2012 NFL Draft: Position Preview - Safety

Fresno State's Phillip Thomas might be the best safety in this class. - Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE

Today we take a look at some of the top safeties in the 2013 NFL Draft.

The upcoming NFL Draft has caused much debate for Niner fans surrounding which position to draft in which round. To draft for depth or not; or to draft for the future (which, by the way, isn’t that the point of every draft?). One position I suspect the 49ers will draft rather high (within the first three rounds) is safety.

More position previews: Defensive Line | Tight End |
Quarterback | Running Back | Outside Linebackers |
Offensive Line |Inside Linebacker | Wide Receiver

All-Pro free safety Dashon Goldson will be a free agent this off-season and likely demand top dollar, and deservedly so. It remains to be seen whether or not the 49ers will be willing to seriously entertain resigning him. My gut tells me this is ‘The Hawk’s’ last season by the Bay. His departure would make safety a top (if not the top) priority this draft season.

Top 10 safeties:

No. 1: Kenny Vaccaro* 6-1 218lbs – Texas Stock: Rising Projection: Top 20

No. 2: Matt Elam 5-10 202lbs – Florida Stock: Steady Projection: 1st round

No. 3: Eric Reid 6-2 212lbs – Louisiana State Stock: Rising Projection: 1-2 round

No. 4: D.J. Swearinger* 5-11 210lbs – South Carolina Stock: Rising Projection: 2nd round

No. 5: Phillip Thomas* 6-1 215lbs – Fresno State Stock: Rising Projection: 2nd round

No. 6: Tony Jefferson 5-11 198lbs – Oklahoma Stock: Steady Projection: 2-3 round

No. 7: Bacarri Rambo* 6-0 210lbs – Georgia Stock: Falling Projection: 2-3 round

No. 8: Shawn Williams* 6-1 218lbs – Georgia Stock: Rising Projection: 3rd round

No. 9: Robert Lester* 6-2 212lbs – Alabama Stock: Falling Projection: 4th round

No. 10: Shamarko Thomas** 5-10 208lbs - Syracuse Stock: Rising Projection: 5th round

Just Missed: T.J. McDonald*, Southern California; Zeke Motta**, Notre Dame; Duke Williams**, Nevada; Earl Wolff**, North Carolina State; Josh Evans**, Florida.

*Accepted bid to play in Senior Bowl.

**Accepted bid to play in East-West Shrine Game

As noted above, Dashon Goldson’s status with the 49ers in 2013 remains unclear. The good news is it’s not likely to be drawn out and we’ll likely know his fate by April’s draft. Strong safety Donte Whitner is under contract through 2014 and will only be 28 in 2013 (seems like he’s been in the league forever, doesn’t it!). Backups C.J. Spillman, Darcel McBath, and last year's sixth round selection Trenton Robinson are purely special teamers for now.

This year’s safety class appears to be fairly deep through the first 5 rounds. If Goldson hit the free agent market like I expect the Niners could very well use a first round pick in an attempt to replace him.

Kenny Vaccaro from Texas is without a doubt the top safety in this class. He has a combination of size and athleticism that NFL teams want out of a starting safety. He’s big like Goldson and often lays the lumber in the same way. He’s a bit raw as far as ball skills go, often missing on several interceptions or taking poor angles to a ball carrier but that is coachable. He’ll be the top safety taken in 2013.

The hardest hitter in the draft class might be Matt Elam from Florida. While Elam lacks the height (5-10) he’s built like a tank and he can fly. He’s athletic enough to play either position (as is just about everyone listed) but is probably best suited in a scheme where he’d be relied on to help stop the run. While his coverage skills aren’t the best, he has the ability to diagnose plays quickly and possesses the feet and flexibility to get better against the pass.

Phillip Thomas from Fresno State was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award (Nation’s top DB) and accounted for eight interceptions (#1 in the country) three of which were returned for touchdowns. Thomas is probably one of the best players no one is talking about in this draft. If he played at a bigger school, he might be the first safety of the board. Thomas actually reminds me a lot of Goldson in that he’s very aggressive and relies on instincts to diagnose a play. This causes him to get burned occasionally but it’s also allowed him to cause 20 turnovers during his career. Thomas might be my favorite safety in this class.

Bacarri Rambo gets a mention because he has what might be the coolest name in the draft next to Barkevious Mingo. Rambo had some off the field issue that caused his stock to drop. He’s a good instinctive player with a knack for the ball. If he stays out of trouble he’ll be a solid player.

I wrote about Shamarko Thomas in the Pinstripe Bowl preview in December and gushed about his playing style. Thomas plays bigger than his size (5-10) and, like Elam, is a big hitter in the secondary. He led Syracuse in tackles in 2012 with 84 while forcing three fumbles and grabbing two interceptions. He’ll need to be more disciplined in pass coverage to keep his stock from falling.

No one saw their stock fall more in 2012 than T.J. McDonald out of USC. The son of former 49er Pro Bowl Safety Tim McDonald, T.J. (Tim, Jr.) was thought to be a future first rounder last season but a disappointing senior season has seen his projections drop. Often compared to former 49er second rounder Taylor Mays, McDonald is not as fast but has better coverage skills. This is why it was hard to watch him consistently take bad angles to receivers and often get exposed by opposing offenses (Oregon). The talent is there, but he’ll need a solid Senior Bowl to prove it.

Assuming The Hawk is gone next season, who do you want to see in the defensive back field?

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