The SportSmasher.com 2013 College Football positional previews come to an end by breaking down the last line of defense, the top safeties in the country, a group that I do not think is as deep or as talented as some of the others in the country this coming season. However, there are some players who are expected to have a big impact in 2013, and some others who should take their game to the next level and develop into stars. Let’s get to the rankings:
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix – Junior (6’1 210lbs) Alabama – Coming off of a breakout season as a sophomore in 2012, Clinton-Dix will be one of the top defensive players to watch during the 2013 season, he has a ton of potential and should have only gotten better during this offseason. Clinton-Dix had 37 tackles and four interceptions for the National Champion Crimson Tide last season, and he should become more of a defensive leader in 2013, following the departure of several upperclassmen. Clinton-Dix is excellent in pass coverage, he has great range, and plays the deep ball exceptionally. He also has enough size to step up, play the run, and can deliver the big hit. A total package at safety.
Ed Reynolds – Junior (6’2 205lbs) Stanford – In his first full season as a starter for the Cardinal defense in 2012, Reynolds became a key contributor, registering 37 tackles and six interceptions. Reynolds is not the fastest or rangiest safety on this list, but he has incredible instincts and anticipates really well, which makes him a turnover machine. It does not hurt that Reynolds plays behind an absolutely loaded Stanford front seven, which should provide one of the top pass rushes in the country, which makes it easy to play safety. The Cardinal defense is going to be scary this coming season, we are not done with them yet, they sport the best safety duo in the country.
Craig Loston – Senior (6’2 205lbs) LSU – One of the few returning starters to the Bayou Bengals defense, Loston became a full time starter in at the start of the 2012 season, and put together an impressive season. Loston had 55 tackles and three interceptions in 2012, and will become the leader of the secondary as a senior, a young unit that will need leadership. Loston has good size to play the run, and is a sure tackler, but also has excellent range to defend the deep ball.
Lamarcus Joyner – Senior (5’8 195lbs) Florida State – A player that reminds you a little of “The Honey Badger” without the off the field issues, Joyner plays both cornerback and safety, plus contributes on special teams as a return man. The problem with Joyner is the fact that he is very undersized, but there is no doubt that he is extremely fast and explosive, and is a very productive player whenever he is around the football. Joyner had 51 tackles, one interception and averaged 25 yards per-kickoff return in 2012, I am not sure where he will play on the next level, but I could see him as a nickelback who contributes on special teams and as a return man.
Ty Zimmerman – Senior (6’1 205lbs) Kansas State – An impact player since his freshman year at Kansas State, Zimmerman has incredible instincts and play-making ability, and always seems to be around the football. Enters the 2013 season with a total of ten interceptions during his career, and he totaled 50 tackles and five interceptions in 2012 as a sophomore, and has earned his role as a team leader. Zimmerman may not be the biggest or the fastest player on this list, but his feel for the game, instincts and experience make him one of the best safeties in the country.
Jordan Richards – Junior (5’11 210lbs) Stanford – The other half of the best safety duo in the nation, Richards is a much more physical player than his teammate Ed Reynolds, and spends much of his time as an in-the-box safety close to the line of scrimmage. Made 68 tackles and three interceptions as a sophomore in 2012, while also contributing a sack, playing behind an excellent Stanford front seven. Really an excellent tackler, understand how to read plays like a linebacker, can deliver punishing hits. Also good in coverage in passing situations, where he will leave the tackle box, and get deep.
Tevin McDonald – Junior (5’11 190lbs) Eastern Washington – A very talented player, McDonald was kicked out of UCLA for repeatedly violating team rules, and ended up at Eastern Washington. McDonald has great NFL bloodlines, his brother TJ McDonald was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft our of USC, his father Tim McDonald played for the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers from 1987-1999 and is the current defensive backs coach of the New York Jets. McDonald has excellent speed and range, he had 79 tackles and one interception in 2012, and has a natural feel for the position. The most important thing for McDonald is staying out of trouble, if he can do that, he can rise up this list.
Calvin Pryor – Junior (6’2 208lbs) Louisville – A big, athletic safety, Pryor is an effective player against both the run and the pass for the Cardinals defense. Pryor had 91 tackles, 1.0 sacks and two interceptions for Louisville as a sophomore in 2012, and on a very good team which plays a weak schedule this season, Pryor has a chance to step into the spotlight in 2013. Not a player who many have on their radar entering the 2013 season, but with a Heisman Hopeful quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater Louisville will have a lot of national attention and Pryor will have lots of opportunities to make a name for himself.
Tre Boston – Senior (6’1 205lbs) North Carolina – A cornerback/safety hybrid, Boston’s ability in coverage helps him stand out from the other players on this list, he can really turn and run with some of the fastest receivers in the country. Boston is a long, lean player that should really add some bulk, which would help him hold up better as a run defender. Boston had 86 tackles and four interceptions as a junior in 2011, and I think his speed and ability to play either cornerback and safety will make him very intriguing to NFL teams on draft day.
Nickoe Whitley – Senior (6’1 205lbs) Mississippi State – What you have to love about Whitley is the fact that, when you watch the Bulldogs play, he is constantly around the football. Coming off of a serious injury which ended his 2011 season, the ballhawk showed no regression or ill effects from the injury, as he contributed 88 tackles and three interceptions. Whitley has a nose for the football, has shown that he can both deliver the big hit, and make highlight reel interceptions.
OTHERS TO WATCH:
Kenny Ladler – Senior (6′ 205lbs) Vanderbilt, Hakeem Smith – Senior (6’1 190lbs) Louisville, , Ronald Martin – Junior (6’1 200lbs) LSU, Antone Exum – Senior (6’2 225lbs) Virginia Tech, C.J. Barnett – Junior (6’1 200lbs) Ohio State, Vinnie Sunseri – Junior (6’1 210lbs) Alabama, Dion Bailey – Junior (6′ 210lbs) USC, Corey Moore – Junior (6’2 215lbs) Georgia, Terrence Brooks (6′ 200lbs) Florida State, Isaiah Johnson (6’2 210lbs) Georgia Tech, Alden Darby – Senior (5’11 195lbs) Arizona State, Ahamd Dickson – Senior (6′ 205lbs) Baylor, Su’a Cravens – Freshman (6’3 215lbs) USC, Max Redfield – Freshman (6’1 195lbs) Notre Dame