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Houston Texans

Path to the Draft: Safeties


The Texans are returning their starting safeties from last season, C.C. Brown and Will Demps, but the supporting ranks are thin.

Former starter Glenn Earl re-signed during the offseason, but he is coming off a Lisfranc foot injury that kept him sidelined last season. Jason Simmons, who suffered a season-ending injury last year when he ruptured a left knee patella tendon, is still a free agent.

Houston did sign eighth-year pro Nick Ferguson, a consistent tackler who spent five seasons in Denver, to join the mix with second-year pros Brandon Harrison and Brandon Mitchell. Now, the Texans might look to find more young talent to help bolster their secondary in the upcoming draft.

Top Prospects

1. Kenny Phillips, Miami (6-2, 212): Last year, Philips started all 12 games at free safety for the Hurricanes, recording a career-high 82 tackles (54 solos), six stops for loss and three forced fumbles.

This big hitter possesses excellent footwork and technique and has proven to be a complete safety. He can attack the line of scrimmage in run support and make plays on the ball in coverage.

"I think I have pretty good cover skills," Phillips told Texans TV in an exclusive interview at the scouting combine. "Actually, last year and the year before that, I had to step in and play a little corner because a player on our team got suspended. So I am used to covering receivers and tight ends."

Phillips did not take part in Miami's Pro Day tests because he and agent Drew Rosenhaus were satisfied with the 40-yard dash (4.48 seconds) he ran in Indianapolis. The junior was one of the first players to declare for the draft and some scouts project him to go in the top half of the first round.

2. Tyrell Johnson, Arkansas State (6-0, 207): Johnson, an All-Sun Belt Conference first-team choice, started all twelve games his senior year at strong safety, ranking fourth on the team with 94 tackles (58 solos). He also holds the conference career records for most tackles (363) and most interception return yards (309).

Johnson is an excellent tackler and an instinctive player that reacts with technique. Talent evaluators say his ability to get the ball carrier to the ground could translate into immediate playing time in the NFL.

While Johnson impressed at the Hula Bowl, he grabbed the spotlight at combine, posting one of the most impressive workouts of the year. The safety recorded a 4.41 in the 40 and a 32" vertical leap.

Some scouts see Johnson a surprise second-round pick who will make an immediate difference at next level.

3. DaJuan Morgan, N.C. State (6-1, 205): After leading the Wolfpack in tackles with 97 tackles and pass deflections with 13 last season, Morgan decided to forgo his senior year and enter the draft.

Morgan has been rising up the draft boards because of his speed and size. The junior clocked a 4.50 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, and NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock has labeled Morgan a top safety prospect.

The All-ACC second-team selection possesses great instincts and awareness. He can match up in coverage and support the run.

Still, talent evaluators have been hesitant to rank him above Phillips because Morgan only started one year at safety during his career. Right now, he is projected to go early in the third round.

4. Reggie Smith, Oklahoma (6-0, 196): In three seasons as a Sooner, Smith notched 11 interceptions, broke up 22 passes and made 166 tackles. The first-team All-Big 12 selection began his career as a safety, switched to corner and was OU's primary punt returner.

Smith is entering the draft as a safety, but his versatility makes him an intriguing prospect because he can fill several needs for a team. He has shown the athleticism, coverage skills and tackling ability potentially to start right away on special teams.

The junior elected not to participate in the combine because he was coming off a broken toe. At his Pro Day in April, he posted a 39.5" vertical jump and a 10'9" broad jump (both among the best by defensive backs headed to the NFL), but he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds, which has caused his draft stock to fall.

5. Josh Barrett, Arizona State (6-2, 223): Barrett struggled with injuries in 2007, but he commanded attention at the combine, where he posted a 40-yard time of 4.34 seconds.

Since then, scouts have been poring over 2006 video when Barrett racked up 82 tackles and three interceptions, helping him earn an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection.

With his size and athleticism, some teams might be tempted to look at him as an outside linebacker, but Barrett has the speed, instincts and big-hitting ability to excel at strong safety.

Honorable mention: Cal'sThomas DeCoud(6-2, 204) is a natural athlete who is at his best when defending the run. DeCoud has been prone to fakes by receivers and shown that he is still learning the position. Notre Dame's Tom Zbikowski (5-11, 211) put up a solid 4.52 in the 40 and looked fluid in combine drills, but some evaluators think he does not have the athleticism to play in the NFL. Texas' Marcus Griffin (5-10, 201) is an excellent tackler with a high motor, but he has struggled in coverage.

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