The Southeastern Conference featured two first team All-American safeties in 2012 and Georgia’s Bacarri Rambo wasn’t one of them.
But Rambo figures seniority matters, so after playing five years, including a redshirt year, for the Bulldogs he rates himself higher than underclassmen Matt Elam of Florida and Eric Reid of LSU.
“I see myself as the best,” Rambo said. “I’ve been doing this for numerous years. I’ve been playing way before those guys’ times. They were still in high school when I was still playing. I consider myself one of the greatest players.”
NFL teams aren’t likely to see if that way when they start picking safeties in the draft from April 25 to 27. Elam and Reid are both expected to be selected before Rambo, whose draft prospects were damaged by a pair of suspensions for violating the drug policy at Georgia.
In fact Rambo could end up slipping into the third round because there are so many quality players available at his position, including Georgia teammate Shawn Williams.
“It”s a great safety class – best safety class I’ve seen in years,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “Maybe not with a bunch of first-round guys that you”re going to run around and say, ‘That’s my guy,’ but (the) depth of the class.”
Texas junior Kenny Vaccaro leads a safety group that features the stars from the SEC as well as some highly-rated players from less-acclaimed programs such as Jonathan Cyprien of Florida International and J.J. Wilcox of Georgia Southern.
Rambo, the former Seminole County standout, will have to convince NFL teams that he’s trustworthy after his off-the-field troubles while at Georgia.
Georgia suspended Rambo for four games to start the 2012 season after he tested positive for marijuana use. Rambo already had one strike against him in Georgia’s drug program after he was caught speeding in a car with marijuana and was suspended for the 2011 opener.
Rambo said he told NFL teams concerned about those incidents that he’s “a better person” and he’s learned from his mistakes.
“Once they get to know me, and they can sit down and talk to me, they can see my true character,” Rambo said.
After Rambo was named a first-team All-American as a junior, he got off to a slow start following his suspension. He still finished the season with three interceptions to tie Jake Scott’s school record for career interceptions with 16.
Rambo has the combination of aggressive tackling and ball skills NFL teams are seeking in safeties.
“I’m a ball hawk,” Rambo said. “I have great instincts. I’m a leader. If you need a big play or an interception, or forced fumble, I can be that guy for your team.”
Elam made his name with several memorable plays for the Gators in 2012.
He chased down LSU’s Odell Beckham at the end of a 56-yard run and took the ball from him, leading to a touchdown that put away the Tigers. Elam had key interceptions during Florida’s victories against Tennessee and Florida State.
Elam is relatively small for a safety at 5 feet 10 and 202 pounds but he plays a physical style.
“I play very hard; I love to strike people,” Elam said. “I feel that’s what helps me stand out the most. And I’m very versatile. I can cover the slot receivers, I can go down and cover, I can go in the box and tackle.”
That’s the kind of hybrid skills NFL teams are looking for in safeties now. The two safety positions are increasingly interchangeable with both players needing to be strong in one-on-one pass coverage, deep pass support and against the run.
Wilcox is still learning the position after playing wide receiver and slot back for Georgia Southern before switching to safety in 2012. Wilcox turned heads with a strong showing during Senior Bowl week and now is in position to become the first Georgia Southern player to be selected in the draft since David Young, a sixth-round pick in 2003.
“I’d definitely say the sky’s the limit with me,” Wilcox said. “I’m definitely on the incline. I feel like I can always improve my game. With just one year, I’ll progress just more and more and more. I don’t think my potential has reached its peak yet but I’m definitely anxious to get into the NFL and see what I can do.”