To Demps or Not to Demps


Barring a complete mental meltdown or a serious change of heart from Jim Johnson, Quintin Demps will be the starting free safety in 2009. That may make some fans a tad nervous, but at this point, he’s the best option.

Sean Jones is a strong safety and should assume B-Dawk’s role from 2008 as an in-the-box run-stopper and blitzer. Jones is huge for a safety (6’1″ 220). In fact, he’s only slightly smaller than Akeem Jordan (6’1″ 230). Expect Jones to play a lot, but with Quintin Mikell entrenched at strong, I can’t imagine Jones starting many games. The benefit of having Jones is he should be able to slide in should Mikell miss time due to injury.

Rashad Baker has experience, but he’s on his fifth team in six years. Not good. I view him as a long shot to make the final 53. “Macho” Harris lined up quite a bit at free safety in the post-draft minicamp. He’ll get a serious look as a valuable reserve at both corner and safety.

This leaves our man Demps as the heir apparent to the iconic Brian Dawkins. It will be a tall order for Q, but I believe he can handle it, and more importantly the coaching staff seems to agree. Jim Johnson may have been trying to boost Demps’ confidence, but he spoke very favorably about the second-year man during the minicamp, referring to him as a future Pro Bowler. Let’s hope JJ is correct in his assessment.

Unless your name is Ed Reed, most free safeties don’t produce gaudy stats. Their main job is to play center field and help out where necessary. Guys like Reed and Darren Sharper have that extra instinct which enables them to rack up the big interceptions. Dawkins is good, not great, in that department. He’s netted 34 picks in 13 seasons. Sharper has 54 in 12 seasons, and Reed has 43 in just seven years.

So, what can we expect from Demps in 2009? Let’s study four other young NFL free safeties and see how they fared in their first seasons as starters. I’ll then attempt to project Demps’ numbers.

Antrel Rolle (Cardinals) – After flopping as a cornerback his first three seasons, Rolle was moved to free safety in 2008. His first year at the position, he produced the following stats: 88 tackles, 1 INT, 1 TD, 0 sacks. Merely okay, but considering he never played free safety before, not terrible either.

Michael Johnson (Giants) – Johnson’s path parallels Demps. He played sparingly as a rookie, then was thrust into a starting role in ’08. He also played in JJ protege Steve Spagnuolo’s defense. Here are Johnson’s numbers from last season: 72 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack. Again, solid, not spectacular.

Nick Collins (Packers) – Another similar scenario. Collins was inserted into the starting free safety spot after the great Darren Sharper left for the Vikings in 2005. Collins posted these stats as a rookie: 86 tackles, 1 INT, 0 sacks. Not bad. Collins made the Pro Bowl last season.

Reggie Nelson (Jaguars) – Another rookie starter, Nelson had little trouble entering the spotlight: 63 tackles, 5 INT, 1 sack. Very impressive.

Quintin Demps (Projected) – The average results from these four players equals: 77 tackles, 2 INT, .5 sacks. If Q can hit these marks, the secondary will be fine. I’d love to see five or six interceptions, but for some odd reason JJ’s defenses don’t accumulate many picks. Hopefully, that will change.

Whatever happens, we are looking at a very talented secondary. Jones and Ellis Hobbs likely won’t start. How’s that for veteran depth? What looked like a nightmare in early March has become a team strength.

Demps can run and hit. He should be able to ease into the starting role. and Sporting News concur. It’s unfair to ask Demps to be another Dawkins. Very few, if any, can do that. But if Demps is allowed to be Demps, he should do very well in 2009.