(A series looking at the top players at various positions leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, set for April 30-May 2.)
Collins (6-foot, 228 pounds) was only a full-time starter for one of his three seasons at Alabama. He began as a backup to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and didn't move into the lineup permanently until Vinnie Sunseri was injured in 2013. Collins started 14 games in 2014, and he finished with 103 tackles, seven passes defensed, and three interceptions. The question with Collins as he projects to the NFL is whether there is anything special about him. He was a good player on a very good team in college, but scouts would have liked to see more from Collins in terms of wow-plays. He is disciplined, he has good tackling technique, he finds the football and puts running backs on the ground. But can he handle the sophisticated pass offenses and elite athletes he'll find at the NFL level? Is his route recognition good enough? If it isn't, does he have any recovery speed to compensate?
As a freshman in 2010, Smith (5-10, 200) played in all 13 games. He got into the Fresno State starting lineup in 2011, and after posting two passes defensed and an interception during the first three games, Smith broke his left arm and was granted a medical redshirt. From 2012-14, Smith started 40 games, and in those he posted 15 passes defensed and 14 interceptions. That means Smith completed his college career with 15 interceptions in 43 starts. Those numbers speak to Smith's productivity, and his overall football intelligence likely was enhanced by playing quarterback in high school. Smith was a team captain, and he graduated with a degree in communications. If he had attended a school in the SEC and posted the kind of numbers he did at Fresno State, Smith would be a certain No. 1 pick. As it is, a lot of scouts see him as an eventual starter in the NFL.
After taking a redshirt as a freshman in 2010, Tartt (6-1, 221) was a reserve safety for Samford in 2011 before becoming a full-time starter in 2012. He played through a torn right labrum in 2013 when he started all 13 games, and Tartt also was a two-time finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, which goes to the top defensive player in Division I-FCS. The first Samford player ever invited to the Senior Bowl, Tartt graduated last December with a degree in geography with a specialty in computer mapping. During his career, Tartt had 277 tackles, six interceptions, 20 passes defensed, and 6.5 tackles for loss. Tartt is seen as having terrific size and being a solid tackler, but he must show he can handle the coverage responsibilities that come with this position in the NFL.
As a freshman in 2011, Harris (6-1, 183) was a backup safety and played special teams at Virginia. He broke into the starting lineup as a free safety for the Cavaliers in 2012, but his two subsequent seasons would show he was more productive as a strong safety. That's where Harris started 23 of the 24 games in 2013-14, and in those seasons he had 10 interceptions and 16 passes defensed, with only two penalties called against him. A team captain, Harris graduated with a degree in sociology. The thing about Harris is that while he has the build of a cornerback, his position is safety. He has shown the ability to make plays on the ball, but scouts say Harris sometimes lacks the aggressive mind-set of a safety when it comes to attacking things he sees unfold in front of him. Because of his build, Harris probably won't be an effective in-the-box safety in the NFL, but his ball skills and production are going to interest some team at some point.
View some of the top 2015 NFL draft prospects at the safety position.
Randall (5-11, 196) is somewhat similar to Anthony Harris in that his build doesn't quite match up with his skill-set as the transition has to be made to the NFL. After high school, Randall would spend three years in two different junior colleges – he played baseball one year, took a football redshirt the next year, and then got onto the field and flashed enough to interest Arizona State. During his two seasons with the Sun Devils he started 23 games at safety. In 2014, he led the team with 106 tackles, and he returned one of his three for a 59-yard touchdown vs. Notre Dame. Randall is a very good athlete, whose 4.46 in the 40-yard dash was the best among safeties at the Combine. Randall has the attitude of a safety, but without the accompanying size to back it up, the issue becomes whether his body can hold up at the NFL level. Some team might look at him and see a cornerback, but he didn't develop a lot of NFL cornerback-type technique playing safety for Arizona State.
As a freshman in 2011, Amos 6-1, 218, was a backup at Penn State, but he came on to start 37 games during the next three seasons. During those he had six interceptions and 15 passes defensed, but Amos also developed a reputation as less-then-enthusiastic when it came to the physical demands of the position, especially at the position as it's played in the NFL. Amos graduated with a degree in recreational parks and tourism management. He is seen as having what it takes in terms of football intelligence and the willingness to study tape to understand what offenses are trying to do. But will he hit anybody?
THE 2014 NFL DRAFT, DB STATISTICS
Number drafted: 53
Picks by round: 9 in the first; 2 in the second; 4 in the third; 13 in the fourth; 7 in the fifth; 9 in the sixth; 9 in the seventh
Highest pick: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State, Round 1, 8th overall by the Cleveland Browns
Biggest impact: There are two from which to choose. Kyle Fuller started right away for the Chicago Bears, and he had three interceptions in his first three games. Injuries then slowed him, but he still made 15 starts and finished with four interceptions, 10 passes defensed, and three forced fumbles. Bashaud Breeland started 15 games for the Washington Redskins, and he finished with two interceptions, 13 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and held Dallas' Dez Bryant to three catches for 30 yards in one of their meetings.