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2013 NFL Draft: With Cleveland Browns Addition of Jamoris Slaughter, How Does Safety Position Shape Up?
By Sam Ingro
As the Cleveland Browns fourth-round pick came into view, fans grew excited over the list of available players at the free safety position; a huge area of need for the team. Players such as Shamarko Thomas (Syracuse) and Phillip Thomas (Fresno State) remained on the board, but the Browns passed on both, trading the pick to their division rival who used it to select Shamarko Thomas at No. 111 overall. In return, the team netted a 2014 third-round pick, and fans were forced to wait until the fifth round.
With the Browns fifth-round pick, the focus had turned to players like Josh Evans (Florida) and Bacarri Rambo (Georgia). Again, Cleveland opted to trade out of the round with the Indianapolis Colts, trading No. 139 for their 2014 fourth-round pick. Fans grew understandably upset, as it seemed a position of need was being largely ignored. It wasn’t until the sixth round that Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi pulled the trigger on Notre Dame’s do-all hybrid safety, Jamoris Slaughter.
Coming into the 2013 NFL Draft, the Browns had six selections. They ended up making five picks, including projected starters with Barkevious Mingo at outside linebacker and Leon McFadden at cornerback. Whether Slaughter projects as a starter or not remains to be seen, but he did help anchor a very good Fighting Irish defense, and his versatility to play linebacker, cornerback and safety allowed his defensive coordinator to use him in a variety of places.
With all that information in hand, the Browns now look at seven players on the roster expected to battle it out for the two safety spots. So when the Browns take the field for the first game of the regular season, who will be patrolling center-field?
T.J. Ward (Incumbent Starter – Strong Safety):
A 2010 second-round pick, Ward’s career has been laced with hard hits, knockout blows and unfortunately–injuries. Since his breakout season in 2010, where Ward racked up 123 tackles, 10 passes defended, two interceptions and a forced fumble; he has only played in 22 out of the last 32 games. Even still, Ward has been productive, cementing his role as the team’s starting strong safety.
Eric Hagg (2012 Roster Holdover):
A team captain at Nebraska, Hagg has yet to grab hold of a starting spot in the Cleveland defense. A seventh-round selection in 2011, Hagg was praised by Corn Husker coaches as being highly athletic with all the talent in the world, but his major flaw is a lack of confidence. Last season, Hagg started 4 out of the 12 games he appeared in, racking up 22 tackles and one pass defended. If Hagg can become more confident and play with the swagger on the field that his teammates Ward and Joe Haden do, he could be an early front-runner for the starting job in Cleveland.
Tashaun Gipson (2012 Roster Holdover):
An undrafted free agent out of the University of Wyoming, Gipson showed flashes of brilliance last season. A converted cornerback to safety, he has yet to see the field enough to really know what the team has in him. With a high motor and desire to learn, he could quickly become a favorite of Ray Horton. Gipson displayed in 2012 his willingness to be a factor in the special teams game, and he was shown to be invaluable in relief towards the end of the season. Whether he has enough in him to be a regular NFL starter or not remains to be seen, but there is no way that he doesn’t find a spot on the 53-man roster in 2013.
Jamoris Slaughter (2013 Sixth Round Pick):
As one of the first draft picks of the new regime, Slaughter has an inside track to become the 2013 starter at free safety. While it isn’t common that a sixth-round pick would be expected to start from day one, the Browns really don’t have a lot of other options. Slaughter’s draft stock may have fallen due to injury concerns, so that should give fans hope that they may have gotten a steal here. Slaughter was a leader on the field for Notre Dame, lining up seemingly anywhere and terrorizing quarterbacks. The versatility of the former Fighting Irish safety will not be overlooked by Cleveland’s creative defensive coordinator. Slaughter’s stats don’t really tell the whole story, since Notre Dame’s defense was simply so good, not many players got to the next level where Slaughter awaited. When Florida State rolled through town, Slaughter was pushed into action and responded with five tackles and two sacks on 2013 first round quarterback E.J. Manuel, showing his ability to perform on the big stage.
Ryan McWethy (2013 Undrafted Free Agent):
An undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin-Platteville, McWethy attended Pro Day with the Wisconsin Badgers. He stood out by running an impressive 4.48 second 40-yard dash, and grading out strong in other areas, enough to get the attention of the Browns’ scouting department. Last season, McWethy had 84 tackles, including a team-high 52 solo tackles, three pass-breakups and two interceptions. He will have to fight hard in camp to make the roster, but he is fast and intelligent. If he cleans up his footwork and responds to the coaching of secondary-specialist Horton, he could earn himself a place on the depth chart.
Ricky Tunstall (2013 Undrafted Free Agent):
A ball-hawking strong safety, Tunstall notched a career high 60 tackles as a senior, including three interceptions, a sack, a fumble recovery and six passes defended. The previous season, he led the Blue Hens with five interceptions, cementing his status as a starter. Coming out of Delaware, he posted a 4.42 40 time and displayed all the strength and intangibles a team looks for in a safety. With a deep class, however, Tunstall fell out of the seven rounds and into the waiting arms of the Cleveland Browns. Tunstall is a hard-hitter and could be a quality backup to Ward on the Browns depth chart. He will need to contribute early-on in special teams to earn his place on the roster.
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