Ranking the Pac-10 safeties

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Safety looks like a strong position in the Pac-10 this season. About half of these guys -- maybe more -- figure to have NFL futures.

The top-four are legitimate All-American candidates, and USC junior Taylor Mays may be touted as the best all-around athlete in the 2009 NFL draft -- unless he opts to return for his senior season.

That said, more than a few USC observers will tell you that Kevin Ellison was the better all-around player for the Trojans defense last year.

  1. Taylor Mays, Jr., USC: Even among the extraordinary athletes at USC, Mays stands out. He's one of the fastest players in the conference -- at 225 pounds. He'll probably be the first safety taken in Round 1 of the 2009 NFL draft.

  2. Patrick Chung, Sr., Oregon: If you don't like the way Chung plays, you don't like football. He led the Ducks with 117 tackles in 2007.

  3. Kevin Ellison, Sr., USC: Notable that he was first-team All-Pac-10 in 2007 and Mays wasn't. He had 57 tackles, including eight for a loss, two sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2007.

  4. Troy Nolan, Sr., Arizona State: Second in the conference with six INTs in 2007. He returned two of those for TDs. Solid against the run and pass, this NFL prospect was second-team All-Pac-10 a year ago.

  5. Bo McNally, Sr., Stanford: Second in the Pac-10 with 9.5 tackles per game in 2007, though it's not always good that a DB leads his team in tackles. Also had 7.5 tackles for a loss, two interceptions and 1.5 sacks. Underrated in pass defense.

  6. Al Afalava, Sr., Oregon State: He's a stocky, physical presence who will be one of the leaders in the Beavers strong secondary. His 64 tackles ranked third on the team in 2007.

  7. Nate Ness, Sr., Arizona: He's got a nose for the ball -- see five INTs in 2007. Needs to prove he's an all-around player.

  8. Mesphin Forrester, Sr., Washington: With 93 tackles and two INTs in 2007, he's a critical piece of an experienced secondary that struggled a year ago. [Update: He moved to cornerback during spring practices, but his performance last year earns him this ranking].

  9. Josh Pinkard, Sr., USC: Pinkard has essentially missed the past two years with knee injuries. He's back, though, and if one of Pete Carroll's favorite players stays healthy, he'll find a spot in the Trojans secondary, though likely at CB.

  10. Bernard Hicks, Sr., California: He's started 18 games for the Bears, though he mostly played better in 2006 than in 2007. Had 40 tackles and four pass breakups a year ago. Can lay the lumber at times.