*This article is part of our 2012 Path to the Draft coverage presented by Warehouse Pool Supply
A position-by-position look at the 2012 NFL Draft (April 26-28), featuring exclusive analysis on potential Texans draft picks from Wes Bunting and Joe Fortenbaugh of the National Football Post
Path to the Draft: WR | G/C | OT | TE | RB | DE | NT | OLB | CB
State of the Position (@NickScurfield)
The Texans improved from 32nd to third in passing defense in 2011 with Danieal Manning and Glover Quin as their starting safeties.
Manning, a sixth-year veteran, provided veteran leadership in the secondary after signing with the Texans on the first day of free agency from the Chicago Bears. Quin moved to strong safety after playing cornerback in his first two seasons and finished second on the team in tackles.
Manning and Quin return in 2012, as do backup safeties Troy Nolan, Quintin Demps and Shiloh Keo. Quin and Nolan are entering the final years of their rookie contracts, but the Texans have a strong young foundation at the safety position as they approach the 2012 NFL Draft.
DAY 1 SAFETY OPTIONS AT 1.26
1. Mark Barron, SS Alabama (6-2, 218): It's unlikely that Barron falls to the Texans at No. 26, but in our opinion, he's the only safety in this year's draft class worthy of a first-round pick. With 53 games and 12 interceptions under his belt, Barron is one of the most prolific safeties to ever play for the Crimson Tide. He has the makings of a great special teams player who can also attack downhill vs. the run game, play inside the box and drive on the football in front of him in the pass game. Barron isn't going to be a major threat turning and tracking the football, but his improved instincts makes us think he can start in the league early on.
2. Harrison Smith, SS, Notre Dame (6-2, 214): Smith was held without an interception in 13 games last season, but posted a career-high seven picks during his impressive 2010 campaign. He's 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. He's got the potential to land late in the first round, but if the Patriots pass, Smith will likely hear his name called early on Day 2.
DAY 2 SAFETY OPTIONS AT 2.26 AND 3.13
1. George Iloka, SS, Boise State (6-3, 216): A member of the highly successful 2011 Boise State senior class that won 50 games during their collegiate careers, Iloka is a tall, long limbed safety prospect who possesses good body control and balance for a defensive back his size. In addition, he has experience playing the cornerback position and is physical in press coverage. However, Iloka isn't a guy who can quickly re-direct and close on the football in the deep half. He needs to play with his hands on defenders, but is a more coordinated bigger safety than Seahawks starter Kam Chancellor and has the upside to start at the next level.
2. Markelle Martin, FS, Oklahoma State (6-1, 198): Coming off a career-high 74-tackle season at Oklahoma State, Martin is a gifted athlete with an explosive element to his game. He possesses some savvy when asked to attack downhill, times up the snap count well and knows how to make his way into the backfield. However, Martin seems to play out of control far too often, isn't a very good open field tackler, fails to routinely breakdown vs. the run game and consistently will whiff in space and slip off ball carriers. He needs to improve this area of his game.
DAY 3 SAFETY OPTONS AT 4.4, 4.26, 5.26, 6.26 AND 7.26
1. Jerico Nelson, SS, Arkansas (5-10, 216): Nelson brings experience against quality competition as well as 269 career tackles and 10.5 sacks to the table. He's a tough, rangy kid who holds up well in coverage. But where do you play him in the NFL? His body type says strong safety, but he looks like a nickel backer who can play special teams from day one. Landing in the right situation will be one of the keys to Nelson's success at the next level.
2. Christian Thompson, FS, South Carolina State (6-0, 213): A former Auburn recruit who transferred to South Carolina State after his 2008 freshman season, Thompson is coming off a career-high 66-tackle, two-interception campaign. He can cleanly turn out of his transition and has solid speed when trying to run with speedy receivers from the slot. But, he does get a bit leggy at times and doesn't have a great feel recognizing routes in man coverage. Even when Thomopson puts himself in position to make plays, he doesn't consistently make the play due to his initial struggles locating the football.