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2015 NFL Draft: Top 5 strong safeties and sleepers

Solid cornerbacks and safeties usually come at a premium, but the 2015 NFL Draft will script a new chapter. Like receivers and running backs, this year’s draft has depth in the secondary.

Strong safeties are viewed as defensive captains, aside from linebackers. They are the hardest hitters, yet the most sound in on-ball skills. Here is a list breaking down the top five strong safeties entering the draft. Listed below are some sleepers to watch out for.

5. Clayton Geathers, 6-2/218, Central Florida

Summary: Clayton Geathers anchored Central Florida’s defense in 2013 and 2014. He finished second on the team in tackles (100) as a junior, including 4.5 stops for loss. Geathers accounted for 10 pass breakups, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

The Golden Knights forced 14 interceptions in 2013. Geathers helped Central Florida achieve 12 wins and a 52-42 victory over Baylor in the 2014 BCS Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

He started all 13 games in 2014. Geathers totaled 97 tackles, a sack, an interception, nine pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He was solid against the run, as Central Florida allowed an average of 3.2 yards per carry. Its secondary forced 14 interceptions last season. Geathers appeared in 53 games, tying a UCF career record.

Strengths: Geathers has strong instincts to go along with size, speed and range as a strong safety. He’s a durable player that can quarterback a defense. His attention to detail helps him read opposing quarterbacks and attack the football. Geathers is solid against the run.

Weaknesses: He doesn’t have top-end speed and struggles in man-to-man coverage.  His eagerness to stop the run gets him out of position at times. Geathers lacks soundness in his hip motions, causing him to be unbalanced when he backpedals. He is vulnerable on deep balls occasionally.

Clayton Geathers, NFL combine numbers: 40-yard dash (4.55), bench press (22 reps), vertical jump (37.0 inches), broad jump (10’0”), 3-cone drill (7.21), 20-yard shuttle (4.27) and 60-yard shuttle (12.57)

4. Anthony Harris, 6-1/183, Virginia

Summary: Virginia put in five wins in 2014, but it didn’t stop Anthony Harris from wreaking opposing receivers. He finished second on the team in tackles (108) with a sack, 10 pass breakups and two interceptions.

Harris’s 11 career interceptions tie him for 10th all-time in program history. He’s registered 289 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, 19 pass breakups and 11 interceptions in 49 games.

Strengths: Harris’s long arms help him break on balls well. He possesses solid hip movements and recovery speed when plays go vertical. Harris has sound ball-skills to go along with balance and body control. He never dealt with an injury bug in college.

Weaknesses: Harris isn’t a big-time hitter. He excels as an open-field tackler, but resorts to ankle tackling at times. Changing directions is an area of concern for Harris. He tends to get caught up in space, causing him to take poor angles toward the ball.

Anthony Harris, NFL combine numbers: Didn’t work out at the combine.

3. James Sample, 6-2/209, Louisville

Summary: James Sample’s career was cut short at Washington (2011-12), due to injuries. He played one season at American River College (California), before finding a home at Louisville.

Sample was overshadowed by teammate Gerod Holliman (14 interceptions, NCAA-best) in 2014, but was productive nonetheless. He led the team in tackles (90) and totaled eight pass breakups with four interceptions. Sample helped Louisville to 9 wins last season.

Strengths: Sample is bigger than what his 6’2” frame states. He has broad shoulders, long limbs and a thicker build. Sample possesses good hand-eye coordination and timing on 50/50 balls. His size allows him to not be easily blocked in on run plays. He has the ability to fight off blockers and attack ball carriers.

Weaknesses: Sample needs to be more flexible in his hips and knees. He tends to bend more at the waist, limited his ability to fluidly change directions. Sample doesn’t have elite recovery speed, if he’s beaten off the line of scrimmage. He’s had one full season of playing time (Louisville), despite a three-team journey to the National Football League.

James Sample, NFL combine numbers: 40-yard dash (4.56), vertical jump (32.5 inches), broad jump (10’3”) and 3-cone drill (7.04)

2. Erick Dargan, 5-11/217, Oregon

Summary: Erick Dargan set the tone defensively for Oregon in 2014. He recorded 95 tackles (team-high), seven interceptions, six pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Dargan was one of the driving forces behind Oregon’s success last season. He helped the team reach 13 wins, a Pac-12 Conference title and a Rose Bowl Championship in the 2014 College Football Playoff.

Dargan collected 13 interceptions in his career, tying him for 6th all-time in program history. He’s totaled 188 tackles, 26 pass breakups, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

Strengths: Dargan has a solid frame at 5-foot-11. He plays with speed and range, with the ability to control lateral movements. Dargan is a hard hitter that excels at finishing tackles. He tracks the ball well, and possesses acceleration to run with receivers in press coverage.

Weaknesses: Dargan lacks ideal arm length for a strong safety. He doesn’t have elite recovery speed, and tends to struggle with flipping his hips in man coverage. Dargan plays too conservative at times, conceding much room underneath for receivers. Timing is an area of needed improvement for Dargan. He occasionally gets called on many late hit fouls.

Erick Dargan, NFL combine numbers: Didn’t work out at the combine

1. Landon Collins, 6-0/228, Alabama

Summary: Landon Collins was the heartbeat of Alabama’s defense in 2014. He put in 103 tackles (team-high), seven pass breakups, three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. Collins finished second in tackles (70) in 2013, while totaling six pass breakups (team-high), two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception.

He accounted for 190 tackles, five interceptions, 13 pass breakups, four fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles in 41 games. He was a part of Alabama’s 2012 and 2014 Southeastern Conference Championship teams. Collins was a member of the Crimson Tide’s 2012 national championship team.

Strengths: Collins has great size at 6’0” and 228 pounds. He is light on his feet and can change direction with his hips. Collins is a secure tackler on special teams. He excels at reading run plays and taking away angles from running backs. He’s shown improvement in pass coverage.

Weaknesses: Collins’s eyes tend to deceive him against savvy quarterbacks and skilled receivers. He has good, but not elite recovery speed. His hands aren’t secure for interceptions, as he dropped multiple opportunities in 2014. Collins tends to take poor angles to the ball at times.

Landon Collins, NFL combine numbers: 40-yard dash (4.53), vertical jump (35.0 inches), broad jump (10’0”), 3-cone drill (7.38), 20-yard shuttle (4.33) and 60-yard shuttle (11.94)

Top 5 SS sleepers: Ronald Martin (LSU), Jordan Richards (Stanford), Robenson Therezie (Auburn), Damian Parms (Florida Atlantic) and Serderius Bryant (Ole Miss)

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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