How To Scout Defensive Backs
By Brent Foshee
Defensive backfield play is among the most difficult job in professional football. The proliferation of teams with advanced passing games coupled with a shifting league policy that is offense friendly makes the job of defending the pass consistently almost impossible. That shift has benefitted defensive backs in many ways, however, as talented players at the position remain at a premium. Teams are always on the lookout for hard hitting safeties that have the range to cover the deep field. Meanwhile, cornerbacks that can lock down an opposing team’s best receiver, while rare, are highly coveted. Speed is important with defensive backs but size is becoming equally important as the league experiences an influx of tall fast wide receivers. Speed and size alone are not enough, however, as athleticism is the most important attribute for a defensive back.
Footwork - Defensive backs need to understand how to move about the field in the most efficient way. False steps and bad angles lead to big plays.
Ball Skills - A lot of defensive backs have the ability to stay with a receiver or close on a ball. The best defensive backs have the ability to - and innate understanding - of how to break up a pass.
Mental Toughness - Defensive backs are going to get beat in today’s NFL. Having a short memory is crucial.
Free Safety Free safeties are the last line of defense, literally. They need to have the ability to cover the entire deep field, make a play on the ball, and wrap up a tackler. They also need to be able to be a force in run support. Taller players are preferred at free safety but they need to have the speed to cover the entire field, be fluid in their hips for quick change of direction, and they must quickly diagnose the action and get in position in order to make a play. Once they are in position they need good leaping ability, the strength to win a ball, and an affinity for finishing plays.
Key Attributes - Size, Speed, Intelligence
Strong Safety - The Strong safety needs many of the same attributes as the Free safety but their roles are slightly different. Strong side players have greater responsibilities in the running game and need to be more physical tacklers. Height, length, and speed are not as important on the strong side and they will be frequently substituted for physicality, sure tackling, and bulk. These guys are typically sturdier than the other defensive backs because they are lined up in the box often. The Strong safety needs to be able to quickly diagnose the play as they will often be counted on to make tackles on strong side runs. In pass coverage they need to be comfortable lining up over a slot receiver, dropping back and playing deep, or covering a (typically much larger) tight end.
Key Attributes: Physicality, Pass Coverage Diversity, Sure Tackling