Intriguing defensive backs catch Chiefs’ eye at Combine

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INDIANAPOLIS – The Chiefs’ defensive backfield is primed for personnel turnover sooner than later.

Cornerback Chris Owens and safeties Ron Parker and Kurt Coleman are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents on March 10. Cornerback Sean Smith and free safety Husain Abdullah enter the final year of their respective contracts.

The Chiefs would be wise to plan ahead and potentially bolster depth with youth at safety and cornerback in the upcoming draft. But the trick is finding the right fit among this year’s crop of defensive backs.

Sep 7, 2013; Fort Worth, TX; TCU Horned Frogs safety Chris Hackett (1) intercepts the ball from Southeastern Louisiana running back Xavier Roberson (1) at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 7, 2013; Fort Worth, TX; TCU Horned Frogs safety Chris Hackett (1) intercepts the ball from Southeastern Louisiana running back Xavier Roberson (1) at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s not strong,” CBS Sports and NFLDraftScout.com draft analyst Dane Brugler said of the safety position. “There’s one guy at the top and that’s Landon Collins. After him, there’s a lot of differing opinions who that next safety is on the board. Some people think it could be (Gerod) Holliman from Louisville, Chris Hackett from TCU. There’s a lot of different names out there, a lot of different flavors.”

The Chiefs apparently agreed because they are exploring Hackett and Holliman at the NFL Scouting Combine.

The 6-0, 195-pound Hackett said he has a formal interview scheduled with the Chiefs. The free safety showed his playmaking skills by recording seven interceptions in 2014, giving him 12 picks on his three-year career at TCU.

Hackett, whom CBS Sports and NFLDraftScout.com project as a second- or third-round pick, finished at TCU with 224 tackles (142 solo), two sacks, 18 passes defensed, five forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and of course, the 12 interceptions.

“I think I bring a lot of ball-hawking skills,” Hackett said. “I’m a playmaker in the air, on the ground. I think defenses will like me and offense will like me also because I’m trying to get the ball back for them at any point.”

Giving the ball back to the offense is an area Holliman excelled in 2014.

The 6-0, 218-pound free safety recorded a whopping 14 interceptions in 13 games the past season. He totaled 60 tackles (47 solo), a sack, six passes defensed, a forced fumble and touchdown in the last two seasons of his career.

Holliman said he had an informal interview with the Chiefs at the Combine.

“It was more they wanted to know what I know about defenses,” Holliman said, “and a little background check.”

The biggest knock on Holliman surrounds how he plays against the run, and it’s an area he concedes he must improve.

Holliman, who projects as a third-round pick, said the NFL teams he interviewed with have asked him about it. And he knows he must get better at adjusting angles to the ball carrier.

“I do whatever it takes to win,” Holliman said. “So if the coach wants me to go play man-to-man, that’s something that I know I can do. By watching film, I’m confident that I can do whatever it takes.”

The Chiefs also extended interviews to cornerbacks.

Sep 20, 2014; Ann Arbor, MI; Utah defensive back Eric Rowe (18) delivers a hit on Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess (1) in the first quarter at Michigan Stadium. Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 20, 2014; Ann Arbor, MI; Utah defensive back Eric Rowe (18) delivers a hit on Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess (1) in the first quarter at Michigan Stadium. Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Utah cornerback Eric Rowe, who projects as a fourth- or fifth-round pick, said he has a formal interview scheduled with the Chiefs for Sunday.

The 6-1, 205-pound Rowe has the size the Chiefs covet, so it isn’t a surprise the team is scheduled to sit down with him.

Rowe also appears a good fit for the Chiefs defensive scheme after he stated what he prefers to play as a cornerback.

“Press-man scheme just because at Utah that was basically our defense, a lot of press man stuff,” Rowe said. “It’s just something I’m used to.”

That is a good thing since Rowe said the majority of teams he has spoken to play a press-man scheme.

And he has something else the Chiefs enjoy deploying, and that surrounds versatility when considering he is a converted safety.

Rowe totaled 261 tackles (158 solo) in four seasons at Utah, adding 1 ½ sacks, three interceptions, 36 passes defensed and a touchdown.

But given his ability to play safety and cornerback, he left little doubt what he enjoys.

“I prefer corner to safety because I feel like it’s more of a challenge going on an island covering man-to-man or even a zone,” Rowe said. “I just feel like it’s more of a challenge and I just love challenges.”

Florida State cornerback Ronald Darby said he had an informal interview with the Chiefs during the Combine.

The 5-11, 193-pound Darby teamed with cornerback P.J. Williams to give the Seminoles one of the nation’s top cover corners.

Darby, who projects as a third- or fourth-round pick, said he is “very comfortable” playing in a press-man scheme if drafted into the system based on his experience at Florida State.

“That’s all we did 90 percent of the time, that’s all we ran,” Darby said. “We ran a lot of press this year, especially with our new defensive coordinator (Charles Kelly).”

Darby finished his college career with 79 tackles (57 solo), two interceptions, 16 passes defensed and two forced fumbles.

Meanwhile, the 2015 draft class of safeties and cornerbacks isn’t regarded as the strongest class.

But there is plenty of talent for teams, such as the Chiefs, potentially in the market for a player to fit within a specific system.

Brugler believes that aspect is often overlooked.

“That’s a big thing that doesn’t get talked about enough when we talk about corners is scheme fit,” Brugler said. “Different teams look for Cover Two, guys that can play off-man, press. There’s a lot of different scheme fits out there.”