After three seasons at the University of Miami (Fla.), junior free safety Kenny Phillips has entered the 2008 NFL Draft. From the moment he took the field, Phillips was one of the best defensive backs in the Atlantic Coast Conference. In 2005, as a freshman, Phillips started his final 11 games and logged 40 solo tackles. He had one of his biggest moments in his first game, intercepting a pass in the third overtime to seal a 36-30 win against Clemson University. Phillips elicited comparisons to NFL stars and former Hurricanes in safeties Ed Reed (Baltimore Ravens) and the late Sean Taylor, his positional predecessors at Miami.
In 2006, Phillips had 39 solo tackles and four interceptions despite missing three games with a broken thumb and garnered second-team All-ACC honors. Last season, Phillips started all 12 games, posting 54 solo tackles and two interceptions. Miami finished a disappointing 5-7, but despite his team's mediocrity, Phillips earned first-team all-ACC accolades and was one of 12 semi-finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award (given annually to the nation's best defensive back). Standing 6-foot-2 1/4, weighing 212 pounds and having clocked a 4.54 40-yard dash at the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine, Phillips projects to be the first free safety chosen on draft day.
Phillips is a junkie for game films and has proven he can apply film study to game situations. He accurately diagnoses plays and - when he is wrong - he is nimble enough to change directions quickly. He has ferocious closing speed and makes big, loud hits, yet he generally combines the highlight-reel hitting with sound tackling: He wraps with his arms as opposed to simply popping ball carriers with his shoulder pads and hoping they'll fall.
A three-year starter at a program that generally recruits elite defensive backs, Phillips demonstrated a versatility of talents that should prove functional at the pro level. He has shown the ability not only to play in the box, as a run-support safety, but also back in coverage. In fact, Phillips was skilled enough in coverage to play a bit of cornerback during his junior season. He should be able to play man-to-man against NFL tight ends and slot receivers, something teams value in their safeties.
Phillips also played regularly on Miami's kick and punt coverage teams, which gives him added value to an NFL roster. If Phillips struggles as a rookie he won't be dead weight on the bench as he has already shown he will give maximum effort on special teams. Phillips has a spotless off-the-field record, which is not always the case for Miami athletes, and is a natural leader on the football field.
Defensive statistics never tell the whole story, so it is hard not to question Phillips' ball skills when you learn he snagged only seven interceptions in 33 career starts. He's also shown himself to be undisciplined at times, both in biting too hard on play action fakes as well as taking poor pursuit angles against ball carries, which leads to him overrunning too many plays. Despite his size and strength, Phillips needs work on the blitz as he struggles to make blockers miss by having problems disengaging when they lock on.
Durability issues have been raised about the 21-year-old after he missed three games with a broken thumb as a sophomore and was dogged by a lingering ankle injury throughout the 2007 season.
Phillips doesn't have the look of an elite playmaker, and when NFL teams devote first-round money to a prospect, they expect the player to have the reach of greatness in him. Phillips' track record, thus far, is more solid than great, and concerns about how high his ceiling is may cause him to slip to the second round, irrespective of his almost undisputed status as the draft's best free safety.
Expected Draft Placement
Phillips could go as high as 19th to the Philadelphia Eagles, since starting free safety Brian Dawkins is 34 years old. Another likely landing spot is 21st, when the Washington Redskins could make Phillips a storybook successor to the departed Taylor. If the Redskins pass on Phillips, he could slide to 27th, where the San Diego Chargers might view him as a rangy upgrade to safety Eric Weddle. The Green Bay Packers could have interest at the 30th position as free safety Nick Collins has been inconsistent as the team's starter, but they could target a cornerback instead. His next potential spot is the New York Giants, picking 31st. The Giants lost last year's strong safety, Gibril Wilson, to the Oakland Raiders, in free agency, so Phillips would have to learn to play the strong safety position. If Phillips falls to the second round, it's doubtful he'll fall far.
About Ilan Mochari
Ilan Mochari has been a KFFL contributor since 2007.
Don't miss these great reports....