As the 2012 NFL Draft approaches following the Giants’ Super XLVI victory, a safety could once again be on the team’s list of targets – similar to the 2008 Draft following the Giants’ Super Bowl XLII victory, in which they drafted Kenny Phillips.

That brings us to today’s Prospect Profile, safety Harrison Smith out of Notre Dame. While not without athletic ability, he lacks the top athleticism of other safety prospects. But the strength of Smith’s game lies in his fundamental soundness. He is a well-rounded and solid football player, who does everything well and is excellent in his execution. Let’s see if he’s a good fit after the jump.

National Football Post

***************************************************************************

Harrison Smith
RS Senior, SS
Notre Dame
6-2,214

First report from the National Football Post:

A thick, well built safety who looks the part, has a natural bubble and muscular upper body. Is very effective playing downhill inside the box and consistently gets early jumps on the ball, reads and reacts quickly and exhibits “plus” instincts as a run defender. Is routinely able to read the action quickly, close on the football and is a solid wrap-up tackler. Generates good power into contact working in pursuit, and once he gets his stride going, exhibits solid range off his frame and despite being a bit tight, he breaks down well on contact, using his strong upper body to wrap and runs his legs through contact. He understands angles, runs the alley well and routinely is able to wrap, even in the open field.

Those same instincts show up well in the pass game, as he’s a bit of a ball hawk who has the ability to routinely get early jumps on the football. Exhibits impressive instincts, which routinely allows him to get early jumps on the football and put himself around the play. Looks a bit tight in his drop, causing him to get upright and he will get elongated/overextended with his footwork when looking to click and close, losing a bit out of his breaks. However, he’s consistently moving toward the action before any defender and, once he collects himself, has a better closing burst than given credit for. Lacks great straight-line speed, but looks like a 4.55 guy who plays faster because of instincts. Exhibits good ball skills, taking proper angles toward the throw, and can adjust and make a play. Will play over the slot at times and does a nice job feeling routes develop around him, squatting on throws, keeping his feet under him, his base down and is much cleaner out of his breaks. Nevertheless, he lacks a great initial first step and looks tighter when asked to turn and run. He gets upright, struggles to get back up to speed quickly and lacks the type of second gear to make up for a false step.

Impression: Isn’t a guy you want to trust to run with receivers down the field. However, because of his solid natural range and instincts, I can see him getting over the top and making plays in a center field type role as an NFL strong safety.

Second scouting report from NFL Mocks:

-Pros:
Really instinctive player who knows his assignments well and isn’t going to get beat over the top because he gets fooled or because he takes unnecessary chances…Good, sure tackler in the open field…the size to cover tight ends in the NFL…Takes good angles in run pursuit

-Cons:
A little stiff in coverage, a Strong Safety only in the NFL…Doesn’t have blazing speed…doesn’t make a ton of plays on the football in the air, more takes advantage of mistake passes…Doesn’t have great recovery speed

-2011 Preseason Bio:
Not going to blow anybody away athletically, but he is the type of player that EVERY NFL team will want to have on their side. [Lone] team captain who has played both linebacker and safety for the Irish … [Smith] has 219 total career tackles to go along with 15.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble, 18 passes broken up, and seven interceptions … If Smith can continue to show improvement as the leader of the defensive backfield, he should be a fourth round pick or better because of his versatility, durability, and toughness. In his first year as a full time safety, he had 93 tackles and seven interceptions–the complete package.

Some scouting services offer differing opinions when it comes to which safety position Smith will excel at in the NFL, questioning whether he’ll be more effective as a free safety or as a strong safety. This would be a cause for concern for other teams. However, this positional debate is not a detriment for the Giants. Perry Fewell often employs a three-safety defense with Antrel Rolle, Deon Grant, and Kenny Phillips – frequently a 4-2-5, less often a 4-1-6 (check out the image below for a better look). We’ve seen it sparsely before with the Giants back in 2007, when former coordinator Steve Spagnuolo would have Gibril Wilson walk up into the box as a safety-linebacker hybrid (check out this image here for a good look, too). Current safeties coach Dave Merritt believes in coaching his safeties to be as versatile as possible, requiring them to be able to play both safety spots as well as play on both sides of the defense. And, Giants’ general manager Jerry Reese likes prospects that offer positional flexibility.

Great graphic from the New York Times


Deon Grant’s return is presently in question. The tragic accident that Chad Jones (profiled here) suffered two years ago has left his career in doubt. We’re all pulling for him to one day take the field as a Giant, but given the circumstances he unfortunately just can’t be considered a viable option at this time. And, no one on the roster is currently capable of filling Grant’s role.

Smith seems like a right fit for the Giants’ defensive scheme and philosophy. I see his game translating well into the next level and Smith excelling in a variety of roles: as a box safety against the run and in coverage, or as a ball-hawking strong safety. After a tremendous day at the Combine, Smith’s stock is rising fast. Right now I project Smith coming off the board in round two – it could be when the Giants pick at 64th overall.