"Safety first" is not a motto the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lived by the last two years. Since jettisoning Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron, spending big money or high draft picks at the position has not been a priority. Even last year's starter at free safety, Chris Conte, only signed a one-year contract this week.
Just because the Bucs won’t invest a first-round pick or a lucrative multi-year contract in a safety doesn’t mean they can’t upgrade the position. The draft is well-stocked with Day 2 prospects the Bucs should be interested in selecting. What the Bucs need is a center-fielder, a guy with range and coverage skills. One name near the top of that list is William & Mary’s DeAndre Houston-Carter.
One of Division I AA’s best players, Houston-Carter, or "DHC," was William & Mary’s top playmaker in 2015. He led the team with 109 tackles and four interceptions, ranking first and second in both categories in the CAA. He finished his collegiate career with 293 tackles and 10 interceptions.
Houston-Carter possesses adequate, though not ideal, size for an NFL safety at 6’1" and 201 pounds. At the combine he ran a 4.54 second 40-yard dash, which is better than adequate for an NFL safety. At William & Mary, Houston-Carson’s forte was playing zone coverage. He’s quick to recognize routes and possesses the speed and athleticism to react accordingly.
Houston-Carson isn’t one to press too hard in coverage. He plays with patience, allowing the play to unfold without taking too many unnecessary risks. That’s not to say Houston-Carson doesn’t make plays. He has decent ball skills and technique. He’s apt to catch the ball with his hands rather than his body.
That interception was returned 94 yards for a touchdown. The William & Mary pass rush deserves half the credit for that pick, but Houston-Carson jumped the route beautifully.
In addition to coverage skills, Houston-Carson is a solid, consistent tackler. While he displays violent physicality, he goes for the wrap up more than the knock-out hit.
Even when he misses, DHC makes the extra effort to get the ball carrier down. His effort and physicality jump off the film.
DHC is not an ideal in-the-box safety, lacking the bulk or frame to hold up for too long. Still, he can work the run and make plays around the line of scrimmage. His closing speed is not elite, but he diagnoses plays and navigates traffic well enough to compensate.
Houston-Carson’s biggest weakness? Poor angles. He too often over-pursues both in the run and pass games. He will try to cut off a runner when he would be better closing off cutback lanes and funneling to his linebackers and corners. He ends up missing the tackle or missing contact altogether.
Given the level of competition he faced, it should be expected that DHC will need some seasoning before seeing significant playtime. For that alone he’s not worth anything more than a third-round pick.
What pushes DHC to the third round is his special teams play. He’s got the speed to be a gunner and the athleticism to line up on field goals. At William & Mary, he had nine blocks, three of which led to scores.
Anyone who’s watched even just an episode of Hard Knocks knows that special teams is a rookie’s surest path to a roster spot. Even if the level of competition he faced in college doesn’t endear him to NFL teams, Houston-Carter is an obvious special teams playmaker who could make a real impact as a rookie.
With Chris Conte only locked up for the 2016 season, there's no question the Bucs will look for their future in the draft. DeAndre Houston-Carter is a bit of a gamble, but his play-making should at the very least intrigue them.