Meriweather often took bad angles, failed to wrap up and didn’t make many game-changing plays.
However, 2009 second-round pick Pat Chung stepped up and looks to be a future Pro Bowl player.
The Pats have a ton of depth at the position with veteran James Sanders and youngsters Josh Barrett, Sergio Brown and Brett Lockett. They could also bring back Brandon McGowan and/or Jarrad Page, which would give the team a lot of bodies.
Yet, it wouldn’t be out of the question to take a safety in the mid rounds of the draft since it seems a foregone conclusion Sanders and Meriwieather will be gone after 2011.
And with the lack of top-end talent in this year’s draft class, there could be late-round steals available.
Here are the top five safety prospects to look out for:
1. Quinton Carter, FS, Oklahama: An unheralded two-star recruit, Carter leaves Oklahama as one of the top safety prospects in the draft after piling up 210 tackles and eight interceptions during his career. He has good size at 6-foot-1, 208 pounds and ran a 4.57 at the combine. His versatility to play both safety positions would make him a classic Bill Belichick-type player. Carter is regarded as a big hitter who can also be a classic centerfielder. He could be an option with the second second-round pick or early in the third.
2. Tyler Sash, SS, Iowa: While he isn’t the most athletic player on the field, Sash is tough and intelligent. He was a consistently productive player since his freshman year, racking up 216 tackles and 13 interceptions in his three-year career. He is an average athlete (4.62 forty), but plays with intensity and always seems to be around the ball. He might never be more than a third safety with special teams capabilities, but he is a guy that will be a vocal leader. Could get a look with one of the fourth-round picks.
3. Ahmad Black, SS, Florida: I’ll be the first to admit I’m biased on this one. As a current UF student, I’ve had the privilege of watching Black in person the past two years and this guy is simply a playmaker. He is undersized (5-foot-9, 184 pounds) and ran poorly at the combine (4.70), but he plays with tremendous heart and instincts. He was UF’s most consistent player in the secondary and racked up 11 interceptions and carried a young defense in 2010 with an incredible 109 tackles. He is a hard worker who is not afraid to throw his body around. I would love to see him in a Patriots uniform. If he runs well at UF’s Pro Day, he could move back up into the third- or fourth-round range.
4. Joe Lefeged, SS, Rutgers: If there’s something we learned last year it’s that Rutgers defensive backs can play. While he is not on the level of Devin McCourty, Lefeged has a lot of similar qualities as the Pats’ 2010 first-round pick. At 6-foot, 210 pounds, Lefeged ran an impressive 4.42 forty. He was a three-year starter at safety and returned kicks for two years. That versatility will certainly appeal to Belichick. Although he didn’t pick off many passes (only two interceptions), he forced five fumbles, blocked two kicks in a game and had seven career sacks to go with 229 tackles. He is another option in the fourth round.
5. Chris Culliver, FS, South Carolina: Another versatile player coming from the SEC, Culliver left as the Gamecocks’ all-time leader in kick return yardage. He suffered a torn pectoral his senior season, but was a three-year starter at safety and a solid return man. He has great speed (4.36) and overall athleticism (38-inch vertical jump, 4.08 20-yard shuttle, 10-foot-3-inch broad jump). Culliver recorded three interceptions in 2008, but none in 2009 or 2010. He seems like a guy that is under the radar, but could immediately contribute as a kick returner. Could be an option in the late-fourth or fifth round.