2015 NFL Scouting Combine Watch List: Safeties

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Aug 30, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans receiver Adoree Jackson (2) is tackled by Fresno State Bulldogs defensive back Derron Smith (13) at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Derron Smith, Fresno State

Derron Smith is one of the best safeties in the draft, but due to his mid-major program and his decline in production in 2014, may find himself slipping behind big-conference names like Landon Collins and Cody Prewitt and fall as far as round 3. If this occurs, he could be a major steal for Reggie McKenzie and the Raiders staff looking for a player to be the heir apparent to Charles Woodson but also one who can come in immediately in 2015 and play quality snaps and contribute for Ken Norton’s defensive unit.

The Fresno State product has a lot of quality tape and quality press already, and Reggie McKenzie, who clearly keeps a close eye on California college talent regardless of conference, likely is very familiar with him already. Derek Carr, McKenzie’s franchise quarterback, knows him well also.

Smith is an athletic, intelligent free safety who has good speed and adequate size for the position with a good football IQ and great ball skills. He was massively productive for Fresno State in 2012 and 2013 but his production fell off in 2014 as Fresno State’s defense struggled and opposing offenses could game-plan around him. He has shown the ability to do nearly anything an NFL free safety would be expected to do: he plays single-high safety and can quickly explode to the boundary to give help downfield and make plays on the ball. He can play down in the box as a strong safety and is a willing, physical tackler though he struggles to take proper angles and finish consistently.

Smith also can line up on a slot receiver and cover them well, though he does tend to lose more than his fair share of contested jump balls if he’s matched up one-on-one, though he is rarely ever beaten on a play. Here are a few ways Smith can up his draft stock at the Combine to impress NFL observers like Reggie McKenzie, Jack Del Rio and Ken Norton Jr.

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  • 40-Yard Dash: The 40-yard dash is very important for defensive backs, even safeties. While a safety may not need to possess the elite speed of a cornerback, it certainly helps, especially if you plan on using the safety as a slot corner ever, or if you plan on using him in single-high coverage where he needs to get to a spot very quickly.

    Elite speed in the 40 can elevate a player like Smith on many draft boards, because even a raw safety who makes mistakes in coverage – which is not the case for Smith – can make up for them if he can run really fast. A smart player like Smith, with speed in the low 4.5 range or better, can make an impact immediately.

    Speed Turn Drill: this drill requires a prospect to perform a backpedal, then quickly burst upfield, then execute a quick change of direction back downfield and closes with him turning to locate a deep ball and catching it. It’s a strong fundamental test of a defensive back’s ability to execute basic movements and show rapid recovery speed and ability.

    On tape, Smith shows strong fundamental skills in these areas and fluid hip turns and great ball skills, but coaches will want to see him perform this drill in person anyway. If he shows up really well here, it will help boost his stock.

    Interview: Any team that decides to conduct an interview with Derron Smith should be in for a treat. The former high school quarterback and four-year starter at Fresno State is universally recognized as having an excellent football IQ, and he has been playing in a very complex college defense for years now. He has played the position in dozens of different ways and has had some success and production doing so.

    Smith also is known as a leader and a great teammate as well as a player who works hard and does the off-field things necessary to be a winner. Granted, teams don’t always interview defensive backs, but any team interested in Smith should, they will likely like what they see and hear.

    Next: Player to Watch: Cody Prewitt