With Alabama's Mark Barron the only player at his position considered by most talent evaluators to be worthy of first round consideration, it isn't news that the 2012 draft offers only a mediocre crop of safety prospects.
The timing couldn't be much worse for NFL teams needing help at the position as the 2011 season was characterized by the emergence of several tight ends as legitimate downfield threats and the continued expansion of three and four receiver spread attacks. To combat the aerial onslaught, defenses are looking for big, athletic safeties.
The safeties were the final prospects to run the 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine but with only a few exceptions they weren't able to reward scouts for their patience. In fact, of the 21 safeties invited to the Combine this year, zero recorded a time under 4.50 seconds. Worse, of the strong and free safeties given a top 125 grade by NFLDraftScout.com prior to the Combine, only Notre Dame's Harrison Smith (4.57) recorded a time under 4.66.
South Carolina State's Christian Thompson just missed the mark, clocking in at exactly 4.50 according to the "official" times released by the NFL. And while the fast time certainly helps legitimize Thompson's athleticism, considering his low level of competition and inconsistent play over his career, frankly he may have needed the workout if he is to generate anything more than mid to late Day Three consideration.
Similarly, scouts expected to see Vanderbilt's Sean Richardson work out well and he did -- enjoying the best all-around performance of any safety with a 4.52 time in the 40-yard dash, as well as demonstrating power (22 repetitions of 225 pounds) and explosiveness (38.5" vertical, 128" broad jump) but the concerns about him are about his agility, instincts and ball-skills. Richardson had just one interception in 49 career games, including 31 consecutive starts to finish his career.
Barron was unable to work out due to his recovery from hernia surgery performed after the season. Teams looking for immediate safety help may have to either reach to take him or hope one of the bigger, more instinctive and physical cornerbacks of the 2012 class can make the adjustment to safety as an NFL rookie.
Somewhere Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and a host of other receiving specialist tight ends are smiling...