NFL Draft: What To Look For In S Prospects

Today, we will conclude this 10 part series by taking a gander at what I look for when the scouting the safety position.

If you’ve been paying attention you may have noticed that I excluded the outside linebacker position. I did this because the Dallas Cowboys use a 4-3 defensive scheme and an outside linebacker plays in a 3-4 defense.

Here are the positions that have been previously broken down about what to look for when scouting: Quarterback, Running back, Wide receiver, Tight end, Offensive line, Defensive end, Defensive tackle, Inside linebacker, and Corner back.

Now, let’s take a look at the safety position and what I look for when analyzing these NFL hopefuls.

Understanding Coverages

Just like with the CB position, you have to educate yourself about the different types of coverages a safety will be asked to play in at the NFL level. This may be the most important thing to fully understand when analyzing a safety prospect.

Here is a look at the five coverages that are mostly used in the NFL:

Cover 0: Man coverage without a free safety playing over the top helping.

Cover 1: Man coverage with strong and free safety help.

Cover 2 (Tampa 2): Safeties divide to the field playing zone coverage and corner backs cover the flats.

Cover 3: Corner backs and free safety divide the field into thirds and play zone coverage.

Cover 4: Corner backs and safeties divide the field into quarters and play zone coverage.

I can’t express enough how important it is to understand the different coverages and how the safety will fit into those particular defenses.

Type of Safety

We have seen a shift in the NFL these past several years and the safety position might be the one that has been impacted the most.

The NFL has become a pass friendly league and teams have started looking at the types of safeties they like to have on the roster little differently.

Before there was an identifiable difference. There was a strong safety and a free safety. The strong safety generally played closer to the line of scrimmage and was usually bigger and more physical. These types of safeties were solid tacklers but usually limited in coverage.

Free safeties are usually a little smaller, but better in coverage. These are the types of safeties that teams have started to gravitate towards more here in recent years.

A lot of teams prefer their safeties to be interchangeable and they look for them to make plays in the running game, as well as in coverage.

It is really important to identify whether a safety prospect is better suited to play as a strong safety or a free safety.


One of my favorite traits to analyze when scouting a safety prospect is their instincts. I like to look for how quickly they can diagnose a play and react accordingly.

Cowboys Draft - NFL Draft: What To Look For In S Prospects

If a safety is slow to react that could put him out of position and as we all know, the safety is the last line of defense.

Safeties are usually lined up about 15 yards from the line of scrimmage and it is important to react as quickly as possible and take the proper angles in order to make a play.

If it’s a run play I like to see if they safety comes downhill quickly and is able to break down and make the play. If it’s a pass play I want to see the safety take the proper angle to intercept the receiver and make a play on the ball.

Some of the best safeties of all time were great because they were instinctive and had a habit of being in the right place at the right time.

This is the one trait that I pay the most attention to when analyzing the safety position, and the only trait that can’t to be taught. A player either hasn’t or he doesn’t.


Speed is an important trait to look for in a safety prospect. They are lined up the furthest away from the ball and have to use their speed and acceleration to make plays in both the running and passing game all over the field.

Safeties might just cover the most ground during a game than any other position in the NFL, so their speed is an important trait to pay close attention to.

Safeties have to use their speed and acceleration to run downhill and make plays in front of them in the running game. They also have to be able to change direction and use their speed to cover receivers in the passing game.

Personally, I like a safety that runs at least a 4.5 second 40 yard dash or faster, but a player with great instincts can overcome a lack of speed and vice versa.


Technique is much more important for the CB position, but a safety in the NFL still sometimes has to rely on his technique to put him in the best position possible in order to make a play.Cowboys Draft - NFL Draft: What To Look For In S Prospects 1

When watching game film I like to see a safety move smoothly when coming out of his backpedal and then turning and running in coverage. It’s the same principle that I use when scouting the CB position.

I don’t expect a safety prospect to be as fluid in their movements as a CB because they are usually built differently, but I want the movement to be as close as possible.

The safety position plays mostly in the open field so they have to be able to rely on their technique to break down when making a tackle or transitioning from their backpedal and turning to cover a receiver down the field.


Agility is an important trait to look for when analyzing just about any position, and it’s a trait that I want to see when scouting a safety prospect.

What I like to look for the most is whether or not a player has quick feet and is able to use that to his advantage when making plays all over the field.

With the shift to use more athletic safeties that are better in coverage, a prospects agility becomes even more important to properly analyze.

Safeties are asked to play both man and zone coverages in the NFL and either one of these types of coverages require a player to have good agility in order to have a successful NFL career.


Honestly, I don’t know if there’s a team in the NFL that wants safety that shies away from making a tackle and that is why I believe this is an important trait to pay close attention to  when scouting the position.Cowboys Draft - NFL Draft: What To Look For In S Prospects 2

A perfect safety prospect would have the coverage ability of a CB and the tackling ability of a linebacker, but those are few and far between.

A safety is usually the last line of defense and whether or not the prospect is able to make a tackle might just mean whether or not the offenses able to put points on the board.

The days of the hard-hitting safeties is most likely coming to end due to the fact that the NFL is putting more emphasis on player safety and the rules reflect that. So, I look for a safety that uses the proper form when tackling and is able to wrap up and bring down the player with the ball.

Tackling is an important trait, so pay close attention watching film.


I personally don’t put too much emphasis in a safety prospects size, because we’ve seen in the NFL that players of all sizes can become successful if they’re talented enough.

Generally though, teams like a safety prospect around 6’0″ tall, if not taller and somewhere around 200 pounds because they want the player to be effective not only in the running game, but in coverage as well.

Earl Thomas is one of the better free safeties in the NFL and he is only 5’10”, 210 lbs, so it usually just depends on the team’s preference. That is something to keep in mind when scouting these NFL hopefuls.


Elite safeties don’t come around very often, so it is important to properly analyze these players and determine how they will fit into a teams philosophy on defense.

This is especially true now that there seems to be a shift in the way that teams view the safety position.

Instincts, size, speed, and agility are all important traits to look for in these prospects, but the best players have all of these traits and are able to use them effectively.

One safety prospect that I think the Dallas Cowboys could use in the secondary is Karl Joseph out of West Virginia. Joseph could help solidify the backend of the secondary for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s 4-3 defense.

What do you think?

Brian Martin

Written by Brian Martin

Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.


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