When the Arizona Cardinals take the field for the first time in 2014, there should be one noticeable difference on the defensive side of the ball, and no, not the possible absence of Karlos Dansby at inside linebacker. The Cardinals were the worst team in the NFL in defending tight ends in 2013, surrendering appallingly bad numbers: 93 catches, 1,218 yards, 17 touchdowns.
That's an average of six catches for 76 yards and one touchdown a game, or to put it another way, that's a better on game average than what Larry Fitzgerald has put up in his career.
The Cardinals may not come out and say it, but anyone that understands the game of football knows -- this is an issue that must be addressed immediately. Their overwhelming expectation is that the Cardinals will find a safety to shore up the position, but there are some specific things the Cardinals are "allegedly" looking for in a safety.
Is the prospective safety at least 6'1"?
Right off the bat that eliminates certain free agents that are very good players: Jarius Byrd, T.J Ward, among others. You may be asking, "Why does it matter if the safety is at least 6'1"?"
Well, the Cardinals love having Tyrann Mathieu at safety, but they also want to be able to match up the safety with bigger tight ends.
Having another small safety, even as good as someone like Byrd is, can be troublesome in the Cardinals' division. Is the prospective safety rangy enough to play man coverage in the slot?
Remember good old Adrian Wilson in his dominant years where he could line up across from any tight end in the league and you didn't worry?
Remember how the Cardinals could drop Wilson into coverage on the back end and he'd either make a play on the ball or kill the receiver that was trying too?
That's what the Cardinals are looking for in a safety. If a team like San Francisco is going "three wide" but lining up Vernon Davis on the outside, they want to be able to keep Mathieu in centerfield and rotate the other safety onto Davis.
They did this frequently with Yeremiah Bell... that didn't work well. Those are the biggest requirements the Cardinals are looking for in their next safety, and there happens to be a couple in this draft and in free agency the Cardinals could look at that fit this bill.
Chris Clemons, S Miami Dolphins
Clemons is an outstanding coverage safety. He is long, has excellent speed, and has a familiarity with Todd Bowles and how he works. He'll be 29 this season, but looks to be one of the more intriguing options in a deep safety class.
If the Dolphins go elsewhere at safety the Cardinals will likely have to contend with a handful of teams, but he has the attributes that this organization allegedly covets, and could be a big upgrade to an already great defense.
Nate Allen, S Philadelphia Eagles
Allen STRUGGLED throughout his first three seasons in the league, but found his footing in his fourth season, and looked to turn a corner, if ever so slightly. He's a younger, cheaper option, and though he may fall just short of the 6'1" requirements, he's listed at 6-0, if Todd Bowles wants him, they were together in Philadelphia's disastrous 2012, he'll let Steve Keim know.
Others to know: James Ihedigbo, Michael Mitchell
Calvin Pryor, S Louisville
While some may worry about the lack of coverage experience Pryor has from his time at Louisville, and it is a valid question, he displays all the characteristics of what the Cardinals want in their next starting safety.
Pryor is long, lean, and plays fast and nasty in the defensive back field. When on the field, he plays like he's shot out of a cannon, and at times can play "out of control", but his natural athletic attributes are tools that someone like Todd Bowles can mold.
Draft Range: Round 1
Ed Reynolds, S Stanford
The super athletic and smart safety was a hit in 2013 for the Cardinal, despite a torn ACL in 2011. He has the natural ability and build, at 6-2 210lbs, to play with tight ends and match up well. Gifted with excellent instincts and ball skills, Reynolds, like Pryor, plays with an all-out style.
That gets him in trouble at times.
He has been ejected for "targeting" before, and may be the recipient of numerous envelopes from the commissioners office in his first few seasons of play, but if he can learn to harness that energy and focus it, he could be exactly what the doctor order for the Cardinals defense.
Draft Range: Day 2
Deone Bucannon, S Washington State
A throwback to the Adrian Wilson days, Bucannon reminds some of Seattle safety Kam Chancellor, and while he isn't quite as tall, he plays with the same edge and physicality.
Gifted with exceptional range, and speed, Bucannon, despite his bulky build, plays with a nice fluidity to his game. He breaks on the ball well, and understands angles and is not afraid to deliver a bone rattling hit if need be.
Draft Range: Day 2
There are NUMEROUS safety prospects left out of this brief outline of safeties that could answer the call to defending tight ends in 2014, but there were whispers of what the Cardinals were looking for in a "prototype" safety, and it was a little harder to stay at the 6-1 or taller range, and made the projections that much more fun... and difficult.