Just in time for the draft, we move on to the final position group in the Raiders Draft Radar series -- the safeties. Along with the player, I include the round in which the Raiders would be likely to take the player should he be available with their pick in that round.
The safety position is home to the Raiders' highest paid player - Tyvon Branch. He is one of the better strong safeties in the NFL and the only high-priced player the Raiders retained in their salary purging over the past two off-seasons. However, the other starting safety, Michael Huff, did not survive the cuts. Neither did Branch's backup, Mike Mitchell. The team signed two safeties this off-season - Reggie Smith and Usama Young. Both were signed to one-year deals and neither are a sure thing. The team will look to build for the future through the draft.
Here are those safeties who show up on the Raiders draft radar:
Eric Reid, LSU - Round 2
At 6-2, 210 pounds with a 4.53 40-yard dash, he has a great combination of size and speed at the free safety position. He was touted as the best safety in college football coming into last season and while his coverage may not have improved as much as expected, he still improved on every category. His 91 tackles, 7 passes defended, and 2 interceptions were still among the top performers at the safety position and earned him a place on the All SEC First team. Reid has all the physical tools but was known to be a bit too aggressive and bite on misdirection plays. Some would say it was the result of simply trying too hard to make a big play and rise to his lofty expectations. That nothing some good coaching couldn't correct.
DJ Swearinger, South Carolina - Round 3
We know he has the coverage abilities because he switched back and forth from corner to safety. Michael Huff played free safety for the Raiders over his career but also stepped into the nickel corner role when needed and switched positions altogether last season. Swearinger would be able to Replace those duties. Reggie McKenzie has reiterated many times that he wants players who have a passion for football and DJ has that in spades. He is violent hitter which has led to several penalties as well as a one-game suspension. At 5-11, 210 pounds, he hits like a strong safety but projects as a free safety.
Phillip Thomas, Fresno State - Round 4
The Bakersfield native went right up the 99 to Fresno State for college. Thomas impressed last season with some of the best numbers in the country from the safety position - 84 tackles, 5 passes defended, 8 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles. The 6-1, 210 pound ballhawk can play either free or strong safety. His speed is suspect as he ran a 4.65 40-yard dash at the combine but he makes up for it with great instincts and leaping ability. While he is not a big hitter, he is a solid tackler. He was out all of 2011 with a dislocated and broken ankle but that is not the type of injury that typically causes concern down the road. His football intellect, character, and coachability make him more attractive. He stayed close to home for college, no doubt he would love to do the same for his pro career.
John Boyett, Oregon - Round 6
Before he went down last season with tears in both patellar tendons, Boyett was the best player on the Ducks defense. The Raiders will be looking to take a flyer on a strong safety to back up Tyvon Branch and I can't think of a player more worthy of that job than Boyett. He has everything a coach could want in a strong safety - great instincts, a nose for the ball, film junkie, tough, gritty, football smarts, passionate, plays the run well, good zone awareness, and standout special teams play. He is even a native of Napa, where the Raiders spend training camp. This pick makes way too much sense. If the Raiders don't take him, they will watch as he makes another team better. Two such teams who have shown interest in him are division rival Broncos and Chiefs. That can't happen.
Don Jones, Arkansas State - Round 7-FA
After a standout Pro Day in which Raiders scouts were in attendance, the Raiders had Jones in for a visit. His physical abilities are off the charts. He ran a 4.40 40-yard dash with an incredible 42-inch vertical and 10-7 broad jump. His numbers don't jump off the page. Starting the past two seasons at Arkansas State, he had 128 tackles (12 for a loss), 2 interceptions, and 7 passes defended. The 5-11, 191 pound defensive back projects as a strong safety at the NFL level.