When evaluating players for a scheme or position it’s important to make sure you understand what a given team is looking for. In this case, we will take a look at who and what Mike Smith has shown an affinity for at the safety position. Whether it’s a box or deep safety, well break down the two roles that are now more intertwined than ever before.
Free Safety – Traditionally the deep safety playing primarily in coverage
- The “FS” is primarily your best coverage safety and in particular is a guy that you can line up against a receiver or tight end or drop into a deep zone to play centerfield.
- Tyrann Mathieu for the Cardinals is a primary example of what you want in a free safety from a skills perspective as well as Earle Thomas.
- Ability to cover in both man and zone situations.
- Disciplined player with ability to read and react to the offensive play call
- Solid tackling skills.
- Ball hawk, good hands and must show the ability to break on the ball and cover a good amount of ground
Strong Safety – Traditionally you’re in the box safety
- The “SS” is traditionally more of your run stopping safety that can still stick in coverage as well as man a zone.
- Kam Chancellor is the NFL prototype here and for Bucs fans, this was John Lynch.
- The strong safety must be able to fill the gap and come up to stop the ball carrier on run plays.
- Often times they have inside responsibility on slants and must be able to come up to the ball and make the stop.
- You’re strong safety generally plays a bit of a hybrid role between linebacking and roaming deep in today’s NFL but must be able to get out and cover the tight end.
- Discipline and tackling are again key aspects when looking at players for this role.
Regardless of the position specifics, Mike Smith safeties are like most safeties in that they are asked to play deep a good bit and sit in zones. This means range of coverage, read and react skills as well as hands are key traits and that hybrid safeties that can float between the traditional free and strong safety spots are premium choices. When looking at Jason Licht’s history, talent trumps all measurable. If a prospect can play, there’s a good chance they have a shot at being on the Buccaneers radar.
Who are the prospects and where do they fit?
1. Jalen Ramsey, Free Safety, Florida State
Tackles for a Loss: 3.5
Forced Fumbles: 0
Pass Break Ups: 9
Ramsey for starters did not play Free Safety in 2015 as a primary role. Ramsey was used exclusively as a weapon, no other way to say it, at Florida State. Ramsey played outside corner, slot corner and safety at different points of each game this year. Free Safety is simply the position I believe best suits his overall skill set.
As a run stopper, Ramsey does not shy from contact one bit. A bit light and slight framed, Ramsey will hit and wrap up as well as blitz from multiple alignments and angles. Ramsey dissects the run well and shows the ability to process the play quickly. Ramsey shows good technique and change of direction skills and squares the shoulders on a consistent basis. As a down hill stopper, Ramsey shows the awareness to avoid getting picked out of the player and the prowess slip through the cracks and fill the gap.
Against the pass, where Ramsey shines, is a thing of beauty. Ramsey has incredible range and does a phenomenal job closing on the football. The angles Ramsey takes when coming up for a pass are tops in the class and his lanky body bodes well when reaching around to bat passes, something Ramsey does better than any other safety prospect in this class. Ramsey needs work on playing the ball in the air as a “receiver” but that is the least of the worries at this point. Ramsey shows discipline and great explosion out of his back pedal. Ramsey anticipates and reads the field well. Ramsey has the unique ability thanks to his usage at FSU to line up outside, at nickel, deep roaming as well as in the box and play each role well. Ramsey can run with receivers, cover the tight end in the slot as well as come up and take the running back out of the backfield. Ramsey is the ultimate utility player at safety.
Ramsey was a star from day one at Florida State, becoming the first corner to start as a true freshman for the school since Deion Sanders. His freshman year led to his eventual move to Free Safety. His sophomore year showed scouts his true value, where he played the hybrid role in FSU’s new defense that had Ramsey playing safety, corner and even linebacker. Ramsey quickly rose the role of team leader on defense. Ramsey is not just a football player, as shown by his success in track and field that earned him the ACC long jump championship. Ramsey has a clean record on and off the field and is noted as a model citizen.
Ramsey is the best safety in the draft, quite easily the best defensive back in the draft and one could argue that he’s bar none the top prospect in the entire draft with only Laremy Tunsil to fight with for that title. Simply put, the Bucs need players like Ramsey. Ramsey would start day one at either safety position or corner spot over the current players on the roster. His versatility would be a wonderful weapon for new defensive coordinator Mike Smith.
2. Karl Joseph, Hybrid Safety, West Virginia
Tackles: 20 (4 Games)
Tackles for a Loss: 2 (4 Games)
Sacks: 1 (4 Games)
Forced Fumbles: 0 (4 Games)
Pass Break Ups: 0 (4 Games)
Interceptions: 5 (4 Games)
Utility player. Simple as that really when it comes to describing Karl Joseph. Joseph plays the run incredibly well for a player of his stature physically. Joseph splits gaps and comes up to hit with authority. Regularly launching into opponents, Joseph will miss some tackles looking for the big play explosion. As a blitzer, Joseph does a great job using his athleticism and agility to move swiftly into action as he disguises his approach before finding the gap. Joseph has active hands when he gets to the pocket and shows a savvy for knowing when to finish the play for a sack versus getting his hands up.
Against the pass is where Joseph truly signs in my opinion. To put it plainly, Joseph has a knack for finding the football. Joseph has a good back pedal and moves smoothly in and out of breaks showing very good hip fluidity. Joseph can change direction and accelerate on a dime and plays the ball very well when facing the quarterback. Joseph is a ball hawk in every sense of the word and is a turnover waiting to happen. Undersized, Joseph will struggle a big with taller receivers but when it comes to lining up and running with them, there are few issues. Joseph can get a bit handsy which he’ll have to work on as well as well as making sure he properly boxes out when going up for contested catches. Joseph can be a bit aggressive in his pursuit, especially on balls over the middle but that’s simply part of the package you get with a hyper aggressive playmaker, which Karl Joseph is just that, a playmaker.
Joseph has been a star since he stepped foot on the field for the first time in a West Virginia uniform. As a freshman, Joseph racked up Defensive MVP honors while racking up enough individual tackles to be top 15 in the nation in that department. Joseph started every game at Free Safety for the Mountaineers his first two seasons before gaining a more diverse “hybrid” role his junior and senior years. Entering his senior year, Joseph held the school record for forced fumbles. A product of Orlando Florida, Joseph continued his dominance racking up 5 interceptions his senior year despite only playing in 4 games. Joseph’s senior year ended early thanks to a non-contact knee injury. Had he been able to finish the season, Joseph would have improved on his overall statistics in each of his 4 seasons as a Mountaineer. Joseph racked up 18 total turnovers and 201 solo tackles in 42 games throughout his Mountaineer career. A team captain, emotional and vocal leader of the defense, Joseph led his team on and off the field every step of the way.
Karl Joseph would step in and immediately start at Free Safety for the Buccaneers. Joseph’s ability to both cover and hit make him a unique asset at safety despite what some would consider a small player for the position. Joseph would provide much needed help in the turnover department while instilling fear in those who come across the middle. The Buccaneers need a mental and physical makeover on defense, Joseph would help provide that change.
3. Jeremy Cash, Strong Safety, Duke
Class: redshirt Senior
Tackles for a Loss: 18
Forced Fumbles: 3
Pass Break Ups: 4
Against the run is where Cash displays his best attributes. Cash is a downhill attacker and displays good angles to the ball. Cash is a solid tackler and plays with good leverage. At times you will see Cash get a bit reckless in his approach to the ball and he’ll get stopped up by a blocker. Cash tends to hone in on the ball carrier and blocks out the surrounding playing field which is the cause for getting stopped up so much. Cash struggles to spring off blocks which is an issue for how much he was used in the box as a hybrid line backing type for Duke. Cash does a good job exploding through gaps and playing the run in the backfield. Cash shows the lateral movement to get across the line and play sideline to sideline as well as showing the motor and determination to pursue and finish plays.
Against the pass Cash is usually used as a nickel back, lining up down and in the slot. Cash reads the play well and shows solid anticipation skills in coverage. Cash does his best work when dropping into a soft zone of hugging the hip on seam routes. When asked to flip his hips and run with a receiver in route he will struggle to locate the ball and tends to get a bit handsy . Cash has a tendency to not turn his head around for the ball when his back is turned to the LOS and this will have to get cleaned up. When in zone, Cash does a good job exploding up to the ball and has no reservations about launching into an opponent.
Cash has one of the more unique stories for any draft pick coming out. A transfer from Ohio State, Cash left on his own terms and for all of the right reasons. Those reasons are best highlighted here. To make a long story short, Cash wanted more out of life than just football and wanted to go to a school that could make that happen. Duke it was. Cash is highly responsible for the culture change at Duke, who is exiting it’s best 3 year streak in school history. Cash is wrapping up a masters degree and is about to become the first 3-time All American from Duke to get drafted. Cash has aspirations to be in the FBI down the line, his story is much more than just football.
“A lot of people didn’t believe in me when I was at Ohio State,” said Cash. “A lot of people questioned if I’d live up to the hype coming to Duke. ‘Oh, he probably wasn’t that good. That’s why he transferred.’ These All-America (lists), that means everybody in the country. I’ve had the honor of being selected.” His influence extends far beyond Saturdays, however. Cash sets the tone from the locker room to the equipment room, Cutcliffe said; when he talks, people listen.”He’s doing everything you want a leader to do,” said Cutcliffe. “Jeremy sets the standard for how your team manages themselves. It sounds like an unimportant thing, but that’s huge. Those are all learned behaviors. That’s what really good leaders do.” On the field and off, he’s become the linchpin of new Duke — a team that doesn’t merely expect a bowl birth but more. The Blue Devils don’t merely anticipate more of the same in the coming seasons but rather another substantial step forward in the very near future.”Coach Cutcliffe always talks about leaving a place better than when you found it,” Cash said. “I believe that I’m going to do just that.” (Paul Myerberg, USA Today Sports)
Cash fits the bill as a rangy enforcer that loves to tackle and plays well in zone. Cash would most likely come right in and compete for a starting spot while growing into a leader down the line. Work ethic, accountability and talent are all there for Cash to be a good football player down the line. Best fit is as a strong safety.
4. Darian Thompson, Free Safety, Boise State
Height: 6’1-7/8″ (Senior Bowl)
Weight: 215 lbs (Senior Bowl)
Class: redshirt Senior
Tackles for a Loss: 8.5
Forced Fumbles: 2
Pass Break Ups: 4
When playing the run, Thompson does a good job shooting and filling the hole. Thompson does a good job getting to the ball carrier and bringing him down, showing the quickness and agility needed to adjust on the run. Thompson has shown the ability to come up and blitz effectively, getting pressure and into the backfield from multiple starting points. Thompson does a good job sealing the edge when coming up outside the tackles to make the stop. Thompson isn’t afraid of getting into the LOS and scrapping it up with a blocker and it goes to show the grittiness to which he plays with.
Against the pass is where Thompson is a bit controversial pending which games you chose to study. Games like BYU caused me to dig much deeper to ensure my opinion on him. Thompson in a nutshell is a high risk, high reward safety that appears to lack some of the natural instincts and general field awareness that some of the other safeties have. The catch here is that Thompson has the size and athletic ability to sometimes make up for these shortcomings. Thompson has arguably the same range as a Keanu Neal, not quite that of a Karl Joseph, but the size factor and ability to stick in coverage both physically and athletically with tight ends and slot receivers is a huge sticking point for Thompson as a draft prospect. Thompson shows good hands and does a good job high pointing the ball and batting passes away from behind. Thompson does a good job closing in on the ball when it’s in the air and his range again is phenomenal. Thompson gets himself in a good deal of trouble by being over aggressive and will get caught peaking at the quarterback while failing to pick up his assignment. In man coverage Thompson does a better job than when asked to sit and be patient in zone coverage.
Thompson was a standout two way athlete in high school and that athleticism and versatility have allowed him to excel for Boise State. Thompson has been a stand up athlete and citizen on and off the field and rose to becoming one of the teams leaders on defense early in his Boise State career. A hard worker in the weight room, Thompson has not shied away from doing what it takes in all facets of his life to be successful.
Much like Karl Joseph, Thompson is a safety that can play both in the box and out in space. Tampa desperately needs playmakers and Joseph has proven to provide turnovers and drop ball carriers. Thompson would slide in at the free safety spot and most likely start from day one.
5. Vonn Bell, Strong Safety, Ohio State
Tackles for a Loss: 1
Forced Fumbles: 0
Pass Break Ups: 9
Against the run, Bell does a good job reading and reacting to the play. Bell comes down hill and is not afraid to lay the wood. Bell when faced with the back in the hole will get himself in trouble with some indecisiveness and tends to get flat footed instead of squaring up and attacking. Bell has a bad habit of wrapping at the ankles instead of the midsection. Von is willing to go heads up with a blocker though his stature and lack of functional strength in the lower half leads to struggles when taking on the block.
Against the pass, Bell does his best work. Bell has shown the ability to mirror receivers and does very well in man coverage, in particular out of slot duty. Von has good hips and nimble footwork to go with some decent length at the position. Bell does a decent job in zone coverage’s when allowed to keep his eyes on the quarterback. When in route with a receiver, Bell will struggle if beat and tends to not turn his head back around. Bell is very susceptible to double moves but luckily has the recovery speed to keep the negative plays to a minimum. Bell has good recovery speed as noted and uses it well, batting away 9 balls this season.
Bell is a worker and has been from day one. In high school, Bell was the team leader on and off the field and was the driving force behind getting teammates to put in the work needed to be great. Bell, a 5-star recruit for Ohio State has been a star since his first game action as a starter. Bell expects a lot from himself and others and has no problem holding teammates accountable. Look no further than his teams win against Michigan in which Bell was visibly upset after the game when talking with media. His team won, but Bell felt the team should have played much better, in particular on third downs. Bell is a player that as coaches said, expects to win in all facets. Bell puts in the work on and off the field on all 6 days during the week leading up to game day.
Bell is arguably the hardest worker of all the safeties in this class and is bar none the top leader in the group. Bell helped lead Ohio State to a national championship and his leadership and work ethic would be greatly appreciated here in Tampa. Bell is a strong safety that would step right in and take the reigns of the safety group and bring a much needed presence of authority to the back end of this defense.
6. Keanu Neal, Strong Safety, Florida
Class: redshirt Senior
Tackles for a Loss: 3.5
Forced Fumbles: 1
Pass Break Ups: 1
Against the run, Neal is a one man wrecking crew. Neal delivers in the run game with speed and power, often wrapping, lifting and dropping the ball carrier. Neal has very good hip and lower half drive into his tackles and drives through the ball. Neal does a very good job breaking down in space and attacking the ball versus letting the back dictate the play. Neal does a good job splitting the gap and making stops around the line of scrimmage. An area Neal does struggle in is with angles taken to the ball as well as wasting some strides and getting a bit out of sorts when pursuing from a distance.
Against the pass Neal has some more work to do. A good fluid athlete, Neal still needs a lot of work in the discipline area. Neal will struggle with double moves and does a poor job locating the ball when his back is turned to the LOS. When in zone, Neal has a bad habit of being a step late reacting and doesn’t appear to read the play particularly well. Neal has made some strides in his deep coverage skills, showing good overall range and using his length well. In man coverage, Neal is still a liability. Neal lacks the ideal quick twitch traits and explosion in and out of breaks to be a day one starter. Neal will need some time to develop better habits and get a better grasp of his role before ever stepping in as a successful starter.
Neal is known for being an enforcer on the field but it may be his easy going fun side that has teammates raving about him the most. Often seen dancing and enjoying the sidelines while cheering on his teammates, Neal loves every second of the game. The junior stepped up his game in each of his seasons at Florida and is a safety that the corners loved having behind them. Look no further than Tabor’s comments on Neal’s decision, “He makes my job a lot easier at corner, so I hope he comes back,” Tabor said. “If he doesn’t best of luck to him because he’s going to do a great job at the next level. Neal has managed to keep a clean slate off the field and busted his ass to get better Sunday through Friday and it paid off on Saturday’s.
Neal is a rangy safety that can both float deep and come up in the box to make a stop. Neal does best when allowed to free lance or stick in man coverage, his blitzing has steadily improved as well. The Buccaneers are moving to a more multiple defense and Neal would give the team a solid chess piece in the defensive backfield.
7. Sean Davis, Free Safety, Maryland
Tackles for a Loss: 4.5
Forced Fumbles: 5
Pass Break Ups: 3
Against the run, Davis is a lightning rod coming up from the safety and nickel spots looking to light up the ball carrier. Davis sports a good frame for safety and uses it well when imposing his will on the offense. Davis plays the run better than he plays the pass, shoots gaps well and gets outside fast to help contain the run. Davis isn’t shy from getting into the LOS and shows the ability to disengage from receivers and tight ends. As a Senior, Davis played multiple roles including corner, nickel and safety and throughout his career at Maryland got plenty of experience at each spot. Safety is without a doubt Davis’ best spot.
Against the pass, Davis has work to do. Davis sports a choppy back pedal that would make him a liability in coverage as a corner regardless if it’s outside or in the slot. Davis has stiff hips and struggles to flip open in coverage. Davis proved to struggle with double moves and has a tendency to eye the quarterback and lose track of his man. Zone coverage allows Davis to show off his skill set quite well where he’s able to keep his eyes on the play as it develops and allows him to show off his range and speed as he jumps routes and closes in on plays.
Davis finished his career with an honorable mention for the All-Big Ten team. A communication major, Davis can boasts about being the first Terp to hit 200 solo tackles since D’Qwell Jackson did so in 2005 in any of three languages as a trilingual speaker. Davis has been a selfless teammate, willing to move wherever the team asked him along the defensive backfield. With time at nickel, outside corner and both in the box and single high safety, Davis has shown the ability to be versatile. Davis works hard in the classroom as well as the weight room and stepped into a team leader role on defense as a junior and continued that role his senior season.
Davis would be making the transition back to safety and fits best as a zone safety that helps out in run support. Davis must make up for his many missed tackles and has to improve his man coverage skills but with time, should make for a serviceable starting safety in the NFL.
8. Miles Killebrew, Strong Safety, Southern Utah
Height: ‘” (Senior Bowl)
Weight: lbs (Senior Bowl)
Tackles for a Loss: 2.5
Forced Fumbles: 0
Pass Break Ups: 7
Against the run Killebrew plays much like a linebacker. Killebrew doesn’t shy from making a huge hit and it’s served him well as a hybrid safety for Southern Utah. Killebrew has some inconsistent technique at times but will regularly square up and wrap up. Killebrew tends to get a bit reckless when attacking downhill and can get turned around by a shifty back. Killebrew is built well for the box safety role and his production speaks for itself. Killebrew shows good pursuit skills and plays the run well to the outside. Killebrew knows hitting and playing the run are who he is right now. “Every time they (NFL Network) are talking about me I get excited because I know they are great guys,” Killebrew said. “I love to hit, that’s something I love to do. Unfortunately I didn’t get a lot of opportunities to do that this week, but you know what, that’s OK. There’s a lot of football to be played, and I intend on that being my identity.” (Ryan Miller, The Spectrum)
Against the pass, Killebrew is a liability. Killebrew doesn’t dissect the play particularly fast and often must see the play out rather than anticipating and breaking on a pass. Killebrew seems uncomfortable in coverage and when left in zone appears to be uneasy about staying put leading to blown coverage’s. While having the speed and overall athleticism to suggest the ability to cover long range and close in on the ball, Killebrew often struggles to do so due to poor instincts and hesitation.
Killebrew was a team voted captain his senior year and leaves the school after back to back triple digit tackle seasons. Killebrew was a Senior Bowl invitee and played in the game. Killebrew is well respected amongst teammates and coaches while also being a noted good student. Two-time first-team all-league and academic all-state honoree he is also an African-American student union Top-One Percenter in the state of Nevada. Earned all-state and all-city honors and was named defensive MVP last season as a defensive back when he tallied 77 tackles with three sacks and six interceptions. (SUU Team Site)
Killebrew would come in and play a hybrid role where he stays in the box as a dime package role player. Short term, it’s best for Killebrew to stick to what he’s comfortable with while learning the responsibilities in coverage for a season. Killebrew projects out as a starter down the line as a strong safety.
9. Jayron Kearse, Strong Safety, Clemson
Tackles for a Loss: 6.5
Forced Fumbles: 1
Pass Break Ups: 6
Against the run, Kearse tends to over pursue and take poor angles on the ball carrier. Kearse struggles to diagnose the play and will often get lost in the shuffle along the line of scrimmage. Kearse plays both low in the box and high and from both spots has shown tendencies to miss holes and rely on others to filter the ball carrier to him versus making his own plays in the run game as a stopper. Kearse has great straight line speed for his size but seems to struggle when redirecting his body and with the angles he takes, that’s a flag.
Against the pass, Kearse does a better job overall and appears to be much more comfortable out in space. Kearse has the size of an NFL receiver and the speed of one too, showing no problems with his range and explosion out of his back pedal. Kearse has shown the ability to anticipate the play as well as recognize routes. Kearse shows solid ball skills for the position and while not a true turnover machine, the core skill set is there to become one down the line. When attacking crossing routes and double moves, Kearse has a bad tendency to take poor angles and this leads to big plays. Kearse has a lot of refining to do with his approach and execution from a fundamental standpoint.
Cousin of Phillip Buchanon and nephew of the Freak himself, Jevon Kearse. Kearse has been a quiet leader on the Clemson defense and alongside Shaq Lawson and Alexander, has helped lead the Tiger defense the last two seasons now. Kearse is noted as a good person on and off the field and as a hard worker.
The Buccaneers are void of playmakers at safety, Kearse has the physical tools to be one at the next level with some hard work and refinement. Kearse wouldn’t win a starting job outright, but with a year of experience should be able to begin to take on that role in year two and transition fully by year three. Kearse undoubtedly needs that refinement and ultimately may be best suited as a hybrid linebacker/box safety.
- Jalen Ramsey – 9.1
- Karl Joseph – 8.0
- Jeremy Cash – 7.7
- Darian Thompson – 7.5
- Vonn Bell – 7.5
- Keanu Neal – 7.3
- Sean Davis – 7.2
- Miles Killebrew – 7.1
- Jayron Kearse – 6.4
9.0 – 10 (Top 5)
8.4 – 8.9 (Top 10)
8.1 – 8.3 (Top 15)
7.8 – 8.0 (1st Round)
7.5 – 7.7 (2nd Round)
7.2 – 7.6 (3rd Round)
6.8 – 7.1 (4th Round)
6.4 – 6.7 (5th Round)
6.0 – 6.3 (6th Round)
5.7 – 5.9 (7th Round)
0.0 – 5.6 (Undrafted)