NFL clubs are looking for coverage ability first and foremost in both cornerbacks and safeties these days, but it's certainly an added bonus if a draft prospect can also bring a physical, intimidating element to a secondary. A big hit at the right time can cause fumbles, force drops on would-be catches, or at the least, change momentum. Below is a look at five draft-worthy defensive backs who will bring a hard-hitting reputation to the team that drafts them, and more than likely, a special-teams contribution as well.
The undisputed best safety in the draft is known more for his hitting than his coverage, which makes Collins an easy choice for the top spot. At 6-foot and 228 pounds, he's just a couple inches and a few pounds short of being a linebacker. He attacks rushers and receivers with a linebacker's ferocity. He led Alabama in tackles last season with 103, spending more than his share of time operating close to the line of scrimmage and supporting the run. He can be a punishing defender in coverage.
NFL fit:Philadelphia Eagles. Three of six NFL Media analysts project the Eagles to take Collins with 20th overall pick, although with the safety position being the thinnest spot in the draft class, it won't be surprising if Collins is snatched up before the Eagles are on the clock.
Just an hour down the road from where Collins made himself the darling of the draft at safety, Tartt was quietly carving out NFL attention of his own at tiny Samford in Birmingham, Ala. Tartt is 6-1 and 221 pounds, and uses every bit of it in attacking ball carriers with a downhill, aggressive style. He made 53 tackles last season and just nine of them were assisted, showing his ability to get to the ball first and make the play without help. He was outstanding at the Senior Bowl and impressed reps from 18 clubs earlier this week with a 4.47 clocking in the 40-yard dash at his pro day.
NFL fit:Indianapolis Colts. Tartt would fill a definite need for Indianapolis, which will likely be addressing the defensive backfield relatively early in the draft. After Collins, not many safeties in this draft class will be able to step into a starting role quickly, but Tartt could be up to the challenge.
The former Rebels star built a well-earned reputation as an enforcer in the secondary. But while he can bring plenty of force on receivers over the middle, his open-field tackling isn't quite as sure, as this dusting by Alabama's T.J. Yeldon illustrates. Still, Prewitt is as fearless a hitter as anyone in the country and figures, at a minimum, to be a special-teams menace as a rookie.
NFL fit:Pittsburgh Steelers. Steelers fans readily appreciate tough, blue-collar players like Prewitt.
Randall (5-11, 196) is the smallest player listed here, but he packs a serious punch as a tackler. This from his NFL.com draft profile: "Inspired effort as a tackler, racking up 177 tackles during two-year stint at Arizona State. Looks to punish. Explodes into targets and jolts his victims." That's about as glowing a review of a prospect's physicality as you'll find. As for his agility and quickness for pass coverage, his pro day gave him a chance to show NFL coaches he can do more than just stop ball carriers dead in their tracks.
NFL fit:Chicago Bears. Picking Kyle Fuller in the first round last year bolstered the Bears at corner. This year, it's the safety spot where they'll need secondary help, and Randall could be a nice addition if the value is right.
Jarrett isn't going to be a high pick, but he's a big hitter. At 5-10 and 200 pounds, he'll be better suited in the NFL for a role as a nickel back or as a rover -- whatever gets him closer to the action. Jarrett led Virginia Tech in tackles last season with 88, including 52 solos, and was a major problem for opposing defenses when unaccounted for by the blocking scheme.
NFL fit:Washington Redskins. Given the mess of a secondary Washington finished with last year, don't be surprised if the club invests multiple picks in that area. Jarrett could help solidify the Redskins in the defensive backfield, although he'd probably be the second or third DB the team picks -- not the first.