Fielding questions on a national conference call this afternoon, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr. offered insight on the safety position as it relates to the Patriots, who could be in the market for a player to pair with Devin McCourty in the back end of their defense.
Kiper reiterated that Florida safety Matt Elam, who he slotted to the Patriots in his most recent mock draft, would be a good fit, while noting that he's a player that appears to be on the fringe of first-round consideration.
"Matty Elam is the guy I like," he said. "I've talked to some teams that think he is a second rounder. I personally like what I saw in him, I raved about him; he's a kid that was highly regarded out of high school, did a great job at Florida.
"I think he's deserving of being in the late first-round discussion, I think he'll be there for New England," he continued. "I don't think [Texas safety] Kenny Vaccaro will be; I had a high grade on Vaccaro the past couple of years. I have him going 21 right now to Cincinnati. On the big board right now he's at 18, so he could go even a little earlier than 21."
Kiper added that the safety class has been heavily influenced by a number of draftable underclassmen who have declared themselves eligible, creating depth at the position.
"I think when you look at the safety position, the junior influence is going to big there with Elam, Tony Jefferson from Oklahoma, Eric Reid from LSU. Phillip Thomas is a senior out of Fresno State that has kind of jumped into that mix," he said. "T.J. McDonald, mixed opinion on him coming out of USC, Shawn Williams from Georgia is more of a third-round type of guy. J.J. Wilcox, a kid of out of Southern Georgia, some people are getting enamored at least after the Senior Bowl week, they think more of a third or fourth-round pick for him."
And while Kiper suggested that there will be safeties whose stock rises following the upcoming combine in Indianapolis, which commences next week, he doesn't expect more than two players at the position to be drafted in the first round.
"It is a position where you're not going to have more than two in the first round, maybe only one, because I pushed Elam in there and a lot of people don't have Elam in the first," Kiper said. "At worst I think he's an early-to-mid two."