*Ravens Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz sat down to break down prospects at several positions of need leading up to the NFL Draft May 8-10. This is the second installment of a four-part series. *
Throughout much of the Ravens' history, they've had a ball-hawking safety roaming the middle of the defense.
Last season was the first year in a decade that future Hall of Famer Ed Reed was absent on the back end of the defense, and the Ravens looked to rookie first-round pick Matt Elam to take over that role. This year, the Ravens want Elam to play more in the box as a strong safety, and General Manager Ozzie Newsome said after the 2013 season that adding a "more athletic safety" was a top offseason priority.
Baltimore picked up former Rams safety Darien Stewart earlier this month, and he could end up in the starting lineup. The Ravens could also look to the draft as a place to find a rangy* *free safety.
"Safety has good depth to it in the draft," Hortiz said. "It doesn't have the depth of last year. Last year, there were four safeties taken in the top 33 picks. I just don't see that happening this year, but there is good middle- round depth."
Top safety prospects could be available for the Ravens at pick No. 17, and Hortiz broke down some of the best in this year's class.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Junior; 6-foot-1, 208 pounds; 37 tackles, 5 interceptions, 9 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble
"He's a guy that has been very productive there at Alabama. He's versatile. He's got good size. He has pretty good speed, and you see the range on the back end. He can open up and play in space, and then he can also come down and play in the thick of things. He's a big kid that comes from a pro-style defense, with pro-style calls, and NFL calls. He's well taught at the position and has a really good career."
- Athletic safety that can play in the box or deep in coverage
- Has good size for the position
- Suspended for two games last season for accepting a short-term loan of less than $500, but played well after the suspension.
Calvin Prior, Louisville*Junior, 6-2, 208; 54 tackles, 3 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 4 passes defensed *
"He's a physical kid. He has probably played more strong safety compared to the past. He's more of a strong safety this year. He likes to hit. He comes downhill, and he has some knockout blows on tape where he just wipes guys out. He plays with the right type of mentality and mindset. He also has some production on the ball. He's got some versatility that he can play high or low, and he plays the game with the right type of mentality as a defender."
- Reputation as a hard hitter
- Built as more of a strong safety compared to a ball-hawking free safety
- Rated by many draft experts as the top safety in the class
Jimmy Ward, Northen IllinoisSenior; 5-11, 192; 92 tackles, 7 interceptions, 1 touchdown, 1 forced fumble, 10 passes defensed
"Jimmy Ward is an athletic kid. He runs pretty well for the position. He's undersized, and when you watch him he's not a big guy. He's a little bit like Matt [Elam] in that regard. He has improved and increased his weight. He's starting to get near that 200-pound frame, which is a positive thing. He's a good athlete who has some coverage skills to him. He's got some back-end play to him, and he's also willing to play down in the box."
- Good coverage skills
- Makes up for smaller size with his ability to make plays on the ball
Terrence Brooks, Florida State*Senior; 5-11, 197; 56 tackles, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 5 passes defensed *
"He's a former corner, so you know going into it that this guy is really used to covering people. The things that jump out about him are his game speed. He plays fast. He comes downhill. He has range. He can get outside from over top, in the middle of the field. He probably needs to work on his ball skills. He also needs to get a little bigger. He's right around that 195-200 pound range. His ball skills need improvement."
- Strong coverage skills based on his former experience as a cornerback
- Has good speed and range in the secondary
- Background as a cornerback makes him a good fit at free safety
LaMarcus Joyner, Florida State*Senior; 5-8, 195; 69 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, 4 passes defensed *
"Joyner isn't a big safety, but he's an explosive, powerful guy. The things he excels at are playing physical and fast. He does a good job with his instincts – he can locate, and he can diagnose run vs. pass. He can locate the ball in coverage. He can challenge to make plays on the ball. He's very physical for a guy his size. He will mix it up. He'll throw his shoulder. He'll step up into the offensive linemen. He's not afraid to get his face or hands dirty. He's an excellent blitzer off the edge. You just let him go out there and make plays from a run and pass standpoint."
- Undersized defender that plays physical as a strong safety
- Good blitzer that can get to the quarterback
- Has a knack for making big plays
Ed Reynolds, StanfordJunior; 6-2, 205; 86 tackles, 1 interception, 4 passes defensed
"He's a junior. He has very good size, and he's had good ball production throughout his career. The thing that stands out about him is that he plays the back end, and he kind of sets the defense. He's directing traffic back there and he's instinctive in coverage. He's more designed to be a back-end field general than the way they used him. He has good size and he ran pretty well. He's not a 4.4-guy by any stretch, but he ran well for a guy his size."
- Natural free safety that plays deep in coverage
- Strong coverage skills over the middle of the field