While the 2016 NFL Draft is replete with talent at any number pf positions, it isn’t especially deep at the strong safety spot. In fact, Dane Brugler of CBS Sports doesn’t list a single player at the position as a first-round prospect.
Brugler’s top strong safety, Vonn Bell of Ohio State, isn’t even really a true strong safety. Of the 5’11”, 199-pounder, who tallied 65 tackles for the Buckeyes in 2015, Brugler said, “Bell plays with the requisite mental and physical toughness and is active in run support, but needs to improve his tackling mechanics. Although not a twitchy athlete, he is a decisive reactor and collects himself well in space, projecting as an NFL starter at safety or nickel.”
But as I said, Bell isn’t a true strong safety, and Brugler compares him to Tashaun Gipson of the Jacksonville Jaguars. “The ability to hold up on an island in both man and zone coverages,” Brugler said, “Bell plays with a decisive reactor and collects himself well in space to make plays, drawing similarities to the Jags opportunistic safety.”
Bell went Brugler one farther, telling NFL.com he thinks he’s the best safety in this year’s class period. “I come with all of the mechanics,” Bell said, “the full package. You’ll get a coach, a leader, a guy who can hold his guys accountable and another guy in the locker room who’s gonna lead, too, on and off the field.”
However, where Brugler lists Bell among the strong safety prospects in this year’s class, Lance Zierlein of NFL.com sees Bell’s NFL future in center field. “Though lacking in desired size and physicality,” Zierlein said, “Bell has the ability to match up in space and is at his best when keeping the action in front of him where he combines his vision, reactive quickness and ball skills to go make plays on the ball. Bell lacks size and isn’t an aggressive tackler so he needs to prove he can run so that he locks in his draft positioning as one of the top free safeties in this draft.”
Unfortunately, Zierlein then goes on to say that Bell’s “play speed looked very average on tape” and that “against the run, (Bell) allows running backs to get on top of him and deliver the first blow. Drag down tackler without much thud.” He also relays that at least one AFC scout wasn’t overly impressed.
“He’s not special, but he’s solid,” the scout said. “I needed to go see him in person because he looked so small on tape and he looks the same in person. You can’t play him around the line of scrimmage, but he’s got instincts in coverage.”
The general consensus seems to be that Bell will be selected fairly early on the draft’s second day, with Fansided’s Jonathan George listing the New York Giants as a potential suitor. “Bell projects well as an NFL free safety instead of a strong safety as he isn’t the hardest hitter,” George said, “but the Giants don’t need him to be. The previously mentioned Collins is filling that role well, but struggled in coverage in his rookie campaign.”
In today’s pass-wacky National Football League, the role of safeties is evolving. True “in the box” thumpers are going the way of the Dodo bird or converting to nickel linebacker. Teams want even their strong safeties to be able to hold up in man coverage against backs and tight ends. And free safeties like Arizona’s Tyrann Mathieu are proving to be every bit the fantasy assets that prototypical strong safeties like Miami’s Reshad Jones are.
The problem is that different NFL teams view that evolving safety position in wildly differing ways. Whereas one NFL team might see Bell as a “hybrid” of the two safety positions, another might see him as a classic free safety. And that could make all the difference in the world to IDP owners.
So until we see where Bell lands at the end of the month his fantasy future is clouded by uncertainty.