Few safeties in the draft have a nose for the football like Iowa’s Dane Belton.
With five interceptions and 12 passes defended in 2021, he propelled himself to first-team All-Big Ten honors and a shot at an NFL career after only three seasons in Iowa City.
He was one of 13 defensive players in FBS football with five interceptions or more last season. Playing in Iowa’s “cash” safety position – a hybrid between a strong safety and a linebacker – he often had different assignments than a traditional safety. He’s as physical a safety as there is in the draft.
Belton, a Florida native, is likely to be selected on day three of the draft, possibly as early as the fifth round. The Bears need bodies at safety. Eddie Jackson will start at one safety spot, and free agent Dane Cruikshank could take the other starting spot.
Still, there isn’t much depth behind them. It’s possible the Bears could draft a safety in the earlier rounds of the draft. If they don’t, Belton might be a good option on day three. The Bears haven’t drafted a safety since taking Jackson in the fourth round in 2017.
Belton could play a true safety spot or the nickel.
“I feel like I’m a football player and in that new game of position-less players that people talk about, I feel like I’m that,” Belton said at last month’s NFL Scouting Combine. “Honestly, I just love to play football. So, wherever I can plug and play and help a team, I’m willing to do that.”
Belton believes his versatility will be valuable in the NFL. Iowa has consistently produced NFL tight ends and Belton has experience lining up against the tight end position in practice and in Big Ten play.
His versatility and experience playing that hybrid linebacker spot have given him a solid understanding of the game. He can see the big picture.
“Teams ask where I feel most comfortable at and [I’m] just telling them I feel like I can play everywhere,” Belton said. “I feel like I showed that throughout my tenure at Iowa and just being able to do that and talking about our defense as a whole and being able to talk about different positions at safety, corner, linebacker, knowing the whole defense.”
Dane Belton, S, Iowa
College career: Belton was a three-year starter at Iowa, who has a nose for the football. He had five interceptions and 12 passes defended as a junior last season. He totaled 46 tackles and three tackles for loss in 14 games. He played a hybrid safety/linebacker position in college. He could be suited for the nickel safety spot. He tested well at the combine with a 4.43 40-yard dash and a 36.5-inch vertical jump.
They said it: “Belton has average size, can line up over tight ends and excels in short-zone coverages, where his ball skills and anticipation bring him to the action. He lacks the suddenness to stay with route breaks underneath and will be exploited if asked to cover on the back end.” –Lance Zierlein, NFL.com draft analyst.
Draft projection: 5th or 6th round