Written by Cody Manning, @CodyTalksNFL
As more of today’s offenses feature more high-profile passing attacks, we are starting to see an increased demand for versatile safeties like Derwin James that defensive coordinators can use as a weapon in their secondary. Certain safeties will have more value to teams then others, dependent on the scheme being used and where they can be used with their skill sets. We saw three safeties go in the 1st round in last year’s NFL Draft and we could possibly see that number matched again this year. Teams that could address the position on Day 1 or 2 include 49ers, Bucs, Raiders, Lions, Packers, Panthers, Texans, and Chiefs. Here are my current Top 5 safeties for the 2019 class!
1. Deionte Thompson: Alabama
Career Stats: 19 games
Pass Deflections: 7
Fumble Recoveries: 1
Forced Fumbles: 3
Thompson is a two-year starter at Alabama but didn’t get a full season under his belt until this past year. After seeing little to no playing time as a freshman, Thompson played in 9 games as a sophomore where he started to flash his potential as a player. He had 25 tackles with an interception and a pass deflection. After spending the offseason developing under the tutelage of Nick Saban, he was able to put his athletic talent into production on the field. In 14 games he was able to put up 78 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 6 pass deflections, 1 fumble recovery, and forced 3 fumbles on the year. His development as a player and the potential he offers with his athleticism is why he is in high regard among NFL scouts.
His athleticism allows him to come in and compete at the next level from day one. He can drop back into coverage and cover the entire field in front of him because of his speed. He flies up the field and make up any space to try to get into passing lanes. His initial quickness allows him to be a part of disrupting runs or screens. He can be a ballhawk in a defense because of how he can sit back and track a ball down for a deflection or an interception. He can be playmaker.
He does misread plays which can result in chunk plays or even the offense taking the top off the defense for a touchdown. He will need more coaching up at diagnosing plays whether that is from the film room and/or on the field. His tackling technique needs some work. He loves to drop his head and lead with his shoulder. He doesn't break down and look to wrap up the runner. Too many broken tackles on him and backs at the next level won't be an easier for him. He needs more attention to the details.
Thompson has the potential to be an All-Pro safety at the next level because of his athleticism and ability to put himself in position to make a play every single snap. He is better served in a defensive scheme that requires a safety to sit back in coverage and react to where the quarterback is looking to go with the ball. He has outstanding range that allows him to close space very quick which makes no throw safe against him. His quickness allows him to be a threat against the run but if he doesn't work on his tackling then he could be liable to giving up some chunk runs. Teams will need to determine for the cause of why he appears to have moments where he can misdiagnose a play which can be detrimental to his team since he is responsible for covering the back end. If he can work on the mental part while developing as a player is why I believe he has a high ceiling at the next level. As a rookie he should be able to come in as a starter and make an impact because of his coverage ability. If teams allow him to be the player, he is and don't ask him to be a player he isn't (Ex. Playing him in the box) then he should do just fine during his first season. If he can further his development as a professional, then by his third season he could reach his ceiling as one of the best safeties in the league. He should at least be able to be a part of a team's secondary for a long time.
Projected Round: 1st
Team Fits: Bucs, Raiders, Lions
NFL Comparison: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
2. Nasir Adderley: Delaware
Career Stats: 41 games
Pass Deflections: 31
Fumble Recoveries: 2
Forced Fumbles: 3
Adderley is a 4-year starter at Delaware and has been a leader for his team since he stepped on campus. During his freshman season he was placed as a starting cornerback until the team started using him elsewhere during his sophomore year. He was consistent in his production and didn’t have a year where there was any major fall off in his stats. His consistency is why teams have been drawn to him as a player at the next level. Even though he played at a lower division compared to his counterparts he has the potential to be the first safety off the board as he has the capability to play all over within a defensive scheme.
He can be a versatile safety at the next level as he can play as a deep range player, up in the box, and can line up in the slot for man coverage. He is a fighter and will look to make a play on the ball until the play is over. He will knock balls out after the catch is made and has tremendous ball skills as he tracks the ball with his eyes then puts himself in position to grab it. He brings it against blockers, he will get up under their pads, and shed them to help disrupt runs or screen plays.
Even though he isn't afraid to hit anyone, including lineman, his size might be a concern for some teams at the next level. There is a small concern with how he plays if his body can handle it with bigger and stronger players in the NFL. He does need to work on his tackling form as he has a tendency of not breaking down and can leave his feet too early which results in broken tackles. He also can take bad angles on runners or to close space on a receiver. He takes himself out of plays because of it.
Adderley offers a team a safety that has plenty of game experience and value as a player because of his ability to be used all over in a defensive scheme. He is better suited to play as a deep range safety because he is strong at sitting back and reading the quarterback then using his quality sideline-to-sideline range which allows him to get into passing lanes. He is effective inside the box because he can smoothly glide himself into position to help fills gaps or take on blockers to end the run or bounce it into a different direction. He does have experience playing cornerback and his team would line him up in the slot. While I think he should be more of a deep safety, a defensive coordinator can use him as a weapon in his unit. He doesn't give up any effort, regardless if his team is blown out or they are kicking a team's butt. If he can add a little more size while keeping his speed, then he can be an impact player at the next level because of his playmaking ability. His ball skills will help him succeed in the NFL as teams are starting to look create more turnovers over stops in today's passing league. As a rookie he can come in and start for a unit. Even if he doesn't have a designated position, as I said, he can be a weapon and should see plenty of opportunities during his first season. He can be an All-Pro player by his third season if he can have a fast translation to the NFL.
Projected Round: 1st
Team Fits: Raiders, 49ers, Panthers
NFL Comparison: Micah Hyde
3. Taylor Rapp: Washington
Career Stats: 39 games
Pass Deflections: 6
Fumble Recoveries: 3
Forced Fumbles: 2
Rapp came in as a freshman for Washington and started from day one so he will offer that game experience as a rookie coming in. He is a consistent performer when it comes to his production on the field. He finished every season with at least 50 tackles and an interception. As a sophomore he was used more in the box and on blitz packages which is why he started getting sacks and tackles for a loss. While his stat line isn’t eye-popping, he does offer that consistency as a player so his team will know what they are getting from him as a professional football player.
He is a player that understands what it takes to get his job done. He is effective in coverage because in man he can line up across his man, flip his hips, and mirror his body with the receiver. His lateral movement allows him to move across the field with ease as he trails their hips. His initial quickness in small space allows him to control his area in zone coverage. It also helps him in run support or when sent on well-timed blitzes. He has great tackling form and rarely misses a tackle.
He isn't the most athletic safety so he could be dependent on which scheme he is drafted for. He does struggle with the deep ball as he can struggle keeping his speed up the longer that routes continue to stretch. He isn't much of a playmaker as he looks to make sure he is going to make the tackle over attempting to get in a passing lane for a deflection or interception. I do have my worries that the next level speed could be too much if he gets lost in space too much. He needs to be used to his abilities.
Rapp has the potential to be a starter at the next level because of his instincts and ability to help control small spaces on the field. He can play press or off man coverage, he does a great job at flipping his hips or moving his body laterally so he can mimic the route his man is running. In zone he uses his speed to his advantage as he can explode in the direction, he wants to go make a tackle. His tackling is impressive as he will break down, gets wide, explodes his body through the ball carrier to wrap them up and bring them to the ground. He rarely gives up any broken tackles and can be depended on to bring the runner down in the open field. I do believe he could be scheme dependent as he is more effective in the box over playing deep as a safety. A team that drafts him should be looking for a safety that can help in run support, be sent on blitzes, man coverage, and short to intermediate zone coverages. As a rookie, he can come in and fill that role on a defense. He is a get the job done type of a player. He will go out and do what it takes to help his team win. He doesn't have a high ceiling as a player but if he can continue to develop and finds the right fit then by his third season, he could be a Pro Bowler. He can be a long-term solution for a team's secondary and a key leader for their defensive unit.
Projected Round: Late 1st-2nd
Team Fits: Packers, Texans, 49ers
NFL Comparison: Tony Jefferson
4. Johnathan Abram: Mississippi St.
Career Stats: 21 games (Miss St. only)
Pass Deflections: 10
Fumble Recoveries: 1
Forced Fumbles: 3
Abram was able to be a productive player for Mississippi St. after sitting out a season because of the NCAA’s transfer rules. After transferring from Georgia Abram showed he can change defensive schemes and showed development in his two years for the Bulldogs. In his first season he posted 71 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 pass deflections, and forced 2 fumbles. After getting more comfortable in the system and further developing as a player, his final season stat line included 99 tackles, 3 sacks, 9 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 5 pass deflections, 1 fumble recovery, and a forced fumble. His athleticism combined with his proven production on the field is why some scouts are high on his potential as a player at the next level.
His athleticism allows him to flow freely around the field and can explode in the direction he wants to go in order to make a play. He is versatile enough where he can play in the box, line up in press or off man coverage, and sit back in deep coverage to scan the field. He can attach to receiver's hips and trail them in man coverage. He is effective in the box versus the run because he can use his quickness to fill gaps or get around blocks. He can be a weapon in a defense because he can be used all over.
His play needs more discipline because he can either misread plays or depend on his athletic ability too much. He can take himself out of position due to poor decision making or just outrunning his body which makes it easier on the ball carrier to make a cut. He needs more work on his tackling form. He doesn't break down, he can leave his feet way too early, and leaves too many tacklers on the field. He needs a lot of refinement in his game otherwise he could end up getting lost at the next level.
Abram has a high ceiling to be an impact player at the next level if he can work out a lot of some of the warts in his game. He has the athletic ability to play all over the defense as he can line up in man, sit back in zone, play up inside the box, and sent in on blitz packages. While his athleticism allows him to excel, he can be too dependent on it. He will take himself out of position by trying to go around blocks instead of through them or will outrun his body which doesn't allow him to break down before attempting to make the tackle. His man coverage was the most impressive because his ability to jam in press, flipping his hips over easily, can track down speedsters, and will look back at the ball so he can make a play on it and prevent any pass interference calls. His biggest weakness can be his decision making because he will take poor angles on the ball which results in missed tackles and can misdiagnose plays or routes which delays him making a play on the ball. As a rookie he can come in and play in a secondary because of his versatility allows a defensive coordinator to line him up as he pleases. Even if he isn't ready to take on a full-time role, he should see a significant amount of snaps and be used against today's passing offenses. If a team taps into his potential, then he could end up as the best safety in this class by his third season.
Projected Round: 2nd
Team Fits: Chiefs, Bucs, Lions
NFL Comparison: Earl Thomas
5. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson: Florida
Career Stats: 35 games
Pass Deflections: 12
Fumble Recoveries: 0
Forced Fumbles: 0
Gardner-Johnson was an immediate contributor to Florida’s defense since his freshman year and showed steady growth as a player in his production. His yearly total tackles climbed from 32 to 58 to 71 in his final season. His final stat line for his college career included the 71 tackles but he also had 9 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 2 pass deflections plus 4 interceptions which 2 of them were returned for touchdowns. He offers tons of potential as a player if a team can get him to be more consistent with his play on the field. If his development can continue then he should be productive at the next level.
He is more of a fit for what teams are looking for the safety position in today's league. He has the versatility to play in the slot, inside the box, and can play back as a deep safety. He will have more confidence lining up in the slot because that's where he played the most in his last season. His athleticism will allow him to come in and play right away as he has the speed to keep up with players and has the agility to adjust in open space. He has a chance to be a pocket knife in the NFL.
Even though he can play as a deep safety he didn't get the playing time that would help him be comfortable if teams sent him back often. He will need time to adjust to the change and for the speed at the next level. He does have his mental lapses in games which shows because he will misread plays or be undisciplined in zone coverage which leads to him leaving his area. He will also need more work on his ball skills as he needs to get around the ball more when thrown at.
Gardner-Johnson has the athletic ability to come in and be an immediate contributor in a team's defense as a rookie. He fits the mold of today's defensive backs that defensive coordinators are looking for to combat against the passing attack in the league. He will be more effective if team's ask him to play in the slot or inside the box while lining him up as a deep safety from time to time. He does a great job in man coverage because he can jam in press coverage while being able to move and flip his hips to run with his man. He does a great job at attaching to hips and mimicking routes. In off man coverage or zone, he does an outstanding reacting to out or slant routes then using his speed to his advantage to jump the route to get in passing lanes which can disrupt where the quarterback wanted to go with the ball. He also can be used in blitz packages or to help clog lanes against runs. He will explode up the field to break up screen plays and isn't easily blocked by receivers. During his first season he will experience ups and downs as he learns the defensive scheme. He will need some coaching up on the field and in the film room to help cut down his mental mistakes. If he can develop in that area of his game and if a team uses him to his skill set, then he can be a long-time contributor to a team’s defense. He might not end up as a star but can be a productive player.
Projected Round: 2nd
Team Fits: Raiders, Packers, Texans
NFL Comparison: LaMarcus Joyner