Apr 102021
 
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Kwity Paye, Michigan Wolverines (November 2, 2019)

Kwity Paye – © USA TODAY Sports

EDGE

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 15, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 16-30 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

The edge role in this defense is a little subjective. It is such a hybrid front. Just so you know, the current NYG names I have in this group are Lorenzo Carter, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Cam Brown, Carter Coughlin, Oshane Ximines, and Trent Harris. Not a very intimidating group of pass rushers here. While the Graham-scheme has a way of producing pressure via different blitz packages in addition to one of the top interior pass rushing threats in the league in Leonard Williams, this is a major hole. Carter was supposed to show us in 2020 if he was going to the answer or not, but a season ending Achilles tendon injury suffered in October ended that idea. Ximines didn’t play much in his sophomore season before injuring his shoulder Week 4 and missing the rest of the year. Kyler Fackrell played the versatile BUCK role, which saw him interchange between inside and outside roles, but he is now with the Chargers. Jabaal Sheard was signed in-season and occasionally flashed, but he likely won’t return. The signing of Odenigbo was an interesting one. After the 2019 season, many believed he was on the cusp of really breaking out into a 10+ sack per year guy. He didn’t follow through, however.

Overall, this edge group lacks a true stud that can make a difference week in, week out. While there is still some hope from guys on their rookie contracts in Carter and Ximines, odds are they won’t step up to be what this defense needs. And to be real about the likes of Brown and Coughlin, they’re shots in the dark at this point.

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection
85+: Pro Bowl Projection
81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away
79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter
77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter
74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter
71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter
68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy
65-67: Preferred UDFA
60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Kwity Paye / Michigan / 6’4-277

Grade: 85

Summary: Senior entry from Providence, Rhode Island. Three-year starter that earned Honorable Mention All-Big 10 honors in both 2018 and 2019, 2nd team in 2020. A state champion in the long jump and 4×100 relay as a 250-pound senior in high school, Paye has one of the more interesting tool sets in the entire class. He has rare quickness, bend, and agility for his size. He wins a lot of battles with late movement and sheer head-to-toe power. He lined up all over the Michigan front and that is the kind of role he will thrive in at the next level. He has the power presence to play inside the tackle’s shoulder on all downs, but notably against the pass where he can provide elite interior rush. He does need to improve his production as an outside pass rusher, as he seems late and ineffective too often when trying to purely speed rush. Paye will be an ideal fit for a scheme that wants to move their exterior linemen inside at times and also demands serious running game responsibilities. At the very least, he will be elite at that part of the game.

*Paye will be on my short list of prospects that I will want NYG to take at #11. He is an ideal fit for what NYG wants along that defensive front and in the locker room. He doesn’t have the exact same size as Justin Tuck, but I think his style and on-field impact will be very similar. The Michigan defense moved him all over the field because of what he can do. Did it hurt the stats a bit? Sure, but only the ones a casual fan looks at. There is more to DE than sacks. Paye was among the national leader in pressures, and he did it from every angle you can imagine. In addition, he is by far the best run defender in this top 5. Nobody is close. Paye may not have the upfield juice some want but after watching the way this Graham scheme works, I don’t think that is exactly what they need. Last thing, I am not inside the NYG coaching rooms. They may want something else in terms of skill set for the outside, so I could be off in relation to calling him an ideal fit. Just my opinion.

2. Azeez Ojulari / Georgia / 6’2-249

Grade: 84

Summary: Third year sophomore entry from Marietta, Georgia. A two-year starter that earned 2nd Team All SEC honors in 2020. The semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award led the SEC in tackles for loss and sacks in 2020, a year after leading the Bulldogs in sacks and pressures. Ojulari is a mature, hardworking kid that gets the most out of his talents. He won team-awards for most improved player in 2019 as well as one for his efforts during the offseason strength and conditioning program. Ojulari was also a team captain in 2019, the first time a freshman has earned that honor in the Coach Smart era. This is a kid that has high-end talent that can be used in multiple ways for a defense, and it is paired with top notch intangibles. His game really started to blossom as the 2020 season came to a close. He finished with 5 sacks over his last 3 games. Ojulari still has more physical development to achieve, as he will need to add functional weight to play the every down edge in the NFL, but his versatility, talent, and intangibles will make him a dangerous defensive weapon and he can be one of the best when things come together.

*No inside information here. I think Ojulari is on the NYG short list for #11 overall. I’m not exactly sure what NYG is looking to add to their outside pass rush. Do they want a pure burner (what Carter was supposed to turn into, and still can), or do they want an inside-out versatile piece? If it is the former, Ojulari is a very strong possibility. I think he has the best get off in the group. That is a great place to start. I also believe who he is as a person will be exactly what NYG wants to add.

3. Jaelen Phillips / Miami / 6’5-260

Grade: 84

Summary: Fourth year junior from Redlands, California. Two-year starter that split his time between UCLA and Miami. Capped off his career 1st Team All ACC and an All-American honor. Phillips’ early years were marred by injuries to both ankles before a serious wrist injury suffered off the field in a traffic accident that required multiple surgeries. He also sustained multiple concussions at UCLA where some doctors urged him to retire. Phillips was out of the game for a few months with the mindset that his career might be over. He then transferred to Miami, sat out all of 2019 while getting his body back together and awaiting medical clearance. He then went on to break out in the shortened 2020 season, showing real life glimpse of what many thought he could be. Phillips showed some inconsistency early on, but there may not have been a more dominant edge player in the country down the stretch. Over his final 4 games, he finished with 11 TFL and 6.5 sacks. He appears to have turned a corner when it comes to his maturity and showed what he can actually do on the field just in time. Phillips is an every down defender capable of being a dominant force if he keeps his head focused and his body healthy.

*If you are strictly looking at 2020 tape and workout performance plus tools, Phillips is the top EDGE in this class. Someone I work with has him at the top of the group and top 5 overall. Point is Phillips is a prospect that would surprise nobody worth listening to if he ended up being an All Pro player. He has a lot going for him and I think he can fit into every scheme. His medicals (which likely won’t be made public) are essential. I doubt anyone is going to give him a 10 out of 10 on the durability scale, but if NYG does or is even close, he is another name on the short list for #11. My question, and it is more based on tying dots together in a subjective manner rather than facts, he may not be the personality fit NYG wants. Will leave it there.

4. Gregory Rousseau / Miami / 6’7-266

Grade: 81

Summary: Third year sophomore entry from Coconut Creek, Florida. A one-year starter that opted out of the 2020 season. That one year was as good as it gets when looking at production where he led the ACC with 19.5 TFL and 15.5 sacks, leading him to 1st Team All ACC and 2nd Team All American honors. With Rousseau sitting out of 2020 and playing in only 2 games as a freshman before getting injured, his lack of game experience is noteworthy. He played in just 15 games since high school. Rousseau is dripping with disruptive and versatile pass rush talent. He checks several boxes, but there are questions revolving around his movement. There is a lot of tape with him falling off balance, needing recovery steps, and struggling to really change direction sharply. As impressive as he was in 2019, it has to be considered a possibility that he was a one-year wonder. Boom or bust prospect.

*One of the major boom or bust prospects in the class. On one hand, you have to love what he did in 2019, have to love his height and length, and you have to love his straight-line burst. He can be a really dangerous pure upfield rusher both from the outside and inside. On the other hand, how can one invest an early pick in a kid that played 15 games since high school and has pretty poor agility times? I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fall out of round 1 but his upside will likely make someone bite.

5. Joseph Ossai / Texas / 6’4-256

Grade: 81

Summary: Junior entry from Conroe, Texas. Two-year starter that capped off his career with a 1st Team All Big 12 and 1st Team All American campaign, leading the conference and finishing third in the nation with 16 tackles for loss. A native of Nigeria, Ossai moved to the States at the age of 10 and quickly developed into one of the best outside linebacker prospects in the class. He is a blue-collar player with constant hustle and desire whether he is rushing the passer, defending the run, or dropping into coverage. Ossai wins a lot of his battles with quickness post-engagement, bend, and hunger. He has a developing frame that will need to add more bulk and power to make him a multi-dimensional threat as a pass rusher. He is a bit of a project in that department, but the skill set is good enough to factor in the league right now. How much bulk he can add while sustaining his quickness will determine just how high the ceiling gets. His ideal fit is in a 3-4 scheme and should end up being an every down force.

*I had a scout tell me that Ossai had one of the more influential pro day workouts of all the defenders in the class. These workouts do mean something, at the very least. Ossai had a lot of up and down tape from the past two years. It made me watch more and more tape, and my number of games for him went over 15. That is way more than I do for most guys. It was frustrating but also enticing, if that makes sense. If he gets more consistent, you are looking at. Khalil Mack type player. I can’t put him any higher than this though, too many games where he just got overwhelmed by good blocking. Don’t be surprised though if he ends up being a big-time player.

6. Joe Tryon / Washington / 6’5-262

Grade: 80

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Renton, Washington. One-plus year starter that took over the edge role at the end of 2018 and stayed there in 2019, where he earned 2nd Team All Pac 12 honors. Opted out of the 2020 season. Tryon is a physical freak that wears the pads well. He is more than just an athlete. His engine is always on and will make plays away from the point of attack routinely. He is not someone you want to take a hit from when he has a head full of steam. He matches that physical ability and power with attitude. Tryon is a nasty dude that will immediately elevate the presence of a defense. At his size and speed, Tryon will be intriguing to defenses that like to move their plays around. He is comfortable dropping back into coverage, he is comfortable in space, and he can really defend the run in addition to obviously being a potential menace as an edge rusher. The upside is enormous here but there are concerns over his lack of experience (14 career starts) and he has a long way to go when it comes to developing pro-caliber techniques and rush-versatility.

*Tryon is the kind of guy I see just destined for PIT, NO, or BAL. They value defenders that are just big, fast, and mean. That is how I describe Tryon in the most basic form. He lacks the desired skill set but that can always be acquired with a willing player and coach being on the same page. He is a borderline first rounder that could be in the NYG crosshairs if he falls to their 2nd rounder.

7. Boogie Basham / Wake Forest / 6’3-281

Grade: 80

Summary: Fifth year senior from Roanoke, Virginia. Four-year starter that got into the lineup toward the ends of his freshman season and never looked back. 1st Team All ACC in 2019, 3rd Team in 2020. Basham saw a dip in week-to-week production in his final season. He still accrued 36.5 TFL and 20.5 sacks over his accomplished career. While he isn’t going to win the runway model contests, Basham has the ideal body for an inside-outside versatile lineman that can change his style at the snap of a finger. His power and hand striking are both elite. At the very least, the defense can rely on him to control one or two gaps against the run. Where Basham will surprise from time to time is the ability to reach the passer from any and all angles. His upfield burst won’t win a lot of battles up the edge but what he can do once engaged with a blocker one on one will make an impact. Even if Basham does not end up near the league leaders in traditional production, he is a dirty-work lineman that will make players around him better.

*If NYG wants another crash end (hybrid 3-4/4-3 DE) early in the draft (day 2), I bet Basham is on their list. I’m not sure I see that though, as they like to put Williams there in some looks and Odenigbo will likely be the depth there. There is also an unusual amount of solid crash ends in this class that can be had day 3. Basham is a really good football player though, one that will find a bunch of ways to make an impact for a long time.

8. Jayson Oweh / Penn State / 6’5-257

Grade: 77

Summary: Junior entry from Howell, New Jersey. One-year starter that also spent a season in the heavy rotation. 1st Team All Big 10 in 2020. Oweh is going to catch a lot of eyes as a result of his physical tool set. He is tall, long, strong, and very fast. In fact, he may be one of the fastest and most explosive defenders in the entire class even beyond that of the defensive ends. However, Oweh’s play never got to a point where it matched that kind of potential. He started just 8 games over his career, played in just 24 total, and recorded just 1 sack over his final 12 games. Beyond the production, Oweh has a hard time keeping his center of gravity when he needs to react laterally. He needs too many recovery steps and lacks consistent technique. Oweh has sky-high potential but his basement is lower than most. At this point, he is much more of an athlete than he is a football player. He will need a lot of development.

*I was told last summer that Oweh was a name to watch, and he would test out better than Parsons. I didn’t believe it, and I should have. Oweh is one of the more impressive athletes in the entire class. With that said, I’m still not overly impressed with him as a football player. He did accrue some pressures, but they were basically all straight-line speed rushes with minimal skill or power present. I’ve been burned like this before, where I just didn’t think the athlete would turn in to a football player but most of the time, these dudes don’t pan out. Worth a day 2 shot though, I think he goes top 45.

9. Elerson Smith / Northern Iowa / 6’7-262

Grade: 77

Summary: Fifth year senior from Minneapolis, Minnesota. One-year starter that had his senior season canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 1st Team All Missouri Valley Conference and 1st Team AFCA FCS All American in 2019. Smith broke out in his redshirt junior season, netting 21.5 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and 2 blocked kicks. He plays the game with a level of ease and smoothness in traffic. He gets off the ball in a hurry with great leverage and upper body positioning, his hands are exceptionally fast, and the foot quickness is elite. Smith is just scratching the surface when it comes to his true potential. He needs to sleep in the weight room for a year before he can be an every down asset, but he will be a solid rotational pass rusher right away and has the upside of being a solid starter in multiple schemes.

*If you haven’t seen Northern Iowa play but you want to get a feel for what this kid looks like on the field, think about Jayson Taylor. He has the really long, borderline thin frame but plays with tremendous burst and bend for a player his size. Smith impressed me a ton at the Senior Bowl in the practice tapes. Really twitchy, plays low to the ground, and easily changes direction. His 2019 tape is something else, too. Good player here that may need more time than others but presents more upside than most guys in this tier.

10. Chris Rumph II / Duke / 6’3-235

Grade: 76

Summary: Fourth year junior from Gainesville, Florida. Two-year starter that was a part of the rotation all three seasons. Ended his career 2nd Team All ACC in 2020. The team captain put together two quality years over 2019 and 2020, combining for 26 TFL and 14.5 sacks. Father coached outside linebackers for the Houston Texans in 2020 and multiple southeastern college programs, including two stints with Alabama. Rumph is an ultra-bendy, long limbed athlete that put together two very productive seasons at Duke. He looks a little light and there is a lack of power presence in his game, but if a team is confident they can add bulk and strength to his game, he has the potential to be an every down force. Athletically he plays with a nice blend of grace, speed, and technique. He is a high upside player that may need to be brought along slowly for a year.

*I struggled with where to put Rumph II in relation to his true position. He won’t be an every down player on the edge, but he can certainly be a pass rusher that stays on the field all three downs. Duke played him at a hybrid LB/EDGE position, majority EDGE. No matter the case, I see him as an attractive day 3 pick that can make an impact right away but it may be 2022 when he can play every down. Really interesting skill set, really interesting knowledge of the game, and he flashed dominant stretches of play.

11. Payton Turner / Houston / 6’5-270

Grade: 75

Summary: Senior entry from Houston, Texas. Three-year starter that earned 2nd Team All AAC honors in 2020. Turner missed his senior year of high school with a knee injury and had his 2018 cut short by a foot injury. His final two-year run, however, netted 18.5 TFL and 9 sacks. Turner started to blossom in 2020, taking his plus-size and overall frame and showing he was learning how to use it. He won’t ever be a pure burner up the edge but if he can continue his path of progression from a skill set perspective, the tools he possesses can make him a solid left defensive end-type and one that can shift inside in specific situations.

*If NYG ignores the EDGE spot on days 1 and 2, but still want a guy that has some inside-out versatility, I think Turner is a really good fit. He plays the run and pass equally well, he has a very moldable frame and tool set, and he is a really good kid. I’ve had some people rave about him. Turner is the kind of player/body type I see Gettleman going after as well, although the more I see, the more I think Judge is the final shot caller with personnel. No matter the case, this is a really nice fit for NYG on day three if the value matches up. I like his upside.

12. Patrick Jones II / Pittsburgh / 6’4-261

Grade: 75

Summary: Fifth year senior from Chesapeake, Virginia. Two-year starter that earned All ACC honors in both 2019 and 2020, 1st Team in 2020. Jones is tall and fast with average length and below average power. He needs further development in the weight room before he can be thrown into every down duty at the next level. With that said, he was a very productive player that totaled 32 TFL and 21 sacks over the past three seasons combined. He has a knack for beating tackles off the edge because of his ability to burst upfield and bend under the blocker’s pads. He is relentless in his approach and will make a lot of hustle plays. The team that gets him needs to be patient and really try to develop the power game. If he gets refined and improved in that facet, he can be a true threat.

*Jones just always left me wanting more. He has the look, he has the upfield burst, and he plays a hyperactive game. But he just doesn’t have a standout physical trait and I don’t love how he moves his lower body sometimes. Seems unstable. I can see why some have him day 2 but I would be much more comfortable bringing him in as a day 3 guy that could be worked with for a year or two.

13. Ronnie Perkins / Oklahoma / 6’3-253

Grade: 75

Summary: Junior entry from St. Louis, Missouri. Three-year starter that was a two-time 2nd Team All-Big 12 honoree. Missed the first 5 games of 2020 because of a drug suspension that stemmed from an issue in 2019. Perkins was a man playing against boys when it came to field-strength and technique. He isn’t blessed with upper tier tools when it comes to size and speed, but he does pack a punch. He has really good hands when it comes to power and placement. He understands how to properly use leverage and he simply knows how to position his body. The issue with Perkins revolves around his upside. He is a really solid player right now and he looks like a reliable throwback type, however there isn’t a ton of juice off the edge and he isn’t overly twitchy. His frame also looks nearly maxed out. He could be a solid starter in time or a part of a heavy rotation in a 3-4 scheme.

*I see a similar player to what NYG has in XImines here. Not blessed with particularly standout tools in any area, but he knows how to get to the passer. He is crafty, strong, and plays with some decent twitch when engaged with the blocker. There are limitations with him across the board and I would simply temper any expectations I’d have for him.

14. Wyatt Hubert / Kansas State / 6’3-258

Grade: 73

Summary: Fourth year junior from Topeka, Kansas. Three-year starter and two-time 1st Team All Big 12 honoree. The two-time team captain plays the game with contagious energy and all-out hustle. He is a throwback in the sense that he relies on instincts and effort more than he does speed. However, do not make the mistake of shorting the evaluation of his talent. He blends together plus-skills across the board. His hands are violent, accurate, and powerful. His base is incredibly strong and bendy, making him a constant winner in the leverage battle. He shows a clear understanding of angles and knows how to find the creases. Hubert moves exceptionally well for a player at his size in addition to playing with constant high effort. He will be able to contribute on the edge right away.

*I have to admit that for most of the college season, I had Hubert a bit too high. I fell in love with his grit, heavy hands, and hustle. Part of the scouting process is all about keeping personal bias aside and knowing when you are wrong. I’ve made the mistake in the past of over-grading a guy simply because of my initial impression even though further information came out that should have lowered the grade a tad. Hubert didn’t measure well, and he didn’t test well athletically. I think his playing style can hide that a little, but not completely. I love his tape, I really do. At the end of the day, the lack of true talent is going to make like difficult for him, as it did at the Senior Bowl. I still wouldn’t mind taking a round 5 or 6 chance on him, but it can’t be any earlier.

15. Rashad Weaver / Pittsburgh / 6’4-259

Grade: 72

Summary: Fifth year senior from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Three-year starter that missed all of 2019 with a torn ACL suffered in preseason. Came back strong in his final year, earning 1st Team All ACC honors. Weaver has an attractive frame with current thickness and width that has plenty of room for more functional muscle. He is a really physical player at the point of attack that does a nice job using his heavy hands and natural bend. There is a lot to work with when looking at his potential as a versatile inside-out lineman. He isn’t overly impressive when it comes to upfield burst and suddenness, but he can be a factor as a third down pass rusher that can be moved around. Weaver missed all of 2019 with a torn ACL and how strong he came back just a year later is noteworthy. There are multiple options when it comes to how a defensive front can use him and he can be an every down force within a year or two.

*Weaver looks like a pro when he engages with the blocker. That stood out to me right away when I first saw him. I don’t love his body though; he needs more thickness in his lower half and he won’t win a lot of foot races. There are certain skills he has already that others take awhile to obtain, but I think there is a cap on just how good he can be. Solid guy to have on the depth chart though because he can impact the running game as well as rush the passer.

16. Dayo Odeyingbo / Vanderbilt / 6’5-285: 72
17. Chauncey Golston / Iowa / 6’5-259: 72
18. Quincy Roche / Miami / 6’3-243: 72
19. William Bradley-King / Baylor / 6’5-254: 71
20. Daelin Hayes / Notre Dame / 6’4-261: 70
21. Janarius Robinson / Florida State / 6’5-263: 70
22. Cam Sample / Tulane / 6’3-274: 70
23. Romeo McKnight/ Charlotte / 6’4-260: 70
24. Jordan Smith / UAB / 6’6-255: 70
25. Jonathon Cooper / Ohio State / 6’3-254: 69
26. Ade Ogundeji / Notre Dame / 6’4-256: 69
27. Victor Dimukeje / Duke / 6’2-256: 69
28. Malcolm Koonce / Buffalo / 6’2-249: 69
29. Malik Herring / Georgia / 6’3-275: 68
30. Josh Kaindoh / Florida State / 6’6-260: 68

NYG APPROACH

So, I have had this thought for awhile now. I think NYG coaches don’t view the EDGE as a significant hole on the defense. Can it be better? Sure. Half the teams if not more can say that. I think this coaching staff simply wants to improve their pass rush. They think more macro than micro if that makes sense. I don’t see them pursuing the top edge rusher just because they don’t have a solid edge presence. I think they want to come out of this draft class with another guy that helps this defense get to the passer. It can be another interior pass rusher, it can be a blitzing linebacker, it can be a hybrid OLB/DE type. They just want to get someone that can build around, and that has always been the right approach. Ideally, in my eyes anyway, that extra presence comes in the form of someone that can line up outside the tackle. He doesn’t always need to be out there, but he can be out there and pose as a threat. I think the ideal, for an amoeba scheme, is someone that can shift inside at times and/or defend the run at a high level. Fortunately, there are several of those guys in this class. If they swing for the fences, and I think it would be a strong idea, they use #11 on Paye or Phillips. If they want to wait for day 2, Tryon or Basham. If they want to build elsewhere early on, day three target is Turner or Odeyingbo.

I would be very surprised to see a draft class that does not include one of the names in this top 30.

Apr 072021
 
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Micah Parsons, Penn State Nittany Lions (November 9, 2011)

Micah Parsons – © USA TODAY Sports

LINEBACKERS

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 15, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 16-30 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

One of the best signing across the NFL during the 2020 offseason was Blake Martinez. NYG has lacked a consistent and reliable presence at linebacker for years and I’ve been very vocal about that leading to a lot of their defensive shortcomings. Martinez is the general they needed. One can make a case that the talent next to him is good enough with an interesting upside player in 2020 7th rounder Tae Crowder. He certainly outperformed his draft status as a rookie, and he deserves a shot. The likes of Devante Downs and David Mayo (now with WAS) just didn’t cut it. They don’t play fast enough and only made a positive impact on special teams. Reggie Ragland will give more of the same, although he is stouter against the run and T.J. Brunson is an unknown who was drafted in the 7th round. The Ryan Anderson signing is interesting to me. As I said in my year-end review, that BUCK linebacker is a hybrid outside/inside linebacker position that needs to be a legitimate force at both spots and capable of switching his skin play to play. Ryan Anderson was exactly that at Alabama (19 TFL/9 sacks as a senior) but they never gave him a ton of snaps in WAS and he simply did not fit the Rivera scheme. The one year that he did play over 20% of the snaps, he did have 4 sacks. That was an underrated signing by this front office. The Giants are likely set at ILB + Buck (I am including Carter in the EDGE group by the way) but the player they have next to Martinez (Crowder) cannot be considered a sure thing and the depth behind those two is average. The depth behind Anderson is near non-existent (although Carter Coughlin can fill that role).

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection 
85+: Pro Bowl Projection
81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away
79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter
77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter
74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter
71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter
68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy
65-67: Preferred UDFA
60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Micah Parsons / Penn State / 6’3-246

Grade: 84

Summary: Junior entry from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. A one-year starter that was heavily involved with the defense as a freshman in addition. Earned 1st Team All American honors and won the Big 10 Butkus-Fitzgerald Award in 2019, the first true sophomore to ever do that in conference history. Parsons opted out of the 2020 season, thus there are only two seasons of experience under his belt. However, in those two seasons he showed enough to be considered one of the premiere talents in this draft class. Parsons is already built like a man with a frame that will hold more bulk. His closing speed, burst, and violence when meeting the ball carrier will make him a playmaker who can be tossed around pre-snap. He plays like he is on fire and finishes with bad intentions. Parsons will be best suited for a defense that shows multiple fronts and can change their tune weekly. He is the epitome of versatility and playmaking. There will be some issues with his ability to mentally process and stick to assignments against the inside run, but that can be hidden with a quality defensive coordinator who understands this is a player you can build around.

*In 2019, I had Devin White and Devin Bush at 83 and 85 respectively. I place Parsons right in that tier, although he is a different kind of linebacker. He isn’t the play-to-play reliable force that the other two are, but he offers more versatility and playmaking potential. I actually think a scheme like Graham’s is the ideal fit for him, considering how much they blitz and try to bring pressure from different angles. My “concern” here is how disciplined he is with making reads, fighting through blockers, and impact on the passing game. Parsons is a highlight reel type, but the 12 plays in between those highlights he can be merely average. Is that worth #11? It is debatable. In regard to some of the off-field concerns, I did not bring him down at all. Yes, there are maturity issues, but we aren’t talking about the kind of trouble where we see him on the 11 PM news in handcuffs. He is a stud, he knows he is a stud, and he has a temper issue. And to be honest, I don’t mind that in a linebacker. Parsons will be in the discussion, but I think he is behind a few guys who will be there at 11.

2. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah / Notre Dame / 6’1-221

Grade: 82

Summary: Fourth year junior entry. Two-year starter that took home a lot of hardware in 2020. Earned 1st Team All ACC and All-American honors respectively, won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year Award, and the Butkus Award to cap off his career. Owusu-Koramoah was a high school safety that played an ultra-hybrid role at Notre Dame. He led the Fighting Irish in tackles over the two seasons he was a starter while adding 24.5 TFL, 7 sacks, 7 pass break ups, and 5 forced fumbles. His versatility within his skill set matches what is seen in the box score. This is a kid that can line up in multiple spots based on what the opposing offense is showing and make an impact no matter what the opposing offense ends up doing. While there are some issues that need to be hidden, namely his stoutness inside, Owusu-Koramoah is an ideal fit for the new mold of defensive schemes looking for a hybrid defender that can stay on the field every down. He may be more safety than linebacker to some, but no matter where he lines up, he is going to be an impact player.

*During the season, I was convinced Owusu-Koramoah was going to finish as a top 10 player on my overall board. He didn’t quite reach that tier because of a few physical limitations, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him making a big impact if he lands on a good defense that really uses him the right way. I actually think there is a subtle chance NYG goes after him. He reminds me a bit of CAR linebacker Shaq Thompson, who Dave Gettleman drafted in 2015. He is as “multiple” as it gets, a term Joe Judge uses all the time, and he brings the intangibles to the table they want.

3. Zaven Collins / Tulsa / 6’5-259

Grade: 82

Summary: Fourth year junior from Hominy, Oklahoma. Three-year starter that earned All AAC honors in both 2019 and 2020. Also earned All American honors and won both the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy to cap off his career. Collins, a high school quarterback, morphed from 2-star recruit to one of the nation’s top defensive players during his time at Tulsa. He is ultra-tools rich that can change his skin play to play. The versatility he brings to the table as an off ball linebacker, edge rushing presence, and cover-man will be sought after by defenses that want to play a multiple-scheme. Collins shows the intelligence and knack for locating the action to rightfully be considered a cornerstone player for a team. This is the kind of prospect that is hard to find.

*I have a really hard time projecting where Collins is going to go in the draft. He is a 1st rounder in my book, but I could see him slipping to day 2 but can also see him being taken in the top 15. These guys with plus-tools, but from slightly lesser college programs, are always an enigma when it comes to projecting where they will go. Collins has Anthony Barr-type numbers when looking at measurables, but he gets way too high at times and didn’t read the action the way Barr did at UCLA. He also has a little less twitch. Collins upside is really high, no denying it.

4. Pete Werner / Ohio State / 6’2-242

Grade: 81

Summary: Senior entry from Indianapolis, Indiana. Three-year starter that earned All Big 10 honors in both 2019 and 2020, 1st Team in 2020. Werner is a new-age linebacker in that he can fill multiple roles along the second level of a defense and has the skill set to really stand out in coverage. He has good size, excellent foot speed, and fluid hips. He moved around the scheme often, seeing plenty of time both between the tackles and split out. He is a smart, well-versed, experienced player that simply gets the job done play in, play out. His pop and violence on contact and ability to pursue the action stands out. Werner may not raise eyebrows in workouts or on the stat sheet, but this is a blue-collar player that appears to be a safe pick and will out-perform several players drafted ahead of him.

*I am higher on Werner than most of what I have seen out there. Not sure what else people want to see out of a linebacker in terms of projecting a quality starter. He is big enough, fast enough, and plays versatile. One of the more dependable linebackers week to week. He spent a lot of time matched up against receivers in space, but still found a way to impact the running game between the tackles. He has everything an every down linebacker needs. And I’ll tell you what, if he is there in round 2, it would take someone else really falling for me to not want this kid to play with Martinez inside.

5. Nick Bolton / Missouri / 6’0-232

Grade: 78

Summary: Junior entry from Frisco, Texas. Two-year starter that earned 1st Team All SEC honors both seasons. Bolton has a powerful, muscle packed frame that is built low to the ground with speed and burst. He has true sideline to sideline range and will make his presence known on contact. He totaled an SEC-high 202 tackles over 2019-2020 combined, showing a consistent every down presence against the nation’s fastest offenses. There are red flags on tape when it comes to processing information and working through traffic against the inside run, but he is at the very least a rotational linebacker that can make things happen athletically.

*Bolton is going to be sought after day 2. His speed and power has some thinking he is an every down MIKE. I can see what those guys like, I really do. I just wish he had more looseness in his lower half. I actually think his best fit is inside in a 3-4. A team like PIT makes a lot of sense here, and he would thrive. However, if he is THE guy in the middle of a defense, I think he will leave some to be desired.

6. Jamin Davis / Kentucky / 6’3-234

Grade: 77

Summary: Junior entry from Ludowici, Georgia. Davis broke out in his first year as a starting linebacker, leading the team with 102 tackles in just 10 games. He also intercepted three passes, forced a fumble, recovered one, and blocked a kick. It is easy to notice the versatile upside Davis brings to the table. He is all over the field, he is fast, he is long, and he is physical. Considering the lack of experience and occasional mental and technique hiccups that arose weekly, he is in the tier of prospects that a team will need to be patient with. He has a higher ceiling than most, but he may need a redshirt year in the NFL besides special teams.

*Davis is the best athlete in this group, and pound for pound may be the best athlete in the entire class. He absolutely tore up his Pro Day workout and it shows up on tape. If he can figure it out, he has the potential to be a player that can change a defense. There is a chance we see him drafted in the first round.

7. Chazz Surratt / North Carolina / 6’2-227

Grade: 77

Summary: Fifth year senior from Denver, North Carolina. Two-year starter at linebacker that originally arrived at UNC as a quarterback, where he also started 7 games. Two-time 1st Team All ACC and was the runner up for the 2019 ACC Defensive Player of the Year Award. Surratt was a record setting quarterback in high school and spent his first three seasons with the Tar Heels under center. He moved to linebacker prior to the 2019 season and the transition was completely seamless. He quickly became of the best at the position in the ACC. Surratt clearly understands the game mentally and used his experience as a quarterback to aid the transition process. Throw in the fact he is incredibly twitchy with plus-closing speed, it is easy to see how good of a player he can be in a league that now demands linebackers to cover first, play the run second. Surratt may not be big and stout, but he plays tough and knows how to work around traffic. His role is specific and there are certain schemes he won’t fit into at the second level, but this is the kind of linebacker that will provide an upgrade to the speed and athleticism of a unit and should contribute early on.

*I think the grades on him around the league are going to vary a ton. Some will be turned off by the size because he isn’t a big-time speed guy. Some will be turned off by the lack of stoutness. I think he is good enough in all those areas but brings his game to another level because of what goes on between the ears. He is really smart and twitchy. He has some pop and attitude in his game too. I think he is a quality starting weak side guy year 2. Remember, he was a quarterback just 2 years ago.

8. Jabril Cox / LSU / 6’3-233

Grade: 77

Summary: Fifth year senior from Kansas City, Missouri. Spent four seasons at North Dakota State before grad-transferring to LSU for 2020. Four-year starter between the two programs. Three-time All Missouri Valley Conference and two-time All American during his time at North Dakota State. Cox decided to take his game to the highest collegiate level in 2020 after four years in the FCS. While it took him a few weeks to get acclimated to the speed of the game, his tools and versatility were on full display by the end of the shortened season. Cox is naturally gifted with the ideal NFL body for the position, possessing length and functional lower body thickness. His speed in space is real and he can catch a lot of action from behind. He seems to be missing the quick twitch reactions that stem from recognition and instincts, however. He looks much better in space than he does in traffic, which could be a major problem if he is put into the wrong role. He has the tools to be a very good player, but the team that drafts him needs to be patient and smart about where they put him.

*As expected, the uptick in competition from the Missouri Valley Conference to the SEC didn’t do much for Cox. While he proved he can run with those guys, he didn’t perform well against blockers. I think he needs a space-friendly role. If a team can protect him in that regard, he can be a really good front seven piece that will immediately make a group faster.

9. Dylan Moses / Alabama / 6’1-225

Grade: 76

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Alexandria, Louisiana. Three-year starter that missed all of 2019 with a knee injury. 2nd Team All SEC in 2018, 1st Team in 2020. Moses was a rising star after starting 11 games in his first year on campus and landing on the SEC All-Freshman team. He then went on to being named a Butkus Award Finalist in 2018. The knee injury that ended his 2019 before it started killed his momentum, however, and he never quite got back to the same level in 2020. Moses, a former 5-star recruit, was a standout athlete on a team full of freak athletes. His burst and speed are top notch. He seemed to really struggle with post-snap reads though. There wasn’t much natural flow through traffic, and he didn’t impact the game consistently. Moses will be an athlete that some teams want to gamble on, but this will be a high risk, high reward draft pick.

*A few too many got on the Alabama hype train when initially projecting Moses. I hand out my initial draft grades over summer for stacking purposes, and I never saw him as a day 2 guy. I do like the speed and pop he brings to the table, and he had a lot of quality tape in his career. He just never took that step up, though. Like a lot of linebackers with this kind of speed, he can make an impact for a defense if he is in the right situation. I don’t see him being a guy that will create a lot on his own without help.

10. Baron Browning / Ohio State / 6’3-241

Grade: 76

Summary: Senior entry from Fort Worth, Texas. Two-year starter that saw a lot of rotation duty in the NFL-filled linebacker room at Ohio State. Two-time All Big 10 honoree, 1st Team in 2020. Browning will test well athletically, and he has the NFL-ready body. He is thick and long with functional muscle mass from head to toe. Browning looks like a star on some plays, usually when he gets going in full pursuit and delivers violent impact on the move. Play to play, however, he doesn’t show a natural feel for the game. He has speed but lacks twitchy reaction and has proven to be a liability in zone coverage. He projects to backup duty where he can fill a specific, space-friendly role in certain packages.

*Browning in the kind of linebacker that I talk about when saying that instincts for this position are more important than pure speed. Yes, the speed (and in his case, power) can make a difference up front. He is not someone you want to be hit by with a full head of steam. However, he is too slow to see things transpire and there is a lot of catch up in his game. That works fine in the Big 10, not so much the NFL. He is a backup early on that can evolve into a solid MIKE if he learns the game.

11. Cameron McGrone / Michigan / 6’1-234

Grade: 76

Summary: Junior entry from Indianapolis, Indiana. Two-year starter that never quite lived up to the hype after being a five star recruit out of high school. He played in just 18 career college games and flashes his top-shelf speed and burst but failed to consistently put together quality production. McGrone’s shortcomings mainly came from slow reading post-snap and a lack of stoutness between the tackles. His athleticism will make him a solid run and chase defender and potential solid cover man at the second level, though. Taking a chance on a plus-athlete that is a solid kid off the field is worth the risk. The debate will center around his lack of experience and inconsistent impact against the inside run.

*McGrone is worth gambling on day 3. He is really explosive, has a nice frame with good weight, and plays hard. Smart kid too. He is a really raw football player and lacks experience. He just never found a long groove at Michigan and I think the shortened season hurt him a bit, more than most. As a football player, he is a 6th or 7th round pick. But the upside is worth looking at early day 3. Worst case, he will be a really good special teamer. Keep an eye on this kid with NYG if he is there mid to late day 3, it is a good fit.

12. K.J. Britt / Auburn / 6’1-235

Grade: 74

Summary: Senior entry from Oxford, Alabama. Two-year starter that earned 1st Team All SEC honors. Played in just two 2020 games, as he injured his thumb and needed surgery. Britt thus only started 15 games over his career. There is enough tape to see how effective he can be as an interior run defender. He is a violent thumper with plus speed and power. Britt plays the game like an old school, classic Mike. With that said, he doesn’t appear to have a high ceiling against the pass and there is some agility-based tightness in his hips. Britt is a solid two-down linebacker that will provide on special teams, but he may be too limited to make an every down impact as a starter.

*Britt is worth drafting for special teams and providing depth at MIKE. I don’t see him ever making a big impact, but these are the kinds of guys I like to have on the depth chart. Smart, physical, and straight-line speed.

13. Monty Rice / Georgia / 6’0-233

Grade: 74

Summary: Senior entry from Huntsville, Alabama. Three-year starter that earned 2nd Team All SEC honors in 2019 while also winning the co-MVP for the Georgia defense. Rice took a step back in production as a senior, as he saw a chunk of his playing time taken away from a couple of future NFL linebackers. He was still very much a part of the Georgia defense, he simply rotated in and out more. Rice is a really instinctive, physical linebacker that tackles well and always seems to be around the action. He isn’t blessed with elite size and it does show up time to time, but he has underrated speed and plus intelligence. This is a linebacker that carried Alabama speedster Jaylen Waddle up the seam in coverage. He gets the most out of himself and should carve out a role on special teams early on and will stick as a solid backup with the potential of someday being a starting inside linebacker.

*Rice is similar to Britt, a guy I would love to have in a backup role and on special teams. It was a little bizarre how Georgia used him. There is a lot of young talent on that roster at linebacker and it definitely impacted Rice’s playing time. He wasn’t an every down guy, but I think he could have been. He simply doesn’t have the size + power those younger kids had. One of the best speed + instincts combos in the class, against the run. Didn’t see him much against the pass but I’ll never forget the time he carried Jaylen Waddle up the seam and ran with him all the way down the field. He may be entering the league really underrated because of how he was used at Georgia. Another interesting name to keep an ear out for.

14. Charles Snowden / Virginia / 6’6-243

Grade: 74

Summary: Senior entry from Silver Spring, Maryland. Three-year starter that earned All-ACC honors in 2019 and 2020. Had his 2020 cut short because of a broken ankle and then suffered a minor foot injury during the Senior Bowl practices. Snowden is a very unique player with a blend of tools and skills that don’t come around often. He has an enormous wingspan, he shows a good feel for the game, and his production is versatile. He has proven to be a factor against the pass as both an edge rusher and cover man (16 career pass break ups, 15 career sacks, and 18 career QB pressures). He is a smart and vocal player. He plays hard. All of these traits are sought after but there are concerns surrounding his lack of true power and burst. He is really thin and had hard time against true strength. He also looks awkward when his pad level isn’t low when it comes to his high-hip movement. Snowden is a player that will need time on the depth chart performing backup and situational roles before he can be an every down defender. Thew upside is high.

*I had high hopes for Snowden after watching his 2019 tape in prep for 2020. He had a slightly lower level-Anthony Barr look to him and a similar style. Some coaches are going to love his wingspan and he has some decent stride speed. I downgraded him a bit during the season though, as he lacks lower body stability which creates balance issues. He also has the body type I don’t trust when it comes to staying healthy. That in mind, he still is worth looking at day 3 because he can do a few things against the pass. He can run with tight ends, his wingspan can make life difficult for passers, and he has pass rush upside. Can be a solid situational player.

15. Grant Stuard / Houston / 5’11-230

Grade: 73

Summary: Senior entry from Conroe, Texas. Two-year starter that earned All-AAC honors in both 2019 and 2020. Stuard was a hybrid-safety until the team moved him to a full-time linebacker role as a senior. The former accomplished high school track athlete plays at a different level of speed and energy, somewhat hiding the fact he is very undersized for play near the line of scrimmage. Despite that red flag, Stuard was a very productive and impactful player. He is all over the field every week. There aren’t many prospects that bring the intensity like Stuard, but the question will revolve around the team’s ability to hide his size issues. His ideal role may even be more on the safety side. Stuard is going to be a demon on special teams and a defender that will instantly raise the energy of whatever unit he ends up on.

*Want to watch a fun player? Go get some Stuard clips on YouTube. This is one of the most energetic players I have ever seen, and it is literally every play, every game. His size is below the minimum that some teams have when it comes to overall reach, but enough teams will still see a stud special teamer. Stuard plays really fast too and knows how to avoid contact in traffic. You will hear about this kid someday; just not sure it will be on anything more than special teams.

16. Paddy Fisher / Northwestern / 6’3-240: 72
17. Hamilcar Rashed, Jr. / Oregon State / 6’3-254: 72
18. Garrett Wallow / TCU / 6’2-220: 71
19. Ernest Jones / South Carolina / 6’2-230: 70
20. Riley Cole / South Alabama / 6’3-225: 70
21. Buddy Johnson / Texas A&M / 6’1-230: 70
22. Tony Fields II / West Virginia / 6’0-222: 69
23. Derrick Barnes / Purdue / 6’0-238: 69
24. Anthony Hines III / Texas A&M / 6’2-230: 68
25. Isaiah McDuffie / Boston College / 6’1-227: 68
26. Amen Ogbongbemiga / Oklahoma State / 6’0-235: 68
27. Erroll Thompson / Mississippi State / 6’1-239: 68
28. Justin Hilliard / Ohio State / 6’1-227: 67
29. Tuf Borland / Ohio State / 6’0-229: 66
30. Trajan Stephens-McQueen / Georgia State / 6’1-230: 66

NYG APPROACH

While I think NYG is more than fine moving forward with Martinez and Crowder, especially considering that second ILB doesn’t play a ton of snaps, there are a lot of interesting names in the that top 15. If a value drops into day 3 that NYG likes, I think it would be smart to bring in another young depth piece. I think Devante Downs is very replaceable and to be honest, I would take any of those guys in the cluster of #9-#13 right now over Downs, and I think all five will go day 3. Something to think about. The biggest early-on question will be whether or not NYG should use #11 on Parsons if he is there. I can see why some would give the thumbs up; he is electric and could be the star of a defense because of how much base-level help there is around him. This NYG defense is put together really well, and it could handle a “freelancer” who Graham moves around and creates with. I wouldn’t criticize the pick at all. I just think the NYG defense could better-use that 11th pick and still bring in a quality player later on. The off-field stuff? Again, from what I have been told we aren’t talking about a guy who has jail time coming his way. I don’t think it will factor into the grade. NYG could use a new star defensive player, he is the one that has that All-Pro ceiling.

Apr 052021
 
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Patrick Surtain, Alabama Crimson Tide (January 11, 2021)

Patrick Surtain – © USA TODAY Sports

CORNERBACKS

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 15, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 16-25 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

The signing of James Bradberry from last year’s free agency period was one of the best signings we have seen this franchise make in a long time.  Having a reliable, quality presence on the outside week to week means more to a defense than most understand.  Scheming around that is so much more opportunistic and with the versatility at safety, this defense has a lot of options.  The other outside corner role was a revolving door in 2020, as DeAndre Baker was released.  The signing of Adoree’ Jackson in this year’s free agency period is a huge net-gain for this defense.  Now they have two reliable guys on the outside, an up-and-coming nickel in Darnay Holmes, and adequate depth in Isaac Yiadom, Ryan Lewis, and Quincy Wilson.  One can make the argument that it is a thin group when looking at the future.  You always want to have 1-2 quality backups on the outside because they do see the field plenty and you’re an injury away from a glaring hole that a good opposing offense can torch.

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection 

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Patrick Surtain II / Alabama / 6’2-202

Grade: 85

Summary: Junior entry from Plantation, Florida.  Three-year starter that began his career as a rare true freshman starter at cornerback when looking back at the Nick Saban era.  He went on to start 38 straight games.  Ended his career as a 1st Team All American, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and finalist for the Thorpe, Bednarik, Nagurski, and Lott Awards respectively.  Surtain is the son of former NFL cornerback Patrick Surtain.  Like his father, the young pedigree plays with outstanding strength and aggression.  He has the size and physical brand that can take over and dominate receivers on the outside.  Even though there are some deep movement and tracking issues, he is a starting caliber cornerback right now because of how advanced he is with techniques and how consistent of a presence he provides.  He is better in zone than he is man, but he can fit into any scheme and play week 1.

*Prior to the Jackson signing, Surtain II was one of five guys I had pegged to NYG.  He is an ideal fit for the scheme and there was a hole on the outside of Bradberry.  Add in the fact his grade met the value of #11, I really thought this would be the direction they would lead toward.  I still think there is a chance it happens, but obviously less likely.  Surtain II has a couple issues with the deep ball that concern me a bit, but he is so good in every other area.  He is going to be very good.

2. Jaycee Horn / South Carolina / 6’1-205

Grade: 85

Summary: Junior entry from Alpharetta, Georgia.  Three-year starter that earned 2nd Team All SEC honors in 2020.  Opted out of the 2020 season after 7 games.  On a short list of true freshmen that have started at South Carolina.  Some of the other names include Stephon Gilmore (Patriots), Jadeveon Clowney (Titans), and Bryan Edwards (Raiders).  Horn, from day one, has been an impressive and important part to the Gamecocks defense.  He plays a physical game, capable of taking on a big possession receiver and beating him to the ball.  While there are some concerns with his turn and run ability, there is enough he can do, notably in a zone heavy scheme, that can make a big difference.  The ball skills, instincts, and downhill explosion will make him a starter early in his career.

*The single best performance I have seen out of any corner in recent years was the one Horn put out against Auburn last fall.  I have no quarrels with anyone that has him at CB1, him and Surtain II are equally very good.  Horn shows more ability in man coverage and I think his upside is higher.  If he evolves more like he did over the past 2 years, we may be looking at one of the top 3 or 4 corners in football.

3. Caleb Farley / Virginia Tech / 6’1-207

Grade: 81

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Maiden, North Carolina.  A two-year starter that earned 1st Team All ACC honors in 2019 after leading the conference in pass break ups while adding 4 interceptions.  He opted out of the 2020 season.  Farley was a high school quarterback that initially tried his hand at wide receiver in 2017 before tearing his ACL, leading to a redshirt.  He came back in 2018, made the transition to cornerback, and started the next two seasons.  Farley’s top shelf height, length, and long speed make him a very attractive prospect for any scheme in the NFL.  He can blanket the opposition’s targets with both size and speed in addition to possessing receiver-caliber ball skills.  The glaring issue is the fact that he only played in 23 career college games, with his 2019 being cut short because of a nerve issue in his back that later needed a procedure.  There will need to be extra medical screening done here, but his tape and tools pass all the tests.

*I never had Farley in the running for CB1 in this class, nor did I ever see him as a top 20 guy.  Still a very good prospect and 1st round talent though.  He has the tools, a case can be made he is earlier on the progression scale than others, and he showed plenty of playmaking skills.  Farley simply has too many question marks for me to “love” him.  Medical and small area movement.  Still a starter in year one I think.

4. Ifeatu Melifonwu / Syracuse / 6’3-212

Grade: 80

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from South Grafton, Massachusetts.  Two-year starter that was 2nd Team All ACC in 2020, the only year in which he played every game.  He led the team with 17 pass break ups over the past two years combined and showed a safety’s type impact on the running game.  Melifonwu is dripping with talent, much like his brother did coming out of Connecticut in 2017 when he was a 2nd round pick of the Raiders.  The younger brother has the kind of size and speed for the position that is hard to find when trying to connect it to a player with an actual cornerback skill set.  He attacks the ball with tremendous precision and accuracy, plays a physical brand, and is just scratching the surface.  If he takes in NFL coaching and cleans up some simple but vital techniques, he can be a menace on the outside.  High upside player that needs work.

*I am a bit higher on Melifonwu than most.  I think he is a borderline first rounder, partially because of the versatility he can bring to the table.  If I were to grade him strictly as a safety, he would be right around here as well.  Teams that really value the size at corner are going to be high on him.  He is twitchy, agile, and quick which doesn’t usually match up with this height and length.  He can do so much in the secondary.

5. Greg Newsome II / Northwestern / 6’0-192

Grade: 79

Summary: Junior entry from Chicago, Illinois.  Three-year starter that earned 1st Team All Big 10 honors in 2020.  A very fluid and easy moving athlete, Newsome brings the desired height, length, and athleticism to the table that NFL corners need.  He can play on the outside and be left alone on an island.  His footwork and hip movement look ideal, and he has shown the ability to play with high-level ball skills.  Newsome II only started 18 games over his career and there are some inconsistencies across the board.  He will get caught looking in the backfield too often and his physical maturity still has a ways to go.  He plays weak on contact and will not factor much against the run.  He can be a starting corner in time but would be best suited for a situation that brought him along a little slower over the course of the first year or two of his career.

*There is a lot of hype around Newsome II and I think he is going to get drafted somewhere in the 20s.  I’m not that far off from that evaluation, but I do question how quick he can make an impact. A few issues in his game are what I saw out of Jeff Okudah in his disappointing year in DET.  It takes a few corners multiple years before they’re high quality, and that is the path I see both those guys taking.

6. Aaron Robinson / Central Florida / 6’0-190

Grade: 79

Summary: Fifth year senior from Deerfield Beach, Florida.  Began his career at Alabama in 2016 where he played in 13 games.  Transferred to Central Florida in 2017 and redshirted.  Two-year starter that earned 2nd Team All AAC honors in both 2019 and 2020.  Robinson has the pro-caliber foot speed and burst that enables him to stay sticky to his man on all levels of the route tree.   He can play the game with his feet rather than getting too grabby with his hands.  Robinson has a lot of dog in him.  He is always one of the toughest players on the field and he knows it.  Even though he needs to control where he gets aggressive and where to gamble, he is the kind of player that elevates the energy of a defense.  That doesn’t occur much from cornerbacks.  His size may keep him at nickel but he can play both.

*There are some corners that elevate their game with swagger.  They are constantly getting in fights, constantly running their mouth.  I understand that isn’t an approach for everyone to get behind, but I personally love it.  Much prefer that than guys on opposing teams laughing with each other all game and trading jerseys afterward.  Robinson hates his opponent every week, and he plays like it.  He also has really well developed technique and footwork.  Little gamble here, but I think he is starting in the league within a year or two.

7. Tyson Campbell / Georgia / 6’1-193

Grade: 79

Summary: Junior entry from Plantation, Florida.  Three-year starter that was a key part of a loaded Georgia secondary.  Campbell was a five-star recruit that developed from athlete with upside to full blown pro-caliber starting corner.  His body type fits in exactly with what the league is looking for.  His height, length, and speed have the potential to shut the big deep threats down at the next level.  He is a light and easy mover with fluid hips and flexible ankles.  His ability to seamlessly change direction with this kind of body is rare.  Campbell still has a ways to go in his progression when it comes to locating downfield passes, however.  His athleticism looks uncomfortable when he is on an island deep.  He lost too many 50/50 situations and simply didn’t produce enough to be considered a first rounder, but his upside is that of a starting corner.  If his progression path stays on the path he forged over his career, his upside is as good as any at the position in this class.

*Upside-based grade here.  There are safer prospects below him with similar grades but this where one can get more subjective with how they stack guys.  I saw flashes out of Campbell that I didn’t see from others.  His easy turn and run ability, top shelf speed, and size make him an attractive long term prospect.

8. Paulson Adebo / Stanford / 6’1-198

Grade: 79

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Mansfield, Texas.  Two-year starter that earned 1st Team All-Pac 12 honors both seasons.  Also earned All American honors in 2019.  Opted out of the 2020 season.  Adebo was very productive over the course of his short playing career.  He was on the field for just 22 games but still walked away with 8 interceptions and 29 pass break ups.  This tall, long, and fast cover man has proven receiver-caliber ball skills spread across multiple seasons.  He is a try-hard corner that pursues the action hard on all downs, all situations.  He is a smart and well-spoken kid that will get the most out of himself.  There are a few essential techniques that he will need to clean up, however.  He plays really high and it messes with his ability to minimize separation underneath.  His tool set is there, he just needs to become more machine-like.  High upside talent here that has the tools the NFL wants.

*Adebo was one of the guys I really wanted to watch in 2020.  He opted out though and I didn’t want to move him any higher than this even though I do think he can play like a 1st rounder.  He had a really impressive Pro Day and he is a really smart kid + hard worker.  He has the tools and showed the ability to make a lot of plays on the ball.  He just had a few backpedal and turning issues that, without the 2020 tape to look back on, I’m not currently sure about.

9. Kelvin Joseph / Kentucky / 6’1-192

Grade: 79

Summary: Third year sophomore entry from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Began his career at LSU where he was a rotational backup in 2018 before transferring to Kentucky which forced him to sit out all of 2019.  Started 9 games in 2020.  Joseph is a smooth and easy mover that has plus-athletic traits attached to a really long frame.  His skill set looks NFL ready right now, as he can turn and run as if he were on ice skates on top of showing the ability to play the ball in the air like a receiver.  The issue here is a significant lack of experience.  He has 9 career starts and played in just 20 games total.  High risk, high reward cover man.

*There are a couple guys in the league that have a 1st round grade on Joseph.  No arguments against that from me.  He is as fluid and fast as they come.  The lack of experience increases his risk a ton and I saw a couple red flags when it came to being physical in both coverage and run defense.  Nobody would be surprised to see him being the top corner in this class a few years from now.

10. Elijah Molden / Washington / 5’10-190

Grade: 79

Summary: Senior entry from West Linn, Oregon.  Two-plus year starter that is a two-time 1st Team All-Pac 12 honoree.  Molden was a chess piece for the Washington secondary that can project to multiple positions in the NFL.  He has the skill set to be a high-level nickel defender but can also play a free safety type role.  He flies around the field without any hesitation.  Molden is a true student of the game that is self-made.  His tools won’t win any awards, as he falls under the desired lines when it comes to pure size and speed.  However, his short area burst and quickness gets him around the action often.  Molden is a true leader of the defense type, one that will make players around him better and hide deficiencies via smart and active play.

*There are certain teams that are going to get everything out of this kid.  He is blue collar player that is smarter than most prospects coming out.  He can wear a lot of hats.  I just hope the right coach/scheme gets their hands on him.  If he is put into the wrong place, he will be merely average at best.

11. Benjamin St. Juste / Minnesota / 6’3-200

Grade: 77

Summary: Fifth year senior from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  Began his career at Michigan and spent two years there.  Two-year starter for the Gophers that earned Honorable Mention All-Big 10 honors in 2019.  St. Juste fits the mold of corners that many teams want now. He is tall and twitchy with plus-length.  He has a nicely developed frame with an easy-moving lower half.  St. Juste may not check all the boxes when it comes to long speed, thus he will need protection over the top or play a specific role at the next level.  His quality of play has been on a solid and consistent upward trajectory since the start of 2019 and there are intriguing tools here to try and develop.

*St. Juste was really far down the scouting lists that I get to cross check over the summer.  When I say far down, I am talking outside of the top 50 (just cornerbacks).  I knew he would finish higher than that, but even I was not anticipating him finishing this high.  He was one of the first Shrine Bowl recommendations I sent out.  Plain and simple, you just don’t get a guy with this kind of agility and balance paired with this height often.  It is rare, actually.  If he were at a SEC school, we may be talking round 1.

12. Shakur Brown / Michigan State / 5’10-190

Grade: 77

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Stockbridge, Georgia.  Two-year starter that broke out in 2020, earning 1st Team All Big 10 honors after he led the FBS in interceptions per game.  His 5 picks in just 7 games highlighted his ability to make plays on the ball while also displaying superior sticky coverage potential.  Brown isn’t overly big or fast, but he plays hard and will stick the NFL slots naturally.  He is a short strider with elite agility.  He projects to a starting nickel role in time if he can prove to say healthy and progress his mental game.

*Brown has nickel written all over him.  Not just his size, but his movement and sticky-style in coverage underneath.  Was his breakout 2020 season real?  Or just a product of a short year? He is a tough dude that plays with some attitude and swagger.

13. Eric Stokes / Georgia / 6’1-194

Grade: 77

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Covington, Georgia.  Two-year starter that earned 2nd Team All SEC honors in 2019, 1st Team in 2020.  In a crowded secondary with NFL talent all over the place, it was Stokes that led the team in pass break ups in 2019 and interceptions in 2020.  The former high school track star developed nicely into his frame that has natural height and length to it.  He still needs to add some bulk so he can maintain power positions and balance in traffic against physical pass catchers, but his long speed and easy burst really minimizes the separation receivers can obtain all over the route tree.  He will be a dependable man-cover corner capable of playing early in his career with the upside of being a very good number two corner.

*Stokes got put on some radars when he ran a sub 4.35 at the Georgia Pro Day.  We already knew he was fast, that wasn’t ever the question.  His questions will revolve around physical impact on contact and the ability to anticipate.  I just wish I saw a bit more natural flow in his game.  If he makes gains in that area, he can be a starter in a similar way to the new NYG starter Adoree Jackson.

14. Asante Samuel Jr. / Florida State / 5’10-184

Grade: 77

Summary: Junior entry from Sunrise, Florida.  Son of former Super Bowl winning NFL cornerback Asante Samuel.  A three-year starter that earned 1st Team All ACC honors in 2020, 3rd Team in 2019.  Samuel, like his father, is a ball hawk that can make up for physical shortcomings with his instinctive nature and precise footwork.  He broke up 29 passes in 32 games while intercepting another 4.  He was a bright spot among the struggling FSU program.  Samuel’s lack of size and questionable speed could get him in trouble if left alone against NFL receivers on the outside.  He doesn’t always look comfortable down the field and in traffic.  However, when it comes to sitting back and diagnosing the action in front of him, Samuel Jr looks NFL-ready.  He can be eased into action and is most attractive in a scheme with safety help deep.

*Samuel is going to be a very good nickel.  He is a bit scheme-specific, one that favors zone, but for the team that gets him will know that.  He could slip into day 3 because of the crazy CB depth in this class.  And I bet he makes a year-1 impact.

15. Kary Vincent / LSU / 5’10-185

Grade: 77

Summary: Senior entry from Houston, Texas.  Three-year starter that opted out of the 2020 season.  Son of former NFL cornerback Kary Vincent, Sr.  A former high school state champion sprinter that also ran track for the Tigers in college.  Vincent may be the fastest defender in the class.  His burst, acceleration, and top end speed are all tied together.  He plays at a rate faster than everyone else when he knows what he is going after.  The issue seems to be that he just doesn’t always mentally click when deciphering route concepts and the passer’s intentions.  Vincent was moved around the secondary a ton, seeing a lot of looks at nickel corner and free safety.  A team needs to try and develop him at one spot because the tools are good enough to be a big-time factor at the next level.  He isn’t a physical player and his instincts aren’t natural, so the nickel spot is likely his best spot where the power-shortcomings won’t hurt as much.

*I had Vincent top 5 in my stack at the start of 2020.  His opt out was less than ideal. I don’t want to penalize him for it but I do have a tendency to push guys ahead of him when I know there are significant instinct-based issues in his game.  Vincent will be one of the fastest players in the NFL right away and he made some big plays over his career.  He is worth the gamble at some point, the question will be when.  Also, you need a strong plan for where he is going in the secondary, as I don’t see the intelligence to man multiple spots.

16. Camryn Bynum / California / 6’0-198: 75
17. Robert Rochell / Central Arkansas / 5’11-195: 75
18. Shaun Wade / Ohio State / 6’1-195: 75
19. Ambry Thomas / Michigan / 6’0-189: 74
20. Keith Taylor / Washington / 6’2-191: 74
21. Thomas Graham Jr / Oregon / 5’11-193: 74
22. DJ Daniel / Georgia / 5’11-183: 72
23. Michael Carter II / Duke / 5’10-190: 72
24. Israel Mukuamu / South Carolina / 6’4-205: 71
25. Trill Williams / Syracuse / 6’1-198: 71
26. Marco Wilson / Florida / 5’11-187: 70
27. Rodarius Williams / Oklahoma State / 6’0-193: 70
28. Bryan Mills / NC Central / 6’1-180: 69
29. Bryce Thompson / Tennessee / 6’0-182: 69
30. Tay Gowan / Central Florida / 6’2-185: 69

NYG APPROACH

This is one of the deepest cornerback groups in recent memory.  I still have another 10+ names that I consider draftable.  NYG has a strong 1-2-3-4-5 for the 2021 season, maybe top 7 in the NFL if Jackson reaches his previous form now that his knee is 100%.  As said earlier, however, that extra depth for the future isn’t there yet.  Do you wait until next year and then have to rely on a rookie?  Or do you use a day three pick on someone that falls and groom him for a year?  I also think some depth and competition for Holmes at nickel would be a benefit to him.  While it isn’t a pressing need, you don’t ever want to be poor or lacking depth at corner.  If the value is right any point day 3, I think it is a smart investment.

Apr 032021
 
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Trevon Moehrig, TCU Horned Frogs (October 10, 2020)

Trevon Moehrig – © USA TODAY Sports

SAFETIES

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 15, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 16-30 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

The Giants employ a very-hybrid scheme, and that isn’t just what goes on at defensive line.  The safeties are very interchangeable.  Jabrill Peppers made a big impact throughout the year.  The 2022 free agent was a much better fit in this scheme than what we saw in 2019.  Will he be here long term?  That is the question.  If he leaves town, it will be a result of the economics not lining up more than his quality of play.  Logan Ryan was a late signing last year.  He went on to finishing as the leader of the secondary and another player who benefitted greatly from Patrick Graham’s scheme.  He has been such a hybrid corner/safety his entire career, but TEN just couldn’t figure out how to use his talent.  After watching TEN closely the past 2 years, a place where defensive backs have gone to die lately, that was more of them than him.  Ryan was extended and provides a big-time presence in the secondary.  Xavier McKinney is the wildcard of the group, as he missed most of his rookie season with an injury but came back for the final 6 games, starting the final 4, and flashed the talent that made him a 2nd rounder.  I feel good about him moving forward.  Julian Love, a college cornerback, quietly provides really solid depth at multiple spots.  He played in all 16 games, started 6, and finished 4th on the team in tackles.

Overall, this is a strong group that has just one player (Peppers) that is not locked up through 2022.  The need for new talent here is not a priority, however with the way safeties are used in this scheme, an extra depth piece with a specialty (whether it be coverage or run defense) is possible.

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection 

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Trevon Moehrig / TCU / 6’2-202

Grade: 84

Summary: Junior entry from Spring Branch, Texas.  Two-year starter that earned postseason honors all three seasons.  Won the TCU Special Teams Player of the Year as a freshman and 1st Team All Big 12 honors in both 2019 and 2020.  Also named 2020 All American and winner of the Jim Thorpe Award.  The team captain has evolved into a premiere safety that can do it all from the middle of the field.  He is more than rangy enough in deep zone, showing true sideline to sideline range.  He is fast enough, but the glaring positive trait comes from his on-field intelligence.  He excels at feeling out the whole field when looking downhill.  In addition, Moehrig is an elite level tackler when measuring his success rate, power, and technique.  He is a year one starter that will do a lot for a defense and special teams unit respectively.

*In a safety class that looks bleak at the top, Moehrig gets the nod for the best safety prospect by a really wide margin.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking he got that label by default, as he is a really good player.  When I look at a safety, I want instincts, then tackling, then speed, then size.  Moehrig is top-shelf in the first two, and good enough in the next two.  Like most safeties, how strong his reputation builds along the next few years very much depends on what team brings him in.  If BAL gets their hands on him, a good fit, he can be a star.

2. Andre Cisco / Syracuse / 6’0-209

Grade: 78

Summary: Junior entry from Valley Stream, New York.  Three-year starter that began his career on fire, earning 1st Team All ACC and 3rd Team All American honors.  Earned 2nd Team All ACC honors in 2019.  Cisco created a playmaker’s reputation with his ACC leading 7 interceptions as a true freshman and responded with another ACC leading 5 as a sophomore.  His 2020 campaign lasted just two games, however, as he tore his ACL.  Even then, he brought in another interception Week 1 against North Carolina.  Cisco is a credible playmaker that can man the centerfielder role.  His instincts, anticipation, and speed make him a rangy and dangerous defender.  His burst is elite and as long as he can bounce back well from the ACL surgery, he is going to be a really high ceiling prospect that can fill a role that many teams have a hard time locating.  His run defense and physical presence won’t make a big difference, but when he makes plays the way he does, that can take a back seat to a point.

*Cisco has the kind of game that is going to make fans love and hate him.  He is going to make plays on the ball, but there were flashes on tape, too many, where he went for the home run when the smart decision would have been take the double.  If he were a better tackler and wasn’t coming off the ACL, he could have been 1st rounder on my board.  Even though he will be on the field for cover purposes, he needs to enhance his tackling and physical nature.  You can get away with being poor in that department as a corner, not safety.  Really high upside player.

3. Richie Grant / Central Florida / 6’0-200

Grade: 78

Summary: Fifth year senior from Fort Walton Beach, Florida.  Three-year starter that earned 1st Team All AAC honors all three seasons.  A productive player across the board that totaled 259 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 10 interceptions and 19 pass break ups over his career, Grant has exactly what a lot of defensive coaches look for in a safety.  He can play multiple spots at a high level, making him that chess piece from the middle that can play the role of Queen, going anywhere he wants whenever he wants.  He has excellent quickness and burst and seems to have really taken a step up in understanding route concepts and running schemes.  Grant may not be the most powerful enforcer, but he is a good tackler that can be relied upon.  This is a do-it-all safety that should be a starter early in his career.

*I know a few guys more important than me that really like Grant.  They see him as a true nickel safety, something more and more teams want now.  He shined at the Senior Bowl and in a weird year where there was less tape all around, I am curious if his week down there meant more.  I see a player that will thrive in a scheme similar to the one NYG employs, one where the safety is half corner/half safety.

4. Jamien Sherwood / Auburn / 6’1-219 

Grade: 77

Summary: Junior entry from Jensen Beach, Florida.  One-year starter that did see rotational playing time his first two seasons.  Sherwood is the prototype when looking for pro box-safeties.  He has outstanding size and speed, but also has the skill set to fill multiple roles along the second and third level of the defense.  Sherwood had to wait his turn to breach the starting lineup, but he made the most of his opportunity in 2020.  He was all over the field on a weekly basis, doing most of his damage in the box.  He may not play as physical as his size suggests, but he is a reliable run defender that can also make an impact as a pass defender.  He is an ideal matchup for athletic tight ends and has the kind of long speed to take a deep half.

*Sherwood is one of “my guys” in this class.  He doesn’t have a lot of starting experience partially because he had a couple NFL safeties playing ahead of him prior to 2020.  Sherwood is put together different, which can create false hope.  But what stuck out to me was his ability to get in and out of traffic, the ability to make himself small when he needed to be, and his closing burst.  He may be there day 3 and if NYG wants to start thinking about post-Peppers when it comes to finding a safety that can play specific linebacker roles, here you go.

5. Hamsah Nasirildeen / Florida State / 6’3-213

Grade: 77

Summary: Senior entry from Concord, North Carolina.  Three-plus year starter that earned 2nd Team All ACC honors in 2019.  Played in just the final 2 games 2020 after it took him nearly a year to recover from a serious leg injury suffered during the end 2019 season.  Nasirildeen is a really attractive prospect when looking at his tools and watching him fill in a variety of secondary roles.  He led the team in tackles in both 2018 and 2019 while also providing a spark 3 forced fumbles and 3 interceptions over that span.  He may not be the most sudden or instinctual player in coverage, but he has an athletic base to work with.  Nasirildeen has starter potential in time and will be able to contribute in a limited role right away.

*As is the case with countless prospects this year, there are a lot of questions around Nasirildeen.  Since the start of 2019, he played in 14 games.  While that isn’t a huge deal, Nasirildeen has been on my radar for a few years now and I really wanted to see more out of him on the field.  I think he has 1st round tools and upside, but he never quite proved it.  Really high upside prospect that has a shot at being there day 3.

6. Caden Sterns / Texas / 6’1-207

Grade: 76

Summary: Junior entry from Cibolo, Texas.  Three-year starter that won the job right away as a true freshman in 2018, a season where he won Big 12 Freshman of the Year and earned 1st Team All-Conference honors.  Brother of former Kansas City Chief Jordan Sterns.  Caden’s career began with a bang but injuries limited him in 2019 and he played in just 7 games over the Covid-shortened 2020 season.  He is a versatile safety that does his best work as a deep centerfielder.  He is a reliable last line of defense because of his ability to pursue the action with efficient angles and quick acceleration.  He excels at making plays on the ball, covering receivers in multiple coverages, and being in the right place at the right time.  Sterns won’t add much to the physical presence of a defense, but he is willing to throw his hat into oncoming traffic.   This is a smart and versatile player that can do a lot for a secondary.

*I watched a lot of Sterns.  Someone in the league I speak with has a 2nd round grade on him.  I didn’t see it the first time and I still don’t.  I only say that because I think he will go higher than where I have him slotted.  He has really fluid hips, good closing speed, and receiver caliber ball skills.  I get nervous about prospects who’s best tape was from their freshman year, though.

7. Divine Deablo / Virginia Tech / 6’3-226

Grade: 75

Summary: Fifth year senior entry from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  Two-year starter that made the move from wide receiver to safety in 2017.  He played just 4 games before getting injured and missing the rest of the year.  Again, fought through injuries in 2018 and did not become the full-time starter until 2019.  He then responded by leading the team with 84 tackles before his breakout year in 2020, where he earned 1st Team All ACC honors.  Deablo shared the ACC lead with 4 interceptions.  He is still figuring out the defensive side of the ball, but Deablo looks like a future starter if he can continue his current path.  He still has rawness within his skill set, but there is a combination of size, speed, and playmaking skills that can make a versatile impact at the next level.

*Yet another high upside safety that is still early on the progression scale.  If he continues to surge up, he is a definite starter.  If this is his peak, he is a solid backup and special teams player.  Have to love the size and tackling that shows up and does not come at the expense of making plays in coverage.  He doesn’t move with enough balance for my liking and there are multiple issues in coverage against receivers that I am nervous about.

8. Jevon Holland / Oregon / 6’1-196

Grade: 75

Summary:  Junior entry from Pleasanton, California.  Two-year starter that opted out of the 2020 season.  2nd Team All-Pac 12 in 2019 after tying for the conference lead in interceptions with four.  Holland was part of the Oregon secondary rotation from the beginning of his freshman season.  Even though he started just 2 games in 2018, he still played a lot of snaps in multiple roles.  He is best suited for a box-safety type role that can shift out to the nickel in some looks.  He is slightly undersized for that role, but he plays tough and is a good tackler.  Holland is a bit of a gambler in coverage.  It obviously worked out well (9 interceptions in 2 years), but it can be exposed and toyed with if he is in deep coverage.  He is a chess piece for a secondary that should be used in more man coverage and underneath roaming-type roles.  In the right system, he has starter-potential in addition to adding special teams value.

*Not an ideal fit for every scheme, Holland is another one I think may go on day 2 based on what I’ve heard.  He is a gambler, a fun player to watch.  But I am being stubborn in my thought process when it comes to the guys that completely opted out of 2020.  If they didn’t completely, utterly win me over prior to, I am not upgrading them at all.  Some don’t agree with that stance, and that is fine.

9. Mark Webb / Georgia / 6’0-210

Grade: 75

Summary: Senior entry from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Two-year starter that earned a team award for his versatility in 2019.  Webb was in a very talented secondary filled with future NFL players.  His role was moved around week to week and even snap to snap in some cases.  His size and power presence is a better fit for the safety position but he can, in certain packages, play the nickel.  His coverage ability against tight ends and physical nature in the box should carve out a role for him in any defense in addition to providing solid special teams play.

* Summary: Senior entry from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Two-year starter that earned a team award for his versatility in 2019.  Webb was in a very talented secondary filled with future NFL players.  His role was moved around week to week and even snap to snap in some cases.  His size and power presence are a better fit for the safety position, but he can, in certain packages, play the nickel.  His coverage ability against tight ends and physical nature in the box should carve out a role for him in any defense in addition to providing solid special teams play.

*The name Logan Ryan came up in my head when watching him in 2020.  Not on the same level, but a similar player.  One that probably can’t handle life on an island as a corner, but one that can add extra dimensions as a safety.  He worked out well at his pro day.  Smart kid, hard worker, good enough athlete.

10. Jamar Johnson / Indiana / 6’1-197 

Grade: 75

Summary: Junior entry from Sarasota, Florida.  One-year starter that was in the heavy rotation in addition the season prior.  1st Team All Big 10 in 2020.  Johnson was a key playmaker for one of the most surprising teams in the nation.  He totaled 9 takeaways over his career, including 4 interceptions (2 against Ohio State) over his final 4 games.  The former nickel moved inside to safety and started to really turn the corner over the second half of the shortened season.  There are holes in his game when it comes to deep coverage and tackling techniques, but he is a player worth trying to develop.  He can be multiple in the secondary, plays with good instincts, and won’t shy from downhill aggression.

*This nickel safety we keep talking about is a role made for Johnson, a former cornerback.  Johnson was actually one of the first underclassmen I scouted in January when I started looking at guys I didn’t watch in-season.  His flow to the ball stood out to me.  He has something natural in him that doesn’t come around often.  I have a hard time really liking him though, as he doesn’t do well against vertical routes and he isn’t a good tackler.

11. Paris Ford / Pittsburgh / 6’0-197

Grade: 74

Summary: Fourth year junior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Two-year starter that earned all ACC honors both seasons, including 1st Team in 2019.  Ford opted out after the first 7 weeks of the 2020 season, giving him just 20 career starts.  The former cornerback is still raw when it comes to certain techniques and nuances, but he has top tier instincts for the position that produced great results in his limited time.  He had 6 career interceptions and averaged over 7 tackles per game.  Ford is a fun player to watch, as he is an undersized but effective enforcer in the box.  He comes downhill like a missile and puts every ounce of himself into a hit.  That quickness and speed translate to twitchy and rangy coverage as well.  While there are some emotional habits that get him into trouble on the field, this is the kind of defender that will spike the energy upward on a defense right away.  He has such a loose, bendy lower half that goes along well with his naturally instinctive play.  He is a really high ceiling safety that brings a fair amount of risk as well.

*Full disclosure, I initially gave Ford a 3rd round grade based on tape alone.  He was different.  I wrote down the name “Ed Reed” when it came to his body, movement, and overall impact.  As the scouting process went on though, it was clear I overshot him a tad.  He has long speed issues, which showed up in a very ugly way at his pro day.  He ran a slow time for defensive ends and tight ends, let alone safety.  He also had a horrific overall workout there.  I later found out he didn’t want to train for those drills, thus did not hire a coach.  That is unheard of.  There are a few character issues here.  I won’t cross him off though, I like his tape too much.  He is worth a day 3 pick.

12. Talanoa Hufanga / USC / 6’1-210

Grade: 73

Summary: Junior entry from Corvallis, Oregon.  Three-year starter that saved his best for last, earning 1st Team All-Pac 12 honors and won the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year Award as a junior.  Also, a 1st Team All American. Hufanga was a dominant force in the shortened 2020 season, averaging over 10 tackles per contest and brought in 4 interceptions in just 6 games.  He is a box-safety that has a knack for getting around and to the action nearly every play. He has physical shortcomings when it comes to speed that do get exposed in space, however.  He doesn’t have the gear to stay with NFL receivers in coverage and he won’t catch ball carriers from behind.  If he can be protected over the top and avoid man coverage against receivers, he will impact the game as a run defender and blitzing safety.

*Hufanga is training with Troy Polamalu leading up to the draft.  It is hard not to think about Polamalu while watching Hufanga on tape.  Honestly though, it has more to do with body type, uniform, and hair as funny as that may seem.  They aren’t in the same stratosphere when it comes to athleticism, which is the main reason Polamalu was what he was.  Hufanga doesn’t move with the same twitch, but I do like the hustle and impact he can make against the run and short passing game.  Limited player, but can fill a solid role.

13. Richard LeCounte III / Georgia / 5’10-196

Grade: 71

Summary: Senior entry from Riceboro, Georgia.  Three-year starter that has been one of the most productive defenders on the Bulldogs defense over that span.  LeCounte led the team in tackles in 2018, led the team in interceptions in 2019, and led the team in interceptions per game in 2020.  His senior year was cut short by a traffic accident that forced him to miss the final 4 games and majority of their bowl game.  He is a smart and heady player that comes across bigger than his listed size because of how reliable he is against the run.  His tackling is top tier and his ability to make plays on the ball will make him serviceable against the pass.  Some teams may look past him because there is a low ceiling that stems from below average tools, but LeCounte is a football player at a position that is so reliant on intelligence and instincts.  He checks enough boxes to be considered a solid number three safety and eventual starter.

*I have a tendency to be a sucker for guys that play smart.  LeCounte is one of the smartest safeties in the class and that was verified by his coaches.  He just doesn’t have the top end speed to always take advantage of it.  I still think it can pass as “good enough”.  After all, he started 3 years in the SEC and played well.

14. Damar Hamlin / Pittsburgh / 6’1-201

Grade: 71

Summary: Fifth year senior from McKees Rock, Pennsylvania.  Three-year starter that earned 2nd Team All ACC honors in 2020, Honorable Mention in 2018.  Hamlin has led the Panthers in tackles over the three-year period in which he was a starter.  After being injured multiple times over his first two seasons, he was a consistent and reliable leader for the entire defensive unit.  He was a shot caller from the back end that put others in position while consistently being a right place, right time defender himself.  He was productive across the board and showed every down versatility.  Hamlin’s deep speed does not leave a lot of margin for error, however.  He doesn’t catch up well and lacks the quick burst to turn and run.  He has some hit or miss to his game as a run defender as well.  He could be an ideal fit for a backup role that sees snaps every week with the upside of developing into a quality starter.  High floor, low ceiling type.

*Hamlin is another name that many in the know rave about when it comes to intelligence.  He was the shot caller of that defense and it was hard to find tape where he was out of place.  He got burned deep so many times when I saw him though.  He doesn’t turn well.  I think he can be a core special teamer though, one that makes a living based on that alone.  Will he make an impact at safety?  I don’t see it, but there are worse safeties on pro depth charts right now.

15. Jacoby Stevens / LSU / 6’1-216 

Grade: 70

Summary: Senior entry from Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Three-year starter that was named 2nd Team All SEC in 2019 for the National Champion Tigers.  Stevens was a chess piece that was moved all over the scheme pre-snap.  He was a shot caller that put his teammates into position as well.  This is a versatile and smart player that can get to the right place at the right time and produce.  The issue that will put question marks around his name revolves around his top end athletic ability.  Stevens was a 5-star recruit and even played some wide receiver early in his career, but he never got to a point where he played fast or explosive in space.  He gets toyed with in coverage against NFL caliber speed and quickness.  He will need a specific box-safety role that has some similarities to what a linebacker is asked to do.  He can be a solid rotational piece that is package-specific.

*I am really curious to see where Stevens goes.  Some teams look at him as a linebacker, one that came come on the field in Dime packages and play the role of linebacker-safety hybrid.  He still has some to learn about playing defense and that could be part of why he looked too slow at times.  When you don’t process information well, it makes you play slower than you are.  Stevens has some untapped upside for that reason.

16. Joshuah Bledsoe / Missouri / 5’11-201: 70
17. Ar’Darius Washington / TCU / 5’8-178: 70
18. James Wiggins / Cincinnati / 6’0-205: 70
19. Tyree Gillespie / Missouri / 5’11-207: 70
20. Brady Breeze / Oregon / 6’0-196: 69
21. Tariq Thompson / San Diego State / 6’0-200: 69
22. Jordyn Peters / Auburn / 6’1-195: 68
23. Christian Uphoff / Illinois State / 6’3-213: 68 
24. Lamont Wade / Penn State / 5’9-188: 68
25. Shawn Davis / Florida / 5’11-202: 67
26. Darrick Forrest / Cincinnati / 5”11-206: 66
27. Eric Burrell / Wisconsin / 5’11-201: 65
28. Troy Warner / BYU / 6’1-201: 64
29. Ben DeLuca / Charlotte / 6’1-215: 64
30. Dwayne Johnson Jr / San Diego State: 64

NYG APPROACH

Safety is maybe the one spot on this roster where you don’t see a spot for a rookie.  They have four guys who can be in the weekly rotation, four guys who can play multiple spots and roles, four guys who are young and healthy.  While there will be several other pressing needs and holes to fill, this is a spot that if I see a value day three, I still very much think a pick can be used on one.  Do you prefer a box-safety to potentially groom behind Peppers should he not be here in 2021?  Do you prefer a nickel-safety who can play some corner similar to what they have in Ryan?  Or do you want a true centerfielder, as they are really hard to find and may be worth a “shot in the dark.”  There are a lot of good safeties in the league that were found on day 3 and it is largely a result of the scheme and surrounding talent.  If NYG sees a value slip into round 5 or later, I am fine with pulling the trigger there.  He better be able to fill in on special teams though.