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Deep safety class could benefit Ravens

INDIANAPOLIS - Matt Elam was a first-team All-American at Florida last season. Eric Reid was a first-team All-American at LSU. Phillip Thomas led the country in interceptions. D.J Swearinger's a violent, physical player who's described as a tone-setter in the secondary. And Shamarko Thomas was a first-team All-Big East performer at Syracuse who was one of the standout performers among defensive backs at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Safety's one of the deeper positions in this year's NFL draft, something that could benefit the Baltimore Ravens, and any other team in the market for a player at that position.

Kenny Vaccaro (Texas) is expected to be selected before the Ravens pick at No. 32 in the first round, but he's just one of at least 10 safeties projected by analysts to be picked during the first three rounds of the draft in April.

"It"s a great safety class," said NFL Network NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock. "Best safety class I've seen in years. ... [Kenny] Vaccaro to me is a really good football player on tape. I"ll be surprised if he gets past the top 15 or so, which is pretty high for a safety. Matt Elam from Florida, another really good football player. I have him in the second round.

"And then after that, I have at least 10 or 12 safeties jumbled together. Some are only strong [safeties], some are free [safeties], but some could play both that you can get in the second and third rounds."

Baltimore's expected to look at adding a free safety through the draft even if it finds a way to retain impending free agent Ed Reed.

Reed will be 35 in September.

The Ravens had formal meetings with several of this year's top safety prospects at the combine, including Elam, Swearinger and Tony Jefferson (Oklahoma).

"There's a lot of depth at the safety position," said ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay. "It wouldn't surprise me knowing how smart [the Ravens] are, and how they manage the draft, that they maybe wind up in the second or probably third round getting a good player at that position."

Elam, though, could be of interest to the Ravens as early as round one, although he's viewed as more of an early-to-mid second round value at this point.

Elam's known for his physicality, but he also has the range and athleticism to make plays in the pass game. He had 154 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss and six interceptions during his last two years at Florida, including 76 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss and four interceptions as a junior this past season.

"I play very hard, and I like to strike people," Elam said. "I feel that's what helps me stand out the most, but I'm very versatile. I can cover slot receivers. I can go down and cover. I can go in the box and tackle. I feel I'm very versatile."

Reid and Swearinger are among a group of safeties that could be of interest in the second round.

Reid's described as "an all-around safety who can play [both] the run and the pass" in a scouting report on NFL.com. He was a first-team All-American at LSU this past season, a key member of a highly-ranked Tigers defense.

Swearinger didn't test out well at the combine - running the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds - but he's a physical, intimidating enforcer-type who, despite the lack of elite timed speed, made plays against the pass as well at South Carolina.

"I see myself fitting right in with the Ravens," Swearinger said. "Losing a leader like Ray Lewis, I consider myself a leader first and foremost, so I think I would go right in to being a defensive leader."

Phillip Thomas and Shamarko Thomas could be two options in the third round.

Phillip Thomas had eight interceptions as a senior at Fresno State last season, three of which he returned for touchdowns.

Shamarko Thomas has less than ideal height (5-foot-9), but he's 213 pounds and was one of the top performers at the combine. His 40-yard dash time (4.42) was the best among safeties. His vertical jump (40 ½ inches) was tied with Reid for the best among safeties. And his 28 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press represented the highest total among safeties. A scouting report of Thomas on NFL.com describes him as a "tough safety with a linebacker's mentality" who also "covers a lot of ground in the secondary when deep."

Thomas had 85 tackles, three forced fumbles and two interceptions as a senior at Syracuse last season and was voted first-team All-Big East.

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