Below are five safety prospects at the college level worth keeping an eye on:
Landon Collins, junior, Alabama (6-0, 215)
Probably the most valuable defender on Alabama's roster, Collins is the favorite to be the first defensive back drafted in the 2015 NFL Draft. He plays a hybrid free/strong safety position for the Crimson Tide, playing all over the field and lining up in both man and zone coverage. Collins is a heat-seeking missile as a run defender with explosive and accurate angles to be physical downhill, using terrific tackling technique to break down, wrap and finish in
space. He is rangy in pass coverage, but lacks a natural feel in pass coverage and gets caught with his eyes to be in the wrong place, causing him to be late recognizing vertical assignments. Although he's not a flawless prospect, Collins is an intelligent team leader and gives top effort whenever he is on the field, including on special teams, which is why he's often mentioned as a possible top-15 pick.
Gerod Holliman, redshirt sophomore, Louisville (6-2, 210)
A junior who has already declared himself eligible for the draft, Holliman will be an interesting evaluation during the draft process. He led all of college football with 14 interceptions and certainly has ballhawk tendencies with the instincts to read and break on the ball with excellent timing, quickness and finishing ability. But Holliman is highly inconsistent vs. the run, struggling to square up his target and finish. His lean-muscled build limits his growth potential to bulk up and get stronger, but he can improve his technique and will need to if he hopes to start in the NFL. Holliman could benefit from returning to school because NFL coaches don't have time to teach the basics like tackling, but after setting a school-record for interceptions in 2014, it's tough to blame him for looking to capitalize on his production.
Kurtis Drummond, redshirt senior, Michigan State (6-1, 200)
Cornerback Trae Waynes, who might be the first corner drafted in April, gets most of the attention in the Spartans' secondary. But Drummond is the defensive back getting defenders lined up and covering every inch of the field. He is extremely active with heady anticipation to close quickly near the line of scrimmage and as a deep cover man. However, like most safeties, Drummond's strengths and weaknesses can be summed up by whether or not he's facing the ball. With the play in front of him, he can diagnose and attack, but when the ball gets behind him and he's forced to turn his back to the line of scrimmage, Drummond struggles to get his head turned and locate the ball.
Erick Dargan, redshirt senior, Oregon (5-11, 210)
The Ducks are known for offense, but the defense is a substantial reason Oregon is playing in the National Title. And Dargan is one of the Ducks' leaders as both a run and pass defender, leading the team in total tackles (82) and interceptions (6). He plays fast and controlled with the footwork to hold up in coverage and range to make plays at either sideline. Dargan can be a missile against the run as well, striking through his target and using his strong hands to finish the tackles. His anticipation in coverage is not a strength of his right now, struggling to recognize routes and lacking the transitional quickness to hold up in man coverage. But Dargan has the ballskills to make plays facing the action and can compete on special teams while fighting for a playing time on defense.
Derron Smith, redshirt senior, Fresno State (5-11, 200)
Some players know how to show up at the right place at the right time and Smith would qualify as one of those players. The senior plays fast and aggressive as both a single high centerfielder and box safety stopping the run. Smith has natural ballskills with reliable hands (15 career interceptions) with some lower body explosiveness to break on plays and beat receivers to the catch point. He is highly competitive and fast downhill as a blitzer and run defender, but lacks finishing strength to consistently win one-on-one situations in space. Smith's lack of size shows up frequently in coverage and when shedding blocks, allowing receivers to take him out of the play, which could keep him from being a consistent starter.
Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) is the Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, a property of The Sports Xchange distributed in partnership with CBSSports.com. For more of his draft coverage, click here.