When I publish my updated mock draft on Tuesday (likely to be the penultimate update before April 22nd) there's a good chance I'll have Eric Berry being selected sixth overall. I've resisted making that prediction in the past. Those that have visited this blog regularly and during the 2009 college season will now I've maintained reservations about the Tennessee defensive back as a top ten pick. When you're drafting a safety that early, I want the complete package. Berry's coverage skills are good, but his tackling is of some concern to me.
A lot of teams would use Berry as a roaming free safety, but the Seahawks would likely use Berry as an unorthodox strong safety alongside Jordan Babineaux at FS. Berry, as he did in Tennessee, would line up a lot at the line of scrimmage. He has the speed and instinct to drop deep into coverage if needs be, allowing Seattle to play eight in the box. However - he lacks true size and a lot will be asked of his run defense. The prospect of a Babineaux/Berry safety tandem sounds good in coverage but not good against the run. I wrote this article about Berry in October when the Vols took on BCS Champs Alabama. My concerns grew when I watched Tennessee against an error-prone Ole Miss offense:
"Having just watched the tape from yesterday's Tennessee defeat to Ole Miss, I'm positively determined that he's going to be a huge liability against the run in the NFL. It's one thing seeing him getting positively blown away why Ben Tate (RB, Auburn) and Tim Tebow (QB, Florida), but having watched Dexter McCluster dance around to the tune of 282 yards is quite another. If he's going to struggle against bigger guys, so be it. You can work on that. But McCluster is 5'8" and 165lbs. He's quick, but then isn't Berry supposed to be quick too?
"For large parts of the game, Berry was anonymous. The Rebels ran the ball with great success and it restricted the need to test the error prone Jevan Snead too much. I was half expecting Berry to have a big game today, just because Snead is usually good for 2-3 big interceptions.
"When questions were asked of Berry, he whiffed. Here's the big problem - he just doesn't wrap up his tackles. He always (and I mean ALWAYS) goes low to make a tackle. This was no more evident than a third quarter play when McCluster took an option to the right. Berry meets the running back in space and dives at his legs. He completely misses the tackle, rolling onto the floor. It allows McCluster to turn a two-yard loss into a ten yard gain and on the very next play, it's a simple touchdown.
"It wasn't the only example of poor tackling by Berry on the afternoon. People rate him so highly because of his playmaking ability. Type 'Eric Berry' into YouTube and you'll find out why people compare him to Ed Reed. Coming into 2009, he had 12 interceptions (three returned for six). But I have to question whether those big plays from the past are clouding judgement today. In three games this year, I've had to watch carefully just to pick up Berry on the field. He has just two interceptions, despite lining up all over the field at cornerback and safety.
"If you take away that ability to make big plays, you're left with a pretty average football player. I dread the thought of seeing him against big tight ends in coverage, or the prospect of watching him trying to tackle a NFL running back. This year - without the big TD returns or interceptions - it's hard to work out what all the fuss is about." - 15th November, 2009
I also have some issue that the Seahawks would have an incredible amount of stock and salary invested in a linebacker and a safety - with huge question marks remaining all over the offense and the defensive line. I just don't know if you'll ever see the benefit of drafting a talented safety if he's getting washed out by a bad pass rush. Some will disagree, but I do believe Ed Reed has enjoyed the success he has because he's had the luxury of playing behind a consistently good pass rush. Can a safety be an impact player when a quartberack is afforded so much time to throw the ball?
I'm not the only one who has voiced some concern. Resident scout Kyle Rota believes Berry should be drafted as a developmental cornerback. Kyle tentatively compared Berry to a faster Charles Woodson. Mike Mayock ranks Texas safety Earl Thomas higher than Berry. However, if you believe recent rumors the Seahawks are high on Berry and will consider drafting him at #6 alongside Trent Williams.
I've maintained for a while that Washington wouldn't take Russell Okung and would look at other tackles. I see Anthony Davis and Williams as alternative options for Mike Shanahan. If Williams is off the board before Seattle pick, it makes the Seahawks choice perhaps a little easier at #6.
I also want to qualify, from what limited experiences I've had - Berry appears to be an engaging and intelligent individual. He won the Jim Thorpe award, somewhat predictably (might as well have given him it before the season started, but 2009 was his least productive year). He's a Tim Ruskell pick in every manner except he isn't a senior. Ultimately, I think fair value for Berry would come in the 14-20 range. However, it appears somewhat unlikely that he'd make it that far. As we discussed with the possibility of C.J. Spiller (we now understand he isn't an option for Seattle) - if the front office just want Berry badly, why would you risk him being there later? The answer is - you don't.
At the end of the day, my personal opinion is redundant when it comes to making a mock draft. The Seahawks cut Deon Grant and haven't replaced him. Seattle have to find a safety in the draft. They haven't cut Patrick Kerney or Deion Branch. Maybe that's telling? Maybe it isn't? However much I disagree with taking Berry at #6, I have to appreciate that it could happen.