Kiper's top 5 safeties & Patriots

Devin McCourty performed at a high level once again in 2012, earning a single vote for the Associated Press All-Pro team. His performance picked up upon his transition to safety in Week 7.

Looking ahead, a key personnel decision leading into the 2013 is whether or not McCourty will remain at safety for the Patriots. Should that be the case, the Patriots will have their free safety locked in. Otherwise, they'll need to address that spot this offseason.

In addition, it wouldn't be surprising if the other safety spot (more of a strong safety) is likely still on the Patriots radar, and could be an area of interest in the first round of the NFL draft. Though Steve Gregory forced five turnovers and provided veteran leadership in 2012, the Patriots could benefit from a playmaking, physically imposing safety added to the ranks.

ESPN’s NFL draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr. has an overview of his top five safeties (as things currently stand), and the list starts with Texas' Kenny Vaccaro (6-1, 218 pounds). Florida's Matt Elam, Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson, LSU's Eric Reid and Fresno State's Phillip Thomas round out the group.

Over the past two drafts, only three safeties have gone in the first round, as there are some that believe it’s not a premium position (comparable to guard), though the low number of first-round safeties of late is also a reflection of the prospects available.

A cursory examination of Kiper’s top five safeties reveals that Thomas’ production stands atop the rest, as he finished with 84 tackles to go along with four sacks and eight interceptions. At 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, he also has the big frame that could lend itself to a strong safety alignment.

We’ll learn much more about this group and the rest of the safety class in the pre-draft process, as it could be an area of focus for the Patriots come April.

To see Kiper’s top five by position in its entirety, CLICK HERE (Insider content).