Rethinking the First Draft Pick: A Look at the Free Safeties


With the signing of guard/tackle Leonard Davis and the re-signing of Marc Columbo to a two-year deal, the odds that the Cowboys take Justin Blalock or Levi Brown (should those players even be available) appears to have diminished. That leaves open the distinct possibility that the Cowboys could look again to the defensive side of the ball.

[Small Rant: Grrr….Haven’t we seen this before? Free agent pickup to shore up the offensive line, then draft for need on defense? And has this really been successful?]

Anyway, I guess we should look at some profiles of the available defensive backs.

Reggie Nelson, FS, Florida

He ran a disappointing 4.48 at the NFL Combine but improved to 4.35 at Pro Day on March 7. Here is more from NFL Draft Scout:

03/08/07 – Reggie Nelson’s 5-year-old daughter, Tyjaezia, stood near a 30-yard line at Florida Field on Wednesday and pointed. “Look at all the people,” she squealed. “Look at all the people around Daddy.” Nelson, a safety who probably will be some NFL team’s first-round pick next month, and his Florida teammates spent much of Wednesday surrounded by a horde of NFL coaches. For the first time since Rex Grossman worked out in 2003, Florida’s pro day drew a significant number of coaches hoping to get a look at the draft-eligible ex-Gators. While only a few dozen showed up to watch linebacker Channing Crowder in 2004 or receiver Chad Jackson in 2005, at least 100 came to watch Nelson, defensive end Jarvis Moss, linebacker Brandon Siler and company run, cut, jump and lift. The group included a contingent from the Bucs, led by defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. – Andy Staples, The Tampa Tribune

03/07/07 – After running a disappointing 40-yard dash (4.5 seconds) at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis two weeks ago, Nelson blazed 40 yards in 4.3 seconds on a more familiar surface (Florida Field) Wednesday. Nelson’s fast dash created a murmur among the coaches and scouts as they peered at their stopwatches. Nelson also appeared to nail all the agility drills. “We heard anywhere from 4.31 to 4.35 (in the 40),” said Hadley Ingelhard, Nelson’s agent. “I’m sure that’s what he wanted. He did a great job. I was told in the three-cone (agility drill) that he was the fastest to date this year, and he broad-jumped 10 feet, seven inches, which is fantastic. “This (Nelson’s overall performance) is more or less just icing on the cake. All these scouts will tell you, it’s what you do on film that matters most. If you watch Reggie (on film), he’s a ballhawk. He makes big plays, he’s a big hitter, he’s got great range. That’s what’s going to get him drafted.” Nelson appears a lock to go in the first round. Now that he’s got that 40 time to go along with the rest of his game, he might be moving up even higher, maybe even near the top 10 range. “It was real important,” Nelson said of his 40 time Wednesday. “I didn’t do too good at the combine. I injured my hamstring (at the combine). It was very important for me to get the right treatment. I came out and continued to work hard. I ran a 4.5 at the combine. This is a big difference. It went pretty good.” – Gainesville Sun

Brandon Merriweather, FS, Miami

I’ve read that this guy has character problems, and his 4.51 at the NFL Combine didn’t boost his stock. But some sites are still sold on his talent.

Brandon Meriweather played in 49 games at Miami and was a starter in the secondary the past two seasons. He showed his versatility by playing both safety positions during that time and has even played cornerback due to numerous team injuries. He displays excellent tacking ability and is not afraid to move up and play the run. Meriweather is solid in coverage, whether man-to-man or zone. Although he has a compact frame, Meriweather can lay a hard hit on opposing receivers and will make them think twice before crossing the middle of the field. He is a tremendous athlete with outstanding hands and exceptional closing speed to the ball. His talent and potential are never in question, but his conduct both on and off the field may be a concern for his new team. Meriweather continues to improve and has all the ability and talent to become an impact player at the next level. His conduct aside, he clearly has an unbelievable upside to become a playmaker for many years to come in the NFL. He should be one of the top defensive backs selected in the draft, most likely going in the mid-to-late first round.

Michael Griffin, S, Texas

Griffin has shown up as the Dallas pick on several mock drafts, and his numbers at the combine (4.45 in the 40, for example) were good. Some consider him possibly to be the top safety in the draft.

Very few defensive backs have been as productive as Michael Griffin. As a freshman, he had 65 tackles, five for loss, and two sacks. As a sophomore, Griffin was in on 49 tackles, two for loss, a sack, and an interception. None of that was an indication of what he would do as a junior though. Griffin earned 1st Team Big 12 honors after finishing with 124 tackles, four for loss, three interceptions, and four blocked punts. He had another fantastic season as a senior, ending with 116 tackles, four for loss, with one sack and four interceptions.

Michael Griffin is as intelligent and aggressive as any safety in this draft. He quickly diagnoses the play and gets to the action whether it is a run or pass. He flies toward the action, and lays players out as if he were much bigger. In pass coverage, he has the athleticism to cover and ball skills to make plays on the ball. Griffin is also a fantastic special teamer. He possesses the knack for blocking punts, as he has blocked six in his career.

There is not anything physically that stands out about Griffin. His size is only average by NFL standards, and he does not posses great speed. That is about it with Griffin, as he is a complete football player.

In a safety class that is shaping up to be very talented at the top, Griffin has solidified himself amongst the elite. He is arguably the top safety in the draft, stacking up with Landry and Nelson. He will have an impact from the start, and could be a pro bowler someday.

LeRon Landry, S, LSU

As long as we are considering safeties, we should at least mention LaRon Landry. His 4.35 at the Combine turned heads, and his stock may have risen so much that Dallas could only hope to get him. Well, we are still in the hope stage, so why not?

One of the top rated defensive back prospects in the nation is Safety Laron Landry from LSU. Landry would have been a first round draft pick if he would have entered the 2006 NFL Draft last year, and now after a strong senior season he should be a top 10 pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.

Landry hits like a linebacker but runs and covers like a cornerback. He really has no weakness, he is big and strong enough at 6-2 208 to play strong safety, but also has the coverage ability and speed to play free safety.

Landry has led LSU in tackles two of the past three seasons. Very durable, with 35 consecutive starts in 2006, which began with 10 straight starts as a true freshman to cap LSU’s National Championship season in 2003. As a junior he finished with 241 career tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 9 interceptions and 7 sacks. This year (2006) he finished as the teams top tackler with 68 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 4 pass break-ups and 4 QB hurries. He would be a great fit for a team needing a free safety like the Dallas Cowboys.

Highlight Clip


Here is a great highlight clip showing the top nine plays of 2006. Pretty good selections.

Dallas Cowboys top 9 plays of 2006

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