NFL Draft 400: Ranking the Top Strong Safeties for 2016

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterApril 23, 2016

NFL Draft 400: Ranking the Top Strong Safeties for 2016

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    The 2016 NFL draft class doesn't feature two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks at the top like last season's did with Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be excited about this year's class. With this draft set to be dominated by defensive linemen and small-school studs, few people know as many names as they did last offseason.

    The goal of the NFL Draft 400 series is to change that.

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

    Players were graded on positives and negatives, with a pro-player comparison added to match the player's style or fit in the NFL. 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 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. 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 2016 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
    5.50-5.59Round 6—Backup Caliber
    5.40-5.49Round 7—Backup Caliber
    5.00-5.39Priority Free Agent
    4.50-4.99Camp Player

16. Trae Elston, Ole Miss

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'11 ¼,"193 lbs4.50s7.34s4.50s 

    POSITIVES

    Trae Elston saved his best for last at Ole Miss, grabbing four interceptions and notching five tackles for a loss in 2015. A four-year starter with top-tier awareness and field IQ, Elston can be a hitter when coming downhill.

    A solid athlete in space, he has the feet to explode out of his backpedal and get into an alley to take on runners. He’s also athletic enough to challenge the ball over the top and flashes a plus-level vertical to go up for 50-50 balls.

    With the ball in his hands, Elston was a difference-maker, returning two interceptions for touchdowns. His traits would translate well to a special teams role as a gunner on kicks and punts. He has enough quickness and speed to potentially develop into a third safety, but his best role on the field is as an in-the-box run defender.

    NEGATIVES

    In January 2015, Elston was arrested along with Ole Miss receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after a fight at an Oxford bar. While not as serious as other incidents from 2016 draftees, it’s something teams must take into account.

    Elston impressed as a physical tackler, but he disappointed in his reliability when tasked with bringing down ball-carriers. He missed nine tackles in 2015, according to Pro Football Focus, adding on to the 10 he missed in 2014. When asked to track deep in coverage, Elston can struggle to locate the ball, and he had just one interception before the 2015 season

    PRO COMPARISON: Bacarri Rambo, Free Agent

    FINAL GRADE: 5.00/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

15. Kent London, SE Oklahoma State

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    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'1 ¼,"215 lbs4.53s6.89s4.18s 

    POSITIVES

    A transfer from Houston to Southeastern Oklahoma State, Kent London has made a name for himself in scouting circles after a strong season starting eight games at safety. London, a former high school quarterback, has the play power and range to surprise teams.

    If scouts watch three games of London’s tape, the last three he played in give you a feel for his talent. He recorded five interceptions in the last three weeks of the 2015 season while adding 21 tackles against Southern Arkansas, Arkansas-Monticello and East Central. He was a man among boys in those games, showing the size and play speed to attack the ball at will.

    A small-school player with dominant production when he was on the field, London is the kind of project teams take on late in the draft or as an undrafted free agent. He has the tools to get on the field immediately as a special teams player and could be a project for a defensive backs coach as he’s developed.

    NEGATIVES

    London played against schools you’ve never heard of—most of them with a direction in the name. And while he was impressive to close out the year, he didn’t start making waves on defense until the last four weeks of his college career.

    London couldn’t get on the field at Houston, which led to his transfer to SE Oklahoma, and there will be questions about his ability to translate to the next level. He wasn’t invited to any all-star games or the combine and has completely flown under the radar to this point—which might mean he’s not on the radar.

    On the field, and looking at his athleticism, London can play tall and stiff when asked to explode out of breaks, but he has to become better at launching himself out. A smooth, controlled movement isn’t seen enough in his tape.

    PRO COMPARISON: Kelcie McCray, Seattle Seahawks

    FINAL GRADE: 5.00/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

14. Marqui Christian, Midwestern State

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    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'11"193 lbs4.54s6.85s4.27s 

    POSITIVES

    A versatile safety prospect with the size, strength and quickness to play both free and strong safety, Marqui Christian was a standout player at Midwestern State. Honored as the best small-school defensive player, Christian took home the Cliff Harris Award after the 2015 season.

    Christian burst onto the scene at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl this offseason, wowing scouts with his range and aggressiveness as a run defender. A tough, instinctive player, he stepped up against bigger competition than he’d faced in college and had a great week of practices in the all-star environment.

    A fierce hitter, Christian has the burst in his lower body to make a big impact on the ball. He sees the field quickly and has the reaction speed to pick up tackles behind the line of scrimmage. If allowed to blitz off the edge, he has the athletic tools to be an impact.

    A developmental project, Christian has the tape and the traits worth investing in late.

    NEGATIVES

    No matter what his timed 40-yard run was, Christian doesn’t pop on film as a fast player. His range when asked to patrol deep down the field was average at a small school and looks like a liability when projecting him forward.

    Based on tape and NFLPA practices, Christian looks like an in-the-box safety with limited range when asked to run out of his backpedal. He excels moving forward but is lumbering and unbalanced when asked to get depth or run with receivers.

    Given his hard-hitting nature, Christian can be reckless and too aggressive. He’ll lose contain and get sucked down hard on play action by going for a kill shot instead of breaking down to make form tackles.

    PRO COMPARISON: Earl Wolff, Jacksonville Jaguars

    FINAL GRADE: 5.00/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

13. Michael Caputo, Wisconsin

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'0 ½"207 lbs4.70s6.96s4.29s 

    POSITIVES

    A team captain and consensus second-team All-Big Ten pick, Michael Caputo jumps off the screen as a player all over the field as a strong safety and linebacker. In that role, Caputo has 244 career tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, three interceptions and 17 passes defensed. He’s impossible to miss when watching Wisconsin film.

    A three-year starter and a leader on the team, Caputo finds the ball well on misdirection and when the route crosses his face. An aggressive downhill player, he is a punisher when he gets in position to put his pads on a runner.

    A very strong showing at the East-West Shrine Game could be great news for Caputo’s draft stock. Scouts we talked to raved about his work ethic, football IQ and the fact that he intercepted two passes in the game.

    NEGATIVES

    A lack of speed to track the ball deep will be tough for Caputo to overcome. Running a 4.70 40-yard dash at the Wisconsin pro day is a number that makes scouts toss away the draft card. Without the burst to close on the ball in a zone or the speed to stick in man coverage, Caputo is limited in what he offers a team.
    A maxed-out frame will have teams wondering if he has already played his best football. He doesn’t have the athletic profile to improve with coaching and doesn’t have the short-area quickness or length to overcome a lack of speed in coverage.

    There are two injury issues teams must look into as they evaluate Caputo. This past season he suffered a concussion against Alabama and was taken out of the game, and in 2013 he had spinal cord surgery for a disk issue.

    PRO COMPARISON: Shiloh Keo, Denver Broncos

    FINAL GRADE: 5.00/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

12. Will Parks, Arizona

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    Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'0"204 lbs4.63s7.02s4.45s 

    POSITIVES

    A high-motor player, Will Parks rarely came off the field when watching Arizona film. In a day and age of subbing defenders, Parks was rock-solid as a leader in the secondary.

    He's an instinctive player with top-tier awareness both in the middle of the field and when coming up to play the run. He’s proven himself as a run defender and has the quickness to slide and mirror down the line of scrimmage and the power to shed tight ends or fullbacks when they impact him at the first level.

    Parks has played a role as a mix between linebacker and safety and is comfortable playing in the box. He shows the power as a tackler to bring down runners in the open field. He’s a thumper when he gets an angle on the ball and can stand up runners when he meets them in the trenches.

    NEGATIVES

    Parks is built like a safety but moves like a linebacker. That may tempt a team to try him in a Deone Bucannon role, but that doesn’t fit his skill set nor his 200-pound frame. And with 11 missed tackles on the season, according to Pro Football Focus, Parks has yet to prove he’s a reliable tackler.

    A lack of ball skills will be talked about at length when discussing Parks. He had just four interceptions in the past four years and didn’t record one at all in 2015. He did get home on 20 defensed passes in that time span, but his ability to flip the field is questioned.

    Without great long speed or open-field burst, Parks projects as a special teams weapon with developmental upside. His awareness and football IQ will keep him in the minds of scouts, but average range and ball skills are tough for a safety to overlook.

    PRO COMPARISON: Kelcie McCray, Seattle Seahawks

    FINAL GRADE: 5.40/9.00 (Round 7—Backup Caliber)

11. Clayton Fejedelem, Illinois

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'0"204 lbs4.54s7.17s4.30s 

    POSITIVES

    An All-Big Ten second-teamer in 2015, Clayton Fejedelem was the leading tackler in the conference with 140 credited to his name. He’s a playmaker with 4.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, seven pass breakups and a forced fumble in his final year.

    A downhill hitter, Fejedelem has a striker’s mentality and shows a big tackle radius when playing in space. A tough player with enough range to make plays outside the hashes on quick hitters and screens, he’s equally as physical at the catch point and looks to put a shoulder on his man.

    Fejedelem was asked to play mostly in the box at Illinois, but he flashed enough straight-line speed to have value in coverage if he can get coached up in his hip turns and timing to better anticipate routes.

    NEGATIVES

    A rigid mover in space, Fejedelem has to work to unlock his hips and let his straight-line speed translate into better agility and quickness in space. He’s a buildup runner who lacks the burst and twitch to make plays in man-to-man coverage and will be limited in what he can do matched up against NFL tight ends or slot receivers.

    Fejedelem missed too many tackles on tape due to poor explosion and flexibility. He’s not fluid when breaking down to take on runners and will lose when asked to get low to take on leveraged running backs.

    Late in the draft you’re hoping for special teams contributors and players with developmental potential. Fejedelem has both, but he may be overlooked as teams go toward more athletic, less productive players over a marginal athlete with good numbers.

    PRO COMPARISON: Alden Darby, New Orleans Saints

    FINAL GRADE: 5.40/9.00 (Round 7—Backup Caliber)

10. Elijah Shumate, Notre Dame

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'0"216 lbs4.58s7.06s4.20s 

    POSITIVES

    A two-year starter on a loaded Notre Dame defense, Elijah Shumate has the size, agility and power of an NFL strong safety.

    A terror near the line of scrimmage, Shumate can make plays in the run game by shedding blocks on the edge of the formation. He’s an active and aggressive player once he locates the ball and runs downhill with an urgent style. He wins with closing speed and the instincts to sniff out the ball.

    A productive player near the ball, Shumate will turn heads on tape with his ability to chase down the ball-carrier and contain the edge.

    Shumate’s size and tackling skills point to a bigger role on special teams to start his career with a chance to develop into a starter. Teams will have a crush on his tackling ability and how well he plays the run, and betting on a high-character Notre Dame leader late in the draft is a smart move.

    NEGATIVES

    A lack of pure speed will limit Shumate’s projection to the NFL, and teams we’ve spoken to see him as primarily an in-the-box safety with limited zone cover skills. That’s a bad mix given the NFL is trending toward more versatile, athletic safeties.

    Shumate doesn’t show fluid movement in his backpedal and is not a man-coverage safety. He won’t match up against tight ends well coming off the line of scrimmage and isn’t fast enough to go deep down the field. He gets tunnel vision and will be fooled with combo routes if he’s off the ball in zone coverage.

    Shumate will need to make the roster as a special teams player with the hope he can develop into a starter down the line. Notre Dame has a history of sending safety prospects into the NFL, and Shumate shouldn’t be counted out.

    PRO COMPARISON: Charles Godfrey, Atlanta Falcons

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

9. Tevin Carter, Utah

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    David J. Becker/Getty Images
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'1 ¼"218 lbs4.54s7.23s4.44s 

    POSITIVES

    A transfer from Los Angeles Southwest College (two years) and El Camino College (one year), Tevin Carter made a splash once he arrived at Utah and got on the field.

    Carter is a physically impressive safety with the power in his legs and upper body to do damage as a hitter. He comes downhill in a hurry and brings heat in his tackles. A former high school receiver, he has sure hands to go up and attack the ball and make plays over the top. Instinctive playing the run, Carter will locate and attack with closing speed and quick hips. He runs alleys like a linebacker and can clean up outside runs as well as stick his nose in against inside plays.

    With so little time and development from the staff at Utah, Carter should be viewed as an upside project. The Utes coaches are fantastic, and they had him trending in the right direction, but teams will see Carter as a fixer-upper with the potential to become a starter in time.

    NEGATIVES

    Carter has played roughly one-and-a-half seasons at Utah after coming in from El Camino College. He saw action in just four games in 2014 due to injury and hasn’t put out the resume on tape to match the athletic upside.

    A lack of awareness—especially in coverage—keeps Carter from a higher projection. He can be slow to react to the ball in the air and will let route combinations trip him up and create hesitation in his movements. With just 16 games of Division I college football experience, Carter is a small fish in a big pond when asked to read the field and diagnose the play.

    If a team can be patient with him, he has the tools to become a starting strong safety, but that hinges on his being able to take the coaching and put it on the field. Carter was able to make plays on sheer athleticism and power at Utah, but he must become a more aware player in coverage once in the pros.

    PRO COMPARISON: Duke Ihenacho, Washington

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

8. K.J. Dillon, West Virginia

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    Michael Chang/Getty Images
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'0 "210 lbs4.53s7.27s4.43s 

    POSITIVES

    A three-year starter at West Virginia, K.J. Dillon has the size and athletic ability to see time at either free or strong safety in the NFL. A playmaker with four interceptions and 20 passes defensed in his career, he has immediate value in sub-packages.

    Dillon can play in the box and has the speed to get deep in coverage from a two-deep look. A productive tackler, he brings the size to shed blockers on the edge of the formation. He’ll run under blockers and knows how to get small to slip by tight ends or fullbacks in the run game.

    Dillon has enough quickness to be an asset in man coverage against "Jack" tight ends and running backs. With his size, he can get physical at the line of scrimmage and will be a potential blitzer, both off the edge and through gaps, if he’s walked up in nickel packages.

    NEGATIVES

    Dillon hasn’t been as productive as teams want from a tackler. He topped out at 57 tackles in college during his junior year, and if you follow college football, you know that means he probably made about 35. He has to find himself around the ball more often to impress as a front-line defender.

    Average speed has Dillon profiled as a “buildup” runner. He takes several yards to show burst and acceleration, and he doesn’t wow with short-area burst. His timed long speed was better than expected based on film study.

    Missed tackles were the biggest downside when evaluating Dillon. Pro Football Focus tracked him with 15 misses in 2015 alone. He had another 19 in 2014 in fewer snaps. When you have 34 missed tackles to 102 made tackles in two seasons, it’s going to be a huge red flag.

    PRO COMPARISON: Quintin Demps, Houston Texans

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

7. Jordan Lucas, Penn State

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    G Fiume/Getty Images
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'11 "201 lbs4.45s6.70s4.19s 

    POSITIVES

    A two-year player at cornerback, Jordan Lucas made the move to safety in his senior season and brought a physical, agile style to the position.

    A former Bill O’Brien recruit, Lucas has the size and speed to be a matchup defender against slot receivers or tight ends. A strong safety by alignment, he is versatile enough to shift around in the formation and give you coverage ability while being a box run-stuffer.

    Lucas will impress you with his closing speed and ability to get off the turf and attack the ball in the air. With a 38 ½” vertical jump on a 6’0” frame, he makes up for his shorter arms (30 ⅛”) and has proved to be adept at locating and going after the football.

    Versatility is the buzz word in NFL secondaries right now, and Lucas offers plenty of it. He’s quick enough to be a slot corner but physical enough to help at either safety spot.

    NEGATIVES

    A lack of ball skills will be an issue if you’re wanting to capitalize on Lucas’ ability in coverage. He had just three interceptions in college, and they came back in 2013 while he was playing cornerback opposite Adrian Amos.

    The 4.45 time Lucas posted in the 40-yard dash at his pro day is not reflected on tape. He has good closing speed in short areas but doesn’t have the long speed to track the ball over the top or carry a receiver on a vertical route. The move to safety was not only best for Penn State but also best for Lucas, as he never proved himself to be a playmaker at cornerback.

    Lucas sat out the Senior Bowl with a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the final three games of his career. He was fine to work out at his pro day but didn’t do the bench press, which could point to a lingering issue that teams must investigate.

    PRO COMPARISON: Duron Harmon, New England Patriots

    FINAL GRADE: 5.70/9.00 (Round 4—Backup Caliber)

6. Kevin Byard, Middle Tennessee State

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'11"212 lbs4.46s6.73s4.15s 

    POSITIVES

    With 19 career interceptions, Kevin Byard has the ball skills few strong safeties show. With a thick, powerful frame, he has the tools to get on the field as a three-down player.

    Byard did a little bit of everything for MTSU, playing deep and over the top of the offense and also stepping down into the box to take on the run. That’s how you get 19 interceptions as well as a reputation as a solid tackler. A four-time all-conference player in the Sun Belt and Conference USA, Byard serves as a leader in the secondary who handles assignments and alignments pre-snap.

    Fast and smooth coming out of his breaks, he has the closing speed to get to the ball working both up toward the line of scrimmage and deep coming out of a back pedal. He has the instincts and awareness to find the ball and the athleticism to get there in a hurry. A big player with great length (33 ½”) and a big vertical jump (38”), Byard is one of the best-kept secrets in the draft.

    NEGATIVES

    When asked to play in deep coverage or match up in one-on-ones with speed players, Byard can get lost and struggle to keep pace. He had 4.44 speed at his pro day timing but doesn’t play to that with pads on.

    At 212 pounds, you expect to see Byard come downhill and knock around running backs, and while he had a high number of tackles, he didn’t make a big impact in the run game. He had a reputation coming into Senior Bowl week as a hitter but didn't display it during the week of practices.

    Byard’s skills project well to the NFL given his range and size, but his hip turns and feet must get quicker when working in his backpedal. Byard isn’t tall, but he will lose balance in his backpedal and start standing up to a stiff position.

    PRO COMPARISON: Barry Church, Dallas Cowboys

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

5. Jatavis Brown, Akron

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    5'11"227 lbs4.44s7.19s4.31s 

    POSITIVES

    A versatile defender seen by some teams as a linebacker prospect, Jatavis Brown is a freak athlete with true three-down ability no matter if he’s playing with a 50 or 20 on his chest.

    Brown is an excellent coverage player when viewed through the prism of a linebacker or strong safety. He is able to match up against tight ends at the line of scrimmage or off in a zone and gets to his work quickly. He has excellent hips to drop into a zone and take away the flats, but he’s fast enough to carry his man up the seam. With a 4.47 time in the 40 at the regional combine, he has safety speed with a linebacker’s mentality.

    A potential impact player as a run defender and blitzer, Brown was productive in those roles at Akron, notching 11.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss in 2015. With 116 total tackles on the year, he was living around the football.

    He may be a ‘tweener without a true position, but Brown is one of the most impressive players in college football and has the athletic ability and instincts to become a starter in the NFL very soon.

    NEGATIVES

    Brown dominated a small-school schedule at Akron and had a low-impact game (for him) when tested against Oklahoma in Week 1. With a small frame that’s caught somewhere between a weak-side linebacker and a strong safety, there will be teams that discount his next-level transition.

    With 25 missed tackles in the last two seasonshis frame and level of competition will come up again. He has to improve his timing and technique when wrapping up ball-carriers and not rely on power to strike runners and expect them to fall.

    Against the run, Brown can be washed down by blockers, and those projecting him at linebacker are ignoring that he was not effective at stacking-and-shedding or setting the edge as a run defender.

    PRO COMPARISON: Patrick Chung, New England Patriots

    FINAL GRADE: 5.99/9.00 (Round 3-4—Future Starter)

4. Jayron Kearse, Clemson

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'4"216 lbs4.62s7.06s4.60s 

    POSITIVES

    A junior entry into the 2016 NFL draft—along with fellow defensive backs Mackensie Alexander, T.J. Green and Travis Blanks—Jayron Kearse has eye-popping size and length, and at times he looked like a Round 1 talent.

    The nephew of Jevon "The Freak" Kearse, Jayron is impressive on the hoof with a solid, thick frame. He’s an ideal single-high safety given his size and range in the middle of the field. His play speed is better than his track speed, and Kearse has shown he can track and cover the ball in quarters or half coverage.

    When asked to step up and press receivers or tight ends, Kearse can be a pest with his 34 ¼” arms and big frame. He has the quickness to mirror receivers at the line of scrimmage, and when he does fail to get home with a punch, he’s agile enough to turn and run to catch up. With a super-long stride, Kearse covers ground in a hurry.

    An instinctive player, he has the skills to make the calls for a secondary. Kearse needs to be coached up in his effort and angles but has the tools to be a better pro than college player.

    NEGATIVES

    In the biggest game of his career, Kearse looked like he wanted nothing to do with tackling Derrick Henry or any of the Alabama skill players. Two weeks before, in a playoff game against Oklahoma, Kearse struggled to make an impact as a tackler, putting three missed attempts on film. Two big stages and two poor games from Kearse have scouts questioning his desire.

    A long strider with a high-cut frame, Kearse can be stiff getting out of breaks and doesn’t appear to be too twitchy. His 40 time was average—even taking into account his size—and he could struggle to match speed with NFL receivers unless he times his hip turns perfectly. With a skill set suited best to zone coverage over the top, Kearse may be labeled as scheme-limited and valued less by teams wanting speed at safety.

    PRO COMPARISON: George Iloka, Cincinnati Bengals

    FINAL GRADE: 6.00/9.00 (Round 3—Future Starter)

3. Miles Killebrew, Southern Utah

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'2"217 lbs4.51s6.93s4.18s 

    POSITIVES

    If Ivan Drago from Rocky IV had a son, and that son played football, it would be Miles Killebrew.

    The Southern Utah senior dominated the NFL Scouting Combine, finishing as a top performer in the bench press (22 reps), vertical jump (38”), broad jump (10’7”) and most likely to scare media members. Killebrew then turned around and ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at his pro day.

    A thumper in the run game, Killebrew will destroy receivers coming over the middle and can get into the backfield to make plays in the run game. His closing speed is as good as you’d expect from his explosive numbers at the combine, and he moves with an intent to do harm to ball-carriers.

    Killebrew is a classic strong safety and will be best suited to an in-the-box position, but he’s versatile enough to play nickel linebacker in the middle of the field. A team leader and high-IQ player, he is confident and controlled as a tackler in space and in traffic.

    NEGATIVES

    A jacked-up player with impressive strength, Killebrew is limited by his instincts and reaction time. He doesn’t lack for intelligence but is thinking too much when seeing the pass and not letting his instincts take over.

    Coming out of Southern Utah, Killebrew played with some top-tier prospects but didn’t face many on the other side of the ball. Despite a solid Senior Bowl week, there are questions about his skill set translating to the NFL.

    Many see Killebrew’s frame and muscles and expect a clunky, stiff player, but that isn’t an issue on his tape. Instead, he’s slowed down by late awareness when reacting to the ball in the air. This doesn’t show up often against the run, but when dropping into a zone to play the pass, he doesn’t have hair-trigger reaction time. That will only be highlighted more in the NFL, which makes it an issue flagged for early attention from coaches.

    PRO COMPARISON: Deone Bucannon, Arizona Cardinals

    FINAL GRADE: 6.40/9.00 (Rounds 2-3—Future Starter)

2. Jeremy Cash, Duke

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'0"212 lbsINJINJINJ

    POSITIVES

    A consensus All-American in 2015, Jeremy Cash was an impact player at strong safety for Duke. With 100 tackles or more in three straight seasons, Cash is among the most productive players at the position and comes into the NFL ready to make a difference as a rookie.

    Cash made his living behind the line of scrimmage and recorded 38 tackles for a loss in his career—with 18 of those coming in 2015 alone. He’s quick and instinctive, and he shows the power to shed blockers with his length or slip under their hands when working to stop outside runs. Playing in the box, Cash operates like a linebacker with plus speed.

    A tremendous two-down safety, he may be viewed as a potential nickel linebacker given his run-stopping skills and the impact he can have as a sub-package middle linebacker. He’s physical enough to jam and press tight ends at the line of scrimmage, and he could be the answer to the Jack tight end position for teams looking to stay physical on third down.

    NEGATIVES

    A wrist injury kept Cash out of the Pinstripe Bowl and limited his predraft availability, and then a hamstring injury kept him out of the pro day.

    Going back to look at his film after the combine, you see some trouble attacking after transitions. That points to stiff hips. Cash doesn’t explode out of his backpedal and takes several steps to get to full speed when running to space. He was able to still make a high number of plays in college despite this, but looking at his Sunday skill set, his limited twitch will cause concerns.

    An old-school box safety, Cash is not a cover man in the new breed of the position. He needs to operate against tight ends or backs and not be asked to do more than jam and release slippery slot receivers. He doesn’t have the long speed to carry those players up the field and will get lost in man coverage.

    PRO COMPARISON: Jaquiski Tartt, San Francisco 49ers

    FINAL GRADE: 6.40/9.00 (Rounds 2-3—Future Starter)

1. Keanu Neal, Florida

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight40 Time3-Cone Short Shuttle
    6'0"211 lbs4.62s7.09s4.38s 

    POSITIVES

    A junior entry into the 2016 draft class, Keanu Neal is generating buzz as the potential first safety off the board. That’s where he ranks for us.

    A starter for a season-and-a-half at Florida, Neal made waves with his big hitting style. He was like a smaller Kam Chancellor punishing SEC running backs, quarterbacks and wide receivers. Whether he was breaking up passes over the middle of the field or spying a quarterback, Neal was making an impact on defense.

    A top-tier athlete for his size, Neal has the closing speed to track the ball inside and outside the tackle box. He’s a clean player in transitions and has the explosive hips to flip and run when he sees an alley to the ball. He is thick enough to go through blockers when taking a line to the ball—a trait that translates well to the NFL.

    A twitchy, powerful player, Neal has the tools and athleticism to be a valuable player on every down.

    NEGATIVES

    With 16 missed tackles in 2015, Neal toes the line between aggressive and too aggressive when coming downhill to play the ball.

    He can be late to read-and-react to the ball in front of him—especially passing plays. He’s a fast player, but his straight-line ability was just average when asked to turn and pursue a receiver who slipped by in coverage. Neal is much faster when he’s chasing the ball than when he’s moving about the field.

    His play mentality is fantastic, but he has to learn to limit his intensity when it comes to breaking down in space to make tackles and when he’s asked to sit and read the offense to get in place as a coverage safety. If he can be coached to play deep coverage, Neal should see the field as a rookie.

    PRO COMPARISON: Calvin Pryor, New York Jets

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