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Draft position preview: Safeties

With a dearth of proven backups beyond T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart, the Broncos have a need for depth and youth at safety.

They have options from their reserve cornerbacks to fill out the dime sub package in which David Bruton Jr. excelled last year. They could get Kayvon Webster, Lorenzo Doss or Taurean Nixon on the field as a sixth defensive back, while using Bradley Roby in the safety-type role he occasionally handled last year.

But with Stewart's contract expiring after this year and Ward halfway through his deal, the Broncos need to work on not only their short-term depth at safety, but potential long-term planning.

A look at the top five safeties in this year's draft class ...

1. VONN BELL
Ohio State - 5-11 - 199Arm: 32 3/8 inches - Hand: **9 1/2 inches *

40-yard dash:4.51 seconds
*Vertical: *30 1/2 inches
*
Results from Pro Day*

Outstanding instincts for the position, quick reaction and above-average ability to read plays before the snap separate Bell and make him a possible first-rounder ... He's quick and fast enough to work as an inside cornerback, can play both the free and strong safety positions, and has a good balance between being able to make some thumping hits and coverage ability downfield.

2. KARL JOSEPH
West Virginia - 5-10 - 205Arm: 32 1/8 inches - Hand: **9 3/4 inches *

Six months removed from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Joseph won't be able to show his full physical capability before the draft. But his film offers ample evidence of what he can do. He's a fearless, aggressive player with outstanding instincts, excellent timing on his hits, ball skills (he had five interceptions last season before being injured) and quickness.

He occasionally has some missed tackles borne out of his aggression, but that can be cleaned up with some coaching. His leadership and character reveal a player who will respond well to teaching. His injury might push him into the second round, but on film, this is a first-round talent.

3. KEANU NEAL
Florida - 6-1 - 211Arm: 32 3/4 inches - Hand: **10 5/8 inches *

40-yard dash:4.62 seconds (11th among 18 Combine safeties measured)
*Bench press: *17 repetitions (7th among 20 Combine safeties)
*
Vertical: 38 inches (T-2nd among 17 Combine safeties)
*
Broad jump: *1 feet (1st among 18 Combine safeties)
*
Short shuttle: *428 seconds (10th among 15 Combine safeties)
*
3-cone drill: **7.9 seconds (10th among 14 Combine safeties)

Perhaps the best tackler among this year's draft class, Neal plays with quickness that isn't evident in timed drills, allowing him to handle wide receivers in coverage. Incredibly versatile, Neal can handle a range of duties: He can creep into the box against the run, drop deep against the pass as a single high safety, and come forward and handle man coverage against receivers and tight ends.

4. JEREMY CASH
Duke - 6-1 - 212Arm: 32 3/8 inches - Hand: **10 1/2 inches *

The most physical safety in the draft, Cash provides an imposing presence when brought into the box against the run and for short underneath passes, forcing seven fumbles in the last three seasons ... Although he gives up some size to a tight end, he has the physicality to disrupt a tight end's route within five yards of the line of scrimmage and can stay with him downfield ... He probably doesn't have the pure quickness and speed to cover receivers, but he's an asset in all other areas and can see every-down work against the run in base packages and on tight ends in sub packages ... Is overcoming a right wrist injury that sidelined him for the Pinstripe Bowl against Indiana and necessitated surgery.

5. DARIAN THOMPSON
Boise State - 6-2 - 208Arm: 30 3/8 inches - Hand: **9 1/8 inches *

40-yard dash:4.69 seconds (15th among 18 Combine safeties measured)
*Bench press: *12 repetitions (18th among 20 Combine safeties)
*
Vertical: 32 1/2 inches (T-14th among 17 Combine safeties)
*
Broad jump: * feet, 19 inches (T-14th among 18 Combine safeties)
*
Short shuttle: *433 seconds (11th among 15 Combine safeties)
*
3-cone drill: **7.6 seconds (14th among 14 Combine safeties)

Thompson has ample ball skills, intercepting 19 passes while at Boise State. Despite his timed speed, his length allows him to cover plenty of ground. He'll attack the run, and can be a helpful pass rusher when the need arises. He also is willing to attack receivers on their routes, and possesses sufficient physicality for the role. But sometimes he reacted too late, and he needs to take better angles to avoid being caught out of position. As with Cash, he might do his best early work in the box and against tight ends.

Others of note:

James Bradberry, Samford
LaMarcus Brutus, Florida State
Deon Bush, Miami (Fla.)
Tevin Carter, Utah
Sean Davis, Maryland
K.J. Dillon, West Virginia
Kavon Frazier, Central Michigan
T.J. Green, Clemson
DeAndre Houston-Carson, William & Mary
Jayron Kearse, Clemson
Miles Killebrew, Southern Utah
Derrick Kindred, TCU
Jordan Lomax, Iowa
Jordan Lucas, Penn State
Jalen Mills, LSU
Tyvis Powell, Ohio State
Elijah Shumate, Notre Dame
Justin Simmons, Boston College
A.J. Stamps, Kentucky
Brandon Williams, Texas A&M

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