As you may know, the Jets decided not to address the lack of safety in the draft or in free agency this year until very late in the draft. Now, as a full disclosure: I am absolutely happy with the two guys we got in the draft. Though Josh Bush may have been a reach, I do like his closing speed and playmaking ability, and I just love the Antonio Allen pick late. Although this is speculation based on next year, it would still not surprise me should one or both of Allen or Bush become the starters of the future at free safety and strong safety.
However, after seeing the Jets take a risk on a safety in free agency, and doing nothing drastic in the draft to fix the position short-term, I started wondering if Ryan and Tanny truly have a grip on how important this position is: We have Eric Smith starting at free safety and Landry at strong. I do like Landry at strong safety, with his hitting ability and his aggressive style of play, but he is unlikely to become more than a one-year gap at New York, with his one-year contract and our looming cap problems next year. So what is our plan for the future at safety?
In my opinion, look no further than the safety class from the 2013 NFL Draft.
To start with, we have yet another Alabama safety, Robert Lester. Many at Alabama assumed he was only signed to appease high school teammate Julio Jones; however, Lester has turned out to be much more. Though almost the same size as Mark Barron with the same hitting ability, Lester is much more of a ballhawk. He has had nine interceptions over the last two years, and can likely run the 40 almost two-tenths faster than Barron.
Two other intriguing prospects are Ray Ray Armstrong of Miami and GGN supplemental draft favorite, Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo. Rambo lives up to his name; all four of the Georgia games I watched this year he was flying all over the field like a madman, making plays all over the place. Armstrong does not play with the same tenacity as Rambo; however, he is even more physically gifted, standing at a linebacker-like 6-4, 220 yet able to run an estimated 4.57 40 time. Armstrong just has yet to reach his full potential. All three could play at either strong safety or free safety in the NFL, with their powerful hits and their surprising speed.
Next, we move on to my favorite safety of the 2013 draft, Eric Reid of LSU. Having seen firsthand what this guy can do, twice, last year, consider me impressed. Alabama had two tight ends, Michael Williams and Brad Smelley, who were not as fast as NFL tight ends but just as big if not bigger. Despite being outweighed by over 60 pounds, Reid was actually able to out-muscle and be more physical than both of them. Reid dominated the first matchup between LSU and Alabama, and I expect even more coming from him next year.
Continuing on, we move from the tweeners to the chock-full class of prototypical free safeties. T.J. McDonald of USC, Isaiah Johnson, and Rashard Hall are three with similar skills: all three are taller safeties around 200 pounds who can run under the 4.5 mark. McDonald fits zone schemes well; he led USC with 89 tackles and had 4 passes broken up with 3 interceptions. Isaiah Johnson has excellent instincts with plenty of room to improve, and Hall has had an impressive freshman season followed up with a somewhat lesser sophomore campaign. Still, all three have the tall, rangy playing style that you want to see from a free safety.
Finally, we round up with the smaller free safeties similar to our new friend, Josh Bush. There is no shortage of these in the NFL draft next year, either, with Tony Jefferson of Oklahoma and Matt Elam of Florida leading the charge. Jefferson, at 5-10 and 199, is an athletic cornerback who has been moved to free safety. Another instinctive safety, Jefferson has one of the higher ceilings in this draft class. Matt Elam, a heavier safety than Jefferson, is a fast, athletic type hailed as the best safety in the nation and best player in Florida of his class. Elam was the most consistent and best player on Florida's defense last season, and is poised for a breakout year next year as Florida continues its growing pains from the loss of Urban Meyer and our own Tim Tebow.
There is no shortage of safeties in next years class: many types can be had from the first to the third, from the tall, hard hitters, to the rangy cover guys, to the small, athletic guys. There is no shortage of talent in the later rounds, either; what with the huge Devonte Holloman of South Carolina; the center fielder Prentiss Waggner of Tennessee; the underrated, quick Vaughn Telemaque of Miami; the all-Pac-12 FS John Boyett of Oregon; the big, strong SS Kenny Vaccaro of Texas; and the injury-plagued but highly-touted SS Craig Loston. That's not even considering the many safeties from the lower ranks of college football who will inevitably pop up as the year progresses. In short, there is a very large possibility that the Jets knew not to take a safety early all along; next year's safety class could very well become one of the best of all time.