The New York Jets will most likely be looking to draft a safety in the 2012 NFL draft this April, but there is no reason for them to reach at pick 16 in the first round and draft former Alabama Crimson Tide safety Mark Barron.
Barron has the physical build of an NFL safety; he was measured at 6'2" and weighs around 215-220 lbs. He had a solid season for the Crimson Tide (66 tackles, 5 pass break-ups, 4 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery), and it is worth noting that he was a leader on a defense which ranked No. 1 nationally in total defense last season.
All those numbers aside, there are a few red flags that pop up when analyzing Barron.
Barron is coming off of two consecutive seasons ending with injury. In the 2010-2011 season, he was forced to miss the Capital One Bowl after he suffered a torn pectoral muscle.
During the 2012 BCS Championship Game, he was injured again. He had surgery for a double hernia following the end of the season, which forced him to skip the NFL Combine and Alabama's Pro Day.
Another red flag when it comes to Barron is his arrest in March of 2011. He was arrested on charges of hindering prosecution, for allegedly not telling the truth about a one-car accident in his hometown of Mobile, Alabama. While this isn't a major arrest, it still brings into question some character flaws.
Instead of the New York Jets reaching for a safety at pick 16, the more intelligent move would be to draft a pass-rusher, if there is one available who fits the 3-4 scheme, and hope that Barron will slip to Round 2 of the NFL Draft.
If he is taken in the late-first or early-second round, which is where he is projected, then the Jets should shift their focus to another underrated safety prospect.
A safety who the Jets should keep an eye on in the later rounds is Harrison Smith of Notre Dame.
Smith looks the part of NFL safety, measuring 6'2" and weighing 215 lbs. He has played both linebacker and safety during his collegiate career. After a full-time shift to safety in his junior season for the Irish, Smith intercepted seven passes during his junior season.
During his senior season, Smith's stats were moderate (90 tackles, 10 pass break-ups, 3 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, 0 interceptions).
These numbers are not astounding, but he might be a steal in the middle of the draft.
Smith does have issues which concern scouts about his ability to start in the NFL. Many scouts say his interceptions during his junior season were a result of him "being in the right place at the right time," which was exposed during his senior season. Other knocks on Smith include lack of elite speed and athleticism, which is a major concern in coverage.
However, Smith had an impressive combine. He did not run a great 40-yard dash, with an official time of 4.57, but he impressed in the DB drills, even catching the eye of Hall of Fame corner Deion Sanders.
Sanders complimented Smith while watching his workouts at the combine, using the word "smooth" when describing his movement. Smith's coverage abilities during the combine drills were comparable to those of a cornerback as opposed to a safety.
He could turn out to be a better pro than Mark Barron due to the injury issues.
While Smith had an impressive combine and helped his draft status, there is still a reason why Barron is regarded as the best safety in this year's draft.
For the New York Jets, it will be interesting to see their strategy in the 2012 NFL Draft. Needs at many different positions may mean that the Jets need to draft wide, meaning by need and best available player. Drafting Barron No. 16 overall is just too high of a risk for a guy who is graded out as a late-first-, early-second-round pick.
A smarter strategy would be to draft a pass-rushing outside linebacker or an offensive lineman to fill a need and hope that Mark Barron falls to you in the second round, which is possible. If Barron is drafted before then, I believe Harrison Smith will be available at pick 16 of the second round and might even fall into the third round, which would make him a steal.
Another strategy would be to trade down and take Barron in the late first round and acquire picks for later. Who knows, maybe they could even draft both Barron and Smith if they can trade down. After all, a major issue for the Jets is depth at certain positions, including safety.
To make it clear, I don't believe the Jets should discard Barron, but they should tread very cautiously with him at pick 16. They should think middle round value with Harrison Smith, who could turn out to be a better pro.