NFL Draft: Free safety prospects

Mar 22, 2013, 11:10 PM | Updated: 11:34 pm

While the Arizona Cardinals continue on in their quest to overhaul the roster, I keep coming back to a position of strength that is now one of the team’s biggest question marks.

The Cardinals had Adrian Wilson in their defensive backfield for 12 seasons and Kerry Rhodes had a career redefining 2012 season, and yet neither will be on the 2013 roster. It makes sense.

The cost of keeping two 30-something safeties — no matter how talented — on a reshaping roster is just bad business, and the Cardinals have changed the look of their safety position because of that.

Even with the re-signing of Rashad Johnson and bringing in veteran Yeremiah Bell, I feel as though there is a need to add a free safety prospect early.

Johnson and Bell both are better fits playing the strong safety position, and with funds drying up it may be time for them too look towards the draft.

I have looked at day three safety prospects and see them as possibilities, but here are the prospects that could be options in round two and three at the free safety position.

Eric Reid, LSU, 6-1 213 lbs.

Reid doesn’t just look the part of the prototypical free safety; he plays like one would want a free safety to play.

Reid is the kind of downhill, attacking athlete that is needed in today’s NFL game, and his read and react ability is what will make teams fall in love with him.

Reid shows good agility in deep coverage with the ability to get on top of receivers quickly on underneath routes or turn and run on vertical routes.

In run support, he shows a good ability to play in the box and doesn’t shy away from contact at all. He is a willing tackler, but can get in trouble because he plays almost out of control at times. With the way the NFL is changing, Reid could see hefty fines from the commissioner’s office.

Reid can too often freelance, and although he was able to get away with it on a star-studded LSU defense he can get out of position because of it.

D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina, 5-11 208 lbs.

A well put together, albeit shorter prospect, Swearinger is the big hitter everyone loves to have on their team.

Swearinger is the definition of aggressive. Whether it is in his attacking the ball carrier, lining up in coverage on a receiver or attacking the receiver when the ball is in the air, everything Swearinger does is at full tilt.

When in coverage, Swearinger uses his hands well to knock wide receivers off their routes, redirect and bully them to where he wants them to go.

He isn’t particularly smooth in coverage, but he does show a good ability to turn and run with receivers when asked to.

As a tackler Swearinger is too often looking for the knock out shot and not to just wrap up and bring down a receiver or runner.

He targets the upper body/head area at times, and that will cost him frequently in the NFL.

Swearinger’s kamikaze style of play has lead to nagging injuries throughout his career, and it is a real concern whether or not he can hold up over a 16-game NFL season.

Phillip Thomas, Fresno State, 6-1 208 lbs.

Thomas is a favorite amongst the west coast draft community, and for good reason. While he doesn’t possess the elite speed of some other safeties in the class, he shows an excellent burst and great closing speed when getting to plays.

Thomas is a true center fielder on the defense, as he shows great awareness, and that’s where he separates himself from a guy like Reid or even a first rounder like Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro is that he is a ballhawk.

He doesn’t look like a defensive back when in coverage, as he does an excellent job of tracking the ball and then attacking when it’s in the air. He’s able to do this because he has excellent feet and shows the ability to turn his hips and stay with receivers.

As a run defender, Thomas is a physical, willing, and sure tackler who knows when to lay the wood or when to just make the tackle.

There are some questions though: about an injury history — he missed all of 2011 — and if he can play within himself and not gamble as much.

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NFL Draft: Free safety prospects