The Eagles could add a safety early in the draft. I've talked a few times about Taylor Mays. He isn't my cup of tea. There are some very interesting guys who could be in play for our first- or second-round pick.
Earl Thomas is a redshirt sophomore from Texas. He is small. We don't know his official measurements yet, but he goes about 5-10 and 185 pounds. That is more like a cornerback than a safety. Thomas is a big time playmaker. He picked off eight passes this year. He had 10 for his career, along with 21 pass break-ups. He also had five forced fumbles. Thomas is just one of those guys who makes things happen. He has excellent speed. He gets a tremendous break on the ball, partially due to speed and partially to his instincts.
Thomas sees the field well and just has that knack for knowing where the ball is going. So, what's the downside? He can really struggle down in the box. Put him out in space and Thomas is a solid hitter and tackler. Put him around the line of scrimmage and he can struggle. I re-watched the national title game when he had to deal with the power running attack of Alabama. Thomas didn't have a good game. I also studied the Oklahoma game. They threw almost 50 passes in that game and Thomas looked like a star.
I'm not sure what kind of player Sean McDermott is looking for. If the Eagles take Thomas with 24th pick we know they are targeting playmakers. If they pass on him, it is more likely that we're looking for a complete safety. Thomas can get bigger and stronger in the NFL, but I never think he'll be comfortable taking on big runners or receivers in tight space. Thomas likes to get a running start so he can attack his targets.
Senior Nate Allen had a good career at South Florida. Aside from Eric Berry (a.k.a. Superman), Allen is the most complete safety in the draft. Allen isn't great in any way, but he has the ability to cover, whether man or zone. He is a good hitter and tackler. He's big enough to play well in the box, but is also athletic enough to be good out in space. I like the fact that Allen is a three-year starter. That kind of experience should give him a leg up in making the transition to the NFL.
The guy that has really grown on me is junior Reshad Jones from Georgia. They list him at 6-2 and 214 pounds. He is an outstanding tackler. Jones wraps up his targets forcefully and puts them on the ground. He is also a good hitter. Jones isn't just a physical defensive back. He can cover. He made a really impressive interception in the Georgia Tech game. Jones dropped back in coverage. He saw a pass was headed down the right seam. Jones got over to that area and went up high. He deflected the ball with one hand and then caught it as he fell to the ground. That play showed range, ball skills, awareness and good athletic ability. He picked off 11 passes in his career, so he's shown the ability to be a regular playmaker.
I think Berry is the only lock for the first round. Mays and Thomas could go in the first, but could also slide into the early second. Allen is a solid second-round selection. Jones is more likely to be available in the bottom of the second. I also watched tape of Georgia Tech star Morgan Burnett, but he didn't impress me at all. I need to study him more to make sure that wasn't just a bad game. Chad Jones of LSU is next up for me to watch. I've seen some tape on him, but I have a couple of specific games I need to study.
For my look at how tough it really is to project college players at the next level, check out my Fan-Demonium column.
-- Posted by Tommy Lawlor, 9:15 p.m., February 15