NFL Draft 2012: Previewing the Safeties

Going somewhere, meat? (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Packers just released a long-time starter with injury concerns, and that position suddenly has become a much more pressing need in the draft. Yes, you have seen this before. But this time it concerns Nick Collins and the safety position. With Charlie Peprah in line to start for a third consecutive season, it's time to do something to upgrade the Packers' safety depth. Here are some options for Ted Thompson to consider.

Harrison Smith, Notre Dame, 6'2", 214 lbs

Smith was once projected to the Packers at 28th overall by Mel Kiper, which now seems unlikely. If he slips into the middle of the second round, though, I could see Ted Thompson moving up a few spots to draft him. Smith is a good player against the run and has good size for a safety. Though he has good career statistics (7 INTs, 28 pass breakups), he isn't viewed to be particularly good in man coverage. He's currently viewed as more of a candidate for strong safety in the NFL than the free safety spot. He's an instinctive player, but his physical limitations probably leave him as a mid-second round prospect.

Brandon Taylor, LSU, 5'11", 209 lbs

Taylor is an aggressive, physical safety who has a reputation of being tough in coverage and against the run. He put up excellent performances during the regular season against marquee competition in West Virginia, Alabama, and Florida. He's also a good film student and leader. However, his main knocks are in his ball skills and his reckless play - some scouts are concerned that he's too aggressive and would subject himself to penalties and fines. Taylor will probably go sometime in the late second or third round.

Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State, 6'1", 207 lbs

Martin would be a good fit at free safety, as he has good range and is skilled at taking away the deep middle. He's also a good open-field tackler. He has the size to compete with tight ends, but the quickness to help cover running backs over the middle. Look for him to leave the board in the second or third round as well.

Trumaine Johnson, Montana, 6'2", 204 lbs

Johnson is another corner conversion prospect. Coming from a small school, he didn't face top competition, but racked up impressive statistics in four years as a starter and has good size and measureables. Johnson's good in press coverage, but doesn't turn and run quickly enough for some scouts, suggesting that he'd fit better as a safety in the NFL. He also had a few scrapes with the law early in his college career, but appeared to straighten it out as he matured.

Brandon Hardin, Oregon State, 6'3", 217 lbs

Hardin is an excellent athlete, who ran his 40 in the 4.4 range with 24 reps on the bench. He sat out the 2011 season with a broken shoulder, and as such is rated lower than his ability would suggest. He played corner as a Beaver, and therefore has better man coverage skills than many of the other safety prospects. I could see him going sometime in the fourth round and would be very happy to see him don the Green and Gold.

Mark Barron, Alabama, 6'1", 213 lbs

I posed the idea on Twitter today that with Collins out and a glut of mid-round picks, Ted Thompson might be inclined to move up into the mid-teens of the first round to take Barron, who is by consensus the best safety in the draft. He comes from a powerhouse school with a complex defense, he has great instincts, and he is physically impressive. The question would be if Ted can move up far enough to get him and how much he would need to give up. I don't think it's likely that Barron's name is called in Green Bay, but if he somehow slides past Seattle at 12 overall and Dallas at 14, don't be surprised if Ted Thompson starts making some phone calls.

Do like any middle or late round prospects that I missed? Get ready folks, because the draft is less than 12 hours away!

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