- Todd McShay, Scouts Inc.
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The 2007 class of safeties projects as one of the strongest in more than a decade. In the last 15 drafts, no more than three safeties were selected in the first round in any year -- and that only occurred three times (1998, 2001, 2002). Looking ahead to next April, LaRon Landry (LSU), Brandon Meriweather (Miami-Fla.), Michael Griffin (Texas) and Aaron Rouse (Virginia Tech) all warrant opening-round consideration. Griffin and Rouse are bigger safeties, while Landry and Meriweather display better range in coverage. However, what makes all four such highly coveted prospects is their versatility to defend both the run and pass effectively.
There also should be quality depth in next year's safety class, as Tom Zbikowski (Notre Dame), Eric Weddle (Utah), J.D. Nelson (Oregon), John Wendling (Wyoming), Willis Barringer (Michigan) and Michael Johnson (Arizona) all possess first-day potential.
In the 2006 draft, six of the top 15 defensive backs came from the underclass ranks. A similar trend is unlikely to unfold in next year's draft, as the vast majority of top defensive back talent hails from the senior class. There are a few young cornerbacks -- Antoine Cason (Arizona), Ambrose Wooden (Notre Dame), Darrelle Revis (Pittsburgh and D.J. Wolfe (Oklahoma) -- who could emerge as first-round competition, but all the elite safeties are seniors. On a side note, Zack Bowman ranked as one of the elite cornerback prospects in the 2007 class before suffering a season-ending knee injury in summer camp. Bowman will return to Nebraska for his final year of eligibility in 2007, making him available for the 2008 NFL draft.
Michigan's Leon Hall is the top cornerback prospect heading into the college football season. While he seems to come up a bit short in terms of elite size and speed, Hall is an outstanding natural athlete with playmaking instincts in coverage and impressive tackling skills in run support.
Marcus McCauley (Fresno State) and Fred Bennett (South Carolina) should compete with Hall to be the top cornerback taken in next year's draft. McCauley was overshadowed by Richard Marshall in 2005, but his exceptional combination of size and speed has NFL scouts drooling. Bennett also possesses elite height and speed, but he must improve his strength and consistency in coverage.
Safety Rod Rogers (Wisconsin) and CB Aaron Ross (Texas) are talented players who could skyrocket up the draft board with strong senior campaigns. Also watch for CB Tarell Brown (Texas) as he looks to rebound from a broken right arm suffered in the national championship Rose Bowl victory over USC.
Finally, the best small-school defensive back prospect to monitor is Hampton CB Travarous Bain, who is on the radar of NFL scouts because of his outstanding height and straight-line speed. And Bain's defensive backfield mate, Calvin Bannister, is a fringe late-round prospect in next year's class.
The following is a graphic representation of the number of defensive backs (corners and safeties) selected in each round of the previous three NFL drafts. Most NFL teams use this type of chart to study position trends when setting up their respective draft boards each year.
2dEric D. Williams
1dMel Kiper Jr.