Unfortunately, the draft class of 2012 is very thin at one of our need positions, strong safety. It's being increasingly projected for Mark Barron to go a few picks ahead of us to the equally-safety-hungry Cowboys or Jets, and Harrison Smith has been spotted on some boards climbing into the bottom first; even if he doesn't, he won't be around at #49, forcing A.J. to swing a trade. However, rather than overspend on a guy like Smith, I figure why not look down the board and see about players who might be able to make the position switch?
It's not unheard of; take Brian Urlacher, for example. He was a safety at UNM before the Bears drafted him and asked him to play 4-3 MLB, which he excelled at. Who's to say the formula can't work backwards, or otherwise slightly tweaked? After the jump, I'll name some players who have the physical tools to make the move successfully.Trumaine Johnson, CB, Montana: Johnson, a four-year starter for the Grizzlies, has shuttled between corner and free safety, and definitely possesses the athleticism to give strong safety a try. At 6'2" and 210 pounds, he has the frame to be an impact hitter, but he doesn't fit the "hard-hitting safety" mold. No hesitation in playing the run, but fails to break down and consistently make the tackle. Better in press coverage than at playing centerfield. As noted previously on this blog, he ran a 4.61 40 at the Combine, which is making teams think twice about playing him at corner. He'd definitely be better suited to a safety position, but his limited ability in the box means he'll probably start out playing much like Weddle.
I'm no scout, but the one thing that jumps out to me here is that he's easily taken out of plays. Won't be worth crap in the run game until he can get off blocks; he'd be a project, which isn't what we need right now.
Mychal Kendricks, ILB, California: Kendricks has always been undersized for a linebacker (official measurement at the Combine was 6'0, 240), but he's a high-effort guy who flies around the field and hits like a cement mixer. Good-but-not-great instincts in zone coverage, which will improve with time; in man, does a good job of sticking with his receiver, but lack of size means he can be exploited by powerful tight ends (the Fleeners and Gronkowskis of the world). He displayed stellar athleticism at the Combine (4.47 40, 24 reps of 225 on the bench, and a 40-inch vertical), which will mitigate that handicap somewhat. We also know he can bring the heat when blitzing and stuff the run when in the box. One issue is that he's climbing up draft boards-- but if we were going to take a strong safety in the second anyways, and Barron and Smith are gone, why not Kendricks? Worst case scenario, we've got another very good ILB.
Encouraging to see him nabbing those picks. He has shown flashes of brilliance in coverage, and could be a legitimate impact player both against the pass and the run. Note also that there aren't a lot of "Jacked Up"-style hits in there; he displays solid wrap-up form.
Alex Hoffman-Ellis, OLB, Washington State: A rawer, but very athletic prospect. He can run and chase with the best of them, and looks pretty good in man coverage (like most of these prospects, limited experience in zone). Some will knock him for his lack of experience (only started playing football his senior year of high school, and transferred from a community college), unspecified character concerns, and size-- the latter of which (6'1", 235) is a problem for a linebacker, but good size for a strong safety. He'd also be worth a flier because of his sheer physical abilities: at the Washington State Pro Day, he posted a 4.54 40, 36" vertical leap, and 36 reps on the bench. Also, the Raiders are rumored to be looking at him, so let's just go ahead and screw those guys over too.
I'm not sure what to make of this tape-- makes good plays out of context, but given that one of the negatives most scouts have on him is "inconsistency," I think it's fair to assume he's not making these types of plays 24/7.
If any of you know of a prospect that looks like a tweener-type or possible conversion, let me know and I'll look into it. I don't see any of this as particularly likely, but when the SS class is so weak, it just might pay off to get creative.