A cursory look at a list of free safety draft prospects for 2009 will show players from Texas Tech (Darcel McBath), Alabama (Rashad Johnson), and Notre Dame (rising star David Bruton). But the name on top of every list comes from Western Michigan -- a small-school party-crasher by the name of Louis Delmas. After a solid week of Senior Bowl practice, a great Combine showing, and his recent Pro Day, Delmas has answered just about every question posed regarding his ability to meet the NFL head-on.
When we talked to Delmas for a recent Scout.com interview, his head was spinning with the draft just a month away. "Coming out of school, I never expected to be the number-one free safety," he said. "I'm really excited about talking to all the NFL teams."
Delmas brings an unusual coverage ability to his position, and his coaches knew that he was best suited sizing up opposing receivers. "In the defenses we ran, I was usually directed to cover, because my coaches felt that I was a playmaker," he remembered. "No matter where the ball went, I was in the play. I was maybe 20 percent in the box in any given game. We'd run halves, thirds, hard Cover-2, a man Cover-2, we'd run a lot of Fire Zone (the zone blitz concept explained very well here), and three-man deep."
He was especially effective in the first three games of the Broncos' 2008 season, when the team went 2-1 against Nebraska, Northern Illinois, and Idaho. He was in on at least ten tackles in every contest and picked off one pass in each game. The pick he remembers? The season opener against Nebraska. "Being that they had great receivers, and my coach let me lay back and make a play on the ball. It was a tipped ball, I was on my way to the number-one receiver with a tipped ball. I intercepted it and returned it 33 yards."
The play against the Cornhuskers was also important because it gave Delmas ammo against those who would throw the common question out there -- how does the small-school star do against "elite" competition? "Well, I feel that any one school can beat any other school on any given day," he said. "We played a lot of good teams -- Florida State -- unfortunately we lost that one -- Illinois, Iowa and Virginia. I mean, we were competitive with a lot of great opponents. Coming out of Western Michigan, I feel that we did a good job against any level of competition."
Born April 12, 1987 in Fort Pierce, Florida, Delmas has always been close to his brother, Greg Joseph, who plays safety at Florida Atlantic. Together, the brothers have coached 8-10-yyear-ols football players in an Optimist league which now includes another family member. "That’s something that me and my brother did through high school. We just wanted to spread the word to the kids, and we've been doing that for about four or five years now. We got involved through the coach who used to coach us in Optimist ball, and my little brother is playing for the Optimist club, Just being around him made us feel that we needed to keep it going."
Delmas was busy enough in high school when he was on the field -- in his senior year, he never came off the field in eight different games. He lined up at defensive back, wide receiver, kick returner, and long snapper. "In my high school, we had maybe 32 players, and maybe 16 would play, so I'd be on offense as a receiver, there'd be a turnover, I'd make a tackle and I'd have to be on defense. I was also the long-snapper -- whatever I could do in the field. Offense, defense, and special teams -- everything."
But how did a safety-sized (6-0, 202 now) player line up at long snapper and make it work? "I was pretty good! I mean, I'm not that big, so I'd get punished running down the middle, but I'd get the job done.
And what led to the choice of Western Michigan? "Coming out of high school, I had Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, Northern Illinois, and Western Michigan. Wisconsin and Pittsburgh were interested, but they didn't want to wait on me because I didn't meet academic requirements. So, my other two options were Western Michigan and Northern Illinois. I took a visit to Western Michigan, and me and my family and my coaches decided that I should go there because two of the coaches from Northern Illinois were fired the year before I came out, and they were at Western when I came out. I was just more comfortable in that situation."
Delmas starred right away, starting all 11 games in 2005 as a true freshman and nabbing second-team All-MAC honors. When he remembers back, it was the off-field college life that was more challenging. "The transition from high school to college wasn't that hard for me. The big thing was time management. In high school, all you did was go from class to practice. "
His experience as a four-year-starter is a big plus now that NFL teams are looking hard at him. "I think it's very important to NFL teams," he said. "I think people see me as mature -- I came in and got the job done, and I was looked upon as a leader as a freshman. So, me having four years of college under my belt and going to the NFL will make things better in my rookie year."
After 12 interceptions, 196 solo tackles, 18 passes defensed, two sacks and three forced fumbles in his collegiate career, it was time fot Delmas to climb to the next level. He started by hiring Drew Rosenhaus as his agent ("We sat down with him -- me and my family and my coach -- and we thought that he'd be the best bet."), and got ready for the Senior Bowl. Delmas impressed through the week of practice, and his own memories of that week are very good.
"It was a great experience, just having the ability to play against the best players in college. I took it for what it was, you know, all the interviews and meeting all the great coaches and players. We had run so many schemes at Western Michigan, by the time I got to the Senior Bowl, what we ran there was pretty similar, so I just went in there and got the job done."
The Combine was next, where he did well in all the drills and took advantage of another chance to show how he fit in with the NCAA's best. "I got to meet with the coaches of each team. Seeing myself do a little bit better that some of the other players there, I think I made an impression." With a 4.52-40 in Indianapolis, he stuck to position drills at his Pro Day on March 11.
And now, the NFL comes calling. "Philadelphia is definitely interested -- I did a personal workout with them, and I think they liked me. I also did a personal workout with Cleveland -- they knew my technique and we sat down and went over football. Both of those were around March 10. Last Thursday (March 26) to Baltimore, and April 13 to Cleveland. I've talked with Atlanta's defensive coordinator, and I have a workout scheduled there on the 10th of April.
When asked what he'll bring to an NFL team, Delmas looks at the big picture. "I think the best thing I bring is my overall level of play. I think I'm a great tackler. I bring a lot of excitement to the game, I'm very quick down the field. The most important thing, I think, is leadership. I lead by example on the field. The one thing I think I might need to work on in the NFL is just my overall technique. I work on technique in everything I do."
Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com had this to say about Delmas' overall abilities: "Delmas is a cerebral, physical defender who ranks as one of the best talents in a weak year at safety. He answered one of the primary questions about his game by stepping up his level of play when competing against elite competition at the Senior Bowl. Delmas reads the action well and is agile and fast enough to play centerfield. He attacks the line of scrimmage in run support and can be quite a physical hitter, despite his lack of preferred size. Delmas' physicality is actually one of the concerns teams have, as he could struggle to maintain his health at the NFL level given the fearless nature in which he plays the game."
Delmas is expected to be the first free safety off the board -- most project him to go somewhere in the second round.
Doug Farrar is the Publisher of Falcon Insider. He also writes for Football Outsiders, the Washington Post, ESPN.com, and the Seattle Times. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.