If Texas' Michael Huff was included in this group instead of cornerback, his projected NFL position, he'd be rated as the top safety. Nevertheless, this year's crop of safeties is a solid bunch with the potential to have two or three of its members selected in the first round and as many as 10 on Day 1.
At free safety, Tennessee's Jason Allen, a former college cornerback who sat out most of the 2005 season with a hip injury, flew up teams' draft boards following his impressive workouts at the Combine. When he clocked in at 4.39 in the 40-yard dash—to go with his 6'0 7/8", 213-pound frame—he all but guaranteed himself a spot in Rounds 1 or 2.
Ohio State's Donte Whitner is the consensus No. 1 pick at strong safety and has a chance to be selected at the end of the first round. Others to watch for on Day 1 include Syracuse's Anthony Smith (FS), Florida State's Pat Watkins (FS), USC's Darnell Bing (SS), Nebraska's Daniel Bullocks (SS), and South Carolina's Ko Simpson (SS).
Following is a ranking of the Top 10 safety prospects for the 2006 NFL Draft, which will be held on April 29–30 in New York City:
1. Jason Allen, Tennessee (6'0 7/8", 213, 4.39)
Allen sustained a serious hip injury last season, so some scouts will be cautious when determining his draft grade. His impressive size and speed will be too tantalizing for one GM to pass up; expect Allen to be off the board by the beginning of Round 2.
2. Anthony Smith, Syracuse (6'0 1/8", 190, 4.56)
Smith impressed scouts and coaches at the Senior Bowl with his instincts and recognition skills. The Syracuse safety doesn't possess great top-end speed but makes up for it by always being in good position to make a play on the ball.
3. Pat Watkins, Florida State (6'4 5/8", 207, 4.42)
Watkins possesses an incredible height-to-speed ratio, as well as fluid hips and long arms, which explain his good ball skills. However, he must add bulk and improve his strength at the next level to be more of a presence in run support.
4. Greg Blue, Georgia (6'2 ¼", 220, 4.55)
Blue is a ferocious hitter who excels in the box and in deep zones. Due to his deficiencies in man-to-man coverage, a move to weak-side linebacker may be in the offing.
*5. Roman Harper, Alabama (5'11 7/8", 198, 4.48)
Harper is a student of the game who makes sure his backfield mates are always in proper position. However, he possesses only average athleticism and, at 198 pounds, lacks ideal weight to cover bigger tight ends and slot receivers.
OTHER NOTABLE PROSPECTS:
Antoine Bethea, Howard (5'11 ½", 200, 4.43)
Reed Doughty, Northern Colorado (6'0 ½", 209, 4.60)
Marcus Hudson, N.C. State (6'0 7/8", 194, 4.59)
Calvin Lowry, Penn State (5'11", 197, 4.49)
Dwayne Slay, Texas Tech (6'3 ½", 215, 4.72)
1. Donte Whitner, Ohio State (5'10 1/8", 204, 4.37)
Whitner, a junior, is a versatile athlete who can play every position in the secondary, although he's best suited at strong safety. He has the speed to cover sideline to sideline and is a sure tackler in the open field. The former Buckeye started only one year in college so scouts have concerns with his experience level. Nevertheless, he has a late first round/early second round grade.
2. Darnell Bing, Southern Cal (6'1 ¾", 225, 4.53)
Bing, also a junior, hits like a linebacker and, at 225 pounds, is nearly as big as one. He's a better run defender than cover man and has a great nose for the ball. In the NFL, he'll spend a lot of time as the eighth defender in the box.
3. Daniel Bullocks, Nebraska (6'0 ½", 212, 4.38)
Daniel Bullocks' twin brother, Josh, was a second-round pick of the New Orleans Saints in '05. Like his brother, Daniel is a playmaker who possesses good top-end speed. Scouts love his intangibles and should nab him in the second round, as well.
4. Ko Simpson, South Carolina (6'1", 203, 4.45)
An early Draft entry as a sophomore, Simpson may have the most upside of any safety in this group. He has good height, an excellent frame, and despite some concerns with his inexperience, won't make it past Round 2.
5. Bernard Pollard, Purdue (6'1 5/8", 220, 4.59)
Pollard, another junior prospect, is at his best in the box defending the run. He also excels on special teams, as evidenced by his five blocked kicks while at Purdue. He'll need to work on his coverage skills at the next level, but should be off the board before the end of Day 1.
OTHER NOTABLE PROSPECTS:
Dawan Landry, Georgia Tech (6'0 7/8", 216, 4.60)
Charlie Peprah, Alabama (5'10", 202, 4.53)
Nate Salley, Ohio State (6'1 ¾", 216, 4.50)
Eric Smith, Michigan State (6'1 ¼", 210, 4.58)
Greg Threat, Miami (5'11 ¾", 197, 4.61)