Happy Wednesday, MHR faithful! I hope you have enjoyed the series regarding draft prospects thus far. One of the last positions we have to wrap up on the defensive side of the ball is one where the Broncos could be looking to upgrade in free agency and the draft - safety. I will take a look at some of the prospects who could be available once the Broncos are on the clock in the late first round and thereafter. Note that the updated measurables for each prospect reflect their weigh-in and combine results.
Calvin Pryor, FS - Louisville - Junior
2014 Combine Measurables: 5'11, 207 pounds - 4.58 40 yard dash.
College Production: 38 GP, 218 tackles, 14 PBU, 7 INT
After Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the spot for the next best safety in the draft is up for grabs, but one of the prospects who is looking to take that mark is Louisville free safety Calvin Pryor. Pryor decided to forego his final year of eligibility to enter this year's draft and has the ability to be a first round draft selection.
Pryor measured in at this year's combine 3 inches shorter than his advertised college height of 6'2, but still has good size and solid bulk - in fact he plays much bigger on the field than his recent measurements suggest. Some of the best aspects of his game are his anticipation skills and closing speed in the defensive backfield. Pryor also displays great ball skills and has the knack for forcing turnovers, which is something the Broncos defensive backfield needs to improve moving forward. In addition to great pass coverage, Pryor demonstrates good technique and solid tackling ability in the open field and has the ability to be effective around the line of scrimmage.
There are a few concerns about Pryor's game - foremost being his lack of fluidity in changing direction. He isn't a top prospect in that regard and that shows on tape - and even more so on his recent on the field drills at the combine. He might have some struggles matching up one on one against receivers at the next level and must show better discipline in order to avoid personal fouls that were commonplace for him with the Cardinals.
Outlook: Pryor is definitely one of the best prospects available in this draft at the safety position. His combine time was faster than what people would have estimated, but he didn't perform to the lofty expectations scouts and personnel expected of him at the combine. At this time, it would be a 50/50 shot at best that Pryor is on the board when the Broncos select in round one. Even if the Broncos have to move up, he would be a quality selection for the team in the first round and could even be placed alongside Rahim Moore at SS if they feel that he is fully recovered from his leg injury.
Jimmie Ward, SS - Senior - Northern Illinois
2014 Combine Measurables: 5'11, 193 pounds - DNP 40 yard dash - 4.6 estimated.
College Production: 55 GP, 320 tackles, 26 PBU, 11 INT
Jimmie Ward didn't participate in the NFL Combine drills after his medical examinations revealed a foot issue that had trainers taking him away from field drills just as he was about to participate. Scouts had expected a great performance from him, but will have to wait until his Pro Day to demonstrate his ability. Ward has been a player mocked to the Broncos in the late first round, and according to several reports coming out of Mobile - is considered the best safety prospect available behind Clinton-Dix and Pryor by many NFL teams. That's why I have decided to break down some of his game today.
One of the reasons scouts are infatuated with Ward despite having ideal size is his production. As a senior, he had seven interceptions, 10 pass break ups and 95 tackles - over 60 were solo. These numbers allowed him to get All-MAC accolades. In addition to production, his quick feet, superb cover skills and great agility make him a unique defender capable of covering receivers, backs and tight ends. However, his strongest asset in my eyes is his instincts and vision in the defensive backfield. His ability to diagnose plays and understand responsibilities are second to none in this draft. He is a heady defender who almost seemingly is in the right place in the right time, which helps make up for lack of elite recovery speed. Understanding the mental rigors of the game will better prepare him to contribute immediately in comparison to other prospects. That's why I believe his LTI (Length To Impact) is relatively short - which is great for teams needing players who can contribute ASAP.
Even with all the praise above, there are some questions when it comes to Ward. His lack of size definitely will inhibit him in the NFL, as it has in the MAC conference - where bigger and better athletes were able to get the best of him on occasion - some view this detrimental to the point where he could be moved to corner. Additionally, he needs to improve is tackling technique and guard against being too grab happy with offensive players down the field that will result in penalties in the NFL.
Outlook: Ward is going to go a lot higher than people anticipate on Draft Day. His remarkable production, coupled with his experience, athleticism and instincts will make him a marketable commodity on draft day. Depending on the scheme, Ward could see time at either safety position and even play corner if need be. There aren't many players out there who have that sort of diversity and leadership ability on the field, which is why I believe he would be a welcomed addition to a Broncos defensive backfield in desperate need of versatile playmakers. I fully expect for Ward to be off the board in the Top 50 selections of this draft as long as his foot issue doesn't continue to linger or be a greater cause for concern. Could be a consideration with our first selection or even in a slight trade down.
Deone Bucannon, SS - Washington State - Senior
2014 Combine Measurables: 6'1, 211 pounds - 4.49 40 yard dash.
College Production: 49 GP, 384 tackles, 14 PBU, 15 INT
One prospect who has consistently impressed through his time as a college player and through the pre-draft evaluation process is senior strong safety for the Washington State Cougars Deone Bucannon. Measuring in as one of the most physically imposing defensive backs in the draft, in addition a huge 78" wingspan and running a sub 4.5 40 yard dash - you can be assured that Bucannon will be a highly sought after commodity for teams in this year's draft.
Perhaps the biggest of all Bucannon's strengths are his ability to create turnovers - both interceptions and fumbles, which he had a penchant for creating in college. He incredible hitter who levels absolutely decimating blows to defenders, which often result in ball-jarring hits. In conjunction with his big hits, often sses the rip move effectively to discharge the ball that result in fumbles and turnovers (think Charles Tillman ability in this regard). Has good but not great range and above-average ball skills. Seemed to improve every year and has impressed during his off-season regimen.
Unfortunately, Bucannon does have some weaknesses. Like Pryor, he isn't the most fluid in coverage - and has an awkwardly high back pedal which will hinder his ability to cover major ground in the NFL and adequately match-up against speedy offensive skill players. While a big hitter, sometimes he can make some big whiffs. Could stand to improve his vision and anticipation in both the pass and run game. Despite great athleticism, isn't nearly as flexible in coverage as desired - which is why he is strictly a SS in the NFL.
2014 NFL Draft
Outlook: Bucannon is a player who should hear his name called somewhere in the second or third round of the NFL Draft. He has a lot of plus qualities as a player, but may have some struggles in coverage at the NFL because he lacks the fluidity and change of direction skills. With proper coaching, he might be able to improve on some of his correctible deficiencies - but either way, it is hard to ignore the kind of production he put on the field. Considering Duke Ihenacho hit a wall coupled with the lack of quality depth behind him, Buccanon would be a selection that could immediately compete for a starting job at strong safety in our defensive backfield.
Terrence Brooks, FS - Senior - Florida State
2014 Combine Measurables: 6'1, 211 pounds - 4.49 40 yard dash.
College Production: 49 GP, 117 tackles, 15 PBU, 5 INT
In contrast to the aforementioned safeties who have eye-popping statistics, Terrence Brooks show the exact opposite - but that isn't a bad thing if you watched him play. Brooks spent his first two seasons with the Seminoles in a reserve corner back roll due to the number of talented defenders in their backfield. However, in his final two seasons - Brooks carved himself into a starting free safety role where he was able to use his great coverage skills to shut down opposing receivers and tight ends.
Brooks might not be the biggest prospect out there, but his range, athleticism and ball skills make him one of the better available options in this draft. He has great vision in the defensive back field and has the speed and burst to close in on offensive players and break up passes down field. Has extensive experience covering slot receivers when being moved around and despite less than ideal size -- is a willing tackler in run support. His lack of size may hurt him on the next level, but has great jumping ability (38" vertical) to help compensate while going for jump balls against bigger receivers.
On the downside, he doesn't have great hands and can occasionally let the easy interception get by him. Last but not least, Brooks could use improvement on tackling technique and wrap-up better to clean up on missed tackles. He will have to find a way to become more discipline in this regard in the NFL to help avoid errant injuries due to poor technique. Overall, Brooks is a player with a high ceiling who will likely have a better career than some of those selected before him due to his strong mental aptitude of the game.
Outlook: Should be off the board by the end of the fourth round and will be great for a team in need of help at slot corner and free safety. Might not start immediately, but will make an impact on sub-packages and special teams from day. The kind of player every defense needs in a specialized role to be successful and someone who has a lot more potential than his draft placement will indicate. Reminds me of
Keep An Eye On. . .
Ahmad Dixon, S - Senior - Baylor
2014 Combine Measurables: 6'0, 212 pounds - 4.64 40 yard dash.
College Production: 50 GP, 288 tackles, 12 PBU, 4 INT
Dixon is a versatile player who has three years starting experience at "BEAR" and strong safety for Baylor and one of the team's defensive leaders. A well-built defender with good athleticism known for making big hits and drawing big penalities. Despite average times and numbers at the NFL Combine, plays much faster on the field and shows good range from sideline to sideline. Aggressive and is not shy about making plays on the ball or even going after defenders. Isn't the best technician in coverage, and can work on his read and reaction ability and struggles with jump balls due to lack of vertical ability. A player the Broncos have met with during the off-season draft process and a likely candidate to be one of the first strong safeties selected in this class.
Kenny Ladler, S - Senior - Vanderbilt
2014 Combine Measurables: 6'0, 207 pounds - 4.7 40 yard dash.
College Production: 50 GP, 291 tackles, 10 PBU, 9 INT
A three year starter for the Commodores with four years of experience at both safety positions, Ladler is one of the most durable and experienced defenders in this draft class. Has the prototypical size you look for in a defensive back, along with good tackling ability and explosive hits when receivers are going across the middle. A turnover machine, in addition to his 5 interceptions, he had 5 forced fumbles this year. An instinctual player who gets by with sound fundamentals as opposed to all-world athleticism. Didn't time well at all during the Combine and will likely relegate him to being strictly a SS at the NFL level. May not ever pan out to be a top tier starter in the NFL, but is a prospect worthy of consideration as a special teams or reserve player initially with the potential to start down the road.
Late Round Gem. . .
Brock Vereen, S - Senior -Minnesota
2014 Combine Measurables: 5'11, 199 pounds - 4.47 40 yard dash.
College Production: 47GP, 200 tackles, 22 PBU, 4 INT
Strong safety prospect for the Golden Gophers who has extensive experience starting and on special teams. 2013 first team All-Big Ten player coming off a great senior season and performance at the combine where he registered a great forty yard dash and an impressive 1.47 split. He looked fluid and impressive in on the field drills and has improved his draft stock significantly. Does have starting potential in the NFL and will be a steal for someone in the final rounds of the draft.
Which of these prospects, if any, would you like to see the Broncos draft? If there is someone else that you have in mind that I haven't listed - hype them up in the comments section!