1. Eric Berry, Tennessee.
Berry’s big plays dropped last year because Monte Kiffin used him like a linebacker to supplement the Vols’ struggling run defense, but the electrifying talent still took home Jim Thorpe Award honors as the nation’s best defensive back and left UT second on the NCAA career list in interception-return yards, behind only Terrell Buckley.
Draft Prediction: Browns, No. 7 overall.
2. Earl Thomas, Texas.
Thomas missed too many tackles in 2009, but that’s forgivable when you consider the third-year sophomore finished second nationally in interceptions (8), first in pass breakups (24), and is ready to shut down the slot in the pros.
Draft Prediction: Bengals, No. 21 overall.
3. Morgan Burnett, Georgia Tech.
Berry, Thomas, and Taylor Mays get more headlines, but Burnett’s combination of ball-hawking (14 interceptions in three seasons), production in the running game (Yellow Jackets’ Nos. 1 and 2 tackler in ’08 and ’09), and speed-size ratio (4.45 forty at 6’1/210) arguably puts him right up there with all of them.
Draft Prediction: Chiefs, No. 36 overall.
4. Taylor Mays, USC.
A freakish straight-line athlete at 6-foot-3, 230, Mays runs a sub-4.4 forty but had just five career interceptions as a four-year starter, didn’t force a fumble or make a single tackle for loss as a senior, and is viewed as a weak-side linebacker prospect by some teams.
Draft Prediction: Eagles, No. 37 overall.
5. Chad Jones, LSU.
Also a standout southpaw on LSU’s national championship baseball team (2.70 ERA, 95 MPH fastball), Jones runs 4.57 but exhibited superior play-making ability to Mays as just a 1 1/2-year starter with three picks, a forced fumble, and a blocked kick in 2009.
Draft Prediction: Seahawks, No. 60 overall.
6. Nate Allen, South Florida.
Allen has battled a quadriceps injury since the Bulls’ season ended, but the 6-foot-1, 205-pound centerfield-type safety made 39 straight starts to finish his college career and draws high marks for his instincts and ball skills (4 picks in ’09).
Draft Prediction: Cowboys, No. 59 overall.
7. Major Wright, Florida.
The Gators were so loaded in the secondary that Wright lost playing time during his final season, but he is heady (All-Academic SEC), a big-time hitter, and offers ideal experience for an underclassman with 35 career college starts.
Draft Prediction: Chargers, No. 126 overall.
8. Robert Johnson, Utah.
A head-scratching Combine non-invitee, the former JUCO transfer collected 13 interceptions (6 in ’09) during his three years as a starter and at 6-foot-2, 197 is well built to support the run.
Draft Prediction: Titans, No. 111 overall.
9. Larry Asante, Nebraska.
A true “in the box” safety, Asante made first-team All-Big 12 as a senior, was used at linebacker in community college early in his career and plays with that mentality, and showed better range than anticipated on the Senior Bowl practice field.
Draft Prediction: Jets, No. 124 overall.
10. Reshad Jones, Georgia.
Jones leaves something to be desired in terms of speed (4.54) and was snubbed for All-SEC honors in 2009, but picked off nine passes in his final two seasons and at 6-foot-1, 215 is built to play strong safety in the pros.
Draft Prediction: Bears, No. 141 overall.
11. T.J. Ward, Oregon.
Ward was highly productive in kickoff coverage before taking over as the Ducks’ first-team free safety for his junior and senior seasons, and played with a thumper’s mentality as a junior opposite current Patriots S Pat Chung before battling a high ankle sprain in 2009.
Draft Prediction: Chiefs, No. 142 overall.
12. Darrell Stuckey, Kansas.
A first-team All-Big 12 pick as a junior, Stuckey slipped to honorable mention in 2009 because his big-play totals were down, but he projects as an immediate impact special teamer with long-term upside to grow into a viable strong safety.
Draft Prediction: 49ers, No. 145 overall.
13. Van Eskridge, East Carolina.
Another Combine snub, Eskridge paced the Pirates in interceptions (6) and tackles (102), and forced a pair of fumbles last season, but likely projects as no more than a mid- to late-round pick due to 4.6 speed.
Draft Prediction: Rams, No. 170 overall.
14. Kam Chancellor, Virginia Tech.
A poor man’s version of Taylor Mays, the 6-foot-3, 232-pound Chancellor plays physical but accounted for just six career interceptions and 4.5 tackles for loss as a 41-game starter.
Draft Prediction: Jaguars, No. 180 overall.
15. Myron Rolle, Florida State.
The Rhodes Scholar made few big plays as a three-year starter, ran 4.75 at 6-foot-1, 217 during February’s Combine, sat out the entire 2009 season while attending Oxford to get his degree in neurosurgery, and will appeal only to teams that value intelligence above all else in a safety prospect.
Draft Prediction: Dolphins, No. 173 overall.