Powerful collegiate programs like the University of Southern Cal enjoy the riches on both ends of the football spectrum. For one, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel on the recruiting trail for the Trojans with an unbelievable pool of talent to choose from in California and elsewhere around the country year after year. Furthermore, these five-star recruits, pending very few exceptions, then transform from boys into young men, owning the talent that is expected of those who compete in the NFL.
Started by former head coach Pete Carroll and carried out by successive coaches, free safety Dion Bailey is one of many former USC players to catch the attention of several NFL teams, even if he might not be high on their radars.
Throughout this past offseason, I have avidly discussed the safety conundrum with the Green Bay Packers. Strong safety Morgan Burnett is an aggressive body at the line of scrimmage, recording at least 95 tackles since his 2010 rookie season. His pass coverage is as aggressive, but it’s used in the wrong matter; the Georgia Tech alum commits cardinal sin after cardinal sin — don’t let the last man get behind you.
M.D. Jennings was horribly inconsistent from end to end. According to Pro Football Focus, Jennings allowed the third-most touchdowns amongst safeties (five) with quarterbacks completing 89 percent against the undrafted player, tops in the NFL. There’s a reason he’s now with the Chicago Bears, lending to the question: where will the Packers deviate their attention toward nabbing their next free safety?
OK, so we know it’s not through free agency. GM Ted Thompson let safety after safety pass on through Green Bay, ultimately pointing to the fact the organization will address one in the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft. They could easily tab one in the opening round in Alabama‘s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Louisville‘s Calvin Pryor, but it will all depend on the priority the team’s scouting department places on the need at safety.
If Green Bay does in fact sway away from selecting a safety in May’s first round, the prospect of Bailey would be a safe pick for the Packers in the middle rounds. The Lakewood, Calif. native doesn’t have ideal straight-ahead speed, posting a 4.66 40-time at the combine, but he makes up for it in closing speed on the ball and natural instincts.
Bailey exhibited his ball-hawking skills in 2013, intercepting five passes, tied for 18th in the country. He also turned into a more natural free safety as well during his redshirt junior and final season with the Trojans. While he averaged 80.5 tackles during his first two playing seasons with a total of six interceptions, he decreased his total amount of tackles in 2013 (62), but increased his total interceptions. That is exactly what the Packers need in combination with Burnett.
To accurately compare his change in style, I headed to the film room, per Draft Breakdown, and looked at the film against the Washington Huskies and Stanford Cardinal in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Bailey was used a lot more at the line of scrimmage as a run stopper in 2012, and Washington for that matter, given his role of manning down the inside linebacker position. In effectiveness, he was more of a hybrid-type of player, being able to drop in coverage and occasionally line up against the slot wide receiver. This was evident in his effort of seven tackles, one interception and a forced fumble against the Huskies.
He fully made the move to the starting free safety position this past season, and the hybridity was still in effect against Stanford. What he added upon this was his impressive physicality, given his 5-foot-11 stature, with bigger wide receivers, whether they be in the deep secondary or on the line of scrimmage.
The flaws are there, mainly centered on him being overly aggressive in trying to take down opposing ball carriers, but Green Bay doesn’t need him to be a stat stuffer at the line of scrimmage. They need him to be a formidable running mate in coverage with Burnett.