New York Giants 2017 NFL Draft Preview: Safeties
by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56
WHERE THEY STAND
One of my best value picks of the 2015 NFL Draft, Landon Collins, broke out in a big way in his sophomore season. The two way threat made several All Pro teams and appears to be a cornerstone of this defense moving forward. The spot next to him continues to be a revolving door, however. Darian Thompson, Mykkele Thompson, and Nat Berhe combined for more missed games than actual games on the field. In their absence, UDFA Andrew Adams showed some promise. All four will compete for the starting job this summer but it looks like the 2016 3rd rounder Thompson has the inside track. All in all this group is young and versatile, but also unproven outside of Collins.
TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS
1 – Jamal Adams – 6’0/211 – LSU: 91
Summary: Junior entry that was a factor in the loaded Tigers’ backfield from day one of his college career. Adams was an All American in 2016 and may be the top safety prospect to come out in over a decade. His game can factor on any play in any situation against any opponent. He is at his best in the box and in pursuit. There is a natural gravitation towards the action and a rare ability to close and finish. The athletic tools he possesses are rare and very functional on the field. Adams can easily be moved around and his impact will always be felt. The intangibles and leadership qualities in addition give him the franchise player caliber-level.
*Adams can make a case for being the top overall player in this class. He doesn’t have the ideal size but by no means can he be considered small. He has longer arms than some offensive linemen and a frame that will easily add 10 pounds when all is said and done. Adams can fill every role, including nickel CB, based on the situation. I love how he can sniff things out and finish plays off. Very smart, intelligent, hard working. Motor always on. He is a guy a defense can be built around and to be honest, if I am CLE a #1, I would consider him.
Upside Pro Comparison: Eric Berry – KC
2 – Malik Hooker – 6’1/206- Ohio State: 84
Summary: Third year sophomore entry. Just a one year starter that took full advantage of his time in the spotlight, earning 1st Team All American honors. Second in the nation with 7 interceptions and very high quality play in the box. Hooker is still very green in comparison to other prospects. He’s only been playing football for five years which is almost hard to believe because of the high level of instincts and awareness he plays with. One has to believe the arrow is still very much pointing up for him. His issues revolve around the physical presence of the game. He misses more tackles than a safety should and there have been times where he shies from contact. His surgically repaired shoulder shouldn’t decrease his grade much, if at all. There is always risk with one year starters, but his upside is through the roof.
*I have never seen a prospect that reminded me so much of Ed Reed, the guy that I think should be considered the top safety of all time. Hooker has such a natural feel and instinct for anticipating throws and routes. Excellent ball skills with some of the biggest hands you will ever find (yes, that matters to scouts). His issues, however, are a lack of experience and iffy tackling. Despite those issues I still have a high grade on him and even though I see a second coming here, I have to admit Hooker may be one of the bigger risks of the class.
Upside Pro Comparison: Ed Reed – RET
3 – Desmond King – 5’11/200- Iowa: 83
Summary: Four year starter and 2015 Jim Thorpe Award winner. Opposing offenses avoided throwing him the ball in 2016 for the most part, hence the drop in production. However he looked just as good, if not better on tape and will be one of the most versatile defensive backs in this class. King can play a cover 2 cornerback role with his ability to anticipate and react. If a team wants to roam him as a safety, he has more than enough physical presence and versatility on coverage to more than hold his own. The lack of ideal size and speed can limit him, but this kid is a playmaker that will help much more often than a hurt a defense.
*I came in to the year with King right under DE Jonathan Allen as my top senior prospect. Her e we are, the week of the draft, and King is still at or near that spot. The question here is, what position does he play? As a CB, he is graded a tad lower but not much (81). King doesn’t have the ideal size for safety, nor does he have the ideal speed for CB. But at the end of the day I think he can play both in the NFL and would benefit from a nickel, third-safety type role. He is an elite tackler for the defensive backfield and he may be one of the smartest players in this class. I’ll take a kid like this every day and know you have a guy that could actually play both spots at a high level.
Upside Pro Comparison: Jairus Byrd – FA
4 – Budda Baker – 5’10/192 – Washington: 83
Summary: Junior entry and three year starter. 1st Team All Pac 12 two years in a row. The former 100 M state champion was a huge get for Washington in the recruiting process. His career has been on the uptick from the beginning and despite a lack of size and strength, he has had as much impact on the team’s defense as anyone. Baker is a natural lead by example type with his never-off engine and presence all over the field. He can impact the game several ways. There is cornerback-caliber lower body movement in man coverage and a feel for deep zone coverage that is hard to find. He may not be a bruiser in the box, but he’ll get the ball carrier to the ground. He can do it all.
*Hard not to enjoy how this guy plays. We are talking about an all out, all the time versatile threat that, with the right defensive mind calling the shots, can put him in a position to make a deep impact on the game each week. The size is a glaring issue and there no arguing that. While he is a very good tackler, the ability to hold up considering his size is questionable. Baker needs to play a split slot CB/roaming safety role. I’m not sure he would hack it as a traditional safety.
Upside Pro Comparison: Tyrann Mathieu – ARI
5 – Marcus Maye – 6’0/212 – Florida: 81
Summary: Fifth year senior. Three year starter that has quietly been one of the best players on the Gators defense over that span. He was named an All American in 2015 but a broken arm in November ended his senior campaign short. Maye doesn’t have a lone standout trait to his game. However his all around, balanced abilities and skills can give a secondary versatility and reliability. He has plenty of experience in the box, in man coverage, and in deep zone. He is at his best when playing near the line of scrimmage, but he is no slouch in the other areas. Maye can be a starter early in his career.
*I’m not sure how many people have a 1st round grade on Maye, but I don’t really care. He is a versatile threat that tackles as well as anyone. This is the kind of defender you want as your last line of defense. Really intelligent, instinctive player. Pro-ready week 1 and I think he can be a starter for NYG right away if they were able to snag him in round 2 or 3. A lot of these safeties in this class lack a power presence and/or speed. Maye has both and he plays smart.
Upside Pro Comparison: Eric Reid – SF
6 – John Johnson – 6’0/202 – Boston College: 79
Summary: Fourth year senior that blossomed his senior year, showing a versatile skill set that can be used in deep coverage as well as near the line of scrimmage. Johnson isn’t a household name, but he is as quick and instinctive as any of the safeties in this class. Johnson has the athletic ability to match up with receivers in man coverage but also makes an impact as a downhill tackler. He has all the range and easy reactions to factor in zone coverage. For schemes that like to intertwine their safeties, Johnson can be viewed as an early day 2 pick.
*I’m higher on Johnson than anyone I’ve seen out there. I simply believe his arrow is really pointing up at this point and the he can be had before he proves to everyone there is a lot of talent here. Such a fluid mover and quick reaction based player that tackles well. He could use some more meat on those bones and in time, he likely well. Whoever gets him is going to be very happy 3 years from now.
Upside Pro Comparison: Glover Quin – DET
7 – Jabrill Peppers – 5’11/213 – Michigan: 79
Summary: Third year sophomore entry. Had a ton of buzz surrounding him out of high school. Was jostled around position-wise but spent the majority of his snaps at linebacker in 2016. Peppers is a jack-of-all trades prospect, almost to a fault. There is no denying that his ability with the ball in his hands is elite. However, as a defensive prospect, there are several holes in his game. There may not be enough skills and instincts for the defensive backfield, and there aren’t any linebackers at his size. Drafting Peppers will be a risk for a few reasons, the main one being trying to choose what he is best at and let him develop from there.
*Here it is. The most polarizing prospect in the entire draft. So much of me wants to say this kid is a top 5 player and will impact the league multiple ways for a decade. The other side tells me he isn’t a football player. He has been a superior athlete at that’s what made him a quality asset to a team. Now he is entering a league where, to be frank, he is slightly above average athletically. I can speak about Peppers for hours but to sum it up, he is a guy without a true position. That can be a good thing in the right scheme, or a bad thing in the wrong scheme. And I will take this to my grave…he would be a better RB in the league than defensive player. While he doesn’t meet the grade for #23 overall…it would be exciting to see this kid in blue.
Upside Pro Comparison: Keanu Neal – ATL
8 – Obi Melifonwu – 6’4/224 – Connecticut: 78
Summary: Fifth year senior that never left the starting lineup since week one of his redshirt freshman season. A consistently productive and versatile player that ended up on the 1st Team All American Athletic conference list in 2016. Melifonwu is sure to get several scouts and coaches excited about his through the roof upside. The combination of tools may be among the best in the class and he proved that he is more than a model. Melifonwu has a developed skill set and knows how to impact the game several ways. There are some vitals he needs to clean up, mainly tackling, but this kid is pro-ready right away. He can be a starter on most teams.
*This kid is one of those “Greek God” looking guys. He gets off the bus and you wonder how a human being can look like he does. And you know what? He is actually a player. Some teams are actually looking at him as a CB because of how fluid he can move and he showed a ton of promise in press coverage. Very unique player but I still consider him very raw. Borderline hesitant and not secure in his decision making yet. If he blossoms, he can be a star.
Upside Pro Comparison: George Iloka – CIN
9 – Rayshawn Jenkins – 6’1/214 – Miami: 77
Summary: Fifth year senior that missed 2014 while recovering from a back injury that occurred during offseason weight training. Jenkins started for three years. The 3rd Team All SEC safety plays a physical brand and has the size to back it up. He can knock ball carriers in to tomorrow but also shows advanced footwork and awareness in coverage. He wore a lot of hats for that Canes defense. You’ll get a high effort, intense, physical guy here that can be moved around a bit.
*Jenkins is an interesting guy. One of 16 children growing up, he plays the game as hungry and intense as anyone. Leader of the defense type. The former high school running back and track champion will be a special teams demon week 1 and could likely physically start in year one as well. I don’t think he will ever be a star but you may not need him to be. He will be reliable,physical, and fast.
Upside Pro Comparison: Morgan Burnett – GB
10 – Xavier Woods – 5’11/197 – Louisiana Tech: 77
Summary: Four year starter and three time 1st Team All Conference USA member. 17 interceptions over his final three years is the number that stands out from Woods. He has cornerback type traits and could likely fill the nickel role on some teams that want more physical presence at that spot. Woods has some of the best instincts and awareness of all the players in this class. He is always in the right place mentally and his movement ability is near top notch. Woods is overlooked but I bet he gets drafted sooner than some think.
*I like this kid a lot. Some things, mostly his size, tell me not to put him this high on this list but at the end of the day, he isn’t much smaller than most of these fellow safeties. Woods is always moving in the right direction and I think he can fit in to any scheme and wear multiple hats. Maybe never a big time player, but he can contribute early in different roles.
Upside Pro Comparison: Micah Hyde – BUF
11 – Justin Evans – 6’0/199 – Texas A& M: 77
Summary: Fourth year senior that played and started for two years at Texas A& M. The former junior college standout earned 2nd Team All SEC honors in 2016, displaying an all-over-the-field style of play. Evans is an outstanding athlete for the position that will lay the lumber to oncoming ball carriers but also factor in deep coverage. He can wear multiple hats for a defensive backfield, but must show he can do a better job of reading receivers and quarterbacks before he can be relied on. He takes too many false steps for a position that needs to rely on instincts, feel, and anticipation. If he can harness his aggression and add some bulk, he can be a quality starter.
*Exciting player to watch. Plays with a chip on his shoulder and his presence is bugger than his listed size. That said, I think he is on the very thin side and it always worries me when a player with his frame plays at hard as he does. Will he hold up? We are talking about hitting a different breed of athletes in the NFL. Evans is almost over-aggressive and is often catching up from missed reads. Sometimes it helps, but sometimes it just kills a defense. All or nothing in more ways than one.
Upside Pro Comparison: Quintin Demps – CHI
12 – Josh Jones – 6’1/220 – NC State: 75
Summary: Junior entry. Full time starter for two and a half years that has somewhat flown under the radar. Jones is a productive-across-the-board defender that totaled eight interceptions over his career in addition to be an aggressive run defender that flies all over the field. His tools are top notch, but mentally he shows too many lapses in concentration and an overall lack of instincts. He’ll need to show he can play with more discipline before he can be depended on as a last line of defense.
*For teams that are looking for more size and presence among a safety group that is pretty undersized as a whole, Jones may be higher on their board. He is a great downfield, physical tackler that will react as fast as anyone. He can close that 10-15 yard window as quick as anyone. What Jones consistently did poorly, however, was read quarterbacks and receivers. He got fooled weekly and sometimes, very badly. Does he have instincts? If not, I wouldn’t want him. If he can clean that up, he has a very high ceiling.
Upside Pro Comparison: Reshad Jones – MIA
13 – Nate Gerry – 6’2/218 – Nebraska: 75
Summary: Fourth year senior with three years of starting experience. In each of those three years, he was a part of the Big 10 All Conference team. Gerry played a hybrid LB/S role for this defense but n 2016 he saw more deep coverage duties in which he performed admirably. Gerry will be drafted for his run defending presence, but he has proven he is not a major liability on coverage. Still a limited athlete, Gerry can be a solid compliment to a coverage safety.
*Gerry was suspended for the team’s bowl game this past year because of academics. I wouldn’t call it a character red flag though. Gerry plays the game physical and borderline dirty. He likes to be a bully and some teams will love that about him. He is an enforcer that is athletic enough to carry tight ends up the seam. I wouldn’t trust him in deep coverage or in a matchup against NFL WRs, but he can find a role.
Upside Pro Comparison: JJ Wilcox – TB
14 – Marcus Williams – 6’0/205 – Utah: 75
Summary: Started through all four years of his career, earning all conference honors in 2015 and 2016. Despite missing some time this past season with a knee injury, Williams proved to be one of the top ballhawks in the class. He shows a very advanced skill set when it comes to getting himself in position and making plays on the ball. Even though he has a good reputation of constantly being in or near the action, Williams was too easily fooled and let up a lot of big plays. As a last line of defense in the secondary, he needs to do a better jump of diagnosing what is real and what is not. In addition, his frame needs more meat so that he can add a presence to his tackling rather than getting knocked backwards so often. Developmental, potential starter down the road.
*Most will have this guy as a day 2 pick, but I’m not quite there with him. Williams is very good when the ball is in the air. He can high point the ball and position his body well. What concerns me though is a lack of quick twitch and unplanned movement. He isn’t a good reaction guy and combining that with a lack of tackling presence, I just see too little impact between his turnovers. Sure he can make some plays in specific situations but I just think it is too specific.
Upside Pro Comparison: Mike Mitchell – PIT
BEST OF THE REST (15-29)
15 – Delano Hill – 6’1/216 – Michigan: 75
16 – Tedric Thompson – 6’0/204 – Colorado: 74
17 – Randall Goforth – 5’10/186 – UCLA: 72
18 – Jonathan Ford – 5’11/205 – Auburn: 72
19 – David Jones – 6’1/205 – Richmond: 71
20 – Eddie Jackson – 6’0/201 – Alabama: 71
21 – Lorenzo Jerome – 5’10/204 – St. Francis: 70
22 – Jamal Carter – 6’0/218 – Miami: 70
23 – Derek Barnett – 6’0/192 – Kansas State: 70
24 – Donald Payne – 6’0/217 – Stetson – 70
25 – Montae Nicholson – 6’2/212 – Michigan State: 70
26 – Ahmad Thomas – 6’0/217 – Oklahoma: 69
27 – Shalom Luani – 5’11/202 – Washington State: 68
28 – Josh Harvey-Clemons – 6’4/217 – Louisville: 67
29 – Orion Stewart – 6’0/203 – Baylor: 67
With potential superstar Landon Collins in place for the near future, it’s important this team finds someone to put next to him. If you’re traditional, the ideal battery mate should be able to play the deep centerfield role whole Collins is roaming all over the field and creeping up towards the line of scrimmage often. Darian Thompson looks like he has the proper blend of tools, size, and instincts to at least warrant the opportunity. In addition, it appears he will be fully healthy and ready to rock before summer. However, like I said last year I’m not sure he can hold up with his style of play and lack of a sturdy frame. And is he really that much of a factor in coverage? I don’t see it. This safety class has a few guys that can wear the multiple hats you want a safety to show. I’m looking at a Budda Baker in round 2 or someone like Xavier Woods in round 4. Guys that can play some nickel CB but also the deep cover safety when called upon. In addition, Collins could use a quality backup, a guy that plays the run hard and can move with tight ends. Late day 3 there perhaps.