NFL draft: A look at three safeties who could be fits for the Redskins

The NFL draft begins in just more than three weeks, and over that time, The Insider will take a look at Washington’s positions of need, and players who might fit what Jay Gruden and staff are looking for. Mark Bullock will check in on Wednesdays and Fridays with video-based examinations of players who could be available early, middle and late in the draft. Mike Jones will report on players at the positions the Redskins need most, and provide top 10s, on Mondays and Thursdays, beginning April 21.

Here’s Mark’s initial look, at safeties:

High round: Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois (click for his college stats)

Ward is one of the more versatile defenders in this draft class. He is equally capable of playing the deep middle of the field, in the box against the run and in the slot covering receivers. On a defense that lacks talent in the secondary, versatility that Ward provides would prove extremely useful.

He’s aggressive to attack the run and trusts his instincts when reading his run keys.


Here, Ward is lined up 10 yards off the line of scrimmage.


Before the running back even receives the ball, Ward has read run and is charging down to help make the play.


This is one aspect of Ward’s game I’d like to see improved. Instead of tackling with his head up to see what he’s hitting, Ward goes low to take out the runner’s legs.


On this occasion, it works, as the runner is tripped up for a minimal gain. This style of tackling has caused a few fumbles too. But the moment you take your eyes off the runner, there’s always a chance he can dodge you. But Ward’s quick read on this play put him in a great position to make the stop.

As I mentioned earlier, he’s capable of playing in the slot as well.


On this play, Ward plays off-man coverage, giving his receiver a cushion that allows Ward to keep his eyes on the quarterback.


Ward trails the receiver as he crosses the field, but sets himself in a position to undercut the route should the quarterback pull the trigger.


The quarterback decides to throw the ball and Ward undercuts the pass, deflecting it before the receiver can get hands on the ball.


But Ward doesn’t give up there. He shows excellent awareness and catches the ball as he falls to the ground, completing the interception.

Last season, the Redskins struggled to find a safety partner for Brandon Meriweather whom they could trust in coverage and help against the run. Teams exploited this, lining up in three-receiver sets and running the ball. Having Ward in the secondary would allow the Redskins to move Ward from safety down to cover the slot against three-receiver sets and keep their front seven on the field to defend the run. Washington tried to do this at times last year with Josh Wilson, but he struggled with the extra responsibility. As an added bonus, Ward is a willing special teamer, where the Redskins desperately struggled last year.

Projection: Late first/early second round

Middle round: Dion Bailey, Southern California

Bailey split time at outside linebacker and safety during his career at USC. But his size (6 feet, 201 pounds) makes him more suitable to play safety, where he lined up the majority of last season. Naturally for a former linebacker, he plays better in the box against the run than he does playing deep in coverage. He displays good instincts and doesn’t hesitate to get involved in run support.


On this play, Bailey plays up in the box almost as an extra linebacker against a heavy-run set from Stanford. The ball is being run to Bailey’s side.


Stanford pulls its highly rated guard David Yankey to act as a lead blocker for the running back.


Some safeties would be intimidated by facing a big pulling guard, but Bailey takes the challenge head on. He gets low and takes out Yankey’s legs. It’s an unselfish play that takes out the pulling guard and allows his teammates to chase the running back.


But he is so effective in taking on Yankey, that he manages to go through him and onto the ball-carrier, making the tackle himself.

Bailey has good natural instincts that make him difficult to fool with misdirection plays.


Bailey comes down to cover the receiver in the slot, but Stanford is running the ball with the read-option.


Bailey gets his eyes on the ball through the mesh point.


Two other USC defenders are taken outside by the running back, but Bailey as already begun moving inside towards the quarterback, who has the ball. Another defender makes the tackle before Bailey can get there, but this is a good example of him locating the ball and not being misled by things going on in the backfield.

The downside to Bailey is his lack of experience playing deep. As a former linebacker, he spent most of his time in the box or over the slot, not in the deep middle of the field.


Here we get to see Bailey playing deep. The receiver is running an out and up designed to get the safety and corner to bite on the out route.


As the receiver fakes the out, Bailey begins to bite, even though the out isn’t his play to make.


That gives the receiver a chance to burst upfield past Bailey. Bailey is playing catch up the whole time and is lucky the ball was overthrown, or he could have given up a touchdown.

Bailey would probably play more strong safety than free. His linebacker background has him more suited to playing in the box against the run and covering underneath zones. He has some upside, but is very raw and still learning the intricacies of the safety position.

Projection: Fourth round

Late Round: Tre Boston, North Carolina

Boston tweeted recently about his visit with the Redskins, calling the coaching staff “one to remember.” Unlike Bailey and Ward, Boston is more of a pure free safety who excels at playing in deep coverage rather than in the box.


On this play, Boston is covering the deep middle of the field. The offense is looking to hit the slot receiver running up the seam. Boston has plenty of ground to make up to stay on top of the route. The quarterback attempts to slow him down, faking to his right. Boston doesn’t bite on the fake, knowing that’s not his play to make. Instead, he continues his drop back to his landmark.


Boston obeys the number one rule of playing in the deep middle of the field; stay deeper than the deepest receiver. But Boston also does a good job getting his head around and keeping his eyes on the quarterback, looking for the ball.


Boston ends up undercutting the throw. He does an excellent job locating the ball and going up to get it at its highest point, giving the receiver no chance of making the play. This is a good example of the kind of range he has. He rotated deep from the far side of the field and was still able to get back and make the crucial play.

Boston also has a good feel for where the quarterback is looking to go with the football.


Once again, we see Boston rotating to the deep middle of the field. The offense has a slot receiver running a crossing route underneath. Pressure forces the quarterback to roll to his left. Boston takes notice and realizes its unlikely that the quarterback would be able to throw back to his right, cutting the field in half.


Instead of staying deep, Boston spots the crossing route and breaks on it, knowing its one of the few options the quarterback has.


He does a great job getting his hand on the ball and breaking up the pass as the ball falls incomplete.

However, Boston struggles with the same thing Bacarri Rambo struggled with last season, tackling in the open field.


Boston comes down to tackle the runner, who has broken free into the open field.


Instead of attacking the ball, Boston hesitates, giving the runner a chance to cut back inside.


Boston tries desperately to stick an arm out and grab hold of the runner, but fails to do so.


That leaves Boston beat, giving up a first down in the process.

The Redskins would love a free safety with range and instincts that would allow them to play more single deep safety and move the other into the box. But can they trust Boston to make tackles in the open field, given how poor they were at tackling last season?

Projection: Sixth round

Mark Bullock is The Insider’s Outsider, sharing his impressions of the Redskins’ play without the benefit of access to the team.

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Mike Jones · April 15, 2014