Supply and demand in the draft: Safety

Supply and demand in the draft: Safety
April 18, 2013, 11:30 am
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The NFC East champion Redskins have 21 of 22 starters returning. The one hole is at safety. Facing an $18 million salary cap penalty the team was very limited in what it could do in free agency and what money the team had it mostly spent on retaining its own players. So the need at safety remains.

The Redskins could choose to address the need in the draft. However, with their first pick coming at No. 51 overall, there are some issues that could make doing that problematic.

One is that, in general, it is difficult to find immediate starters at that point in the draft. Last year there were 203 players picked from No. 50 on and just 15 of them started 10 games or more. You can’t like those odds.

Some will say that this year at this position is the exception, that the draft pool at safety is so deep that there is bound to be a potential starter there. It’s true that most draft analysts have said that the safety class is the deepest in year. It is also true that for a variety of reasons there may be more teams who will be in pursuit of safeties than we’ve seen in quite some time.

The Redskins are looking at a simple matter of supply and demand here. Are there too many teams that are in desperate need of safety help for the Redskins to be able to count on getting one who could be an immediate starter?

Drafts are very difficult to predict but let’s see if we can take an educated guess as to how many safeties might be gone.

To narrow the field down some, let’s first look at teams that pick twice before the Redskins pick. If those teams have a need at safety the chances that they take one are presumably doubled. There are 17 teams that pick twice before the Redskins pick once, the Jaguars, Eagles, Lions, Cardinals, Bills, Jets, Titans, Chargers, Dolphins, Bucs, Panthers, Cowboys, Steelers, Giants, Bears, Vikings and 49ers. The Rams have three picks before pick 51 rolls around.

Of those 18 teams with multiple cracks at the draft board before the Redskins get a shot, how many have a need at safety? Using the depth charts from Outlads.com, I looked up the started safeties for each of those teams. Then I went to another favorite tool of mine, the approximate value (AV) of each of those players.

The AV is an attempt to establish a numerical value for each player’s season. It is based on both team and individual stats and accomplishments; you can look here for the nitty-gritty details. Players in the teens are good to great (RG3 had an AV of 18 last year), players between 6 and 10 had decent seasons (Peirre Garcon got a 7), and players 5 and down are below average (Chris Wilson got a 1). Certainly the system is far from perfect but it’s as good a yardstick as any out there.

To see if teams are in need of a safety, we’ll use the Madieu Williams line. He started 16 games at safety last year and he is the one starter the Redskins did not bring back despite the fact that they probably could have signed him for something close to minimum salary. Williams had an AV of 6 last year; we’ll say that any team that has a starting safety with an AV of lower than that, 1-5, is in need of a safety in the draft.

Of the 18 teams with multiple picks before the Redskins’ selection, seven, the Titans, Dolphins, Bucs, Panthers, Giants, Bears, and 49ers, all have two starting safeties with AV’s of six or more.

That leaves 11 teams who could be considered to be prime candidates to draft a safety and will have two chances to do so before the Redskins have one. Here are those teams, the selections they hold, and the names and 2012 AV’s of their safeties.

TeamOverall picksStarting safeties, AV's
Jaguars2, 33Prosinski, 3 Lowrey 4
Eagles4, 35Chung 3, Phillips 2
Lions5, 36Delmas 3, Glover 7
Cardinals7, 38Bell 7, Johnson 3
Bills8,41Byrd 10, Searcy 1
Jets3, 39D. Landry 6, Bush 1
Chargers11, 45Taylor 1, Weddle 12
Rams16, 22, 46Stewart 1, McLeod 1
Cowboys18, 47Church 1, Allen 4
Steelers17, 48Polamalu 4, Clark 9
Vikings23, 25Raymond 1, Smith 12

Of these teams, four—the Eagles, Rams, Cowboys, and Jaguars—could be considered to be in a “code red” situation at safety, with both of their current starters falling below the M. Williams line.

That’s a look at the demand side, how about the supply? It is difficult to project who might be an immediate starter in most cases, especially in the second round. A lot will depend on scheme fit, whether the player is more suited to playing strong  safety or free, and other such factors. The National Football Post’s scouting section gives players grades the minimum for a player they think can be a solid (not necessarily immediate) starter is 6.0. They rate just five safeties that highly—Kenny Vaccaro, Texas (8.3), Johnathan Cyprien, Florida International (8.0), Eric Reid, LSU (7.2), Josh Evans, Florida (7.2), and Jamoris Slaughter (6.6). One more, D. J. Swearinger of South Carolina, is just below the line at 5.9.

Certainly analysts’ views will vary. Some might have different names and different grades. Most importantly, teams’ draft boards will vary. But if we go with six safeties who may be capable of starting in 2013, that’s a rather tight supply. Let’s just say that two of the “code red” teams take a safety and that three of the other seven with multiple picks and a need at safety take one. That means that the top five are off the board when the Redskins pick. But wait, a couple more might go because a team like the Ravens could well take a safety with its lone pick prior to Washington’s.

If six safeties are off the board, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are out of luck. A safety they believe can play significant snaps right away might still be on the board. But it is also possible that such players are long gone and they might need to go in another direction.