Sizeable safeties can bring the wood
2012 class features several 6-plus footers who pack pounds and punch
The 2012 safety class is filled with some of the best athletes in the ESPNU 150. The top three prospects could get recruited to play another position in college and are likely to be successful.
What's really striking is this group's blend of size and athleticism. Only one player in our current top 20 measures under 6 feet and that prospect, Rhaheim Ledbetter (Shelby, N.C./Crest), is no slouch in the size category. He's a rock-solid 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, and will lay the wood. The combination is needed in today's college game where safeties are required to be scheme versatile and line up at different levels to provide favorable matchups against the run and pass.
Overall, this is an excellent 2012 class comprised of early contributors, including five prospects listed in the top 75 of the ESPNU 150. All but three in the top 20 remain uncommitted.
Eddie Williams (Panama City, Fla./Arnold)
Originally listed in the athlete category, this tall and gifted prospect could project at a few different positions, but we feel his size and skill set are better suited at safety. Williams will learn under one of the better secondary coaches in the country in Nick Saban. Saban certainly has a lot of physical tools to develop in Williams. The prized recruit has excellent range, acceleration and ball skills to make the athletic play in coverage, or the explosion to drive on a route and be an intimidating presence over the middle. Outside linebacker is not out of the question with this current five-star.
Travis Blanks (Tallahassee, Fla./North Florida Christian)
Blanks may be the best pure safety prospect in the country when it comes to well-rounded skill sets. Still, he could get recruited to play anywhere in the secondary or even at receiver. He's a special athlete who simply makes a lot of plays regardless of position. There are not many physical flaws to his game as a back-end defender. The size, range, ball awareness skills and physicality on run support are all present. He has safety size and corner coverage skills. Speed is the one area that is not elite, but he plays faster on film, covers a ton of ground with his stride and is a prospect that has a great chance to earn a fifth star next fall.
Shaq Thompson (Sacramento, Calif./Grant)
There might not be a more physically impressive safety in America than Thompson. In fact, this guy is so thick and well built that outside linebacker is not out of the question in college if he continues to add bulk and strength. He will more than likely enter college as a safety (as he still possesses smooth movement skills) and be ready to compete for a spot day one, particularly if he lands in a defense that deploys him in a hybrid type role. Despite being a big, physical safety, Thompson is still a dynamic athlete who rushed for close to 2,000 yards as a junior and was also a big-play threat through the air as a pass catcher.
Others to watch
Landon Collins (Geismar, La./Dutchtown)
They don't usually make safeties this big and fast. At 6-0 and a well-built 210 pounds, Collins ran a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash this spring. Yet at first glance during our evaluation period, we thought this may be just a disruptive, heavy-pressure type of safety limited to a bandit- or rover-type position in college. However, the more we watched this guy on film, the more versatility, athleticism and football intelligence we saw. Yes, he may be more of a straight-line pursuer who is most productive in a ball-hawk role closer to the box, but Collins also has shown the ability to open his hips and make plays in coverage as well as pursue laterally through alley traffic. He should be a valuable special teams performer as well.
Deon Bush (Miami/Columbus)
Bush is the true burner of the group but also one of the least physical, which makes corner a possibility if he does not make the transition as a back-end defender. At safety, he certainly brings excellent range to cover the entire field and the closing speed to recover. We like his flexibility to align down over faster slots and provide favorable matchups in either man or off-man; he is versatile in coverage skill set. The question we have is if he can hold up on run support in the box. If he improves in that area, then Bush could be one of the better college safeties to come out of this class.
Lucas Thompson (Winter Garden, Fla./West Orange)
A major sleeper early on, Thompson started to heat up this past spring. However, Miami is still his only big in-state offer. That could change as he continues the camp circuit and once again dominates his opposition this fall. Thompson is big, explosive and very athletic. He needs a bit of technical polish, but we feel he has all the physical ability, toughness and nose for the ball for a program to develop him into a very productive safety at the BCS level. He's outside the 150 now, but he's a player with the potential to jump in.
For the second consecutive year, the top safety prospect resides in the Sunshine State, has the last name Williams and started out in our athlete category. FSU commit P.J. Williams (Ocala, Fla./Vanguard) is a very well-balanced, top-10 prospect who has not received the national attention he deserves. We feel Chaz Elder (College Park, Ga./Benjamin E. Banneker) is one of the best pure "strong safety" prospects. Rangy long-strider Trae Elston (Oxford, Ala./Oxford) is a talented free safety falling under the national radar a bit. LaDarrell McNeil (Dallas/A Maceo Smith) is the lone Texas native in our top 10 and is one of the better hybrid-type defenders in this safety class. Ohio native Jarrod Wilson (Akron, Ohio/Buchtel) is a 6-2 ball hawk and arguably the best in the Midwest, but ailing Ohio State does not look to be chasing. There might not be a safety in America who improved their stock as much as Marcus Maye (Melbourne, Fla./Holy Trinity) last spring during the camp and combine circuit. Now he needs to have a complete senior season to back it up. Elijah Shumate (Ramsey, N.J./Don Bosco) may not be as high on our board as others. He's a physical presence, but will he be able to hold up in space and one-on-one coverage? We feel like fellow Jersey safety and much less heralded D.J. Singleton (Jersey City, N.J./Saint Peter's) is actually very close in physical skill set.
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2012 POSITIONAL BREAKDOWNS
ESPN Recruiting will be breaking down every position throughout the month.