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Minnesota Vikings 2014 draft preview: Safeties

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Safety may be the most experienced and recognizable position group on the Minnesota Vikings roster. Seven players have at least three years experience and each one has had extensive playing time in the NFL. Only one has less.

The Vikings will not keep all eight safeties on the roster. Harrison Smith, a third-year starter, is the sure thing among the group. Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo have proven capable of playing, but are better as reserves and special teams players. Mistral Raymond has been inconsistent and injured during his three NFL seasons. Robert Blanton is emerging as a quality NFL player. Kurt Coleman has been a quality starter in the past, but was demoted to a reserve and special teams role last season for the Philadelphia Eagles. The only safety on the roster without NFL experience is Brandan Bishop, who spent last season on the practice squad.

The Vikings have plenty of names at safety, but little top-end talent. Smith is a lock to be in the starting lineup, but the other starter is still up in the air. The Vikings will likely take a safety early in the draft for another starter. Here are the top five safeties as well as an underrated, an overrated and a sleeper prospect.

No. 1 - Hasean Clinton-Dix, Alabama
No. 1 - Hasean Clinton-Dix, Alabama Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

No. 1 - Hasean Clinton-Dix, Alabama

Clinton-Dix has the greatest natural ability and God-given talent of any safety in the class. He sees the field well and anticipates plays as well as anyone. He is very good in run support, but excels in coverage. He can close on deep passes from sideline-to-sideline and high-points the ball. His ball skills are outstanding and he has no problem delivering a big hit when necessary.

The 6-foot-1-inch, 208-pound former Crimson Tide finished his junior season with 52 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, two interceptions, four pass breakups and six passes defensed.

No. 2 - Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
No. 2 - Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

No. 2 - Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois

Ward has climbed draft boards and could be a first round pick. He is a bit undersized, but plays with very good speed and fluidity. He has the athleticism and agility to play in coverage and the physicality to help in run support. He is very good in pursuit by taking good angles and avoiding cut-blocks. He is inconsistent as a tackler and does not possess elite straight-line speed.

The 5-foot-11-inch, 193-pound former Husky finished his senior season with 95 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, one sack, 10 pass breakups, 17 passes defensed, one fumble recovery, seven interceptions, one forced fumble and one touchdown.

No. 3 - Deone Bucannon, Washington State
No. 3 - Deone Bucannon, Washington State William Mancebo/Getty Images

No. 3 - Deone Bucannon, Washington State

Bucannon has a very good blend of size and speed. He is an explosive hitter that will excel in run support. He uses his size and tackling to his advantage, forcing ball carriers to fumble or scaring receivers over the middle. He lacks the athleticism and fluidity necessary to play in coverage. He also has a tendency to stare down a ball carrier, which allows blockers to blind side him or take him out of a play.

The 6-foot-1-inch, 211-pound former Cougar finished his senior season with 114 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, six interceptions, one pass breakup, two fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.

No. 4 - Brock Vereen, Minnesota
No. 4 - Brock Vereen, Minnesota Eric Francis/Getty Images

No. 4 - Brock Vereen, Minnesota

Vereen (No. 21 in the picture) is a very streaky player that can make an unbelievable play on one play and then get burned on the next. He has a very good combination of size and athleticism that gives him the versatility to play either safety or corner. He is a smart football player, both on and off the field, and has good bloodlines with a father that was an NFL draft pick and a brother currently in the league. He is a high-character player that can become a team leader.

The 6-foot, 199-pound former Golden Gopher finished his senior season with 59 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, one interception, six pass breakups, seven passes defensed and one forced fumble.

No. 5 - Dion Bailey, USC
No. 5 - Dion Bailey, USC George Frey/Getty Images

No. 5 - Dion Bailey, USC

Bailey has the athleticism and size scouts love. He can play either outside linebacker or safety, but his size will keep him in the defensive backfield. He has a good ability to diagnose plays, but his tackling skills need to improve or he will not last long in the NFL. He has a tendency to fall off ball carriers and try to drag them down. He does not play with as much physicality as he could, relying too much on instincts to avoid contact.

The 6-foot, 201-pound former Trojan finished his redshirt junior season with 61 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, 0.5 sacks, five interceptions, six pass breakups, 11 passes defensed and one forced fumble.

Underrated - Terrence Brooks, Florida State
Underrated - Terrence Brooks, Florida State Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Underrated - Terrence Brooks, Florida State

Brooks is a versatile safety that can fill a lot of roles. He does not possess the ideal size, but has the speed to stick with any slot receiver and has long arms that helps him break up plays downfield. There is not much to dislike about him. He needs to improve his tackling consistency. He has a tendency to lower his head and go for the big hit rather than wrap-up.

The 5-foot-11-inch, 198-pound former Seminole finished his senior season with 56 total tackles, eight tackles for a loss, one sack, two interceptions, five pass breakups, seven passes defensed, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles.

Overrated - Calvin Pryor, Louisville
Overrated - Calvin Pryor, Louisville Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Overrated - Calvin Pryor, Louisville

Pryor does not have ideal size nor blazing speed, but he does make plays. He is a big time hitter that can cover a lot of the field with good anticipation. His aggressive hitting nature has led to a few too many penalties. He also is not the smoothest player when changing directions, which gets him in trouble on double moves. He is going to be drafted in the first round, but may be the biggest risk/reward prospect in this class.

The 5-foot-11-inch, 207-pound former Cardinal finished his junior season with 75 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, three interceptions, four pass breakups, seven passes defensed, three quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles.

Sleeper - Marqueston Huff, Wyoming
Sleeper - Marqueston Huff, Wyoming Eric Francis/Getty Images

Sleeper - Marqueston Huff, Wyoming

Huff (No. 2 in the picture) has built a name for himself since moving to safety as a senior, most notably at the Senior Bowl. He has an impressive stat line with nearly 130 tackles last season, but most of those came downfield - which is more of an indictment on the Cowboys front seven than on him. He has the athleticism and cover skills to play in coverage as well as the physicality to help in run support. He needs to improve his tackling consistency. At the very least, he will be a contributor on special teams.

The 5-foot-11-inch, 196-pound former Cowboy finished his senior season with 127 total tackles, three tackles for a loss, two interceptions, six pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and one blocked kick.

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