability to line up as a corner and cover down the field. DeCoud is tough and aggressive in run support, and is very good at reading the run and coming forward to stuff it.

DeCoud needs to make more plays on the ball, plain and simple. For a safety with his talent level, he should be able to make some big plays but they have not come during his career. He will also need to fill out his frame to better handle his style in run support. His wiry frame may not hold up at the line of scrimmage with NFL sized blockers.

DeCoud has the talent to play on Sundays. He has been a solid free safety, and if he can get stronger, his run stuffing skills will allow him to play on the strong side. He has not shown to be a big time playmaker at the college level

Tom Zbikowski SR 6-0/207/- Notre Dame

As a senior, he finished with 80 tackles, 1.5 for loss, one sack, and two interceptions. Zbikowski has also spent time as a professional boxer off the gridiron.

Zbikowski is a talented safety prospect. He is a good athlete that flies around the football, doing whatever it takes to make the play. He is extremely aggressive in run support and is willing to take on lineman to get the job done. He is tough as nails and will never give up on a play. In coverage, Zbikowski has shown the athleticism, speed, and awareness to get down the field and make plays on the football. He is also a very good special teamer.

Consistency has been a big issue with Zbikowski. Talent and intensity is not the issue, he just doesn’t seem to make the plays in coverage that he should on a consistent basis. He is too aggressive at times, over running plays and taking himself out of the action.

Zbikowski has the ability to be a solid all around safety, but needs to play more disciplined on the field. He may be able to help on special teams as he has proven to be a playmaker with the ball in his hands.

Wesley Woodyard SR SS/LB 6-1/212 Kentucky

Woodyard began his career as a safety but moved to linebacker mid season as a freshman, and finished the year with 34 tackles. He had a big sophomore season, making the move to linebacker permanent. On the year he had 100 tackles, seven for loss, two sacks, and an interception. Last season as a junior, he earned All SEC 1st team honors, after finishing with 122 tackles, 9.5 for loss, two sacks, and an interception. Woodyard did not let up as a senior, finishing with 124 tackles, 8.5 for loss, and 2.5 sacks.

Woodyard knows how to get to the football, plain and simple. He has excellent instincts and flies to the ball carrier. He is aggressive, attacks the line of scrimmage, and makes plays all over the field. He is a good athlete with very good speed, and can chase plays down. Most of his experience is as a linebacker, but he has played some safety, and could project to both positions in the NFL. Woodyard is a team leader, plays hard on the field, and works hard off it as well.

The tweener label dogs Woodyard at this point in time. He plays linebacker but lacks the size to play there in the NFL. He will have to bulk up to play the weakside, but then you have to wonder if he can maintain his athleticism and speed. As a safety, he is inexperienced and a work in progress.

Dominique Barber SR 6-0/206/- Minnesota

James Silva SR 5-11/209/- Boston College

Nic Harris FS JR 6-3/232/- Oklahoma

Harris' size and range could see him be a linebacker on the next level. It could also depend on the evaluation of his speed - he may not be as fast as some teams might like for him to remain at safety (4.62 40, according to NFL Draft Scout), but as active as he is, speed may not be a concern in the end.

He's definitely going to be a pretty active presence in the defense, wherever he ends up playing, as he is like a defensive back-linebacker-defensive end all wrapped into one - he can cover well, he makes plenty of tackles, and he loves to get into the backfield, much like his secondary mate Reggie Smith.

Chris Horton SR 6-0/214/- UCLA

Finished 2007 with 90 tackles, seven for loss, and three sacks.

Horton is a physical safety that has to hit somebody on every play to be satisfied. He is tough and very active attacking the line of scrimmage in run support. He is not shy in his effort to take on bigger players to make the tackle. He will also lay the wood on any receiver that crosses the middle of the field. He has good size, is built thick, and is strong for a defensive back. Horton has also been a very good special teamer, which young players need to do in order to play right away in the NFL.

Horton may lack the athleticism and overall footspeed to be a factor in coverage in the NFL. He is at his best when he is moving towards the line of scrimmage, and has some problems when asked to drop into coverage or cover man to man.

Horton may have a limited upside because of his lack of ideal athleticism but he is a very good run stopper and comes to play on every snap. He probably will not be a game changer in the secondary but he has the ability to be a solid strong safety that also helps on special teams.

Ryan Mundy SR 6-1/205/- West Virginia

Marcus Watts SR 6-0.5/189/4.58 Kansas State

Caleb Campell SR SS 6-2/224/- ARMY

Campbell started six games during the 2004 season, earning a selection to the Conference USA All Freshman Team. He started all eleven games during his sophomore season, leading Army in tackles with 97 and added five interceptions. He did miss two games due to injury during his junior season, but still finished third in team tackles with 59. He was named team captain before his senior season. The Army granted a special waver to Campbell in order for him to be able to play in the NFL during the 2008 season and will still play in the East-West Shrine Bowl game.

A few statistics: Great size and speed combination. Very quick and fast (4.48-40). Can run with most receivers. Takes good angles while pursuing. A sideline-to-sideline player. Great range, can play the whole field. Smooth backpedaling. Turns his hips well. Plays the ball well when it is in the air. Can leap over the receiver. Does not bite or play fakes. Disciplined player who will stay with his assignment. Will come up quickly to support the run. Great open field tackler. An intimidating hitter. He could use better coaching, his footwork needs correction, and he will need to improve the use of his hands. He also sometimes loss focus. Is big for a safety but small for OLB.

He is a special player. Campbell is one of the better athletes in this draft. He sometimes gets by with pure athleticism. He is fast and agile enough to play safety in the NFL, but there's talk he can move to outside linebacker (although, he is undersized and under-strength for that position). He's not a twiner, he is a real football player. He definitely has a chance to impress in the all star game and could be a diamond in the rough.

Travis Key SR 5-10/168/- Michigan State

Kelin Johnson SR 6-0/197/4.60 Georgia

Josh Barrett SR 6-2/226/- Arizona State

Barrett is an incredible physical specimen at 6'2", 225 pounds and has great speed for a safety. Barrett is good in press coverage and does a good job using his hands to reroute receivers. He has good range and can cover the deep half of the field, showing this with his 7 pass deflections during the 2007 regular season. Having the size to line up in the box and stuff the run from the safety position, he is aggressive and can make plays at the line of scrimmage. He's a high energy player and coaches will love his motor. He has been called a corner in a linebacker's body at 230 pounds and 4.5 speed. He is a reliable open field tackler that flashes the ability to deliver the big hit. Barrett reminds me a lot of Roy Williams of the Cowboys making huge hits, but like Roy Williams, he has a tendency to get beat on the deep ball and by play action. Barrett does a great job of timing blitzes and takes the shortest path to the quarterback; je is a ball hawk and tries to strip the ball when in a trail position. Barrett has been a solid performer for the Sun Devils. He could use great workout numbers to make his draft stock skyrocket.

David Roach SR 6-0/212/4.48 TCU

Joseph Fields SR 6-0/206/- Syracuse

Husain Abdullah SR 6-0/202/4.60 Washington State

Corey Lynch SR 6-0/206/4.68 Appalachian State

Brandon Sumrall SR 5-11/185/- Southern Miss

Tyrell Johnson SR 5-11/200/4.55 Arkansas State

Bobbie Williams SR 6-0/214/- Bethune Cookman

Dennis Keyes SR 6-2/199/- UCLA

Keyes is an ultra-athletic, lightening quick safety prospect. Keyes has some trouble reading routes from his defensive safety position, but has good enough speed to recover. UCLA's defense has been somewhat of a disappointment this year, but Keyes has been a steady performer. Keyes was UCLA's co-team MVP for the 2007 regular season. He led the team with 115 total tackles and 3 interceptions. Keyes is a prospect that does not do any one thing great, but he is such a great athlete that many teams will be intrigued. He has stepped up his run support very well in comparison to 2006. Keyes' range makes him very likeable and will contribute on special teams immediately upon entry into the league. Although Keyes had a tremendous 2007 season, he will likely need strong workout numbers to sneak into the latter half of the first round, without eye-popping 40 times.

Tierre Green SR 6-1/200/4.60 Nebraska

Tony Joiner SR 6-0/216/4.60 Florida

Nehemiah Warrick SR 6-1/208/-

Darien Williams SR 6-0/197/- Oklahoma

Where he will fall in the draft is a mystery. He has solid speed and as judged by his stellar junior year, he has the ability and athleticism to make plays all over the field (which seems to be a requirement if you're a defensive back for Bob Stoops).

But, his sub par senior campaign might severely hurt his draft stock. He also may not be as big as some teams would like to see him, as another five or ten pounds or so of bulk wouldn't hurt (as long as it didn't come at the expense of any of his current assets).

Sooner or later though, someone will take a chance on him and he could wind up playing a prominent role in the NFL - a smaller version of another former star (Sooners' safety, current Dallas Cowboys' star Roy Williams -- who has a knack for doing a little bit of everything).

Prospect descriptions compiled from www.footballsfuture.com, Fftoolbox.com, nfldraftdog.com, wikipedia, and scout.com.

The Roster

Hamza Abdullah, 4th year 6-2/216 RFA

2005 7th round pick of Tampa Bay, signed off TB practice squad by Denver. 11 games in 07, after a hip-flexor sidelined him early in the season (but where we saw enough of Cox to say "Enough!"). Amassed 48 tackles (40 solo) along with a fumble recovery, a forced fumble, and 7 passes defensed. Make no mistake, he is here to defense passes, so this is his most significant stat. No word yet on what kind of contract will be tendered under his RFA status.

Nick Ferguson, 9thyear 5-11/201 UFA

Named a starter for 3 years in a row, but in 06 went to IR with a knee injury after 10 games and was benched in 07 in favor of HamzaGRRR! 12 games in 07, amassing 57 tackles (45 solo), one pass defensed, one forced fumble, and on ST added 2 tackles and 2 fumble recoveries. Made $1.015mil in 2007.

Marviel Underwood, 4th year 5-10/200

2005 4th round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers. Played in all 16 games as a rookie, leading the special teams unit with 23 tackles. He earned playing time in the ‘dime’ defense by the second half of the season, notching 14 tackles (10 solo), and a forced fumble. Tore the ACL and MCL in the 2006 preseason opener vs. SD, and spent the season on IR. In 2007 played roulette on the GB roster, before finally being picked up by Denver in December.

Vickiel Vaughn 3rd year 6-1/204/4.63

FS signed to a future contract by Denver. 2006 7th round draft pick of the 49ers. Was considered a hard hitter at Arkansas, and got a few good hits in on ST with the 49ers. They had him on the roster with the hopes of sending him to NFL Europe but that plan fell through when NFLE was cancelled.

Steve Cargile, 4th year 6-2/215

CFA in 2004 who went through Dallas and Tampa Bay before joining Denver’s practice squad. Was promoted to the active roster in September, and notched 12 ST tackles in 12 games. After Cox was cut he saw a few plays on defense, though he didn’t record any defensive stats in 07.

Roderick Rogers, 2nd year 6-2/187/4.47

2007 CFA, joined the Broncos from the Wisconsin Badgers. Was promoted to the active roster from the PS for the Monday night SD game where he played on ST but did not record any stats. Ditto for the next week vs. Minnesota. Was scouted as being not nearly physical enough for his position, and lacking instincts, but his size and speed were considered to be big pluses.

Thanks again, and much credit to HT for his helpful analysis and knowledge in preparing this series. Final installment coming, so stay tuned...

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