2013 NFL Draft: Steelers Draft Prospects by Position - Safety

John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE

The Steelers have been blessed by some of the best safety play in the league over the past five or so years, with two pro bowl caliber starting safeties in Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu. However, both Clark and Polamalu are aging and while backup safety Will Allen played incredibly well in replacement of Polamalu, the Steelers could use a new, young safety to become the next star of the defense.

First Round Options:

Kenny Vaccaro, free safety, Texas - Vaccaro, at 6-foot-1, 218 pounds, has great size for an NFL free safety. He has shown over the course of his career to have the ability to come up and cover slot receivers with great ease. He was a three year starter at Texas and got better each year. This year, he totaled 96 tackles, two interceptions, 3.5 tackles for a loss, five pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. He is not an elite ballhawk but he is a great safety prospect who could start immediately if needed but would likely play on special teams and in nickel packages as a rookie. He is projected as a top 20 pick.

Matt Elam, strong safety, Florida - Elam, at just 5-foot-10, 202 pounds, is much smaller than Vaccaro but he is a great athlete. He is a two year starter for Florida. This year, he had 76 tackles and four interceptions but he was best playing around the line of scrimmage, getting 11 tackles for a loss and two sacks. He has unbelievable instincts, great closing speed, and is ruthless in the run game. He reminds me a lot of Polamalu in his prime and could be available at pick 17. He is projected currently as a top 25 pick.

Tony Jefferson, free safety, Oklahoma - Jefferson, at 5-foot-11, 198 pounds, was a highly rated recruit coming out of high school and he has started in all three of his years at Oklahoma. This year, he had 119 tackles, two interceptions, 3.5 tackles for a loss, and half a sack. He is a player who relies on his instincts to make the right read in the running game and plays very much like current Steelers safety Ryan Clark.

Second Round Options:

Eric Reid, free safety, LSU - Reid, at 6-foot-2, 212 pounds, is a big-bodied safety but he does not play to his size. He played mostly center field in his two years as an LSU starter and is rarely around the line of scrimmage. He has great athleticism and makes good reads on passing plays. This year, he had 91 tackles, two interceptions, and one tackle for a loss. He could rise to the late first round but his lack of splash plays will likely keep him in round two.

Phillip Thomas, free safety, Fresno State - Thomas, a 6-foot-1, 215 pound safety is an absolute ball hawk. This year, he amassed eight interceptions, three of which he returned for a touchdown, 84 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, and four sacks. However, he did all of this playing against lower competition. He is a good athlete with huge upside and he could rise to a top 40 pick by draft time.

Mid Round Options:

Robert Lester, strong safety, Alabama - Lester is a rare player in that he started for three years at Alabama. He also is one of a few players ever to win three national championships. His best year ever was his sophomore season, when he intercepted eight passes. This year, he played all right at times and awful at others, totaling 48 tackles, four interceptions, 3.5 tackles for a loss, and 1.5 sacks. He seems to lack elite speed but plays the game smart and is usually in the right spot. However, he does not appear to be great in run support. He is projected as a third or fourth round pick.

Shawn Williams, strong safety, Georgia - Williams, at 6-foot-1, 217 pounds, is a third to fourth round prospect with some upside. He is a good athlete that totaled 98 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, and one sack this year. He plays around the line of scrimmage a lot and is good in the run game but he struggles at times with reading play action. He has given up a few too many big plays this year. However, a lot of his problems seem to be in technique and that could be coached by Steelers star coach Carnell Lake.

Duke Williams, strong safety, Nevada - Williams, at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, is a great athlete who thrives when using his instincts. He is a little small and does not do much form tackling and therefore, he misses a few too many tackles. However, this year, he did total 105 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, one interception, and three forced fumbles. When he hits you, he is going to hurt you. He is projected as a third to fourth round pick and with proper coaching, he could become a star.

Bacarri Rambo, free safety, Georgia - Rambo, at 6-foot-0, 210 pounds, is an athletic safety who still has to learn the position. This year, he had 73 tackles, three interceptions, one tackle for a loss, and one sack. He has pretty poor technique and that causes him to miss a couple tackles and give up some big plays, but again, if anyone can coach him up, it is Carnell Lake. However, he has had problems with the law in the past and that might take him off the Steelers radar. He is projected as a third to fourth round pick.

T.J. McDonald, free safety, USC - McDonald is a big safety at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, and he is a good athlete. He had an incredible junior season and would have been a first round pick last year had he declared but he struggled a lot this year. He was exposed as someone who mis-reads a lot of routes and bites on double moves often. However, despite having an "awful" year, he totaled 119 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, two interceptions, and a sack. He needs a lot of work on his technique, but you could do a lot worse with a third or fourth round pick.

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