Ronnie Lott. Troy Polamalu. Ed Reed. Bob Sanders.
When you start thinking about some of the best safeties ever to play in the NFL, these are the names that have to come to mind.
Like a lot of positions, the changing of the guard at safety can happen quickly in the NFL, as older, wiser, once-great veterans are replaced and upstaged by a bigger, faster and stronger group nearly every year.
This year is no different, as the players available at the safety position in this year’s NFL Draft — April 22-24 — make up one of the deepest and most talented groups on the board.
Consider this: USC’s Taylor Mays, all 6-foot-3, 235 blazing-fast pounds of him, is listed by ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. as the third best safety available. According to Kiper, Mays sits behind Tennessee’s Eric Berry (5-11, 203 and a likely Top 5 pick) and Texas’ Earl Thomas (5-10, 197), who also should go in the top half of the first round.
Rounding out Kiper’s Top 5 at the position are: Morgan Burnett (6-1, 210), of Georgia Tech, and Nate Allen (6-2, 206) of South Florida.
In order to land one of these high-profile studs, teams are going to have to invest a top pick and some serious cash. However, a little farther down the board sits a safety who just might be one of the best bargains available in this year’s draft, regardless of position.
His name is Darrell Stuckey.
At 6-1, 205, Stuckey has similar size to the Top 5 players at his position. What many don’t realize, however, is that he also possesses similar speed (4.49-second 40 time, which tied for third at the NFL combine at the position), strength (17 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press) and athleticism (39.5-inch vertical leap also tied for third at the combine). What’s more, Stuckey also has above-average smarts. In a nutshell, the team that lands Stuckey next week will be getting a steal, no matter where he’s selected.
If he’s taken in the second round, a team will be getting first-round talent — and more importantly first-round work ethic — with a second-round pick. If he’s taken in the third round or later, the team who snags him will be getting a guy who potentially could start right away for next to nothing by NFL standards.
No matter how you measure it, Stuckey is the total package. He’s strong enough to support the run, fast and athletic enough to play the pass and smart enough to know what’s going on in front of him and behind him at all times.
With that in mind, what kind of NFL player do you see Stuckey becoming? Will he be the Ronnie Lott type who takes pride in punishing people when they come into his area? Will he be a player like Polamalu, who seeks to destroy ball carriers and quarterbacks near the line of scrimmage? Or will he be like Bob Sanders, a playmaker capable of changing a game at any moment?
Stuckey himself is not too worried about the comparisons. Like any college player on the brink of realizing a childhood dream, the Kansas City, Kan., native just wants a chance to shine.
When pressed recently for his answer about the kind of player he might be at then next level, Stuckey, as expected, shot for the moon.
“I would like to be an Ed Reed type,” he said. “He’s a phenomenal player, he’s one of the best in the league right now. But I don’t hear too much at all (about who I compare to). I think the biggest thing (about making it in the NFL) is gaining confidence in yourself and knowing that you’re just as good as the person next to you.”
>>> Check back soon for more pre-draft profiles about the Jayhawks available in this year’s NFL Draft. Day One of the draft will begin at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, April 22. The first day will take us through the first round. Day Two (5 p.m., Friday, April 23) will feature rounds two and three, and Day Three (9 a.m., Saturday, April 24) will wrap things up with rounds four, five, six and seven.