clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2023 NFL Combine positional review: Safety targets for the Buffalo Bills

The Bills need safety help with or without Jordan Poyer

NFL: MAR 02 Scouting Combine Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2023 NFL Combine positional review series marches on as we cover a position of true need for the Buffalo Bills, safety. Remember, if you missed any of the previous articles in this series find them here:

We all know that Buffalo’s dynamic duo at safety may go their separate ways after six amazing years. There’s still potential that the Bills bring back Jordan Poyer, but assuming they don’t Buffalo needs to restock the cupboards at safety. Truthfully, even if they do re-sign Jordan Poyer, they need to add players to the group.

Currently, the only true safety with notable starting experience the Bills have under contract in 2023 is Micah Hyde, who missed most of the 2022 season with a neck injury. Read that again and let it sink in a minute. Remember, Damar Hamlin’s future remains uncertain at this point, though he has stated a desire to return to football at some point. One Bills Drive did recently sign free-agent safety Zayne Anderson away from the Kansas City Chiefs to a two-year contract. He figures to be in the mix at the safety position, but I would expect him to contribute mostly to special teams. They also still have safety Jared Mayden on the roster, who they signed from the New York Jets’ practice squad in 2022 when they had a rash of injuries. Cornerback Christian Benford has been rumored as a potential option at safety, but that remains to be seen.

It’s fair to expect the Bills will add a starting-caliber player and some additional competition to this safety group. Let’s take a look at some of the safety options in the 2023 NFL Draft, specifically those who I believe the Bills should consider.

For reference:

  • Day 1 = Round 1
  • Day 2 = Rounds 2 & 3
  • Day 3 = Rounds 4-7

Round 1 Considerations

Brian Branch, Safety (Alabama)

Some people have Branch listed as a corner and some list him as a safety. I list him here as a safety because I think that’s where he would fit in with the Buffalo Bills. Branch’s positional versatility is off the charts. He has played almost everywhere, literally. Branch has lined up at deep safety, nickel corner, linebacker, and even has had reps on the end of the line of scrimmage as a blitzer. To top all that off, he is a productive special teams player. Tell me that isn’t a combination that One Bills Drive wouldn’t be drooling over to add to their roster.

Branch’s 40-yard dash time (4.58 seconds) would have him more suited to be in the safety position where he can let his coverage instincts and football IQ shine. He has the potential to be an immediate impact player in the NFL, and his ability to play multiple positions in the secondary only increases that likely outcome. Branch’s game has a lot of strengths and very few weaknesses. If the Bills decide to pick any defensive back in the first round, it should be Branch.

Day 2 Considerations

You might be wondering why I’m excluding safety Antonio Johnson (Texas A&M) in this list, but that’s on purpose. I think Johnson is a talented safety and I’m sure Buffalo’s interested in him. I just don’t believe he’s a Round 1 talent and I’m confident that Johnson won’t be on the board when the Bills pick in the second round (pick 59). Keep reading for some additional, more realistic options for Day 2.

Sydney Brown, Safety (Illinois)

At 5’10”, some people are worried about Brown’s size to play safety in the NFL, but that doesn’t deter me too much. Weighing 211 pounds and with a well-built frame, he comes loaded with capable power. Brown is a physical player who I see finding success near the box and being a force in the run game. If he wants to reach his full potential, he needs to cut down on his missed tackles — which proved problematic at times. Brown shows flashes of a crazy playmaker and plays with attitude, especially when blitzing. He is aware of his surroundings in zone coverage and is capable of playing low or high zone. If playing man-to-man, Brown likes to get physical; and if he misses his chance he can get in trouble because his back-pedal transitions aren’t the greatest. He ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash, which is more than adequate at the safety position. Brown’s explosion traits can be seen in his 40.5” vertical and 10’10” broad jump. I would let other teams be scared of his height and lack of man-to-man coverage skills, because Brown has play-wrecker written all over him.

Jartavius Martin, Safety (Illinois)

Surprise! Another Illinois safety makes the list. At 5’11” and 194 pounds, Martin might be even more explosive than his running mate Sydney Brown. Martin posted an incredible 44” vertical jump, 4.46-second 40-yard dash, and 11’1” broad jump. His skill set fits really well with today’s NFL. He has the ability to match up with receivers in the slot but also the ability to cover a tight end. Martin is also an aggressor in the run game who plays with high energy. His footwork is nimble and he consistently stays “in phase” during route coverage. Martin also has the range and speed to be an over-the-top safety. He has natural instincts when playing the position but can get himself in trouble if he plays overly aggressive. Martin’s type of athleticism provides lots of coverage options for the defense, and I think the Bills would benefit from his versatility — especially if Poyer leaves in free agency.

Ji’Ayir Brown, Safety (Penn State)

Brown posted the third-slowest 40-yard dash time for a safety at the NFL Combine, running it in 4.65 seconds. Certainly that’s a little disappointing, as anything above a 4.6-second 40-yard dash time starts to concern me about speed at the safety position. However, Brown plays faster than this on tape and he can improve upon this at his pro day. Speed is less important at the safety position than at corner — safety play tends to rely more on instincts, reading keys, and anticipation.

The Bills already met with the versatile Brown at the combine. He can play everywhere teams would need a safety to play — free over top, in the slot, and he even offers some thump from the box in the run game. Brown is a high-energy player who’s determined to make plays. Even though his straight-line speed isn’t elite, he shows short-area burst to close in on routes. Recording 10 interceptions in two seasons, Brown has the production to match these characteristics. He is susceptible to play action and misdirection; he needs to work more on seeing the whole field and react accordingly. Brown’s speed may push him down draft boards, but I don’t think it should deter Buffalo from giving him a look.

Check out Brown's ability to track down a deep ball up the sideline in the video below. Picture him in Cover 2 zone with half-field responsibilities and cutting off a go-route down the sideline.

Day 3 Considerations

Daniel Scott, Safety (California)

Daniel Scott’s center fielder abilities remind me a little bit of Micah Hyde; they both seem like the glide across the turf when breaking on a deep ball. Scott has a lot going right for him in terms of the things the Buffalo Bills value — team captain, four-phase special teams player, good character. The fifth-year senior plays with an aggressive attitude and has the propensity to be a big hitter. This style of play is great to have but it does occasionally get Scott into trouble. There are instances where he looks out of control, resulting in missed tackles or being out of position. Scott’s physical nature is a positive in run support and is helpful when closing in on receivers. He has prototypical size at 6’1” and 208 pounds. Scott also tested well at the combine:

  • 40-yard dash = 4.45 seconds
  • Vertical jump = 39.5”
  • Broad jump = 10’8”

He’s best suited as a high safety in a zone-based scheme. Scott isn’t the greatest man-to-man player and struggles when matched up against wide receivers. His size and special teams prowess will get him drafted, and he has the upside to develop into a starting NFL safety. Brown is one of my favorite late-round defensive backs in this year’s draft class, and the Bills should consider him with one of their Day 3 picks.

Chamarri Conner, Safety (Virginia Tech)

Conner was a two-time captain for the Hokies and started four years at VT. He began his journey as a nickel corner and moved to safety at the back end of his college career. Conner likes to be physical and is a plus defender in run support. He’s capable of defending in the slot against tight ends or receivers but also showed adequate abilities as a true safety. Conner did himself some favors by testing well at the combine, but this explosiveness doesn’t always show up on film. He ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash and jumped 40.5” in the vertical. Conner projects as special teams contributor and a solid depth option in the NFL. He has great leadership qualities and is regarded as being a high-character player. I expect the Bills will like these qualities and give him consideration on Day 3 of the NFL Draft.

In summary

Buffalo’s safety group is rail thin right now and the lack of players will need to be addressed more than once — probably in both free agency and the draft. The Bills have options on all three days of the 2023 NFL Draft and it will be interesting to see who they target.

Next up on the positional review series we switch to the offense! Stay tuned for an in-depth look at the wide receivers I think the Bills should consider on draft day.