Nate has good size, speed and the overall athleticism to be an excellent safety for the team that drafts him. He shows a good burst to the ball and takes good angles when going towards the play to make a tackle. Nate is one of the smartest safeties in this draft. He shows excellent leadership skills and is like a coach on the field. He has great on-field analytical skills (walk-and-talk skills) that are so necessary for a good safety to have in order to get the players around him in the correct position as he is walking to his position. Nate understands how the defensive backs need to interact in concert with the linebackers in front of him. He plays mostly in a zone coverage scheme, but his college team does use him as a single free safety because of his good speed, football intelligence and his ability to tackle and take good angles. He is a head up, wrap up, squeeze and drive tackler who will punish anyone with a hard, clean tackle. He reminds me a lot of Brian Dawkins (S Denver Broncos).
NEEDS TO IMPROVE
Nate needs to develop his man-on-man cover skills. He plays most of the time with the play in front of him, so he has not developed the skills needed right now to be a true cover safety. He has the talent; he just has some bad habits because of so much zone coverage that will get him beat in a cover safety situation. Basically, he peaks way too early in coverage into the backfield, which slows him down and allows players to get behind him. Those fast WR/TE's and H-backs will take advantage of this and burn him for some big plays. I have no doubt that Nate will correct this little problem. He is too smart not to figure this out and be successful in the NFL.
Nate is a hell of a safety right now -- you could plug him into your defense and he will play at a very high level his first year. Look for the combine and see what his change of direction skills (shuttle) are and that will tell you if this kid can become a Troy Polamalu-type of safety or a Brian Dawkins-type of safety. Either way, you've got a Pro Bowl safety and I would think you would be pretty happy drafting a safety that can make your defense more successful. Look for Nate to go in the second round, but if there is a need for a pure safety in the latter part of the first round, you just might see him sneak into the first round. The Colts, Jets, Saints and Vikings all need a pure safety who has the leadership skills and football intelligence similar to Nate's. When I see a player like Nate, I'm amazed that Taylor Mays (S USC) would get even a sniff of the first round. Remember, drafting a player with obvious talent over a media-hyped player without obvious talent is a good thing, not a bad thing.
Drew Boylhart 2/10