For the second year in a row, the talent pool of the NFL draft figures to play perfectly to the needs of the Washington Redskins.
In 2012, when the team needed a franchise quarterback, the draft offered numerous options, and Washington moved up to second overall and took Robert Griffin III. This time around, in a year when the Redskins need help in their secondary — particularly at safety — the draft class boasts great depth at that position. Despite not having a first-round pick, Washington should be able to find a quality prospect, possibly an immediate starter, if it opts to take a safety with its first pick, the 51st overall.
Draft tracker: See reports on the major prospects
Kenny Vaccaro of Texas and Matt Elam of Florida are regarded as the top two safeties in this year’s class, carrying projections of mid-first round to late-second round. Next comes Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien, who despite hailing from a small school, boasts the athleticism, playmaking ability and versatility to go early in the draft. Once projected as a late second-round pick, his stock appears to be rising, and he could go earlier in the second if Vaccaro and Elam get snatched up early.
The next best safety prospect could be South Carolina’s D.J. Swearinger, whom analysts project as a second- or third-round pick.
The leader of the Gamecocks’ defense and a three-year starter, Swearinger compiled 244 tackles, six interceptions, 22 pass breakups, four forced fumbles and two touchdowns in his college career. As a senior, Swearinger recorded 79 tackles, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and nine pass deflections to go with two fourced fumbles (one of which he returned for a touchdown).
“As far as Swearinger, he was productive. He’s a good football player; second-round pick,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper says. “The bottom line is when you look at the safeties in that second group, after you look at the top three, which are Vaccaro, Elam, and Cyprien, in no particular order — if you want to put Vaccaro at [No.] 1, that’s fine, then either Cyprien or Elam — the next, fourth safety off the board could be D.J. Swearinger. . . . I think he’s a solid second-rounder now.”
Versatility, in addition to his physical, hard-hitting style of play, figure to help the 5-foot-11, 208-pound Swearinger transition well to the NFL. During his time at South Carolina, he was used not only at both safety positions, but at cornerback and nickelback as well.
“I have great ball skills. I’ve played every position in the back end, from corner to strong safety to free safety to the nickel,” says Swearinger, who also predicts that his experience of playing in the Southeastern Conference has prepared him for the speed and quality of the NFL. “I’m a versatile player. I’m not only just a safety, I’m an athlete. . . . I want to be a ball hawk. I really don’t have a preference. I just want to make plays.”
His lack of size (he’s shorter than both Vaccaro and Cyprien), less-than-blazing 40-yard dash time of 4.65 seconds (both Vaccaro and Elam ran under 4.6), and tendency to whiff on some plays or draw pass-interference calls because of his aggressive nature are among reasons why Swearinger doesn’t rank higher in draft projections. But he disagrees with those assessments.
“I’m the best safety in this draft class because I’m a leader first and foremost,” Swearinger says. “I have instincts that coaches can’t coach. You can’t coach instincts. I have great ball skills, great feet and hips. I’m going to stay in that film room and be a hard worker day in and day out.”
Jones’s top 10 safeties:
|3||Johnathan Cyprien||Fla. International||6-0||217||2|
|4||D.J. Swearinger||South Carolina||5-10||208||2-3|
|6||Phillip Thomas||Fresno State||6-0||208||2-3|
|9||T.J. McDonald||Southern Cal||6-2||219||3-4|
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