FLOWERY BRANCH — Here are the top 10 safety prospects (with projected draft round) for the 2016 NFL draft, which is set for Thursday through Saturday in Chicago:
1. Vonn Bell, 5-11, 205, Ohio State (first): He’s from Ridgeland High in Rossville. He started 28 of 42 games played for the Buckeyes over the past three seasons. He finished with 15 pass breakups and nine interceptions. He has range and coverage skills.
2. Darian Thompson, 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Boise State (second round): He’s not a great athletic tester, but was a productive football player. He passed Eric Weedle as the Mountain West’s all-time interception leader with 19. Falcons coach Dan Quinn scouted him at Boise State’s Pro Day.
3. Karl Joseph, 5-11, 197, West Virginia (third/fourth): He’s an old-school hard-hitting safety. He’ll knock a receiver’s block off. He played what the Mounties called their “Bandit” position, where he was allowed some freedom to roam and cause mayhem. He may be available when the Falcons select with the 50th overall pick.
4. Su’a Cravens, 6-1, 225, USC (second/third): Some teams project him as a run-and-chase weakside linebacker. He played some strong safety and outside linebacker for the Trojans. He raved about his visit to Flowery Branch. Some scouts have called him a “hype-buzz” guy, which means his play on film doesn’t match the hype about the prospect.
5. Keanu Neal, 6-1, 216, Florida (fourth/fifth): They call him “Kiki.” He sat out the first two games of the 2015 season with a hamstring injury. While playing strong safety, he finished with 96 tackles, one pass breakup and one interception. Quinn helped to recruit Neal to Florida when he was their defensive coordinator in 2011 and 2012.
6. Kevin Byard, 5-11, 216, Middle Tennessee (fifth): He was a surprise non-invitee to the scouting combine. He attended the Falcons’ locals-day workout and played in the Senior Bowl. Byard improved his 40-yard dash time at the school’s Pro Day. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds and had a 38-inch vertical jump, 10-foot broad jump and bench-pressed 225 pounds 22 times. He started 10 of 12 games at free safety and had 66 tackles, six pass breakups and four interceptions last season.
7. Jeremy Cash, 6-0, 212, Duke (third/fourth): He was the ACC’s defensive player of the year. He started his career at Ohio State, but transferred when Urban Meyer was hired. He had more than 100 tackles over each of the past three seasons.
8. Jayron Kearse, 6-4, 220, Clemson (fourth/fifth): He’s the nephew of former Florida standout and All-Pro NFL player Jevon Kearse. He played strong safety last season and had 62 tackles, six passes defenses and one interception. Is a big and rangy player who likes to hit.
9. KeiVarae Russell, 5-11, 192, Notre Dame (fifth/sixth): He served a two-semester suspension for academic fraud in 2014. He returned the field last season and started 11 games.
10. DeAndre Houston-Carson, 6-1, 197, William & Mary (third/fourth): Played cornerback his first three seasons before moving to free safety last season. He flourished in the new position and was named the Colonial Athletic Association co-defensive player of the year after amassing 109 tackles. Participated in the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine.
Top 5 seniors for the 2017 draft: 1. Eddie Jackson, Alabama, 2. Johnathan Ford, Auburn. 3. Randall Gofforth, UCLA. 4. Ahmad Thomas, Oklahoma. 5. Kivon Coman, Mississippi State.
The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter gives his top players for the Falcons to draft at #17, talks about the interest in LB Myles Jack & tells CineSport’s Noah Coslov where the team may go in round 2.
NFL DRAFT 2016 – POSITION BY POSITION SERIES
Sunday, April 17 — QUARTERBACKS
Monday — RUNNING BACKS
Tuesday – WIDE RECEIVERS
Wednesday — TIGHT ENDS
Thursday — OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Friday — DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
Saturday, April 23 — LINEBACKERS
Sunday, April 24 — CORNERBACKS
Monday, April 25 — SAFETIES
Tuesday, April 26
D. Led’s breakdown of the Specialists, kickers, punters and returners
Position by position: Specialists chart
Wednesday, April 27
Final mock draft