NFL Draft 400: Ranking the Draft's Top Safeties

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterApril 10, 2017

NFL Draft 400: Ranking the Draft's Top Safeties

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The 2017 NFL draft class features elite talents at the top of the board in Texas A&M's Myles Garrett and LSU's Leonard Fournette. After that? This is one of the deepest classes in the six years I've been scouting at Bleacher Report.

    Stacking the board top to bottom for the '17 class was no easy task. There are a legitimate record-breaking number of first-round talents on my board. Outside of Round 1, it was easy to imagine putting 60 of the top players into the top 40. If you can't find starters in Round 4 of this class, you're doing it wrong.

    So who is the best overall? How about the best at each position? The goal of the NFL Draft 400 series is to figure that out.

    The top 400 players were tracked, scouted, graded and ranked by me and my scouting assistants, Marshal Miller and Dan Bazal, and Connor Rogers. Together, we viewed tape of a minimum of three games per player (the same standard NFL teams use). Oftentimes, we saw every play by a prospect over the last two years. That led to the grades, rankings and scouting reports you see here.

    Players were graded on strengths and weaknesses, with a pro-player comparison added to match the player's style or fit in the pros. The top 400 players will be broken down position by position for easy viewing before the release of a top-400 big board prior to the draft.

    In the case of a tie, players were ranked based on their overall grade in our top 400.

Matt Miller's NFL Draft Grading Scale

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    At the end of each scouting report, you'll see a final grade that falls somewhere between 4.00 and 9.00. This scale comes from the teaching I received from Charley Casserly, Michael Lombardi and other former and current front-office personnel in the NFL. I tweaked it this year to be more transparent, and as a result, each player received a number grade as well as a ranking.

    This applies to all positions across the board.

    Matt Miller's NFL Draft Grading Scale
    GradeLabel
    9.00Elite—No. 1 pick
    8.00-8.99All-Pro—Rare Talent
    7.50-7.99Round 1—Pro Bowl Potential
    7.00-7.49Round 1—Top-15 Player Potential
    6.50-6.99Round 2—Rookie Impact/Future Starter
    6.00-6.49Round 3—Rookie Impact/Future Starter
    5.80-5.99Round 3-4—Future Starter
    5.70-5.79Round 4—Backup Caliber
    5.60-5.69Round 5—Backup Caliber
    5.30-5.59Round 6—Backup Caliber
    5.10-5.25Round 7—Backup Caliber
    5.00Priority Free Agent
    4.50-4.99Camp Player

29. Yamen Sanders, Montana

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    Patrick Record/Associated Press
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'4"215 lbs4.69s7.30s4.45

     

    POSITIVES

    Yamen Sanders is a big, physical safety with excellent length and athletic numbers that can intrigue scouts and general managers enough to invest a late-round pick in him. A transfer from Arizona, Sanders is athletic enough to make plays against NFL size and speed. The Montana defense lined Sanders up in the slot, in the middle of the field and even had him blitzing off the corner.

    His role for them is reminiscent of what Jalen Ramsey did at Florida State. Sanders can be physical as a tackler and plays with an excellent motor when attacking behind the line of scrimmage. Sanders uses his size well to shadow receivers in man coverage and has the length to attack the ball in the air. He impressed at his pro day with 24 reps of 225 pounds.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Sanders is a stiff, erect player who struggles to drop his hips and change direction. He's a straight-line speed prospect who can struggle through transitions. Sanders dominated a lower level of competition and was able to skate by with athleticism and not technique. Without the foot speed and the quickness to run with speedy receivers, Sanders is meant to be a safety in the pros. He'll need a ton of work on his technique to better time his moves, use his length and understand route combinations. A true project player, Sanders will have to work on special teams early in his career.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Keith McGill, Oakland Raiders

    FINAL GRADE: 4.99/9.00 (Undrafted Free Agent)

28. Dymonte Thomas, Michigan

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    5'10"195 lbs4.56s6.93s4.47s

     

    POSITIVES

    A one-year starter at Michigan, Dymonte Thomas has played cornerback, safety and even lined up in the nickel for the Wolverines. A jack-of-all-trades kind of player, he can line up all over the secondary and has experience as a special teams performer. With the athletic tools to turn heads, Thomas has the traits to make a roster despite struggling to crack Michigan's starting lineup. He's an instinctive, quick, aggressive player with flashes attacking the ball. He finds it and is able to quickly diagnose a play.

     

    NEGATIVES

    A shorter safety with small hands (9") and short arms (30 ½"), Thomas may test under the threshold for NFL teams. With just one career interception in 20 starts, Thomas hasn't shown the ball skills teams want. Deep speed isn't his strength, and with his lack of size, he will have issues playing over the top or against big, physical tight ends. He doesn't pop off the tape as a twitchy, agile player in his change of direction and transitions. The recovery speed needed to play center fielder in the NFL isn't there for Thomas.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Earl Wolff, Washington

    FINAL GRADE: 4.99/9.00 (Undrafted Free Agent)

27. Leon McQuay III, USC

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'1"192 lbsN/AN/AN/A

     

    POSITIVES

    A two-year starter at USC (sophomore, senior seasons), Leon McQuay III is a classic height-weight-speed player. He has a long, lean build, and in 2016, he flashed under new head coach Clay Helton's leadership with two picks and seven passes defensed. McQuay could be just starting to scratch the surface of his talent. He has the side-to-side ability from the deep safety position to make plays outside the college hash marks. He's physically developed and has the explosive qualities to create NFL-level range. McQuay is a project, but the payoff could be huge as a nickel defender.

     

    NEGATIVES

    McQuay was benched several times at USC and never seemed to reach his potential as a former top high school recruit. The team adding him will need to be patient in developing his mental tools on the field. He's a late reactor who succeeded this past season primarily with athleticism. He hasn't shown the technique to get into position against tight ends in man coverage and quickly loses leverage down the field. McQuay is more of a nickel or third safety with some special teams value. A hamstring injury kept him from doing any lower-body work at his pro day.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Maurice Canady, Baltimore Ravens

    FINAL GRADE: 5.00/9.00 (Undrafted Free Agent)

26. Jamal Carter, Miami (Fla.)

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    John Raoux/Associated Press
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'0"218 lbs4.64s7.15s4.49s

     

    POSITIVES

    A one-year starter at Miami at safety, Jamal Carter looks the part off the bus and was named a team captain in 2016 after overcoming some issues in his past. Carter was super active in the running game for Miami and played as a classic in-the-box strong safety while notching 85 tackles. He's a nasty, mean finisher and carries some of that Miami swagger with him on the field.

    Carter can be a tone-setter on defense or special teams with his big hits and his energy. He has the strength and wiring to beat blockers to the ball and uses his length well to disengage and shed blocks. Carter has a big tackle radius and could be a monster on special teams. Carter is a project, but with his tools and his toughness, he's worth stashing on fourth-down duty while a team tries to develop him.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Carter was suspended for violating team rules in 2015. His lack of speed and agility, plus just one season of starting production, will cause teams to heavily weigh any off-field issues. Because of this, Carter likely projects as an undrafted free agent even though he seemed to recover well under new head coach Mark Richt. A lack of ball production is concerning, as Carter had just two interceptions during his college career. He can be too aggressive and will get flagged for extracurriculars after the play. His instincts and his diagnosing skills aren't starter-quality. Carter can be very late to jump once the play unfolds and is almost thinking too much instead of reacting and flying to the ball.

         

    PRO COMPARISON: Jayron Kearse, Minnesota Vikings

    FINAL GRADE: 5.00/9.00 (Undrafted Free Agent)

25. Fish Smithson, Kansas

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    Kyle Rivas/Getty Images
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    5'10"201 lbs4.52s7.12s4.37s

     

    POSITIVES

    Fish Smithson was a two-year starter at Kansas after transferring from Hartnell College in California. Smithson has ball skills that showed up on film with his four interceptions in 2016. He has a good frame and solid athleticism for the NFL.

    His change-of-direction skills are solid, and he's shown the ability to quickly get in and out of transitions with enough recovery speed to play in man coverage. Despite not having great length, Smithson knows how to go up and get the football and uses his timing and his leverage well to make plays on 50-50 passes. Smithson is a solid tackler who may not lay the boom, but he doesn't give up missed tackles either.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Smithson timed faster than expected based on his game film. He doesn't wow you with closing speed or his ability to track the ball with great range. His instincts as a cover man aren’t developed, and he can be slow to react to the play on the ground or in the air. As a safety, he needs to keep the play in front of him. His play power is below-average and will be an issue as he tries to get off NFL blocks and make plays in the box against the run. As an average athlete with average size and poor length, Smithson looks like an NFL backup.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Antone Exum Jr., Minnesota Vikings

    FINAL GRADE: 5.00/9.00 (Undrafted Free Agent)

24. Rudy Ford, Auburn

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    5'11"205 lbs4.39sN/AN/A

     

    POSITIVES

    Rudy Ford comes into the 2017 draft with versatility, having played running back early in his career and ending it flipping between safety and nickel cornerback. Ford has NFL size and jumps off the film as a tackler. He's not afraid to get dirty in the running game and will shed blockers and dip under them to get to the ball. He arrives at the point of contact with a nice pad pop. He's a finisher and can play with a mean streak. Ford is a four-down player who can help either as a return man or as a gunner on special teams. He's a selfless, team-first player who has three years starting experience and has lined up in a number of roles. Ford's pro day 40-time of 4.39 seconds will give him a boost on draft boards. Projecting him forward, playing as a strong safety and special teams ace is his calling card.

     

    NEGATIVES

    A lack of elite athleticism and flexibility limit Ford. He's not straight-line fast and struggles when asked to open his hips and get through transitions. Double moves from SEC receivers left him lost in coverage. Ford is best in the box, but he can be a touch slow reading-and-reacting the ball and will attempt to overcompensate with speed. He'll get caught taking false steps against play action and can be overaggressive. With poor length (30" arms), Ford isn't a great matchup in coverage against NFL size. His lack of size would make carrying athletic tight ends down the field an issue. A foot injury limited his workouts before April's draft.
         

    PRO COMPARISON: Deon Bush, Chicago Bears

    FINAL GRADE: 5.00/9.00 (Undrafted Free Agent)

23. David Jones, Richmond

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'1"205 lbs4.43s7.31s4.32s

     

    POSITIVES

    David Jones has the tools, production and football IQ that teams go nuts for. With 4.43 40 speed, 14 career interceptions and the instincts on film to find and attack the ball, he's a fun developmental project as a small-schooler. Jones dominated in 2015 as a free safety, grabbing nine interceptions (including four in one game) and showing the range to make an impact as a deep center fielder. He also had 97 tackles that year, showing his versatility. Jones has an NFL body and the balance, agility and body control to turn his hips and run through transitions. He's a three-down player who isn't afraid to come into the box and make plays against the run but can also patrol the deep center of the field.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Jones was a one-year wonder at a very small school and has broke the same arm twice in the last two seasons—one ending his 2016 campaign after six games. Jones was able to beat up offenses in the Colonial Athletic Association with his athleticism and his instincts, but in terms of sitting back and diagnosing a complex offense, he'll be starting from scratch.

    Basically half of Jones' 2015 interceptions came in one game, which makes his production look much better than it was. He's a hyped-up, energetic mover and will be baited into mistakes and false steps. Durability questions are huge given his time missed with two arm breaks.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Justin Simmons, Denver Broncos

    FINAL GRADE: 5.10/9.00 (Developmental Prospect—Round 7)

22. Josh Harvey-Clemons, Louisville

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'4"217 lbs4.68sN/AN/A

     

    POSITIVES

    A big, physical safety who started the last two years at Louisville, Josh Harvey-Clemons will remind some of a Deone Bucannon-type player. He's a tackling machine who finds himself near the ball and can arrive with bad intentions. Harvey-Clemons has great length and big, strong hands, and he uses both to lock out blockers and to attack jump balls in the passing game.

    He's quicker than you expect from a 6'4" safety, and he uses his long stride to make up a ton of ground on the fly. He has the leaping ability and length to take away jump balls in the red zone and is a nice physical matchup with NFL tight ends. Harvey-Clemons is a fun matchup problem for NFL offenses given his size and his toughness.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Harvey-Clemons originally signed at Georgia and played there for two seasons, but he was suspended twice for violating the school's drug policy and eventually dismissed from the team. He was also with then-Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell during an arrest for gun possession. A hamstring injury kept Harvey-Clemons from playing in the Reese's Senior Bowl. He's not straight-line fast and could see teams remove him from the board with his off-field issues and 4.68 40-yard-dash speed.

    Harvey-Clemons had little ball production in college (four interceptions) and doesn't have great instincts reading and reacting to the pass. With below-average speed and play strength and questions about him off the field, Harvey-Clemons ranks lower than his skills would indicate. He's a risk after the repeat failures on drug tests.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Telvin Smith, Jacksonville Jaguars

    FINAL GRADE: 5.25/9.00 (Backup Caliber—Round 7)

21. Damarius Travis, Minnesota

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'0"206 lbs4.61s6.96s4.14s

     

    POSITIVES

    Damarius Travis started part-time for two years at Minnesota and showed the versatility to project to the NFL as a strong or free safety. Travis is an aggressive safety with great contact when he gets to the ball-carrier. He's a finisher and rarely lets a runner get through his grip. Travis understands angles and timing, and he does great work coming up to play the ball. He's versatile enough to have played deep safety and in the slot near the line of scrimmage. His short-area quickness is ideal for a box safety, and he can be an asset as a blitzer off the corner. Travis is a valuable special teams prospect. He’s an energetic, wound-up player with the right mentality to accept any role in an NFL defense.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Travis missed the 2015 season with a hamstring injury and took a medical redshirt. In his four years at Minnesota he grabbed just four interceptions and hasn’t shown the ball skills teams look for. As an athlete, Travis’ time of 4.61 seconds in the 40-yard dash isn’t good enough for an average sized safety. His coverage fundamentals aren’t developed, and Travis has tried to rely on timing and athleticism over footwork and hand play. He has a narrow, stiff backpedal and must work to open his hips and develop quicker feet. His change of direction skills are average.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: D.J. Swearinger, Washington

    FINAL GRADE: 5.50/9.00 (Backup Caliber—Round 6)

20. Nathan Gerry, Nebraska

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'2"218 lbs4.58s7.14s4.37s

     

    POSITIVES

    A three-year starter with a linebacker mindset in a strong safety's body, Nathan Gerry has top-notch pre-snap IQ and incredible effort post snap, giving every ounce of energy to get to the ball. He often knows where the running back will be and how to get there.

    He's displayed soft hands, reeling in 13 interceptions on just 99 targets over last three seasons. Gerry's aggressive nature allows him to come underneath and over the top of short-to-intermediate routes while rarely allowing much yardage after the catch. He has zero fear of coming up to the line of scrimmage against much bigger blockers to blow up plays.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Gerry is a limited athlete who lives on recognition and anticipation over speed and quickness. He's strictly a zone defender who will struggle to stay with quick running backs and slot receivers in man coverage and can struggle to bring down skill players in open space one-on-one. Gerry needs to make a living playing in the box as situational money 'backer with special teams ability. He plays flatfooted too often and tries to rely on catch-up speed to make up for it. Gerry was suspended twice in 2016 for violating team rules.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Miles Killebrew, Detroit Lions

    FINAL GRADE: 5.50/9.00 (Backup Caliber—Round 6)

19. Eddie Jackson, Alabama

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'0"201 lbsN/AN/AN/A

     

    POSITIVES

    A starter in each of the last four seasons at Alabama, Eddie Jackson has experience at cornerback and free safety. In 2015, he grabbed six interceptions and has the range to play over the top. A true deep safety, Jackson is comfortable in space and has the speed and agility to track the ball. He has shown natural athleticism and can run with NFL talent. As a return man and special teams player, Jackson has pro skills and can get on the field immediately as a punt returner. He has good instincts and play recognition when the ball is in front of him. He has the reaction time and the closing speed to get to the pigskin and break plays up.

     

    NEGATIVES

    A broken leg suffered midway through the 2016 season shut down Jackson. He hasn't been able to perform in any agility or speed work since. Jackson was on a defense loaded with NFL talent and a great scheme, which overinflated his value and his production. His instincts when asked to cover and read the offense are below-average. He's a center fielder chasing fly balls. Jackson is a finesse player without great physicality at the point of attack and has little interest in getting physical with blockers or ball-carriers. He tore his ACL in the spring of 2014 but played 11 games after returning.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Will Blackmon, Washington

    FINAL GRADE: 5.50/9.00 (Backup Caliber—Round 6)

18. Montae Nicholson, Michigan State

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'2"212 lbs4.42sN/AN/A

     

    POSITIVES

    Montae Nicholson certainly looks the part on the hoof with excellent height, weight, length and speed. If a team is drafting a player to develop at safety, Nicholson's raw tools are among the most intriguing in the class. A natural athlete, he has shown the hands to create interceptions and has the range to make plays moving forward or backward from his position. Michigan State used him as a deep safety, and he's comfortable in that role but has the body of a strong safety. Nicholson will come downhill and can lay big hits on ball-carriers.

     

    NEGATIVES

    A finesse player, Nicholson doesn't want to get dirty in the running game and will avoid contact down the field in the passing game. He'll have the cleanest jersey on the field after the contest. Nicholson can be tall and stiff in his transitions and doesn't show great change-of-direction skills. He can be very slow to flip his hips and accelerate out of his breaks. Nicholson looks the part more than he plays the part. As a tackler, he isn't a finisher and looks to make the highlight hit instead of securing a wrap-up tackle. He had a torn labrum (shoulder) repaired in March.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Tyvis Powell, Cleveland Browns

    FINAL GRADE: 5.60/9.00 (Backup Caliber—Round 5)

17. Jadar Johnson, Clemson

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    Tyler Smith/Getty Images
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'0"206 lbs4.60s6.90s4.20s

     

    POSITIVES

    A one-year starter, Jadar Johnson possesses the desired build of a free safety with gazelle-esque strides. He had plenty of on-ball production in 2016 with five interceptions and five more passes defended on just 44 targets. Johnson bites at the chance to come over the top in help coverage for the chance at a takeaway. His backpedal and his change-of-direction skills are solid, and he can close on the ball with speed.

    Johnson was a senior captain in 2016, and coaches raved about his poise and his leadership. He's a smart, disciplined safety prospect with the size to play either free or strong safety in the pros. Johnson has the length to go up and attack 50-50 balls and can be effective over the top in bracket coverage. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and has a nasty style. Johnson still has developmental potential.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Not an aggressive run defender, Johnson weaves around blockers and fails to get to the ball-carrier on time. He was a sloppy tackler, missing 15 tackles in 2016, and displayed a less-physical, more finesse style of play. He struggles to come to balance and breakdown, ducking his head and lunging.

    He can't be relied on as the last line of defense against run-heavy teams. Johnson's 4.60 time in the 40-yard dash is poor for his size. His football IQ and his awareness are underdeveloped because of limited playing time. His overaggressive style can get him into trouble, and he lingers around the ball after the play for too long. Without an improved effort in run support, he'll wash out of the league.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Dwight Lowery, Los Angeles Chargers

    FINAL GRADE: 5.75/9.00 (Backup Caliber—Round 4)

16. Lorenzo Jerome, Saint Francis

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    5'10"204 lbs4.70s7.63s4.68s

     

    POSITIVES

    A four-year starter and ball hawk at Saint Francis, Lorenzo Jerome tabbed 18 interceptions in his career. NFL scouts will love his instincts and his awareness playing free safety, as well as his versatility given his background as a cornerback. A utility player, Jerome was an effective blitzer, man coverage defender and zone coverage single-high safety.

    He's also a dangerous return man. A better athlete than his test times might indicate, Jerome is a gamer who makes plays when the lights come on and actually scored eight touchdowns in college. He is a worker with great character on and off the field, and his understanding of where he fits in the defense and how to attack the offense to make plays is as impressive as any defensive back in the class. He's a project, but he has tools that could transition into starter material.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Jerome falls below the threshold for length, hand size (8 ⅝") and most importantly speed. Without NFL size and length, Jerome becomes a mismatch against tight ends. With 4.70 speed and a 7.63-second three-cone drill, it seems unlikely Jerome has the ability to shadow and run with slot receivers. Coming from a very small school, Jerome hasn't matched up against NFL competition in a game situation, which makes concerns about athleticism only more alarming.

    Jerome isn't much in run support, and even though he lined up in the box in college, his NFL role will be in space. Poor length and closing speed make him a weakness against the run, and he needs to finish plays with better urgency. His tendency to jump routes will be an issue in the NFL if he's not more disciplined.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Michael Thomas, Miami Dolphins

    FINAL GRADE: 5.75/9.00 (Backup Caliber—Round 4)

15. Delano Hill, Michigan

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'1"216 lbs4.47s6.96s4.27s

     

    POSITIVES

    A one-year starter, Delano Hill has the straight-line speed, nasty demeanor and thick build that could make him an instant key special teams contributor. He lives for contact and can fight through traffic with decisive nature to get from point A to B. A smart, reliable tackler who drives with power from his lower body into his target, he comes downhill with purpose.

    Hill has the instincts to read and react with pro-level timing, and he knows how to anticipate routes. He is an accomplished, finished product as a tackler. In 2016, he showed good ball skills with three interceptions and four passes defensed. With an ideal build for a strong safety, Hill has the developmental potential to be a player in the NFL.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Hill is stiff in coverage, as he struggles to turn and accelerate into full speed. He tends to pull and use his hands too much beyond five yards. He doesn't flash as a great athlete, and his 4.47 time in the 40-yard dash was a surprise. Hill doesn’t play that fast and doesn't have the hips and explosive traits to change directions and fly to the ball. Penalties were an issue in 2016. Teams may see his numbers and they can develop him into a top-player. His lack of experience at Michigan makes him a raw prospect.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: J.J. Wilcox, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    FINAL GRADE: 5.90/9.00 (Developmental Prospect—Round 4)

14. Rayshawn Jenkins, Miami (Fla.)

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    Daniel Shirey/Getty Images
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'1"214 lbs4.51s6.954.19s

     

    POSITIVES

    A three-year starter at Miami, Rayshawn Jenkins passes the eyeball test. He is an aggressive, physical safety with a mean streak. A natural box safety, he has nine career interceptions and was all over the field with 76 tackles and seven passes defensed in his senior year. Jenkins has the size to match up with tight ends and receivers, and he uses his length well to jam and press players when at the line of scrimmage.

    He has the awareness and instincts you want in a box safety. He's quick to read and react and can run a tight line to the ball-carrier. In coverage, he understands alignment and puts himself in a position to make a play on the ball. Jenkins is athletic enough to run with tight ends. In a height-weight-speed league, he could develop into a starter at strong safety early in his career.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Jenkins will turn 24 years old in January. He appears a step slow in diagnosing the play, and his instincts as a ball hawk don't pop off the screen. His body control isn't ideal, and he can get too tall and play with stiff hips through transitions. He can be tied up by tight ends and even receivers in the running game and isn't great at getting through traffic to the ball. Back surgery in 2014 has to be thoroughly vetted.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Jaquiski Tartt, San Francisco 49ers

    FINAL GRADE: 5.90/9.00 (Future Starter—Round 4)

13. Xavier Woods, Louisiana Tech

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    5'11"197 lbs4.54s6.72s4.13s

     

    POSITIVES

    A four-year starter who is still super young (22 in July), Xavier Woods is a fun, smart, high-upside player at free safety. He wasn't on my radar until the East-West Shrine Game in January, but there, his instincts and his awareness were off-the-charts good in an all-star setting. Woods has excellent ball skills and posted 14 interceptions in the last three seasons. Once he gets the ball in his hands, he's explosive and dangerous as a return man.

    As a three-down player, Woods can line up near the line of scrimmage or as a deep safety. Louisiana Tech loved to use him as a blitzer, and he was successful in that role (three sacks in '16). Woods' instincts and his football IQ are well-developed, and his lower-level of competition shouldn't be downplayed. He's wired right and will be an asset in any locker room. Woods plays faster than he tested at the combine and should be judged on his film, which shows good movements.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Woods is a little short and has very short arms (30 ⅜"). That lack of size and length can be an issue when in man coverage. A player can make up that ground with a great vertical jump, but Woods topped out at 33 ½ inches in that department.

    Smart quarterbacks are going right over the top of Woods. The ability to break down in space and thud ball-carriers doesn't always show up, as Woods can be a little stiff-hipped. He needs to learn to unlock his hips and explode both as a tackler and in his change of direction. A lack of size, length and hip agility will make him a middle-rounder, but he has the potential to be a starter.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Vonn Bell, New Orleans Saints

    FINAL GRADE: 6.00/9.00 (Rookie Impact—Round 3)

12. John Johnson, Boston College

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    John Johnson (No. 9)
    John Johnson (No. 9)Patrick Bolger/Getty Images
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'0"208 lbs4.61s6.72s4.18s

     

    POSITIVES

    A former cornerback turned safety, John Johnson is an ideal fit for the present day NFL secondary. Versatility is a major key for Johnson, given his time split at cornerback, free safety and strong safety. He has excellent size and good length, and he can physically match up with receivers, slot receivers, backs and tight ends.

    Johnson is a four-down player with great ability on special teams, and on defense, he can be used in a variety of ways, depending on what his team needs. He has quick, light feet in his backpedal and is able to flip his hips quickly when he gets a read on the ball. Johnson is a high-IQ football player with high character and very good instincts. Johnson is quicker than fast and is able to run alleys and get into the backfield to make plays. As a tackler, Johnson is physical and aggressive. He plays the same way in coverage.

     

    NEGATIVES

    A 4.61 time in the 40-yard dash isn’t good for a 6'0", 208-pound safety. It was surprising Johnson didn't try to improve that time at his pro day, but he stood on his run in Indianapolis. Johnson's tape shows average quickness when transitioning from his backpedal, and this lack of timed speed becomes more of an issue. Because he can be a little stiff in transitions, you worry if he'll be able to stay in phase with NFL speed. Johnson isn't fast enough to be as nonchalant as he is in his angles at times.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Shawn Williams, Cincinnati Bengals

    FINAL GRADE: 6.10/9.00 (Rookie Impact—Round 3)

11. Tedric Thompson, Colorado

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    Harry How/Getty Images
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'0"204 lbs4.60s7.11s4.36s

     

    POSITIVES

    A ball-hawking free safety with excellent size, Tedric Thompson is an energetic, aggressive player on defense. A three-year starter at Colorado, he is a versatile defender with the ability to play free or strong safety and even played some in the slot. Thompson showed off his ball skills in 2016, grabbing seven interceptions and notching 16 passes defensed.

    Over the last two seasons combined, he had 10 picks and 37 passes defensed with 155 tackles. Thompson's instincts show up on film. He lives around the ball and is able to put himself into position to find and attack it with great placement and energy. His timing and his anticipation of routes are noticeable on film. A solid mid-round prospect, Thompson has the tools to become an NFL starter down the road.

     

    NEGATIVES

    A lack of top-end athleticism makes Thompson questionable as an NFL starter. His 4.60 40 speed and 7.11 three-cone drill are below par for a single-high safety. A scary concussion in 2014 cut Thompson's season short and ended up with his hospitalization. He can play with too much aggression and be baited into mistakes off misdirection.

    He'll get tunnel vision and can take false steps. Without the recovery speed to make up that ground, he's opening himself up to being burnt in the NFL. Widening his base as a backpedaler and learning to play with better balance will allow Thompson to more quickly transition and cover up his lack of pure speed.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Jordan Poyer, Buffalo Bills

    FINAL GRADE: 6.20/9.00 (Future Starter—Round 3)

10. Obi Melifonwu, Connecticut

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    Stew Milne/Associated Press
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'4"224 lbs4.40s7.06s4.30s

     

    POSITIVES

    At 6'4" and 224 pounds, Obi Melifonwu is one of the most explosive and gifted athletes in the 2017 draft class. His testing times and his measurements were all elite, and on the field, you see those same traits as he flies to the ball or runs with a receiver down the field. Seeing Melifonwu in person at the Senior Bowl, it’s easy to understand why teams are in love with his athletic potential.

    He was a four-year starter at safety,and NFL teams craving size and speed on the boundary will test him at cornerback. He has awesome change-of-direction skills and the straight-line speed to run in phase with any receiver the league can throw at him. One scout called Melifonwu the answer to Julio Jones.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Melifonwu is more athlete than football player and doesn't use his size and his speed to make plays. He was an active tackler but made many plays down the field and is too often a finesse player. In coverage, Melifonwu's instincts are poor, and he's often late to react to the play—which works at UConn against lower-level competition because he's athletic enough to make up ground. He will be a 23-year-old rookie. The lack of instincts and urgency on his tape are alarming given how fast and explosive he tested. Melifonwu is a huge boom-or-bust prospect. Teams will no doubt love his measurables, but the actual football talent is lacking.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Taylor Mays, former NFL player

    FINAL GRADE: 6.30/9.00 (Future Starter—Round 3)

9. Desmond King, Iowa

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    5'10"201 lbs4.55s6.67s4.18s

     

    POSITIVES

    A four-year starter at cornerback for the Iowa Hawkeyes, Desmond King is a highly decorated prospect with 14 career interceptions and the instincts coaches love. The 2015 Jim Thorpe Award winner has excellent awareness and is a tough player no matter his assignment. He's aggressive at the line of scrimmage and isn't afraid to mix it up with bigger receivers.

    King has advanced technique and fundamentals as a defensive back. He understands leverage and angles, and he uses all the tools in his toolbox to keep pace with receivers. He's a four-down contributor and is wired to win. King brings value as a return man. He has an NFL frame with muscular, thick legs and a jacked upper body. He may be a little undersized, but he's one of those players whose effort, drive and wiring will make him a solid NFL player. While projected at safety, King could still thrive as a zone cornerback or slot player at the next level.

     

    NEGATIVES

    King is undersized and lacks top-end speed for an outside cornerback prospect, which is why he transitions to free safety, where his ball skills and his instincts can thrive and his lack of size and speed aren't as much issues. Arm length under 32 inches is also a great indicator that King will make a move to slot corner or safety. He got tagged often with penalties (11 in the last two seasons) and has to play with a cooler head. A lack of length makes him a poor matchup when playing at the line of scrimmage in a press situation.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Casey Hayward, Los Angeles Chargers

    FINAL GRADE: 6.50/9.00 (Rookie Impact—Round 2)

8. Justin Evans, Texas A&M

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    Sam Craft/Associated Press
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    5'11 1/2"199 lbs4.57sN/AN/A

     

    POSITIVES

    A two-year starter at Texas A&M after transferring from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Justin Evans has exceptional ball skills and instincts in coverage. He has the range to be a deep free safety and can effectively play outside the hashes from his perch in the middle of the field. He has the closing speed to attack the ball in the air or on the ground and is fast enough to recover from a bad initial read.

    Evans has the change-of-direction skills you want from a free safety, and he shows great burst from his cuts. He can be aggressive coming downhill as a hitter and looks to inflict pain on ball-carriers. Evans isn’t the biggest guy, but he packs a serious punch when he gets a runner in his sights. He is a Year 1 starter somewhere in the secondary—free safety, nickel safety or cornerback—with excellent versatility and instincts. He can contribute on special teams as well and is a selfless leader with excellent football IQ and wiring. Evans is super young and will turn 22 in August.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Evans isn't much of a form tackler, and he may even move to a nickel cornerback or full-time cornerback role given his athletic ability and his coverage skills. He's not afraid to come down hill at full speed and knock the snot out of a ball-carrier, but Evans will bounce off as many runners as he knocks down. He can get overaggressive and put himself in poor positions to play the ball.

    With his tools, you expect more production on the ball, but he's too often finding himself a step behind from taking poor steps initially. He loves to play the alleys, and as such, he can get sucked in on play-action fakes. With a small frame and a big hitter's mentality, Evans could wear down his own body. A quad injury limited him in the predraft process.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Bob Sanders, retired

    FINAL GRADE: 6.50/9.00 (Rookie Starter—Round 2)

7. Marcus Williams, Utah

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    George Frey/Associated Press
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'1"202 lbs4.56s6.85s4.20s

     

    POSITIVES

    A two-and-a-half-year starter at free safety for Utah, Marcus Williams is a classic single-high center fielder. In the last two seasons, Williams posted 10 interceptions and showed the range, ball skills and instincts of a future NFL starter. He has the change-of-direction skills to locate and chase the ball, and when he gets there, Williams has the hands to flip the field.

    He has the quick, light, choppy feet to break on the ball and the closing speed to finish. Williams reads the ball well and has the awareness to jump routes. Against the run, he isn't timid and will fill the box to make plays on the pigskin. He's a natural ball hawk with the eyes, instincts and athleticism to be valuable attacking downfield passes or coming up to stop the run in the box. Williams projects as a rookie starter and potentially a top-tier free safety.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Williams is a little lean and will need to add bulk and strength to handle tackling in the NFL. As a finisher, he doesn't like to bring the wood and can be a little soft at the point of attack. Because he lacks lower-body power, Williams becomes an upper-body tackler and can get run over. He needs to work on his awareness, as he can get sucked up into the box on deep routes and can struggle to recognize route combinations.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Devin McCourty, New England Patriots

    FINAL GRADE: 6.55/9.00 (Rookie Starter—Round 2)

6. Josh Jones, North Carolina State

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'1"220 lbs4.41s7.43s4.32s

     

    POSITIVES

    Josh Jones is a three-year starter with the prototype build and athleticism for the safety position. Jones tested as a high-end athlete, and it shows on the tape with his blend of speed, explosiveness and short-area quickness. Jones has a smooth backpedal in coverage and the ability to turn and run with receivers while also helping over the top as a single high safety. His team can rely on him to pick up running backs, slot receivers and tight ends on short routes with superb closing speed.

    Jones tallied an impressive 35 solo stops in 2016, making his presence felt all over the field. He has excellent on-field energy and never gives up on a play with impressive chase speed. A versatile safety prospect, Jones could play free safety or strong safety in the NFL depending on the scheme. He's at his best coming forward to attack the ball and has the size to be a fantastic box safety with the deep speed to track the ball as needed. He's also played cornerback and linebacker in college, making him a nice utility knife for NFL defensive coordinators.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Jones can be a reckless player who launches himself into targets, the air or even his own teammates at times. He can get outleveraged in the box and struggles to come to balance. Jones should have had more on-ball production considering his skill set. He can be a stiff, erect player too often and must show better pop and flexibility in his hips.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers

    FINAL GRADE: 6.75/9.00 (Rookie Starter—Round 2)

5. Marcus Maye, Florida

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    Rob Foldy/Getty Images
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'0"210 lbs4.50s7.10s4.25s

     

    POSITIVES

    A three-year starter at Florida, Marcus Maye was a standout in 2015 on an incredibly good defense. In 2016, he was poised to come out of the shadow of Keanu Neal and Vernon Hargreaves III, but a broken left arm limited his season to nine games. Maye is a physical, athletic safety with a great build and the mentality that he's going to separate the pigskin from ball-carriers.

    Maye's wiring and his football IQ are exceptional. He's a hard-hitter when coming into the box and plays with a mean streak that will excite defensive coaches. His closing speed is better on tape than on the track, and he plays above his 4.50 40-yard-dash testing time. In the running game, he's an attacker and will run through blockers on a clean angle to the ball. Florida asked him to play free safety, strong safety and nickel, which adds to his versatility in the NFL. Maye is pro-ready as a rookie, and coaches will love his leadership skills.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Playing deep safety isn't Maye's specialty. He can struggle with the ball over his head and was aided by two fantastic cornerbacks flanking him in college. His deep speed to run in phase with receivers is questionable. Too often his first step is forward, and Maye can get caught biting on play action and then left chasing the ball over his head. His instincts in the passing game can be inconsistent.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Tony Jefferson, Baltimore Ravens

    FINAL GRADE: 6.75/9.00 (Rookie Starter—Round 2)

4. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    5'11"213 lbs4.46s6.99s4.11s

     

    POSITIVES

    Jabrill Peppers overcame a rough childhood—his father was in prison throughout his youth, and his brother was shot and killed in 2010—to become one of college football's best players in 2016. A two-year starter at Michigan, the redshirt sophomore decided to jump to the NFL early after a Heisman Trophy finalist season where he was unstoppable as a return man and defensive weapon.

    Peppers is a top-notch athlete with a thick build and the speed to hurt the opposing team in a variety of ways. As a returner, he is one of the best in the game. He has speed, vision, instincts and the burst to pull away for points. He'll immediately be a valuable punt and kick returner in the pros.

    On defense, Peppers has played defensive back and linebacker but is more of a work in progress as a blank canvas who can be molded into an NFL safety. His football IQ and his leadership skills are ideal. He's a hardworking, confident leader. If used on offense, Peppers could be a dangerous running back or receiver. He scored four total touchdowns for Michigan in 2016 as a Wildcat quarterback and on special teams.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Peppers is a great athlete, but he's a developmental prospect as a defensive weapon. He started his Michigan career playing cornerback but moved to safety and finally to a linebacker position. He's raw when it comes to the intricacies of any one position. Peppers had just one college interception, and it came on a tipped ball. The team drafting Peppers must have an imagination to project him forward and patience to let him grow on the job.

    In his first year, he might not be more than a returner and third safety. He must spend time learning the intricacies of safety play (route recognition, timing, alignment, block shedding) and not rely on being an elite athlete.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Landon Collins, New York Giants

    FINAL GRADE: 6.99/9.00 (Rookie Impact—Round 2)

3. Budda Baker, Washington

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    5'10"195 lbs4.45s6.76s4.08s

     

    POSITIVES

    A three-year starter at Washington before declaring early for the NFL draft, Budda Baker is a terror for offenses. The urgency and aggression he plays with are amazing to watch. NFL teams will love his value and his versatility given his experience playing center fielder and a slot cornerback.

    Athletically, Baker will wow you. He's an explosive, twitchy athlete with easy speed and great change-of-direction skills. Once the ball is identified, he has the ability to flip his hips and run with great closing speed. Baker can be deployed in coverage or as a blitzer, where he was very successful at getting to the quarterback from the corner. An energetic, Tasmanian devil type of football player, Baker is a great leader and an alpha-style locker room guy. He is a rookie starter at free safety and a valuable three-down asset on defenses that want to be aggressive in the secondary.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Baker is more of a utility knife than a true deep safety. In three seasons, he had just five interceptions and never more than 10 passes defensed in a single campaign. At almost 5'10" and 195 pounds, he can't be a box safety in the NFL. Teams must worry if he will break down over time given his superaggressive style of play and his small frame. He has to learn to play a little more under control to not overpursue or overjump the ball. He can be susceptible to biting on play action or pump action.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Karl Joseph, Oakland Raiders

    FINAL GRADE: 6.99/9.00 (Rookie Starter—Round 2)

2. Malik Hooker, Ohio State

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'1"206 lbsN/AN/AN/A

     

    POSITIVES

    Malik Hooker started just one year at Ohio State, but in that time, he showed he was among the more natural playmakers I've ever seen at free safety. Hooker has unreal range playing center fielder and was all over the field, notching seven interceptions in 2016 with four passes defensed. He made plays reading the pass and jumping to get over the top that are reminiscent of Earl Thomas.

    His speed and his reaction time are off the charts. Hooker flies to the ball and can flip the field with his excellent hands and leaping ability. He's so fast to flip open his hips and change direction in the open field. His body control, patience and burst are those of an elite NFL playmaker.

    Hooker has the tools of a top-five NFL safety early in his career. With his athletic gifts, instincts and tools as a playmaker, we should see Hooker routinely rank in the top of the league in interceptions and passes defensed. And with his three touchdowns on interception returns in 2016, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Hooker leading the league in defensive touchdowns.

     

    NEGATIVES

    Hooker has battled injuries and is sitting out the 2017 predraft process with a torn hip labrum and a double sports hernia. The Ohio State secondary was loaded in his first two seasons with the Buckeyes, but his inability to get on the field more in 2015 is worth questioning. A former basketball player, Hooker can be a little soft at the point of attack. Scouts should question if he's a one-year wonder on a loaded defense or a truly transcendent talent like the film and stats show.

      

    PRO COMPARISON: Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks

    FINAL GRADE: 7.50/9.00 (Pro Bowl Potential—Top-10 Pick)

1. Jamal Adams, LSU

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
    Measurables
    HeightWeight40 Time3-ConeShort Shuttle
    6'0"214 lbs4.56s6.96s4.13s

     

    POSITIVES

    A two-year starter at strong safety for LSU, Jamal Adams is among the most physical players in the 2017 draft class. Praised by coaches and teammates as an exceptional leader, Adams runs with a nonstop motor and has exceptional football and personal character. The team drafting him will get a leader who loves football. Adams can line up all over the field and make plays. He's been used in the box, the slot and deep center field. He's a shark when attacking the ball and arrives to the carrier with bad intentions.

    Adams has excellent range in the running game and brings the boom as a tackler. As a plug-and-play safety with excellent instincts, Adams can't be knocked for what the LSU scheme didn't ask him to do as a deep coverage safety. He's physical enough to match up against tight ends and backs in the passing game and lock them up. He is a pure, clean prospect with NFL bloodlines, as his dad was a first-round pick in the 1985 draft.

            

    NEGATIVES

    Adams hasn't been a playmaker on the ball in college. He has just five career interceptions, and LSU asked him to be more of a box safety. While he's a good all-around athlete, his testing times showed speed isn't his game. In coverage, Adams can get too aggressive and must learn to cover without grabbing and slowing his man. He doesn't show on film as a natural pass-catcher, which could limit interceptions.
      

    PRO COMPARISON: Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs

    FINAL GRADE: 7.50/9.00 (Pro Bowl Potential—Top-10 Pick)

     

    Advanced stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus College unless otherwise noted/linked.