CBS: Draft preview: Best safety? Don't ask Weddle
Clark Judge April 12, 2007
By Clark Judge
CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer
Tell Clark your opinion!
The best safety in this year's draft is LSU's LaRon Landry. The most intriguing one is Eric Weddle.
A four-year starter at Utah, Weddle lined up at strong safety. And cornerback. And nickel back. And quarterback. And running back. He punted. He returned punts. He even held for kicks.
"I'm just a guy who loves football," he said, "and will do anything for the team. I'll go out there and play special teams like I've done in my career. I'll play offense or defense or whatever the teams needs. And I'll do the best I can."
Last season he ranked fourth on his team in tackles and had seven interceptions, returning two for touchdowns. He also returned a fumble recovery for a score. On offense, he ran for five TDs and threw for another.
While that doesn't make him unique, it does make him extraordinary -- especially in an age of specialization where some guys make it as situational pass rushers. It also makes him attractive to NFL clubs looking to fill a roster spot with someone who can play more than one position.
"I love this guy," an NFC scout said of Weddle. "If you got him in the second round and didn't wind up with another safety your draft would be a success."
So what it is that makes Eric Weddle special? Well, let's start with the versatility. In 2005, he started at safety but moved to cornerback near the end of the season and played the position so well he held Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson to two catches for 19 yards in the Emerald Bowl.
Johnson is the best player in the draft, but Weddle was the Defensive MVP of that game.
"I pride myself on preparation," Weddle said of his bowl performance. "I had four weeks to prepare for a player of (Johnson's) caliber. You have to bring your A-plus game. If you film-study you can eliminate stuff ... you can eliminate 90 percent of what the guy's going to do just based by his split, his release.
"So half the game I knew what he was going to do before he did it, and I was just breaking on the routes. No disrespect to their team, but the times they threw to him I was just breaking on the ball."
It's one thing to be versatile; it's another to be adept, and Eric Weddle is so good at everything he does that Wyoming coach Joe Glenn last year endorsed him for the Heisman Trophy.
Here's one reason why: In last year's game with Air Force, Weddle played every snap on defense and had eight tackles. He also led the Utes with 73 yards rushing and scored Utah's only two TDs. And he held for the game-winning field goal.
Afterward, Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry told Weddle he should be pulling down two scholarships.
"Anyone who takes him in the second round of this draft," said one scout, "will have themselves a steal."
Weddle reminds me of another all-purpose defender who turned heads at the 2000 NFL scouting combine. He was listed as a linebacker, but he played safety ... and tight end ... and wide receiver ... and returned kicks.
Then New Mexico's Brian Urlacher graduated to the pros where he became an All-Pro linebacker.
"This guy's no Urlacher," said a scout, "but he can do so many things you can't ignore him."
The knock on Weddle is that while he's versatile, he's not outstanding at one position. Maybe he's a cornerback. Maybe he's a safety. But he isn't particularly big, and he isn't particularly fast. Moreover, scouts doubt how effective he can be as a return man at the next level.
So what? All I know is I want Eric Weddle on my football team. He's smart. He's energetic. He's productive. He's determined. And he was the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year the past two seasons. That won't put him in LaRon Landry's zip code April 28, but it should keep him in the NFL for years.
"The million dollar question," said Weddle, "is what I like better -- corner or safety. I think (NFL teams) get irritated because I say, 'both of them.' They want to hear an answer, but that's true. I love playing man-to-man. I love playing outside, the challenge it brings. I love blitzing. I love playing zones or being around the box. Whatever the team needs."