I initially did not have the safety position as a great need for the Raiders because the team had some decent depth, and at least one solid starter in Gibril Wilson. Well, Wilson was cut and the Raiders lost depth when Rashad Baker left. Suddenly I look at the roster and say “Oh crap, all the Raiders have is Michael Huff, Hiram Eugene, and Tyvon Branch.” Huff lost his starting job last season to the departed Baker, Eugene is primarily a special teamer, and Tyvon Branch missed the latter half of his rookie season due to injury. So what was once a “safe” position for the Raiders, is now in some serious danger.
There wasn’t much on the free agent market in the first place at safety but now even the semi big names have signed already. Brian Dawkins, Josh Bullocks, and Sean Jones (well and Gibril Wilson of course) are all gone.
The draft doesn’t offer anyone that would be worth being chosen with the Raiders top two picks. And even if there was one, the Raiders have much bigger areas of need which they should address in the first two rounds like DT, LB, WR, and OT.
But the question area today is safety and the answers should be one or more of these guys:
Chip Vaughn, SS, Wake Forest
Vaughn has the best combination of size (6′2″, 221), speed (4.42 40), quickness (7.03 three cone) and on-field performance of any safety in this years class. The fact that he was Wake Forest’s leading tackler in 2007 with 100 tackles shows that he is a solid tackler and his team leading 14 pass breakups in 07 and 15 passes defended in 08 show that he has a nose for the ball and takes good angles in pass coverage. In fact those 15 passes defended in 08 were good for second in the ACC.
He plays with a mean streak and is very impressive when asked to attack downhill and make plays away from his body. A powerful tackler on contact who breaks down and wraps up well in space. Displays natural awareness down the field and can turn, run and track down the deep ball over his shoulder.
Blessed with rare size and hitting ability, Vaughn is sure to intrigue the Raiders who, after releasing Gibril Wilson, are looking for an enforcer and in-the-box presence at safety. His weakness is in pass coverage but considering that he came to Wake Forest as a receiver and improved his coverage skills every season, he has a lot of upside in that area as well.
He is projected as a high third rounder but after a stellar combine workout, he is generating a lot of attention and could move into the second round before all is said and done. If he slips into the third round, as currently expected, the Raiders should take a serious look at him as both a value pick and a pick for need.
Michael Hamlin, SS, Clemson
If the Raiders miss out on Chip Vaughn in the top of the third round, Hamlin would be the next best thing. In fact, prior to Vaughn’s great combine workout, Hamlin was projected to go higher than Vaughn and still could.
As a redshirt freshman, he earned second-team freshman All-American honors in 2005. Hamlin could have gone pro after his junior season in which he had a whopping 10 interceptions and saw him earn Second-Team All-ACC by AP/ACSMA, Rivals.com, and CollegeFootballNews.com. But he opted to return for his senior year.
He has unquestioned durability being that he has missed just three games due to injury in his four year college career. Hamlin was a four year starter that has seen his tackle total rise each year from 55 to 64 to 97 to 110. In fact he was the only ACC player in 08 with at least 90 tackles and six interceptions and he lead a defense that finished 10th in the nation and first in the ACC in scoring defense, allowing just 16.6 points per game.
He also broke up 10 passes last season to go along with his six interceptions to lead the team in both categories.
He has plenty of big game experience after having been the starting safety as a freshman in the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl against Colorado; starting safety in the 2006 Music City Bowl against Kentucky– a game in which he had 15 tackles; starting safety in the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl against #21 Auburn– a game in which he had 14 tackles and the 09 (Jan 1st) Gator Bowl against Nebraska.
He is no relation to Cowboys’ safety Ken Hamlin, but like Ken, Michael Hamlin has been a standout throughout his college career. Hamlin received first-team honors and ranked among FBS leaders with six interceptions, tying the school record of 19 for his career.
So Let’s run down the list of qualities most important in a safety:
Size: At 6′2″, 214 lbs, Hamlin has enough size to challenge taller NFL receivers.
Speed: Showed average speed in his combine workout. Ran a 4.57 40 and a 7.14 three cone.
Upside: He has sound technique and is a rangy player with the frame to add an additional 10-15 pounds of mass (to go along with is ever increasing tackle totals)
Agressiveness: He is usually quick to come up in run support and willing to take on blocks to get to the action.
Playmaking ability: Reliable tackler in the open field who flashes hitting ability (as evidenced by his great tackling numbers) to go along with his ball hawking skills (10 int as a junior and 6 as a senior)
Intelligence: He was named to the academic honor roll for the 2008 spring semester. Leadership: Voted a permanent team captain as a junior.
What more could you want? Especially from a possible third rounder?
Chris Clemons, FS, Clemson
Overshadowed throughout his career by teammate Michael Hamlin, Clemons’ consistency in coverage has many scouts seeing him as a safer NFL prospect. A three-year starter for the Tigers who leaves with 323 career tackles, 20 passes broken up and five interceptions, Clemons’ production warrants a closer look.
His 4.38 40 at the combine was best among safeties and we all know Al Davis and his love of speed. He also had the best broad jump among safeties which further shows his athleticism.
Clemons is an intriguing prospect because he shows a lot of potential. He takes good angles in pursuit and is considered to be a good open-field tackler. He is durable as shown by the fact that he has never missed a game due to injury at Clemson.
He lacks the bulk many teams prefer at safety, but like his counterpart, Michael Hamlin, Clemons has a lanky build which means he has a lot of room for additional growth
Chris Clemons (no not the DE that played with the Raiders two seasons ago and is now in Philly) is just the type of guy that Al loves to take a flyer on. Last year it was Tyvon Branch and this year it could be Clemons. And since Clemons is a free safety and Branch is a strong safety, there would certainly be room for both of them on this team. And considering Clemons is projected to go around the fifth round or possibly later, he would certainly be worth a shot if available in the sixth. As I recall, last years late round flyers have already paid dividends (Chaz Shilens, Trevor Scott).
Kevin Ellison, SS, USC
As is always the case for guys that go to USC, they are playing in a pro style offense that translates seamlessly to the NFL. And in that system, Ellison was a supremely quick learner, grasping head coach Pete Carroll’s defense faster than any freshman should. He has never been overly flashy or showy, but he has an incredible knowledge of the game and is constantly in the right position.
He earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors after each of the past two seasons. He was the top performer among safeties in the bench press at combine. And his brother, Keith Ellison, is currently a linebacker for the Buffalo Bills.
Ellison’s body (6-1, 227) and athleticism (4.82 40) scream weak-side linebacker which means that if he couldn’t strive as a safety, he would add valuable depth behind Thomas Howard. Al Davis proved that he is willing to take chances on players like Ellison when the Raiders drafted Darnell Bing out of USC a couple of years ago. Bing was a big safety that the Raiders drafted with some intentions of moving him to linebacker. Although Bing didn’t end up working out and was cut, he never had even a shred of the aggressiveness that Ellison possesses.
Ellison has always made up for a lack of eye-popping measureables with intelligence, physicality and a penchant for making the big play. There have been plenty of highly successful NFL players that had the exact same things said about them coming out of college. Afterall, it is all about football speed and instincts isn’t it? How many times have we heard that?
That said, it is still of great concern to scouts, whether Ellison has the straight-line speed to handle the transition to the NFL, especially considering the three knee operations he’s undergone while at USC.
Pete Carroll saw something is Ellison and signed him as a running back. But Kevin was so physical and instinctive that the staff thought of moving him to linebacker at first before eventually moving him to strong safety. After the transition he immediately showed great explosiveness as a hitter and the ability to intimidate receivers crossing the middle.
Ellison is projected in the low rounds and could be taken higher than fifth round for his LB potential. With the Raiders looking more for his skills as a safety first and foremost, he may not be as valuable to them as he might be to a team in search of a weak side linebacker. But if Ellison was still available in the sixth round, he would be a great value pick.
David Bruton, FS, Notre Dame
This guy was hardly on anyone’s radar prior to the combine. Which is saying a lot for a guy who played at Notre Dame. But after being a top performer in nearly every category including the two most important (4.40 40, 6.60 three cone), he is turning more heads than the doctor that gave him his physical.
And speaking of physical qualities, he has freakish 10 inch hands, and 34 inch arms. So it comes as somewhat of a surprise that he is not known for being extremely physical but rather more known for his ability to make plays in the passing game.
He is not known for making great plays at the line which is probably why he is a free safety. He arm tackles too often and Running backs tend to drive through past him because of it. Often he will whiff in the open field when ducking his head instead of seeing what he hits.
Bruton flashed as a playmaker in his first season as a starter in 2007, when he had 85 tackles, three interceptions and 4.5 tackles for loss. His production increased in some ways during his senior year (91 tackles, four interceptions, two forced fumbles), but his overall play did not result in Notre Dame’s defensive improvement. A team captain, he has the size, speed and athleticism to potentially be a good starter and very good special teams player at the next level.
His speed allows him to track down ballcarriers from behind, although he will usually take the correct angle to prevent the catastrophic play. He can cover a lot of ground in the deep half, with the ability to high-point the ball on the sideline for the interception. He was a major special teams contributor for the Irish as a gunner and there is always room for that in late round draft picks. Between Clemons, Ellison, and Bruton, the Raiders have three great options if any of them manager to slip into the sixth round. Although, knowing Al Davis, Clemons and Bruton could get some serious consideration in the fourth round based solely on their speed.
Keith Davis, SS, FA Cowboys
Unfortunately there is not much, if anything, on the market now. Keith Davis is pretty much it. Davis filled in for Pro Bowler Roy Williams last season in Dallas and is described by various scouting services as a special teams hit who can play the run. While the Raiders may already have a player in Hiram Eugene that does the exact same thing, injecting some competition and depth in that area can only be a a good thing.
The Raiders made a run at him in free agency last year but he signed with the Dolphins — only to get cut and re-signed by the Cowboys. So it stands to reason that there is still some interest in aquiring Davis especially with the Raiders being even more thin at safety this season than they were last season.
A couple of other players out there are Darren Sharper and the aforementioned Roy Williams. Sharper has experienced a sharp decline in his skills these days and his surviving now almost solely on his past success so he would be a serious desperation move and a spot filler. I have a feeling that someone is going to take a chance on Roy Williams and pay him a bit more than he is worth. He was ran out of Dallas because he was a serious liability in coverage. That said, as is the usual, I would welcome giving him a shot for the right price.