In speaking with teams these days about where particular players could be selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, I'm continually asked one particular question: Will Alabama safety Mark Barron be available when it is our turn to pick?
The message here is crystal clear: A lot of teams are very interested in selecting Barron high in Round 1. Why is there all this interest? To put it simply, Barron is one of the best players in this draft.
Most people feel that six prospects are "a cut above" the rest in this class: QB Andrew Luck, QB Robert Griffin III, OT Matt Kalil, RB Trent Richardson, CB Morris Claiborne and WR Justin Blackmon. My next-rated player is Barron.
Back in my executive days with the Washington Redskins, when there was a tie between two players on our draft board, I always asked two questions:
These two questions always helped break a tie.
I've studied five games of Barron in action, and he's the player who would receive the most positive answers from those two questions. Barron is 6-foot-1, 213 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.5's. He is very smart; Nick Saban runs a complex defense at Alabama and Barron had no problem understanding it. He should be able to be the defensive signal caller for his NFL team. He is very athletic and has the ability to play man coverage versus tight ends, which is not common in a safety. He is also exceptional when playing zone defense. Barron has excellent instincts to break on the ball and the speed to cover a lot of ground. As a physical player and fine tackler, he often played linebacker in Alabama's nickel defense. When I evaluate Barron as a safety, I do not see anything he can't do. To me, he's a very safe pick.
So, how high do you take a safety? That depends on how important the position is to your defense. If it is important, then Barron qualifies as a top-10 pick in this year's draft.
Here is how I rate Barron against some highly regarded safeties taken in the top 15 of recent drafts when they were coming out of college ...
Rated higher than Barron:
Rated lower than Barron:
• Sean Taylor 2004 draft, fifth pick (Washington): Not as smooth in the hips, could not cover as well.
In scouting for the draft, you compare prospects to previous players taken in a round to decide what value to put on them. This is how I arrive at my thinking: Mark Barron is worth a top-10 pick.