Safeties Ready To Show They're Best in Class

Bucannon (Mark J. Rebilas - USA Today Sports)

Safety is an enormous need for the Packers as they scout the talent at this week's NFL Combine. We have thoughts from some of the top prospects, and NFL Network's Mike Mayock weighs in on the depth and top talent in the class.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Deone Bucannon looked at the questioner as if he had a third eye.

"Are you the best safety in this draft class?"

"C'mon" Bucannon said. "Yes. I don't think there's anyone better than me."

It was the same point-blank answer delivered by Vanderbilt's Kenny Ladler.

"Yes, I am. The numbers prove it," he said.

Interestingly, of the top safeties who spoke at the Scouting Combine on Sunday, the only one who didn't flat-out say that he was the best safety in this year's draft is the player who's considered the best safety in this year's draft, Alabama's HaHa Clinton-Dix.

The Green Bay Packers' need for a safety is obvious. So obvious that Louisville's Calvin Pryor, who might be 1B to Clinton-Dix's 1A in this crop, mentioned the Packers in his list of teams that need a starting safety.

"I don't think the safety class is as deep as some of these other classes," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said at the end of Scouting Combine media availability on Sunday. "For instance, Calvin Pryor -- if I had one of my 10 favorite players, he'd be one of them -- he's like a bigger Bob Sanders. He's better in the box. HaHa Clinton-Dix is better back off. He's got more range and ball skills back there."

Beyond Clinton-Dix, Pryor and Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward, who intercepted seven passes during an All-American senior season, Mayock said the safety class "drops off a little bit."

In the battle to be the first safety off the board, the early leader appears to be Clinton-Dix (6-1), a two- year starter and early entrant who intercepted five passes in 2012 and two in 2013. He told Packer Report that he had a formal interview scheduled with the Packers. Pryor (6-2), another early entrant and a two- and-a-half-year starter, was responsible for a whopping 16 turnover plays with nine forced fumbles and seven interceptions during the past three seasons. In 2013, he intercepted three passes and forced two fumbles.

"I love the game of football and I was brought up on toughness," Pryor said. "You play the game of football, you have to be tough. My father instilled it in me at a young age. I used to fall on the ground and I'd think I hurt myself and he'd just tell me to get back up and keep going."

Behind Clinton-Dix, Pryor and Ward, Stanford's Ed Reynolds (6-2), Bucannon (6-1), LSU's Craig Loston (6- 1), USC's Dion Bailey (6-0), Ladler (6-0), Ward (5-11) and Florida State's Terrence Brooks (5-11) will jockey for position, with that list based on height.

Bucannon is known for his hitting. Still, the rangy Bucannon's stats suggest his big-play ability. He intercepted six passes and forced three fumbles as a senior and had four interceptions and one forced fumble as a junior. He had 15 career interceptions and back-to-back 100-tackle seasons.

"It gives me more range around the field," he said of his size. "I feel I can get to places quicker than other people. I'm longer. I feel like I'll be able to get to the receiver, the running back -- I feel like I can get there quicker than my competition."

Ladler, who also is a big hitter, played with Packers defensive backs Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson and has met informally with the team at the Combine. He posted an eye-popping 10 turnover plays last year alone, with five interceptions and five forced fumbles.

"I feel like my playmaking ability," Ladler said when asked what separates him from the other safeties. "I'm able to make good tackles in the open field, I'm consistent in my play - pass and run. I'm a turnover machine. I had five interceptions, five forced fumbles -- 10 takeaways this season. I put myself in position to be an impact player."

That's exactly what the Packers need, considering their safeties didn't produce a single interception or forced fumble last season. That had never happened in the history of the franchise.

So, who's No. 1? Who's the safety who can provide the production the Packers lacked last season?

"I would say me," Brooks said. "I just feel that I'm an all-around player. I'm not just a hitter or somebody who can just cover. I pride myself on just doing everything. I feel like that's what separates me."

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