While there are no sure things, seemingly the nearest to one leading up to May’s NFL draft one could say would be that the Baltimore Ravens will take a safety at some point.
After using a first round pick on strong safety Matt Elam last year, the Ravens again head into the draft in the market for a starting safety, this time at free safety.
Accentuating Baltimore’s need for a starter is the fact that the current depth at both safety positions on the roster is lacking, further fueling the need for safety improvement.
Newly-signed veteran Darian Stewart provides versatile depth, while unproven safeties such as Anthony Levine, Omar Brown and Brynden Trawick join special teamer Jeromy Miles as candidates to make the roster.
Which first-year safety prospects could appeal to the Ravens?
PURE FREE SAFETIES
Ha’Sean (“Ha Ha”) Clinton-Dix, Alabama – One of the most popular fan choices as a first round option for the Ravens, Clinton-Dix provides all of the qualities Baltimore needs at free safety. His range is at the top of the class, and his one-on-one coverage ability is an added plus to make him a near-complete package as a centerfielder.
Clinton-Dix’s inconsistency in run defense, particularly in ball carrier diagnosis, will likely keep him almost exclusively in coverage as a pro (at least early in his career), but he can handle that role just fine.
Terrence Brooks, Florida State – If the Ravens wait to address the void at starting free safety until the second day of the draft, keep an eye on the former Seminole. A true “all over the field” player, Brooks is a flying wrecking ball all game long, and can make an impact anywhere on the field with his versatility.
He displays the innate ability to attack the run game at full speed, and while he may be on the shorter side (5’11″), Brook’s range, speed and coverage ability lead to his best fit being free safety in the NFL. He doesn’t have the elite instincts or playmaking ability to be a game changing free safety at the moment, but his athleticism and aggressive playing style open the door for him to acquire those traits with experience.
BOTH SAFETY POSITIONS
Calvin Pryor, Louisville – A physical, forward-playing safety, Pryor possesses the run-stopping prowess to be a strong safety, with the range to be a worthy free safety depending on a team’s need. His deficiencies show up often however, as while he is a stout tackler against the run, his poor angles and run game diagnosis combine to make him inconsistent in that aspect.
His range is more than adequate, and he can make an impact as a deep coverage man, although he ideally needs above average play from his safety counterpart to succeed at whichever position he winds up at in the NFL.
Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois – A “jack of all trades, master of none,” Ward is perhaps the most versatile safety in the draft. He shows willingness to consistently take ball carriers head on in run defense, and also possesses a versatile repertoire in coverage.
An above average centerfielder as a safety, Ward displayed consistent success in slot coverage, and ideally can effectively handle either safety role. In Baltimore’s defense, Ward would be a more than worthy starting free safety candidate.
LATE-ROUND BACKUP OPTIONS
Avery Patterson, Oregon – He mysteriously didn’t receive an invite to the scouting combine, but make no mistake about it: Patterson is an ideal free safety candidate, and would be a steal on the third day of the draft.
A converted cornerback, Patterson’s range, instincts and forward closing speed make him an ideal free safety, and his coverage ability provides enough assurance that he can stick in the NFL. As a mid-to-late round pick, Patterson projects as a backup, but is a dark horse starter.
Tre Boston, North Carolina – The Ravens already added a reserve two-way safety this offseason in Darian Stewart, but another safety that could appeal to the same role is Boston, who – as a potential day three pick – has the versatility to play either safety position, and to perform quite well in either role.
Boston asserts himself in the run game, and his background as a cornerback aids his ability in coverage. He possesses adequate range and would be a viable two-way backup.
Jonathan Dowling, Western Kentucky – A hit-or-miss prospect, Dowling’s potential to pan out at free safety makes him an intriguing option as a late-round flyer. Dowling wound up at Western Kentucky due to off-field issues at Florida, but his frame (6’3, 190) and length (33 1/8” arms) provide a rare mold that doesn’t come around too often.
He projects exclusively as a coverage safety whose length helps him play the boundaries well, and he possesses adequate athleticism to play special teams. If the Ravens are looking for a true free safety to provide depth, Dowling could be the answer.
Which safety do you want the Ravens to draft to solve the free safety situation?