West Virginia Junior
40: 4.55 (estimated)
Has very good size and good strength. Offers hitting potential due to his size and will deliver hit on receiver over the middle. Good blitzer off the corner, able to bowl over back trying to pick him up. Shows some ball skills to jump the short routes and make the interception. Has good burst and flashes good range. Has pretty good hips and potential to match up in man coverage against the slot receiver. Is at home working in the box and quick to come up and defend the run. Does a decent job filtering through traffic when working in the box. Is a good tackler, that breaks down and wraps up in the open field. Shows good closing burst on the ball and does a nice job when he can keep things in front of him. Has good speed to make up for his mistakes and poor angles when working in coverage.
Lacks instincts and awareness in coverage and is caught of position too often. Let's receivers get behind him and not great when working in centerfield. Will bite on the play fake and give up the score. Doesn't consistent take good angles to the ball and will miss stops in the open field because of it. Doesn't consistently make the bone-jarring hits that will separate man from ball.
Sands has excellent size/speed potential as a rangy playmaker at safety. But he's not a particularly heady defender, and is not as consistent in run support as you'd like to make up for his typical mental errors in pass coverage. He plays free safety in West Virginia's 3-3-5 defense, where he played all over the field, often coming up in the box to help out as an extra linebacker and spy. He has the athleticism and potential to get better in coverage, but he's a work in progress that some teams may want to move to linebacker. He did not have a strong junior campaign after a very good sophomore year. As a sophomore, he came off the bench at the beginning of the season before logging starts in the last 9 games. That year he finished with 65 tackles, 3.5 for loss, 5 picks, 8 breakups. But as a junior, he started all 13 games, had 53 tackles, 6.5 for loss, 1 pick, and no breakups. He showed good ball skills and a playmaking ability in 2009, but lost that for whatever reason as a junior this past year.
I think Sands could fit well in a Polamalu-type role in some of the league's 3-4 defenses, playing in the box and showing the speed and range you like to see. He would make a good understudy to Polamalu. But for many teams that prefer their safeties to play a lot more Cover-2 and handle deep responsibilities, he could be a potential major liability there, which is why many teams will tinker with the idea of moving him to outside linebacker in a 4-3 set. BUt he'd have to bulk up considerably, and while he could be effective, he probably would be just an average starter because he would have to play in space. He could be a nice run and hit guy that plays in nickel situations, but ultimately he's probably just an average starter at best if not just a role player. His brightest future is remaining at safety. He has the speed, ball skills, and range to be a factor in coverage. He just needs to play with more discipline, something he may only gain with experience and being developed over time. Give him a year or two on the bench learning behind a veteran, and when he does become a starter it will be best to pair him with an experienced veteran safety that can help babysit him a bit better in the back half. He's a boom/bust prospect. I think the boom is high if he plays in a 3-4 scheme that will bring him up in the box like the Steelers do with Polamalu. He's not as naturally instinctual a player as Polamalu is, but I do think he has the potential to be one of the top safeties in the league if used properly. He could also be a bust because of that lack of ideal instincts and discipline. If he does bust, then the players he compares to are Aaron Rouse or Pat Watkins, similarly-sized safeties that were fast and athletic and had down final seasons in college before becoming mediocre stopgaps in the pros that never developed the strong coverage ability to stick long-term. I think Sands will be better than them, but it may take some time and playing in the right scheme.
Sands is not a great fit in Atlanta. While the Falcons do drop William Moore down in the box quite a bit to play the run, Sands isn't as disciplined in coverage as the Falcons want. He could develop because he has the speed, range, and flashes the ball skills to make plays in coverage. But like Moore, it'll take some time, and probably even more time. He could be a nice insurance policy down the road, but is not as heady as the Falcons would want at free safety, and doesn't really offer enough in coverage to think he's an upgrade at strong safety. He would more than likely be a backup in Atlanta that would have a hard time sticking beyond his rookie contract unless the Falcons dumped either of their current starters in two or three years time.
For a 3-4 team looking for an in the box safety, he certainly has the talent to be a second round pick. But because of his boom/bust potential, he's probably a safer value in the third or potentially fourth round.
1-poor, 2-weak, 3-above average, 4-very good, 5-elite
Ball Skills: 3.0
Scouting reports of the safeties in the 2011 Draft.
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