Monday, April 23, 2007

One by one, projected NFL Draft picks were herded into a large conference room in Indianapolis this winter to give the media their heights, their weights, their agent’s names, their life stories and, most importantly, their self scouting reports.

For the most part, all the players spewed the cliches about their work ethic, their desire to win and their excitement about getting drafted.

But not LaRon Landry.

The safety from Louisiana State was straightforward and truthful, exhibiting an outward confidence that will help him in the NFL.

“I’m a complete safety,” Landry said. “I’m fast and physical. I communicate well. I’m able to read offenses. I can play the middle of the field. I can play man to man. I have great technique. I can play down in the box. I can take on pulling guards.

“I just have a passion for the game.”

Landry has a right to be so bold. Most NFL teams would agree with his self report, which is why he is the draft’s top defensive back and a candidate to be selected sixth overall Saturday by the Washington Redskins.

“One of my favorite players in the entire draft is LaRon Landry,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “There’s a trend in the NFL now trying to draft more athletic safeties because they have to play deep-half coverages, have to play man-to-man and have to get up in the box and be physical.”

Landry, rated by some as the best defensive player available, is one of four safeties that could go in the first round (the others are Miami’s Brandon Meriweather, Florida’s Reggie Nelson and Virginia Tech’s Aaron Rouse).

“In terms of safety depth, I think it’s one of the better years,” Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “There will be safeties available throughout the draft.”

In addition to the safeties, three cornerbacks — Michigan’s Leon Hall, Texas’ Aaron Ross and Pittsburgh’s Darrelle Revis — have received first-round buzz.

The current nature of how offenses operate has amplified the importance of having two good safeties and, subsequently, made them a higher priority early in the draft. Roy Williams went eighth to Dallas in 2002, Sean Taylor went fifth to the Redskins in 2004 and last year Michael Huff (Oakland) and Donte Whitner (Buffalo) went seventh and eighth, respectively. All four players were starting by the end of their first month in the league.

“Safety play in this league is essential,” Fisher said. “Offensive schemes have redefined the position. The Colts are a great example of what happens when you lose your safety. When Bob Sanders came back, their defense changed.”

Sanders was chosen 44th by the Colts in 2004, 39 spots behind Taylor. After three years in the league, Sanders clearly is the better player. Teams still want the big hitter (Taylor) but need their safeties to be sure tacklers, adequate in coverage and make plays on the football when the opportunity arises.

“There are very few safeties who can cover and play down in the box,” said Landry, whose brother, Dawan, plays for the Baltimore Ravens. “I guess that’s why it’s become a glamorous position.”

Landry (6-foot, 213 pounds) fits the bill in all those areas. He started 48 of 52 games at LSU and was the unquestioned leader of the Tigers’ defense. He had at least 68 tackles each season and had 12 career interceptions and 22 pass breakups.

“He’s just an all-around ball hawk and a guy that makes a lot of tackles and a lot of plays,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “He has all the physical attributes, and he does it all in the box.”

The Redskins, whose six interceptions last year were fewest in the NFL, could use a ball hawk in the secondary. Returning cornerback Fred Smoot has a reputation for capitalizing on those chances, but Kiper said Landry needs to improve in that area.

“The question is misjudging passes, and that happened to him throughout his career,” Kiper said. “A true center fielder has to judge the fly ball; a safety has to do the same thing. He would be in position to bat down or intercept a pass, and he would miss it. It’s the only concern on whether he’ll be spectacular.

“He should be a Pro Bowl-caliber player. He’ll be better than Roy Williams, no question, but his ball skills downfield are not necessarily what you would want them to be.”

If Landry is on the board when the Redskins pick, they must decide whether to draft him — and allow the team to use Taylor less in coverage — or address the more pressing need along the defensive line.

“If your guy is not available or you’re not convinced that you’ve got the right guy and are taking too much of a chance, he’s the safe backup,” Mayock said. “If not defensive line for Washington, Landry would be a real nice addition with Sean Taylor.”

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