First we look at the college production of a specific position group. For the safeties, we'll be using a metric based on Production Points (the metric is explained in detail in the post on linebackers), which looks at the key stats for safeties and weights them with a point system that gives you a single number that shows how many Production Points a player averaged per game.
Then we match that with a metric for athleticism, SPARQ, which is a single number designed to summarize a player's athleticism. The number is calculated with a proprietary formula that incorporates player weight, bench press, broad jump, vertical jump, forty-yard dash, ten-yard split, short shuttle and 3-cone drill (details here).
Once we have those two metrics, we combine them to see which draft prospects emerge as the most productive AND most athletic.
Let's kick things off with the Production Points for this year's safety class (all the caveats and provisos from the previous posts still apply). The next table features 31 safeties, all with a draftable grade according to the CBSSports big board and sorted by their rank on the same board from April 15. The table is sortable so you can see who ranks where for each category (just click on the blue column headers):
|Production Points for Safeties in
|2||Jalen Ramsey||Florida State||6-1||202||1||132||13.0||2||4.0||22||2||3||27||10.3|
|49||Vonn Bell||Ohio State||5-11||199||2||157||3.0||0||1.0||15||8||0||28||10.1|
|55||Karl Joseph||West Virginia||5-10||205||2||110||6.5||2||1.0||4||6||3||16||13.5|
|96||Darian Thompson||Boise State||6-2||208||3||136||13.5||0||1.0||5||12||2||25||12.0|
|115||Miles Killebrew||Southern Utah||6-2||217||3-4||233||4.5||0||0.0||14||3||4||24||14.0|
|122||DeAndre Houston-Carson||William & Mary||6-1||201||3-4||176||7.0||1||3.5||8||7||1||22||13.5|
|153||KJ Dillon||West Virginia||6-0||210||4-5||116||14.0||4||0.5||15||5||0||26||9.5|
|169||Kevin Byard||Middle Tennessee||5-11||212||5||132||4.0||1||0.0||10||10||2||24||11.5|
|184||Justin Simmons||Boston College||6-2||202||5-6||143||3.0||1||1.0||7||7||2||25||10.0|
|205||Tyvis Powell||Ohio State||6-3||211||6||147||2.5||1||0.0||7||7||1||28||8.8|
|212||Kavon Frazier||Central Michigan||6-0||217||6||166||4.5||1||0.0||8||1||2||26||8.6|
|225||Trae Elston||Ole Miss||5-11||193||6-7||129||8.0||0||0.0||17||5||1||25||9.9|
|231||Deiondre' Hall||Northern Iowa||6-2||192||6-7||155||9.0||0||0.0||10||11||3||28||11.4|
|243||Deon Bush||Miami (Fla.)||6-0||199||7||103||7.0||2||3.0||9||3||5||25||8.6|
|275||Doug Middleton||Appalachian State||6-0||209||7-FA||127||7.0||1||1.0||9||4||0||25||8.4|
|288||Jordan Lucas||Penn State||6-0||201||7-FA||114||6.5||0||2.0||12||0||1||23||7.6|
|299||Elijah Shumate||Notre Dame||6-0||216||7-FA||136||9.0||2||1.0||6||2||0||26||7.7|
|348||Trent Matthews||Colorado State||6-1||215||7-FA||136||4.5||0||0.0||10||5||0||26||8.5|
|482||Kentrell Brice||Louisiana Tech||5-11||200||- -||146||7.0||6||5.0||13||3||4||27||10.5|
For this safety class, a Production Score of 10 is average. Going by what we've seen from other position groups using this metric, a number above 12.0 suggests very high college productivity, and anything above 14.0 is exceptional.
Having said that, we can't look at Production Points in isolation, but need to add some context to these numbers. We know that that the stats for small-school players (four of them are marked in yellow in the table above) tend to be overinflated because of the quality of the opponents played. Also, we need to factor in the type of role each player had in college.
Some players, like Sean Davis or Jalen Ramsey, played both corner and safety during their college careers. Others, like Jeremy Cash, played more of a hybrid line/backer safety role, Jalen Mills played corner, safety, and nickel in college and perhaps projects best as a slot corner in the NFL, others yet again spent more time in deep center field than in the box - all these things affect a player's college production. That's why in addition to a high production score, you want to see players with a track record of big defensive plays against the pass and against the run.
Overall, clear standout in terms of Production Points here is Jeremy Cash, whose 17.0 points beats all other safeties, and even beats all but one linebacker. Cash frequently lined up at the line of scrimmage, either as an in-the box safety or as a nickel corner, and that, combined with his impact tackling (seven forced fumbles in two years) drives his Production Points. And while he has decent number of plays against the pass on his stat sheet, he'll likely be a box safety or hybrid player LB/S player in the NFL, who'll offer great run support but probably won't be a great center fielder.
Miles Killebrew out of Utah State also intrigues with a numbers, but is probably also a safety/LB hybrid player, and like the other small-school players here still needs to answer questions about how his production will translate to the NFL.
There's an interesting quartet of players next on the list (Karl Joseph, Sean Davis, Darian Thompson, and Kevin Byard), who all score well and all have demonstrated that they can play the ball well.
Moving on to SPARQ, our list of safeties is reduced to 25 players, as we don't have SPARQ data for all of them. Jeremy Cash and Karl Joseph are the biggest misses, as it would have been nice to see how their superior production matches up with their athleticism, but both are injured and didn't run the necessary drills. Technically, I don't have SPARQ data for Kevin Byard, either. But while he missed the Combine, he recently performed at his pro day and I estimated his SPARQ number from his pro day results.
The following graph provides a visual representation of what happens when we plot Production Points against the SPARQ score for 2016 safety class.
Going clockwise from the top left of the graph, the C quadrant features players with a strong record of production at the college level, but who have questions regarding their athletic ability. The A quadrant (top right) shows the players most likely to succeed at the NFL level; they have a strong track record of production and combine that with the necessary athleticism to allow them to compete at the NFL level. The B quadrant (bottom right) shows superior athletes whose college production has been sub par, leaving scouts to question why this might be the case. The D quadrant (bottom left) is a nasty place for a prospect to find himself; it's where the guys sit whose college production and athletic markers are both below those of their peers.
If you're looking for a safety, 2016 may be a good year to get one. This class offers at least 14 players with above average athleticism (Quadrants A+B), nine of which even show up as A-quadrant players or sit right on the line to the A-quadrant. That's the most of any position group we've looked at.
The Cowboys only invited one safety, Karl Joseph, for an official pre-draft visits. But that doesn't mean they have no interest in safeties, far from it. They worked out Jalen Mills and Derrick Kindred during Dallas Days, and had private workouts with Keanu Neal, Sean Davis, and Justin Simmons. All five are above average athletes as measured by SPARQ, four of them are A-quadrant players.
Also, they flirted heavily with Eric Weddle in free agency, so there is definitely some interest in upgrading the position. The only question is, will they be able to get a talent (probably in the mid- to late rounds) that is better than what they already have on the roster? If they look at some of the A-quadrant players, the odds of that happening will likely increase.
And there are some interesting prospects to be had here between rounds two and four. Sean Davis (6-1) should be at the very top of their day two list, regardless of whether they are looking for a CB or a safety. Keanu Neal (6-0), Jalen Mills (6-0) and Jeremy Cash (6-0) are also interesting day two prospects, and guys like Justin Simmons (6-2), Kevin Byard (5-11), or Miles Killebrew (6-2) could be options in the later rounds.
Again, there's not a lot of historic SPARQ data around, but these are the numbers I could get my hands on for safeties.
For most other positions, we've seen a stronger correlation between production and athleticism when looking at successful NFL veterans. This may be due to the unique situation of the position as outlined above, may be the result of the limited number of historic players available, or it may indicate that the model simply does not work as well for safeties.
Or, because I only used data from the 2016 draft class, I may have drawn the borders of the graph wrong. Because you could also argue that all but one of the players above are sitting right at the edge of the A-quadrant. And Kam Chancellor is a unique case anyway. If anybody, including the Seahawks, had knowd he'd be four-time Pro Bowler, he would have been a first-round pick. Instead, every single team passed on him multiple times in the draft until the Seahawks finally took a fifth-round flyer on him.