Eric Berry, S, Tennessee
Weight: 211 pounds
40 time: 4.47
One of the most instinctive players that I’ve ever scouted, Eric Berry leaves Tennessee looking to become the next elite player at the safety position in the NFL.
A three-year starter at Tennessee, Berry was very productive over the course of his career with the Volunteers, having recorded 245 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, 17 pass breakups, and 14 interceptions (returning three for touchdowns).
Eric Berry is a complete prospect at the safety position who offers the ability to make a play at the line of scrimmage like that of Troy Polamalu, whereas he also is one of the best ball-hawking defensive backs in the past few years, having the ability to make plays in coverage like that of Ed Reed or the late Sean Taylor. With a nice combination of size, speed, strength, and athleticism, Berry has fantastic range in the secondary with great speed as well as a burst to close quickly on a receiver. He’s more than capable of high-pointing the ball and going up and snatching it out of the air (43-inch vertical jump) and his ability to make plays on the ball as ballhawk in the secondary is phenomenal. He also has the long arms needed to deflect a pass away or jar the ball free from a receiver.
Eric’s vision and ability to read and react to plays is tremendous and his instincts are truly some of the best that I’ve ever seen in a football player. In coverage, he’s a smooth, fluid athlete with a low backpedal and is capable of changing directions in the open field with ease. He’s shown the ability to sit back in zone coverage and diagnose plays, while breaking on the ball to make a play, however he also is capable of going one-on-one with a receiver in man coverage. He takes great angles to the ball in zone coverage and has shown the ability to play in the slot in man coverage. After recording 12 interceptions between his true freshman and sophomore seasons, teams showed him respect by deciding not to throw in his direction during his junior year, which resulted in only two interceptions on the year.
While he isn’t the biggest safety, Berry is an intimidating presence in the secondary who is more than capable of delivering a big hit to a receiver coming across the middle. Eric loves to creep up from his safety position to try and make plays around the line of scrimmage. He’s a very active defender in the run game who isn’t afraid, but rather embraces the opportunity to throw his body into the mix in the run game. He’s a very reliable tackler in the open field and has shown the explosiveness needed to force a fumble. Eric made three sacks during his sophomore year; he explodes off the edge as a pass rusher and darts into the backfield to make a play on the quarterback when the opposing offense least expects it. Even while being an All-American player, he still plays on special teams and could also be a great contributor here at the next level. He returned six kicks for 132 yards during his career, and while the team that drafts him likely won’t want to expose him to injury in this role, he could be capable of being a returner on special teams as well.
To nitpick, the only thing that I could find a scout being concerned with is that Eric doesn’t have the ideal size that you look for in a safety; however, as he’s shown over the course of his career, his size isn’t going to hold him back from being a great playmaker. Eric had arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder after the 2008 season, so teams will want to check on this to make sure it checks out okay. I project that Berry will be drafted in the first round, specifically among the Top 10 picks with a good chance of being one of the first five players off the board.
A very competitive player, Berry has terrific intangibles with great leadership, having been named a team captain as a true sophomore and junior in 2008 and 2009. He has the makings of a future leader of a team’s secondary in the NFL who a team can rely on to make plays in key situations and be a reliable last line of defense. As close to a sure-thing at the safety position as I’ve seen, Eric Berry is one of my favorite players that I’ve ever scouted. He has the potential to become an elite safety in the NFL capable of changing games by himself and forcing opposing offenses to game plan against him alone. He’s a Pro Bowl-caliber player who I expect will become the next elite safety in the NFL.
Notes: Eric was given the Thorpe Award in 2009 as the top defensive back in college football. He was a unanimous first-team All-American in 2008 and 2009 and was named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. He was named first-team All-SEC in 2008 and 2009 and was named second-team All-SEC as a true freshman in 2007. Eric’s dad, James, was also a three-year starter and team captain for the Volunteers. One of the top recruits in the country coming out of high school, Eric was rated as the No. 1 player in the state of Georgia as well as the No. 1 safety and No. 3 overall player in the country by Rivals.com. He more than lived up to his status as one of the best players in the country coming out of high school. Between his junior and senior seasons in high school, Eric rushed for more than 2,700 yards with 12 rushing touchdowns as a junior, he threw for more than 2,100 yards with nine touchdown passes as a junior and he totaled 107 tackles and eight interceptions in the two years; he was a four-year starter at quarterback and safety in high school and he led his team to a combined 37-5 record over the course of his career. As a prep, he was also a successful runner in track.
This guy has “stud” written all over him. Sure, he might be lacking in height and could get stronger, but he’s a huge hitter that plays well against the run and pass. He can play either safety position and will work hard on and off the field.
There are some elite DB talents in this class, and Berry headlines the group. DB tends to be an incredibly deep position, so it will be interesting to see where’s he’s taken in dynasty drafts. If he’s drafted by a team with immediate needs at safety, Berry could produce right away and will be drafted accordingly by dynasty owners.