By Rafael Vela
The draft books have bloomed like spring flowers. One week there were none, the next week I found four in my local bookstore.
If you’ve read them for any amount of time you know that they rarely reach a consensus on any players past the first dozen. This year is no different. I’ve ranked the top free safeties on a mini-board using Pro Football Weekly’s Draft Guide, The Sporting News (The War Room), Lindy’s (NFLDraftScout.com) and Althon’s (Ourlads).
(ADP stands for “average draft position,” the average of the four books. It’s not a hard and fast ranking. For instance, one book might have a guy rated as a second rounder, two as third rounders and the last as a fourth rounder. He’ll get a third round ADP.)
Player PFW SNS Lndy Orlds Avg. ADP
Laron Landry 1st 1st 1st 1st 1 Early 1st
Reggie Nelson 4th 2nd 2nd 2nd 2.5 mid-late 1st
Brandon Meriweather 2nd 3rd 3rd 3rd 2.8 Late 1st
Aaron Rouse 6th 4th 5th 5th 5.0 2nd-3rd
Michael Griffin 3rd 13th 4th 4th 6.0 Late 1st/Early 2nd
Michael Johnson 5th 9th 10th 9th 8.25 3rd Rd.
Eric Weddle 11th 8th 6th 8th 8.25 3rd/4th Rd.
Josh Gaddis 8th 11th 8th 11th 9.0 4th Rd.
John Wendling 12th 7th 14th 7th 10.0 4th Rd.
First Round Prospects
1. Laron Landry, 6′2″, 202 lbs. FS, LSU
Best Comment — “A four-year starter who walked into Nick Saban’s complex system and quarterbacked the defense of a national championship team. Could quickly establish himself as an impact player.
Worst Comment — “Does not have great downhill skills and tends to play the man instead of the ball. Will mistime his jumps and looks out of his element climbing the ladder.”
Overall — His Combine times established Landry as a top ten pick. In recent days I’ve heard him mentioned as high as sixth to Washington, which is looking to unload Adam Archuleta. I can’t see him getting past Atlanta at ten.
2. Reggie Nelson, 6′0″, 197 lbs. FS, Florida
Best comment — “Nelson is smaller than Brian Dawkins but has similar playmaking ability and explosive quickness to close on the ball.”
Worst comment — “…his intelligence leaves a lot to be desired for the pro level, especially at a position where it is very important to change coverages and respond to what an offense is trying to do.”
Overall — Do teams rank him according to his game tapes, or downgrade him for poor test scores? Wade Phillips doesn’t run the most complex defense in the world and would probably love to get a center fielder like Nelson.
Dallas has a chance, but he’ll have to get past Carolina (14th) Pittsburgh (15th) Jacksonville (17th) and Cincinnati (18th). Hey, I didn’t say it was a great chance.
3. Brandon Meriweather, 5′11″, 192 lbs. FS/CB, Miami
Best comment — “Has game changing ability and has been compared to Ed Reed…Meriweather played corner during the Senior Bowl [for an injured Aaron Ross] and blanketed receivers as if he’d played the position for years.”
Worst comment — “Is not a big boned athlete… will struggle versus elite receivers on an island.”
Overall — Meriweather was the top rated safety prospect entering ‘06 and had a so-so year. He’s rated much higher in all four draft books than in the mock drafts I’ve seen; the books all give him 1st round grades, while the mocks put him in the 2nd.
Off-the-field issues will tell if his draft position matches his game. He was cleared in a shooting incident before the season. (He exchanged fire with a thief in his apartment parking lot. Meriweather’s gun was registered and his shooting was ruled self-defense.)
Of greater importance is his involvement in the pregame free-for-all with Florida International. He tried a lot of damage control during his Combine interviews. If teams pass him, Meriweather’s corner skills could sneak him back into the first round.
Meriweather could be on the Cowboys radar, now that Bill Parcells is gone. Jerry Jones freely admits he’s a gambler. He needs a free safety and Meriweather is the third best prospect based on play alone.
Borderline 1st/2nd Rounder
4. Michael Griffin, 5′11″, 194 lbs. SS/FS, Texas
Best Comment — “Shows the toughness and athletic ability to become a very good pro. Has blue-chip special teams ability.”
Worst Comment — “Lacks instincts and often gets caught flat footed in the open field. Misreads too many pass plays and gets caught out of position.”
Overall — Three of the four books rate Griffin as a strong safety. His athleticism and special teams play should get him drafted no later than the second round, but his coverage skills, or coverage liabilities are too similar to other Cowboys’ safeties.
First Day Players
5. Aaron Rouse, 6′4″, 218 lbs., FS/SS, Virginia Tech
Best Comment — “Shows outstanding hands. In two-deep coverage is adept at cutting underneath post routes for interceptions. Gets outside to help in over the top coverage.”
Worst Comment — “Overall he was way too inconsistent and indecisive in his play. A bit of an enigma, Rouse often plays too cautiously, yet at other times flashes the ability to look dominant.”
Overall — A big safety with ratings all over the map. One book rates him the top run supporting safety. Another praises his run skills. Another dubs him the biggest risk among the safety crop. Rouse, like Griffin, is projected as a SS a lot.
6. Michael Johnson, 6′3″, 211 lbs., FS Arizona
Best Comment — “Has good ball-hawking skills and good hands… plays the deep-ball well — height and wingspan can make it difficult for quarterbacks to throw over him.”
Worst Comment — “Disappointing as a tackler and misses too frequently.” “His inconsistent tackling may be a consequence of him delaying in his read and react skills.”
Overall — Could be a good 3rd round value. Reads like a bigger Brock Marion. One draft book compares him to the Jets’ Kerry Rhodes, who flourished this year. Has only started one season and may need more experience.
7. Eric Weddle, 5′11″, 205 lbs., FS, Utah
Best Comment — “Outstanding ability to read and react. A playmaker who has been productive throughout his career.”
Worst Comment — “A good college player who has been overhyped in a small conference and will get overwhelmed in the NFL. Wants to play corner but is ideally suited to play as a backup safety in the pros.”
Overall — If Dallas is going to spend a first day pick on a free safety and I think it will, given its free agent inactivity, it needs a sure thing. Weddle, in my opinion, brings more question marks than Pat Watkins.