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From the Hart: Breaking down the Safety prospects

The 2012 NFL Draft is a little more than a week away. The Combine and Pro Day workouts are complete. Players and teams are doing last-minute individual workouts.


And the PFW boys have concluded breaking down the video tape on hundreds of prospects at the various positions.

Before the teams actually begin making their selections on April 26, I get the chance to voice my views on the players at the various positions. Today that means a look at the safety position.

Bill Belichick doesn't like to label his safeties as strong and weak/free, preferring to call them left/right, and have them capable of doing both jobs. With a rotating group of sub-par bodies at safety in New England last year, and despite the signing of Steven Gregory, it remains a big need. The problem is that there aren't a lot of high-end prospects at the position this year. In fact, I think only one guy deserves to be picked in the first round. But there are other guys who could make capable contributors down the line at the position, even if they aren't all top prospects or future NFL starters.

Regardless, here are one man's thoughts on how the safety prospects break down for next week's 2012 NFL Draft:

1 – Mark Barron, Alabama: Though some question Barron's coverage ability, he's clearly the top prospect at the position. He's coming off an injury, but still seems to be headed for a spot in the middle of the first round. Playing in a very good, very professional-like Nick Saban defense is a big plus. Barron likes to play near the line, but he's also pretty athletic and I think he's good enough to cover adequately. He would make a great Patriot.

2 – Harrison Smith, Notre Dame: I think the drop off from Barron to Smith is huge, and I'm not as high on Smith in terms of being a late first-round pick as many others seem to be. Smith has good size and tests pretty well, but I don't know that he's going to be much in coverage in the NFL. Deion Sanders was raving about him. For what that's worth.

3 – DeQuan Menzie, Alabama: Menzie was a corner and nickel back for Saban at Alabama but probably will be best suited as more of a free safety in the pros. He plays the ball well, has good enough football speed and likes to tackle. Could be a good option for the Patriots needs in the back end. Makes a lot of sense, so keep track of Menzie next Friday.

4 – Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State: Martin is a big-framed, solid tackler who clearly likes to bring the wood when hitting. Injury concerns are an issue, as Martin had a shoulder problem heading into last season and a knee injury suffered preparing for the Combine. May not be an NFL starter, but could be a serviceable backup and special teams guy.

5 – Brandon Taylor, LSU: Taylor is a three-year starter from a good defense in a great conference. He has decent range and closes well on the ball. He has good football speed on tape.

6 – George Iloka, Boise State: I'm not in love with Iloka, but maybe Bill Belichick will be intrigued by his size (6-4, 222 pounds) and experience in a linebacker role. Iloka plays too big and slow for my liking with very little burst for the NFL's passing game.

7 — Trenton Robinson, Michigan State: Robinson is undersized at 5-9, but plays a physical style beyond his height. He likes to come up and tackle, but is a little stiff in coverage. Not great traits for a guy of his size.

8 – Duke Ihenacho, San Jose State: Ihenacho played some linebacker in college but has good overall closing speed in the passing game. He likes to tackle and shows good ball skills as a possible late-round option.

What do you think of my list and breakdowns? Which safety do you think I left off that deserved a spot? Let us know with a comment below!

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