New York Giants 2020 NFL Draft Preview: Safeties
Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number mean, 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
Julian Love made the move from cornerback to safety prior to the season. The 4th round rookie (who I had a 1st round grade on) didn’t see the field much until Jabrill Peppers went down with an injury. Love filled the role well, a role that was more nickel linebacker / slot defender than it was a true deep half safety. Peppers will be back, but Antoine Bethea will not. One can quickly assume Love will move into vacated role created by Bethea’s departure but it can be disputed if he can handle the deep coverage responsibilities, as that wasn’t the role he stepped into last year. You don’t want Peppers back there, either. Sean Chandler and Nate Ebner are best suited for special teams.
This is a position I have been banging the table for NYG to address. Safety has become such an important piece to the defense with rule changes and abundance of tight ends + slots + running backs running routes. Last year I wanted them to draft Chauncey Gardner-Johnson over Ximines, in 2017 I wanted to draft Desmond King over Wayne Gallman, and in 2016 I wanted them to draft Justin Simmons over Darian Thompson. In diagnosing what this team needs most, I am surprised many don’t speak about safety as it has been such a weak point to the defense for years.
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
- Grant Delpit / LSU / 6’3 – 213
Summary: Junior entry. Three year starter from Houston, Texas. A two time consensus All American. Winner of the 2019 Jim Thorpe Award. Delpit came into the 2019 season with sky-high, borderline unrealistic expectations to reach after his All American, Nagurski Award Finalist 2018 campaign. A bum ankle and a slightly less productive season caused credible and legitimate questions surrounding who and what Delpit is on the field. Make no mistake here, Delpit can be the face of a defense that will produce across the board. He is the kind of player who every defensive coach wants to work with because of his versatility and toughness. He will be an important, productive player in the league.
*Delpit didn’t reach the elite tier that many placed him in prior to the season. I think he is somewhat a victim of unfair expectations that ultimately led to many placing the “overrated” label on him. I never saw Delpit as a top 10 kind of guy. But he does everything you want a safety to do, some of his 2019 tape has to be taken with a grain of salt because of the ankle injury, and he is a coach’s favorite. Don’t expect Derwin James or Earl Thomas here, but you are safe to assume he is a year 1 contributor, if not solid starter.
- Xavier McKinney / Alabama / 6’0 – 201
Summary: Junior entry. Two year starter from Roswell, Georgia. 2019 All American and First Team All SEC. McKinney was a do-it-all safety for Nick Saban’s defense, making plays against the pass, the run, and on special teams. He is a versatile, rangy, aggressive weapon for the defense that reacts and closes as fast as anyone can at the position. He is a hustler who will bring swagger to the defense he gets drafted to. He has some on-field discipline issues that can get exposed in the NFL, thus he will need some extra time to adjust to the speed and complexity of the game. His upside is sky-high if he is put into the right situation and he applies himself.
*McKinney plays a high risk, high reward style which isn’t a fit for every scheme. But for the teams that can tolerate, borderline feet of that, he is going to be graded highly and I do think he has a shot at being the top safety off the board. I love his burst and ability to close, if he can develop that movement into coverage, watch out.
- Kyle Dugger / Lenoir-Rhyne / 6’1 – 217
Summary: Sixth year senior entry from Decatur, Georgia. A two time 1st Team All South Athletic Conference honoree and one time 2nd Team. Winner of the 2019 Cliff Harris Award, given to the best defensive player in Division II despite playing in an injury shortened season (hand). Dugger has the attractive tool set and dominant- play at a lower level of college football to make him a credible draft prospect. He looked like a man among boys and that was evident athletically whenever he got the ball in his hands. He was just too big and fast, thus why he was an All American punt returner, a spot he netted 6 touchdowns. As good as Dugger looks on paper, he will be a 24 year old rookie, has had a couple durability issues, and is making an enormous jump on competition and speed. Safety is a tough position to walk off the bus from Division II and play right away, but it has been done before. His role should be limited early but the upside could be Pro Bowl-caliber.
*Another guy here who could end up being the top safety selected based on scheme and team need. Dugger is a wildcard. He dominated the combine, he looked excellent at the Senior Bowl, he was on another level among his opponents in college. He was offered to play up in competition in 2019 but he wanted to stay loyal to his teammates and coaches at Lenoir-Rhyne. He checks almost every box but the jump in speed/size is going to be a major adjustment and there are some red flags stemming from durability. I like him, but I am keeping my round 2 grade on him despite many telling me not to do so.
- Antoine Winfield Jr / Minnesota / 5’9 – 203
Summary: Fourth year sophomore entry. Four year starter (including his two 4-game seasons) from The Woodlands, Texas. The son of former Jim Thorpe Award winner and 14-year NFL cornerback Antoine Winfield. A 2019 1st Team All American and Big 10 Defensive Back of the Year. 2019 Bronko Nagurski Finalist. After a hot start to his career as a true freshman in 2016, Winfield played in just 8 games over the next 2 years combined with separate lower body injuries. He bounced back in a big way in 2019, his true senior season, leading the country with 7 interceptions while also leading the Gophers in tackles. Winfield gets around the action as often as anyone and he proved he can make things happen when he gets there. He plays bigger and tougher than his size, making him a solid last line of defense in any scheme. Winfield will have durability and red flags next to his name, but this kid is a gamer who impacts the game in several ways.
*I’ll say this, if Winfield hadn’t had durability issues early in his career and he was just a few inches bigger/longer, he would likely be the top safety on my board. I love his style, I love the bloodlines, I love his versatility. I actually think he could come in and be a starting nickel right away if needed, but will also be able to play an Earl Thomas-type deep safety role down the road.
- JR Reed / Georgia / 6’1 – 202
Summary: Fifth year senior from Frisco, Texas. Began his career at Tulsa, as an injury sustained his senior year of high school nearly derailed his recruitment. Son of former NFL wide receiver Jake Reed and nephew of former NFL defensive back Dale Carter. Reed transferred to Georgia in 2016 and proceeded to start three years for the Bulldogs. He earned All SEC honors twice and was named a 2019 All American and Thorpe Award finalist. Even though Reed will be a 24 year old rookie, his potential to be a long time starter in the league is as high as anyone. He lacks the ideal standout physical traits, but the intelligence he plays with and knack to locate the action quickly will make him an asset for any defense. His playing speed and strength is good enough, and the coach’s favorite with NFL bloodlines will get himself onto the field early.
*I had Reed at the top of this group early in the year. The top trait I look for in a safety centers around instincts and quick decision making. There may not be a safety in the class who gets near and to the action as much as Reed does, but I do have to acknowledge there is less talent here, he is playing with a lesser deck of cards. I still see a guy who will start at some point though, he’s no slouch when it comes to speed and strength. Maybe just a limited ceiling type.
- Ashtyn Davis / California / 6’1 – 202
Summary: Sixth year senior from Santa Cruz, California. Three year starter who saw the majority of his time at safety, but has also started at cornerback and filled the nickel corner spot sporadically. 2nd Team All Pac 12 in 2019 after being named 1st Team in 2018 when he led the Pac 12 with 4 interceptions. Davis originally arrived at Cal as a track athlete where he was a very accomplished hurdler. His athletic gifts are noteworthy and he translates them to the field well. Davis is a fast and rangy safety who can fill cornerback roles where needed. He was also an incredibly effective special teamer and returner. There is a lot a team can do with Davis and if his body continues to develop, he will be an every down threat for a defense against the run and pass.
*Davis has a plus-versatility grade that may cause a team to take him as high as the top of round 2. He has proven he can play corner, nickel, and deep safety. He is one of the best athletes in the entire safety group, too, maybe the best. I get a little nervous with his ability to hold up physically and there were too many negative plays I had from tape to put him up there, but I still see a guy who could end up starting in the league.
- Julian Blackmon / Utah / 6’0 – 187
Summary: Senior entry from Layton, Utah. Three year starter who made the move from cornerback to safety in 2019. Two time 2nd Team All Pac 12 at corner and a 1st Team All Pac 12 safety in addition to being named 2nd Team All American as a senior. Blackmon’s move to safety was likely in the forecast as a pro and the fact he did so before his senior season and excelled the way he did is a good sign. His lack of fluidity in his hips isn’t as much of an issue there and this is the spot he can really use his range in pursuit and downhill pop as a weapon. Blackmon is a fast read and react player who will be physical but also make plays on the ball. His knee injury suffered in the Pac 12 Championship will delay the start of his career, but he should be ready to contribute towards the second half of the 2020 season. A versatile defensive back who should be able to start within a year or two.
*The knee injury caused me to bump him down a notch, thus you can see I had a higher grade on him than most. Blackmon’s position change to safety was one that benefited him greatly. The lack of size is a concern, he will need to add functional bulk over his first year or two in the league. But I still see a guy who can contribute as a nickel safety at some point in 2020.
- Geno Stone / Iowa / 5’10 -207
Summary: Junior entry from New Castle, Pennsylvania. A two year starter who was 2nd Team All Big 10 in 2019, Honorable Mention in 2018. Stone was a jack of all trades chess piece for the Iowa defense who was all over the field. He was used in a variety of ways because of his quickness to the ball and ability to finish. He is a blue-collar player who will help a defense in multiple roles. He shouldn’t be trusted in deep coverage, as he doesn’t have the range and catch up speed and it won’t be ideal to have him in consistent man coverage. Allow him to play downhill and pursue the action and he will be a productive player. He will be an effective special teamer early on and can provide solid-package defense with the upside of being a starter down the road.
*Stone is a fun player to watch, plain and simple. He flies around the field, he is short but stout, and he instills energy into others. Because of that, some place too high of a grade on him. There are speed and size issues here and while they aren’t deal breakers, he is going to be fighting an uphill battle. He is a solid, early day 3 guy who could play the Peppers role as a backup.
- Jeremy Chinn / Southern Illinois / 6’3 – 221
Summary: Senior entry from Fishers, Indiana. Four year starter who earned 2nd Team All MVFC honors in 2017, 1st Team in both 2018 and 2019 in addition to being named a 2nd Team All American as a senior. Chinn played a versatile role throughout college and there is a chance his tool set will cause some teams to experiment with him at cornerback. He may be oversized for the position, but Chinn plays really fast and long. His range and physical play could be a matchup nightmare for tight ends and receivers alike, but his feel in zone coverage just isn’t there. He will come into the league with a tool set that needs to be patiently developed, but he has starter upside.
*Chinn is probably going to go day 2 from what I’ve heard. I am keeping him at the top of day 3 though, and I won’t budge. I see a high upside athlete with plus size but he doesn’t play with fast eyes and I don’t see him forecasting very well. Maybe in a reaction-based role he can get a higher outlook, but he is similar to Dugger just a notch below in pretty much everything across the board.
- Terrell Burgess / Utah / 5’11 – 202
Summary: Senior entry from San Marcos, California. One year starter who has been changed positions multiple times. Was a hybrid receiver/defensive back as a freshman before making the full time move to defense. Burgess played both cornerback and safety as a backup to both spots before being named the starting strong safety as a senior in 2019. He took his opportunity and ran with it, being named Honorable Mention All Pac 12. He was the leader of that defense and was lauded for his preparation, on-field IQ, and versatility. Burgess has some physical limitations but his intelligence and ability to change his skin in the defensive backfield is an attractive asset. He can be a third safety who gets on the field right away in nickel situations.
*All the NYG coaches seem to be on the same page in regard to their value on versatility and football intelligence. Burgess has pretty much played every role that exists in the secondary, he was the mental-leader of the Utah defense, and he ran a 4.46 at the combine. The fact he only started for a year is a red flag, but it could also mean someone is going to get a bargain with him because he isn’t even scratching the surface of what he can be yet. I see a nickel/dime defender here, roles that are becoming more and more important.
- Brandon Jones / Texas / 5’11 – 198
Summary: Senior entry from Nacogdoches, Texas. Three year starter who finished with All Big 12 honors both seasons. Jones is the kind of player who is going to find multiple ways to help a defense. He can play a single high role, stemming from his ability to anticipate and quickly react to the ball. He can play in the box, stemming from his aggressive downhill nature and finisher’s punch as a tackler. He can contribute on special teams, as seen with his career that includes multiple blocked punts and 11+ yards per punt return. Jones is a smart player with sneaky speed who does a lot for a defense that won’t show up in the box score. He is going to produce more than many players drafted ahead of him.
*Jones doesn’t have the ideal size or speed, but his feel for the game and consistent production across multiple roles will get him drafted by a team that wants a fourth or fifth safety who can backup different spots. This kind of player can find a fit in any scheme.
- Josh Metellus / Michigan / 5’11 – 209
Summary: Senior entry from Pembroke Pines, Florida. Three year starter who was named All Big 10 three straight years. Metellus has been a mainstay on the Wolverines defense for years, playing a leader-of-the-secondary role who is often lining up in different spots down to down. He makes good reads both pre and post snap and will make the plays that are in front of him. Metellus doesn’t have any standout physical traits but he is dependable and versatile. He won’t be a playmaker week to week, but the safety net he provides across multiple roles is often exactly what teams need as their last line of defense.
*I like this guy as a key special teams contributor and extra run defender. You know, nickel corners/safeties need to be able to tackle. A growing trend in the league is for offenses to audible to running or screen passes when extra defensive backs come on the field. Metellus can tackle like a linebacker and he has shown good production against the pass. He can be an important player right away, but don’t expect too much.
- Jordan Fuller / Ohio State / 6’2 – 203
Summary: Senior entry from Old Tappan, New Jersey. Three year starter who ended his career on the 1st Team All Big 10 squad. The two-time team captain was a standout student who graduated early and has received a lot of positive attention for what he does off the field, a very high character young man. On the field, Fuller is a balanced threat in the secondary who has the pro-caliber triangle numbers and every down capabilities. He is best when the action is in front of him, as he can explode downhill with fast reactions. He doesn’t always show ideal instincts and feel, but if he is put into the right role in the right safety tandem, he can be a quality starter.
*Fuller is pretty average across the board but what I like about him, he doesn’t hurt the defense. It was hard to find real negative plays on his tape. I don’t know if I can trust him in deep coverage and I don’t see him taking on receivers in man, but he can be a guy who helps prevent big plays if there is enough help around him. Smart, good kid who coaches will want in the locker room.
- K’Von Wallace / Clemson / 5’11 – 206
Summary: Senior entry from Highland Springs, Virginia. Three year starter who earned Honorable Mention All ACC in 2018, 3rd Team in 2019. Wallace lacks standout traits to sill a specific role at a high level, but he is a physical downhill force who will bring energy to a defense and special teams. His lack of long speed and fluidity in his hips can make him a liability in man and/or deep coverage, but he can perform well in the box most notably in a zone scheme. His upside has a low cap on hit but he is a safe bet to provide quality backup presence and solid special teams play.
*Wallace is a quick and physical downhill guy who controlled a lot of the calls on the Clemson defense. Like Fuller, it is hard to find plays where he really hurts the defense. I think he is a safe and reliable bet to provide quality depth but, also like Fuller, don’t expect him to make a lot of plays in coverage.
- Antoine Brooks Jr./ Maryland / 5’11 – 220
Summary: Senior entry from Lanham, Maryland. Three year starter. Two time 2nd Team All Big 10 and one time Honorable Mention. 2019 Team MVP Award winner. Brooks was a high school quarterback who made the full time move to the defensive side upon arrival and steadily increased his level of play. He is an aggressive, downhill attacker who will make plenty of tackles in space and help enhance a team’s physical outlook. His capabilities and overall upside against the pass will be limited, however. He can’t stick to slot receivers, won’t be big enough against tight ends, and doesn’t have lateral range in deep zone. Perhaps not an every down player, Brooks can still make an impact but teams can’t put a ton on his plate.
*Be careful with where you put Brooks, as he will be the guy an opposing offense looks at and attacks in the passing game. He needs to be protected. That said, he is a force against the running game and will enforce a physical nature across the middle. Also, he will be a special teams weapon.
*PLEASE NOTE – Khaleke Hudson (Michigan) and Tanner Muse (Clemson) are on my LB board
16: Kenny Robinson / West Virgina: 70
17: L”Jarius Sneed / SMU: 70
18: Rodney Clemons / Louisiana Tech: 69
19: Brian Cole II / Mississippi State: 69
20: Jalynn Hawkins / California: 69
21: Chris Miller / Baylor: 68
22: Alohi Gilman / Notre Dame: 68
23: Shyheim Carter / Alabama: 68
24: James Hendricks / North Dakota State: 68
25: Jalen Elliot / Notre Dame: 68
As I said earlier, the deep safety spot has been a weak point to this defense for years. I think the Peppers/Love duo has some potential, but I don’t think either one of them fills exactly what NYG needs back there. It is a door that is WIDE open, not in a good way. There won’t be any safeties in this class worth taking at #4, or even if they trade down unless we are talking about the last 7-9 picks of round 1. Round 2 the safety discussion can begin if one of the top 3 or 4 guys are available, although Dugger isn’t the fit for NYG’s current situation. The more I try to project, the more I see this being an option in rounds 3-4-5. The names I think are worth considering for the role they need to fill are and likely will be available are JR Reed, Julian Blackmon, and Jordan Fuller. Otherwise, you are looking at a late day 3 gamble who you can cross your fingers on.