NFL draft prep: The next Eagles' safety is ...

NFL draft prep: The next Eagles' safety is ...

Will Eagles' defense rebound vs. Chiefs?

September 18, 2013, 1:00 pm
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Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (left) recorded 37 tackles and caught five interceptions last season. Craig Loston recorded 55 tackles and three interceptions. (AP/USA Today Images)

According to Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, there is very little that they can do to improve their poor safety situation at this point in the season.  
As he stated during his postgame press conference after his team’s 33-30 loss to the Chargers, "There aren’t any safeties on the street, I can tell you that. So we’re going to play with the ones we’ve got.”
Translation: Unless the two incumbent starters, Patrick Chung and Nate Allen, miraculously live up to the promise that once made them second-round draft picks in 2009 and 2010 respectively, the Eagles are, well … fill in the blank.
In the meantime, while "there aren't any safeties on the street," there are many in school that you can keep an eye on as potential draft targets. The projected 2014 safety class isn't as strong as the 2013 class was this past April, but there are a number of quality safeties eligible for the draft that could make an instant impact on the Eagles next year.
With that said, here are my top five draft-eligible safeties for the 2014 NFL draft:
*Denotes juniors
1. *Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Clinton-Dix has a name that might make you laugh, but a game that will make your jaw drop.  A tremendously athletic and fluid safety, the 6-foot-1, 208-pound playmaker possesses outstanding awareness, instincts and ball skills. That skill set was on display during his breakout sophomore campaign in 2012 when he generated 37 tackles and five interceptions.
As impressive as Clinton-Dix is athletically, he doesn't possess the strength or consistent physical play that some teams desire. But he anticipates the action extremely well and displays a willingness to be physical in coverage and at the line of scrimmage.
Clinton-Dix has yet to collect an interception this season, but he's played physical and is currently second on the team in tackles with 12. Expect Clinton-Dix's play and draft stock to continue to improve as the season progresses. He could be a late first-round selection.
Draft Projection: First round
2. Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford
There are a lot of similarities between Clinton-Dix and the 6-foot-2, 206-pound Reynolds, who also had a breakout 2012 season when he posted 47 tackles and six interceptions, three of which were returned for a touchdown. Reynolds is a ballhawking safety who has a great instincts, range and ball skills, and has the ability and athleticism to turn defense into instant offense when the ball is in his hands.
However, Reynolds' aggressive style could intrigue scouts more during the draft process and eventually lead to him being graded higher than Clinton-Dix on some teams' boards. Reynolds has to control his aggression a bit in coverage and against the run, but he uses his athleticism and recognition skills to his advantage and has shown to be a solid tackler.
Reynolds currently leads the Cardinal in tackles with 17 and has the defense's lone interception through the first two games. He's still developing his overall game, but he's an exciting player to watch and will only get better.
Draft Projection: First-second round
3. *Dion Bailey, SS, Southern Cal
After lining up out of position as an undersized, yet productive strongside linebacker the past two years, the 6-foot, 210-pound Bailey, who led the Trojans with four interceptions in 2012, moved to strong safety this season. A consistent performer who gives maximum effort, Bailey is an athletic, hard-hitting defender who has a nose for the ball and better than average ball skills.
Once a highly recruited safety out of high school, Bailey has flourished since moving back to familiar territory and has recorded an interception in each of USC's first two games this season. He's also brought a linebacker's mentality to the secondary and currently leads the team in tackles with 21.
The versatility that Bailey possesses will only help his draft stock, and if he decides to declare for the draft, he's a player that will be attractive to many teams on day two.
Draft Projection: Second round
4. Craig Loston, SS, LSU
There's a lot to like about the 6-foot-2, 209-pound Loston, who is coming off of a relatively healthy and promising 2012 campaign in which he recorded 55 tackles and three interceptions. An intimidating force in the secondary, Loston loves to set the tone and deliver the knockout punch. Even though he's known for being an intimidator, Loston is an incredible athlete who possesses great instincts and range, as well as good ball skills.
The biggest concern surrounding Loston, and the reason why he's rated lower in my safety rankings, is his durability. The way that he plays the game could lead to more injuries down the road, and that's something teams will have to evaluate before they decide to use a high-round pick on him.
Speaking of Loston's durability, he missed last week's game against Kent State because of a leg injury and is listed as questionable for Saturday's game against Auburn. In two games this season, Loston has amassed just five tackles.
Draft Projection: Second round
5. Ahmad Dixon, SS, Baylor
One of the most underrated and unknown safeties in the nation is the 6-foot, 205-pound Dixon. A starter the past two years at Baylor's nickel "Bear" position where he was a hybrid linebacker/safety, Dixon moved to strong safety full-time this season, and in two games he's currently tied for third on the team with 13 tackles.  
A consistent force and team leader on Baylor's defense, Dixon is a complete safety who has the athleticism to cover, and strength and instincts to make an impact at and behind the line of scrimmage. The one area that Dixon has to improve on is his cover awareness. He doesn't diagnose the action as quickly as evaluators would like, but he's a hard worker, and that aspect should improve in time.
Draft Projection: Second-third round

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