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2016 NFL Draft: Darian Thompson vs. Karl Joseph

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Two of this year’s top safety prospects are West Virginia’s Karl Joseph and Boise State’s Darian Thompson and could very well be targeted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both carry resumes strong enough to get them drafted on Day 2.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Safety will be a target for the Buccaneers this year as early as their first pick if Jalen Ramsey miraculously falls that far. However it’s more likely Jason Licht and company will find what they’re looking for in the draft’s mid-rounds.

Why Karl Joseph and Darian Thompson? Interceptions. The Buccaneers collected just 11 last season and 14 the year before. To elevate their defense back to something remotely competitive, they have to turn up the takeaways.

Thompson’s stats speak for themselves. He is not only Boise St.’s all-time career interception leader with 19, but also the Mountain West Conference all-time leader. What’s most impressive about his number is the distribution over his college career. He picked up three as a redshirt freshman, four as a sophomore, seven as a junior and five this past season.

Joseph’s resume isn’t quite as impressive but was trending up last year. Before 2015, he recorded only four interceptions, but he exploded early last year with five in first four weeks of the season before a non-contact knee injury ended his senior season prematurely. Still, Joseph does have the ball skills to be a turnover machine in the NFL.

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<>Of course stats tell only a fraction of the story. The film offers an entirely different perspective.

There is no question Thompson has a nose for the ball. He is instinctive, physical and sure-handed.

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Bucs fans should love that, sniffing out the slant and coming up with the ball. He has more than his fair share of highlight reel plays.

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However, all those big plays come at a cost. A safety is meant to be the last line of defense, a security blanket for everything ahead of him. Too often Thompson abandons his responsibility for the chance to make a big play.

"No guts, no glory" you say? Well, glory comes with a price, like this Utah State touchdown he could have prevented had he dropped into coverage rather than biting on the play-action.

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Thompson keeps a constant eye on the ball. This can be a good thing if he knows the play to make and acts decisively. Surely, Thompson acts decisively but it often leaves the defense wide open on the back end.

Even some of Thompson’s more impressive tape betrays his willingness to leave the defense out to dry.

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Yes, Thompson gets the interception, but watch the receiver passing him five yards past the line of scrimmage. Boise St. is playing Cover 3, with Thompson in zone underneath. The corner is covering the targeted receiver outside with a single safety over the top.

What you can't see here is the gigantic hole the slot receiver is running through off screen. Thompson was looking to jump the route from the start and caught a break that the Washington quarterback missed the open receiver and made an awful throw to the double-covered outside receiver.

Starting NFL quarterbacks, especially guys like Matt Ryan and Drew Brees, won’t miss this and would punish Thompson for his gamble.

Karl Joseph’s film doesn’t indicate the same comfort with risk Thompson accepts on his defense’s behalf. Instead, Joseph simply puts his own body on the line for the sake of a play.

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What looked to be an impressive catch on a deep throw turned into a demolition derby of an incompletion. Though Joseph will have to clean up his technique at the next level to avoid the surefire personal foul call here, he brings a blend of physicality and smarts the Bucs haven’t seen at safety in years.

While Joseph's physical play gets the most attention, it's his instincts and smarts that will make him a high Day 2 pick.

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It may seem like Joseph is backing off the tackle here, but he’s actually protecting his assignment and cutting off the option play. He seems aware of the linebacker behind him ready to handle the Georgia St. quarterback so Joseph stays in position to make sure he can’t flip the ball out.

Both have solid tackling technique, but a glaring difference between Joseph and Thompson is the consistency in their angles. They both play aggressively and can make great play-stopping tackles requiring high degrees of recognition.

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However, Thompson’s aggressiveness gets him into trouble in run support. Again, he’s quick to diagnose but what he does with the information is not always spot on.

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He comes in too hot, overshooting the running back who scores on this play. This wasn’t a common occurrence for Thompson, but it typically occurred when the runner or receiver adds a little pepper to the run or route. Thompson plays fast but with mostly straight-line speed and appears to lack the agility to adjust very far.

Joseph isn’t any more athletic, but he plays with more patience and less regard for his personal well-being. He’s a little small to play the way he does.

Nevertheless, the better prospect is apparent: Karl Joseph. He’s more physical and more judicious with the risks he takes in coverage. Darian Thompson victimized the Mountain West’s quarterbacks, but his risk-taking will be rectified in the NFL.

Thompson needs to be in a defense with a potent pass rush, which the Bucs don’t yet have. Provided his knee is fully healthy by August, Joseph could compete for a starting safety spot in Tampa Bay right away. He would provide a degree of physicality the Bucs sorely need in the secondary.