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2017 NFL Draft: Ranking the safeties

This draft has an underrated group of safeties, starting with a trio of elite prospects.

The Buffalo Bills will likely address the safety spot early in the 2017 NFL Draft. Here’s a look at my rankings for safety prospects in this class.

Overall, it’s a solid group, with four or five players I believe have the ability to become high-quality players at the NFL level, and a few less refined safeties who do have supreme athleticism on their side.

Instead of placing specific round values on these players, like Dan Lavoie did with his cornerback rankings, they’re placed into “tiers.”

Tier 1

1. Malik Hooker | Ohio State

Height/Weight: 6’1”, 206, Arms: 32 1/4”, Hands: 10 1/2”

Range for daaaays, which is the byproduct of blazing speed and impeccably quick play-recognition skills. Occasional thuds on short, horizontal routes and occasional whiffs in run support. Great size. Long arms. Huge hands. As close to an ideal free-safety prospect as you’re going to get. NFL comparison: Earl Thomas

2. Obi Melifonwu | UConn

Height/Weight: 6’4”, 224, Arms: 32 1/2”, Hands: 9 1/8”

Enormous safety prospect. Special athlete. Incredibly explosive. Can play and thrive at any secondary position. Some play-reading mishaps, but they’re rare. Flies downhill against the run. Fantastic range down the field. Unique specimen. 44” vertical. 11’9” broad jump, and ran 4.40 in the 40-yard dash, all extraordinary numbers. NFL comparison: George Iloka

3. Marcus Williams | Utah

Height/Weight: 6’1”, 202, Arms: 32 1/2”, Hands: 9 1/2”

A “lite” version of Hooker and Melifonwu. Supreme range from center field thanks to dynamic athleticism and leaping ability. Not a super-aggressive tackler but typically gets the job done. Only 20 years old. Sound awareness and ball skills. Had 43.5-inch vertical and and 10’9” broad jump. NFL comparison:

4. Jamal Adams | LSU

Height/Weight: 6’0”, 214, Arms: 33 3/8”, Hands: 9 1/4”

Do-everything safety who’s not necessarily a superstar in any particular area. Quarterbacks the defense. Almost always in the right position. Missed tackles occur in some instances. Twitchy with solid bulk.


Tier 2

5. Xavier Woods | Louisiana Tech

Height/Weight: 5’11”, 197, Arms: 30 3/8”, Hands: 9 3/8”

Play-maker. You’ll constantly find him around the football regardless of where it is in the field. Lacks imposing size. Aggressive against the run. Adequate traffic-sifter due to quickness and quick key-reading. Understands route combinations and jumps them. Decent range on the backend. Very twitchy change-of-direction ability but not a ridiculous leaper or speed demon. Comfortable sliding down to play cornerback. If he was an inch taller and a little heavier, he’d get Round 1 consideration.

6. Delano Hill | Michigan

Height/Weight: 6’1”, 216, Arms: 32 1/8”, Hands: 9 3/8”

Big, long strong safety with impressive speed. Jack-of-all-trades at back two levels of the defense, although he’s best as a hybrid weakside linebacker. Improved in all four years in college.

7. Justin Evans | Texas A&M

Height/Weight: 6’0”, 199, Arms: 32”, Hands: 9 3/4”

Unafraid, big hitter. Motor is revving in top gear at all times. Occasionally takes bad angles when he flies toward the sideline to lay the lumber. Explosive leaper with quality awareness playing the ball in the air. Overall game needs some refinement, especially when wrapping up. Missed tackles are prevalent. Gets fooled by play-action fakes too often.

8. Marcus Maye | Florida

Height/Weight: 6’0”, 210, Arms: 32 1/2”, Hands: 9 1/8”

Thick, powerful tackler. Missed tackles are rare. Strong safety only. Lacks the foot quickness, top-end speed, and awareness to be trusted down the field in coverage. Not a huge block-shedder. Burst helps him get to the football on underneath routes and in run support.

9. Rayshawn Jenkins | Miami

Height/Weight: 6’1”, 214, Arms: 32 3/4”, Hands: 9 5/8”

(Admittedly, this is a late addition. Somehow, I glossed over watching his film.) He plays with a fast, physical nature as a box safety. Sees a run play on the other side of the field and quickly gets there. Delivers plenty of pop on contact. Adequate ball skills but won’t be a turnover machine in the NFL. Hybrid weakside linebacker / safety with impressive build and twitchy athleticism.

10. Josh Jones | N.C. State

Height/Weight: 6’1”, 220, Arms: 32”, Hands: 9 3/8”

Similar prospect to Maye... with more missed tackles. Superb athlete who relied on his physical talents more than proper alignment and angles in coverage, which led to some big plays being given up. Can play cornerback. Best closest to the line of scrimmage as run-and-chase linebacker / safety.

11. Budda Baker | Washington

Height/Weight: 5’10”, 190, Arms: 30 3/4”, Hands: 9”

Twitchy defender with a knack for making big plays. Everything about his game indicates he’s Tyrann Mathieu-esque, but his lack of height and size hurt him too frequently. Efficient, non-sense blitzer. Can play anywhere — at free safety, slot cornerback, strong safety. Will get overwhelmed by offensive linemen yet can use his quickness to avoid blocks. Good ball skills. Swiss-army knife

12. Tedric Thompson | Colorado

Height/Weight: 6’0”, 204, Arms: 31 1/2”, Hands: 9 5/8”

Ball-hawking free safety who was super productive in the INT department at Colorado. Made most of his plays due to reading quarterback’s progressions and understanding route concepts. Not an explosive athlete. Unreliable tackler in open field and when he comes down in run support.

13. Nate Gerry | Nebraska

Height/Weight: 6’2”, 218, Arms: 31 1/4”, Hands: 9 1/4”

Muscular, versatile safety with occasional hiccups in coverage and when trying to tackle. Very productive in each of his final three seasons in college. Angles are good. Trusts what he sees in front of him and is quick to react, which leads to him being around the football a lot. Strong hands and awareness to get his hands on the football. Too many missed tackles in all areas. Linear athlete. Lacks twitchiness.


Tier 3

14. John Johnson | Boston College

Height/Weight: 6’0”, 208, Arms: 32”, Hands: 9 7/8”

His plus athleticism is what you notice first while watching him. Change-of-direction skills are as impressive as his straight-line speed and leaping ability. Not a bad tackler, just minimal pop, which isn’t the worst thing. Has experience at cornerback. Uses his length well in coverage. Frequently a step or two late to recognize routes and decide where he needs to be.

15. Eddie Jackson | Alabama

Height/Weight: 6’0”, 201, Arms: 32 1/4”, Hands: 9 1/4”

Impressive range and man-to-man ability for not being the speediest safety prospect. Won’t stick his head with much power in run support very often. Dynamic in space. Had seven picks in 2015 and returned two for scores. Can return punts as well. Coming off torn knee-ligament.

16. Malik Golden | Penn State

Height/Weight: 6’0”, 201

Has NFL safety size and length. Good, not great speed. Same goes for his overall athleticism. Not many game-changing plays. Can get sideline-to-sideline to make tackles on outside runs. Has stretch of aggressive run-support, but it’s not consistent. Not at all a spectacular player yet won’t get you into trouble.