New York Giants 2019 NFL Draft Preview: Safeties
90+: Elite, All Pro
85-89: Immediate starter, building block for a decade, franchise player
80-84: First round talent, starter and/or majority of the snaps each week
77-79: Day 2 pick, starter within their first 16-24 games as a pro
75-76: Fourth rounder, has starter traits but needs development
71-74: Fifth/Sixth rounder, should develop in to weekly contributor over rookie contract
68-70: Draftable, hopeful for special teams impact and long term development
67 and under: UDFA
*NFL Comparison are not a projection of how good they are, more so their style of play.
WHERE THEY STAND
The two starting spots are locked up with Jabrill Peppers, acquired via trade from CLE, and band-aid free agent signing Antoine Bethea. The middle of the secondary has been a major weak point for years, even when Landon Collins was an All-Pro. They just haven’t been able to find two formidable players that coincide skill sets with each other. Failed draft picks and whiffs on multiple free agent signings at this spot are one of the main reasons why this defense has been so inconsistent.
1: Taylor Rapp – Washington – 6’0/208
Summary: Fourth year junior entry. Former Pac 12 Freshman of the Year and two time 1st Team All Pac 12 defender. The All American Rapp has been piling up the accolades since he was inserted in to the starting lineup in 2016. The three-year starter steadily improved year after year and ended his career as arguably the top safety in the nation. His instincts and ability to be everywhere will be a major draw to teams looking to strengthen their back end. He is an every down factor that will specialize in making tackles and being a reliable last line of defense. The physical and mental speed he plays with is not easy to find and as long as he can continue to strengthen his core and stay on the field, he will be an every-week difference maker.
*NYG could use a guy like Rapp as soon as #17 overall, although his name isn’t being discussed there at all. Rapp, combined with the roamer Peppers, could bring a different sense but equally effective of playmaking ability. His timed speed falls below the desired line, but rarely do you watch his tape and think “slow”. His instincts and knowledge of the game are rare.
NFL Comparison: Eric Weddle / BAL
2: Jonathan Abram – Mississippi State – 5’11/205
Summary: Senior prospect that bounced around early in his career. Abram started off at Georgia but after personal issues and a coaching change, he deferred to junior college before settling in at Mississippi State. The two-year starter quickly made his presence known as one of the more physical defenders in the SEC. The 2018 1st team All conference and 3rd Team All American brought the Alpha approach to a new level as a senior. While Abram is one of the toughest enforcers in the entire class, his over-aggressive style has a tendency to create as many issues as it does plays. He needs to break himself down and become a better forecaster before he can be relied upon on an every down basis.
*Abram will be early fan favorite by whichever organization drafts him. He is an all out, all the time type defender and if properly used, his impact will be felt early. He wasn’t tested much in deep coverage so the jury is still out if he needs to be a guy that stays near the line of scrimmage and if that ends up being the case, I’d like to see him put some more weight on.
NFL Comparison: Jamal Adams / NYJ
3: Amani Hooker – Iowa – 5’11/210
Summary: Junior entry. A one and a half year starter that had a role created for him in 2018 which was a linebacker/safety hybrid. He responded in a big way, winning the Big 10 Defensive Back of the Year award. His production across the entire stat sheet is a glimpse in to what Hooker is on the field. He is an every down factor that specializes in run defense. He is more than formidable enough in zone coverage but has shown struggles when matching up against more athletic route runners with downfield intentions. If he is put in to the right role, something near the line of scrimmage, Hooker can be an important piece to a really good defense. However he is not a fit for every safety role.
*I’m on higher on Hooker than what I see out there. He is my kind of strong safety, however. One that tackles well all overt the field, one that is smart, instinctive and aggressive, and one that can make things happen in zone coverage. He does things right and his workouts/interviews exceeded expectations.
NFL Comparison: Shawn Williams / CIN
4: Darell Savage – Maryland – 5’11/198
Summary: Three year starter that was All-Big 10 two years in a row. Savage is a fun player to watch that immediately brings energy and playmaking ability to the defense. His reaction speed and quickness are elite. If he is put in the right position where he can make a read and pounce, his impact will be felt right away. The issue with him pops up when he has to be more disciplined in coverage because he too easily gets fooled by the QB’s eyes. A pro-caliber passer can take advantage of that over and over. Savage may be in his best role as a nickel defender and/or third safety where he simply pursues the action. Get him in the right role and he can be a star.
*A spitting image of Lamarcus Joyner when it comes to tools and style of play. Savage is even hair bigger than Joyner, but they look near identical on the field. Players like this scare me as much as they excite me, very all or nothing. If he hones in some of the aggression and can gain more understanding of the game when it comes to anticipation, he can be a big time player.
NFL Comparison: Lamarcus Joyner / OAK
5: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson – Florida – 5’11/210
Summary: Junior entry. Gardner-Johnson put himself on the radar initially with standout special teams defense. The aggressive and physical defender plays with an attack mode mindset at all times. While that aggression can cause him to miss on occasion, the positives that stem from it are notable. His versatility and playmaking ability was on full display over the rest of his career, constantly finding himself involved in the action despite being moved around on the Florida defense a few times. The experience he has at safety and nickel will likely net him a similar role in the NFL. He isn’t someone you want to depend on in deep coverage or an island against wide receivers, but his impact on all three downs from the middle of the field can help a defense in numerous ways.
*This is a player you need to have a very specific plan for if you end up drafting him. He is a jack of all trades, master of none type prospect. Similar to All Pro Desmond King who LAC drafted in the 5th round (I had him as a 1st rounder), Gardner-Johnson needs to have his own position in the league. A hybrid S/CB that can change his approach based on situations and the scheme. Another really high upside prospect.
NFL Comparison: Desmond King / LAC
6: Sheldrick Redwine – Miami – 6’0/196
Summary: Former cornerback with starting experience at both spots. Settled in a safety in 2017 and 2018 and finished his career as Honorable Mention All ACC in 2018. Redwine shows elite-level movement when it comes to quickness, agility, burst, and long speed. He can do it all athletically. He matches that with solid instincts and reactions to the action. While he may not be a forceful, high-impact, forceful presence, he can hold his own. He still plays aggressive enough to not be a liability in that department. Redwine could legitimately project as a corner or safety and that kind of versatility could really boost his grade and overall outlook. He may not be trustworthy in deep zone coverage right away, but he does have the movement ability to make up for some mistakes.
*I’ve been told half the teams are grading him as a CB, which I thought was interesting. All depends on scheme, I guess. Redwine may need more mass on that frame to stick in the middle of the field, but I like him as a last line of defense against the pass. He really knows what he is doing back there and I trust his ability to cover the deep zone. The versatility is an extra plus.
NFL Comparison: Rashaan Gaulden / CAR
7: Andrew Wingard – Wyoming – 6’0/209
Summary: Four year starter with through-the-roof production. Became the school’s all time leading tackler in 2017 but also has 10 career interceptions. He is a throwback strong safety that has more linebacker in him than defensive back, but can more than hold his own athletically in coverage. Wingard makes his presence known each time he comes in contact with a defender. He has the rare combination of power and tackling technique that plagues so many defenses these days. He won’t be the deep, rangy cover man though. At the very least, he is a special teams monster but could also play the role of dime linebacker and in-the-box safety. If he finds the right role, he has the kind of game that can make a steady, week to week impact.
*Another fan favorite type, Wingard makes a different sound and impact when he gets to the ball carrier. Really powerful, rangy run defender that has the football IQ and instincts to make him a factor in coverage. Guaranteed to be a special teams demon.
NFL Comparison: Tony Jefferson / BAL
8: Juan Thornhill – Virginia – 6’0/202
Summary: Three year starter that made a move from cornerback to safety full time in 2018 and responded with a 1st Team All ACC performance. The smart and instinctive cover man is versatile enough to be moved around in to multiple roles play by play and, at the very least, be trusted to be in the right place at the right time. He was productive up and down the stat sheet against both the run and pass and his athletic ability and football IQ will help translate that kind of performance to the next level. The questions with him will surround his size, frame, and long speed. Upside may be limited, but Thornhill is a safe bet to be a solid player.
*Thornhill put together a solid pre-draft process via workouts and interviews, but I don’t want to get carried away with that impacting his tape-grade. I like the player but he doesn’t play as fast as he times and there isn’t a lot of impact on his hits. Still a guy you can be confident about when it comes to development over 2-3 years.
NFL Comparison: Jordan Poyer / BUF
9: Nasir Adderley – Delaware – 6’0/206
Summary: Four year starter that ended with an All American season. Production was across the board-impressive and his tape screams versatility as well. He flies all over the field and shows no hesitation mixing it up in traffic with the big boys as well as putting his body on the line in deep coverage lunging for the ball. While he has impressive athleticism combined with more than his share of highlight reel plays, Adderley’s tape is filled with as many mistakes. He gets fooled easily and over commits to his initial reads, showing a lack of awareness and instincts. He may even be better suited at cornerback. No matter what, this is a high ceiling, low floor prospect that could be a maddening player to watch.
*Typical draft-media situation here. Nobody knew Adderley last summer and he was an attractive small school name as the year progressed, thus so many were racing to be the guy that touted him highly first. It got to the point where, in my opinion, he got a little overrated. Adderley is a fun player to watch, no question, but he got schooled often against low-level college football. Buyer beware with this kid.
NFL Comparison: Damarious Randall / CLE
10: Deiontae Thompson – Alabama – 6’1/195
Summary: Fourth year junior entry. First Team All SEC safety that was all over the field for the dominant Alabama defense. At the initial glance, Thompson looks like an elite playmaker that can change the way an opposing passer approaches the game. His length, speed, and ball skills give him a distinct advantage when the ball is in the air. While he did show flashes of being a top playmaker, there are several holes in his game. He is a poor tackler that over pursues and does not wrap up. In coverage, Thompson struggles to hang with quickness and agility. He has good long speed but the windows he creates for a passing game due to poor short area adjustments can be eaten up in the NFL. High upside prospect that has a lot of work to do.
*I was all over this kid early in the year when he was making elite-level interceptions stemming from ball skills and instincts. As the year wore on, though, his warts showed up time and time again. It’s hard to tell who he really is as a player and I’ve heard some things over the past 2 months that soured my outlook even more. If you asked me in October, I would have say top 15 pick. Now? Day 3.
NFL Comparison: Marcus Williams / NO
11: Will Harris – Boston College – 6’1/207
Summary: Three-plus year starter. Son of former NFL safety Will Harris. A really impressive athlete with solid triangle numbers. Harris shows the kind of straight line burst and closing ability along with a physical mindset that can wreck havoc in the box. There are some subtle movement issues in tight spaces where he has a hard time adjusting weight quickly, often needing the extra step or two but for the most part this kid can be a weapon when the action is in front of him. His ceiling might be rotational defensive back with solid special teams play, but he will be on a roster and I bet he is in the league for awhile.
*I can’t tell if I am underrating this kid or not, he really does check a lot of boxes. I went back to the tape twice on him, which I normally do not do. I think my biggest concern with him is the fact that football is a tight-space game and the extra steps bother me. Lateral movement doesn’t seem natural but if he gets in a role where that isn’t as vital, he can be a stud. NFL lineage always helps in my eyes, too.
NFL Comparison: Tedric Thompson / SEA
12: Marquise Blair – Utah – 6’1/195
Summary: A former junior college standout that bounced back from a season ending injury in 2017 and finished 2nd Team All Pac 12 as a senior. The long and lean, yet powerful Blair will bring physical presence to the defensive backfield that can make plays all over the field. He pursues hard, finishes harder. The frame will need more bulk but if he can do that while maintaining his plus speed and explosion, he has the upside to be a dangerous player, especially in the box.
*The reckless style could be an elite impact on special teams early in his career but he made enough plays to lead me to the notion he can be more.
NFL Comparison: Curtis Riley / OAK
13: Jaquan Johnson – Miami – 5’10/191
Summary: Two-plus year starter. 2nd Team All ACC in 2017 and 2018 and was viewed as the leader of the secondary at Miami. He directed a lot of traffic for a unit that, at times, looked dominant and complex. Johnson is a fun player to watch because he is below the line when it comes to measureables but he flies around and will make plenty of plays. The issue, however, is he really doesn’t move well enough to make up for the lack of playing strength. There are durability issues here and the holes in his game may keep him to very specific roles and packages. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him exceed my expectations, but I just don’t see him holding up at the next level beyond backup duty.
*A fan favorite among some, Johnson can be a guy that surprises early in his career. He flies around, can make plays, and will come across bigger/faster when he knows what he is doing within the scheme. However I get worried about him holding up and I think opposing offenses can eventually play games with him.
NFL Comparison: Ricardo Allen / ATL
14: Malik Gant – Marshall – 6’0/209
Summary: Fourth year junior entry. Former walk on and a two year starter that finished his career with two straight All Conference USA honors. Team MVP in 2018. A spark plug and overall exciting player to watch. All over the place and a kid that puts his body on the line. Gant didn’t test well and he does have a few hiccups on tape when it comes to long speed but I think he is a player that has a shot at fitting in to a system well. At the very least, he is a special teams standout type that can evolve in to a playmaker. There are holes in his game but a lot of seems correctable. Shot in the dark day three that could be one of the surprises of the class.
*Gant is one of those prospects that could really see a boost from NFL coaching and development. He has traits and the mindset, just too many negative plays on tape that seem to stem from the understanding of his role and the game overall.
NFL Comparison: Duron Harmon / NE
15: Jonathan Crawford – Indiana – 6’1/205
Summary: Four year starter than had arguably his best season as a freshman, winning the team’s Newcomer of the Year award. After showing turnover-creating ability his first two years (7 INTs / 2 FF / 5 FR), Crawford got on the national spotlight his last two years. While his play didn’t stand out as much, he did earn Honorable Mention all Big 10 honors in 2017 and 2018. He is well put together, physical, and really smart. When looking for a safety, the instincts and awareness traits are near-essential and he excels there. He can trust his eyes and he is always flowing in the right direction. There are some movement limitations to him however and I think it may cap his overall upside. I like this kind of kid stashed away on the bench while helping special teams for a couple years to see if he can turn himself in to something.
*The more I watched Crawford, the more I liked. He is smart, always flowing in the right direction. As I said before, that means something to me. I will acknowledge a lack of upside based on his tightness and acceleration, but he can prove to be a real value day 3.
NFL Comparison: Deon Bush – CHI
16: Marvell Tell – USC: 70
17: Evan Worthington – Colorado: 68
18: Mike Bell – Fresno State: 68
19: Josh Battle – LSU: 68
20: Delvon Randall – Temple: 67
21: Mike Edwards – Kentucky: 67
22: Saquon Hampton – Rutgers: 67
23: Lukas Denis – Boston College: 66
24: D’Cota Dixon – Wisconsin: 65
25: Dameon Baber – Nevada: 65
** TOP UDFA SLEEPER **
Rob Rolle – Villanova – 6’0/190
*A late bloomer at a small school program, Rolle has been quietly checking several boxes over the past year. He bounced back from a torn ACL in 2017. He put together a really solid workout and his tape screams smarts and instincts. He is a guy that needs time to put more weight on his lanky frame but he is a physical presence right now and should have the NFL body within a year or two.
Similar to how I have felt about the LB position with NYG, I think the organization has really dropped the ball at safety over the last decade. When you get the right pair back there, the right depth, the entire defense can change. I was a huge fan of Collins, but he just couldn’t do it all and because whoever he was paired with was low-level, it exposed his weaknesses far too often. I agreed with the decision to let him walk and I do believe Peppers will bring that role to a higher level for a fraction of the cost. Bethea is a solid veteran presence but I think the move needs to be to get someone young here to develop. While there are stronger, more apparent needs on this roster, if a value like Rapp in round 2 is there, they have to bite. Otherwise, using one of their middle round picks with a bias towards tackling and deep coverage is the way to go. The depth here is scary thin.