NFL Draft 400: Ranking the Draft's Top Safeties
After 11 months of evaluation, conversations with scouts and coaches and endless nights on the road or at games, our staff is finally ready to answer the burning questions surrounding the 2019 NFL draft.
Who is the best overall player? 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, with help from scouting assistants Marshal Miller and Jerod Brown. Together, we viewed tape of a minimum of three games per player—the same standard NFL teams use.
Oftentimes, we saw every play from 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 prospect's style or fit in the pros. The top 400 players will be broken down by position for easy viewing before the release of a top-400 big board prior to the draft, which begins April 25.
In the case of a tie, players were ranked based on their overall grade in our top 400.
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 or current front-office personnel in the NFL.
This applies to all positions across the board.
|9.00||Elite—No. 1 pick|
|7.50-7.99||Round 1—Pro Bowl Potential|
|7.00-7.49||Round 1—Top-15 Player Potential|
|6.50-6.99||Round 2—Rookie Impact/Future Starter|
|6.00-6.49||Round 3—Rookie Impact/Future Starter|
|5.80-5.99||Round 3-4—Future Starter|
|5.70-5.79||Round 4—Backup Caliber|
|5.60-5.69||Round 5—Backup Caliber|
|5.30-5.59||Round 6—Backup Caliber|
|5.10-5.25||Round 7—Backup Caliber|
|5.00||Priority Free Agent|
29. Donovan Wilson, Texas A&M
—Huge hitter who is a treat to watch with his power and ability to come downhill and rock ball-carriers.
—Team leader and coach's pet with excellent on-field instincts, awareness and football IQ.
—Versatile defender with experience in nickel and single-high sets.
—On-ball production is impressive with eight career interceptions; soft, natural hands and the eyes to find and close on the ball.
—Has the short-area quickness to match up with slot receivers.
—Injured for 2017 season after suffering a season-ending ankle injury in the opener.
—Fails to impress as a mover in space; doesn’t have great closing speed and shows hip tightness when changing direction.
—Can be too aggressive as a hitter and was often penalized for targeting.
—Struggles coming out of his breaks and has heavy, choppy feet.
After losing the 2017 season to injury, Wilson fought back onto the field and made a huge statement for A&M under Jimbo Fisher. He’s a hard-hitting, physical safety who will impress scouts. But his lack of athleticism and range are enough to keep him from being a starter.
GRADE: 5.00 (UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT)
PRO COMPARISON: Corey Moore
28. JoJo McIntosh, Washington
—Three-year starter in a loaded Washington secondary with the size and strength teams want at safety.
—Big hitter when coming downhill; fills the box well and has a bruiser's mentality.
—Coaches loved him and rave about his character and leadership.
—Assignment-smart; doesn’t get fooled by misdirection or double moves. You don’t see mental mistakes from McIntosh.
—Athleticism doesn’t pop off the tape; looks average when asked to turn and run with receivers.
—Stiff hips in transitions; doesn’t fly his hips open and run with easy speed or fluid movements.
—Ball skills aren’t obvious on tape or in his stats; struggles to locate the ball and lacks the recovery speed to track it in the air.
—Only decent instincts despite high football IQ.
—Doesn’t have the agility to make quick cuts or change direction.
McIntosh is the kind of worker and leader every team wants, but his average ball skills and lack of athleticism make him a late-round or free-agent prospect instead of a priority selection. If he can come in and contribute on special teams, he’s a good enough all-around player to stick in the NFL.
GRADE: 5.00 (UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT)
PRO COMPARISON: Siran Neal
27. Zedrick Woods, Ole Miss
—4.29 time in the 40-yard dash was the best of the 2019 combine. Pursuit angles become irrelevant with his speed.
—Willing to come downhill in the run game and finish tackles with a pop.
—Enough size and speed to match up with slot receivers and tight ends.
—Physical enough to take on blockers and play near the line.
—Speed doesn't show up on tape, specifically in deep range.
—Slow to read and react in coverage. Doesn't process plays quickly and gets caught trying to catch up.
—Lacks ball production and doesn't make many plays on the ball in the air.
—Specifically a box safety and slot corner.
Woods made a name for himself at the combine with a blazing 40-yard dash. His rare speed will get the NFL to rewatch his tape. Teams will find a track athlete with aggressive play at the line of scrimmage and limited lateral movement. His athleticism will get him drafted, but Woods' play will make it a late selection.
GRADE: 5.15 (ROUND 7—BACKUP CALIBER)
PRO COMPARISON: Tashaun Gipson
26. John Battle, LSU
—Vocal leader in a secondary that included Greedy Williams and Grant Delpit.
—Quick feet and enough range to play single high in the NFL. Also has experience playing slot corner.
—Able to come down from deep safety and makes plays against the run.
—Impressive in man coverage against tight ends with the feet and physicality to jam at the line.
—Comes in too high and had trouble finishing tackles against physical runners.
—Over-pursuit angles led to cutbacks and extra yards.
—Has decent range to cover over the middle, but not enough to get to the sidelines.
—Slow recognition in coverage and relies on speed to recover.
Battle is a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Playing single high safety at LSU for two years is nothing to overlook, but his teammates were able to help hide some flaws in his game. Battle offers enough range to provide depth at safety and the slot for any team. But, he needs to show more as a tackler to stay with a roster.
GRADE: 5.15 (ROUND 7—BACKUP CALIBER)
PRO COMPARISON: Will Hill
25. Khari Willis, Michigan State
—Team leader at Michigan State. Great character, work ethic and story overcoming hardships at BIG-10 media days.
—Thick, compact build at safety that fits the ideal NFL mold.
—Plays the run with a full head of steam and isn't afraid to initiate contact.
—At his best when sitting in underneath zone and reading the quarterback's eyes.
—Very limited range as a deep safety; lacks suddenness and burst to cover ground.
—Exploited as a slot corner by speedy receivers.
—Lateral movements in routes give him trouble.
—Misplays the ball or man in coverage too often, leading to unwarranted receptions.
Willis has all the intangibles teams look for in a player, but is lacking athletically. No one in the locker room will work harder, yet his shortcomings in coverage will make it difficult to find playing time. Willis can provide depth and a locker room presence while contributing on special teams.
GRADE: 5.25 (ROUND 7—BACKUP CALIBER)
PRO COMPARISON: T.J. Ward
24. Darius West, Kentucky
—The leader of a very talented Kentucky defense with multiple players in this year's draft.
—Good instincts and communicates what he sees to teammates; excellent quarterback in the secondary.
—Comfortable playing in the box and unafraid of bigger blockers.
—Brings some thump with him on tackles and can lay powerful hits on runners.
—Often injured; has had multiple leg injuries.
—Play speed does not match impressive 4.39-second 40-yard dash; struggles to take the right angle to the ball and overestimates his recovery speed.
—Size and lateral quickness limit his matchups in man coverage; doesn't have the length to impact tight ends at the line.
—Lacks range as a deep safety.
Members of the Kentucky defense have gone on record talking about how much West meant to their success as a team in 2018. His ability to set the tone with his play and leadership will not be overlooked by NFL teams looking to add depth at safety. When healthy, he can be a key contributor and versatile asset for any defense.
GRADE: 5.25 (ROUND 7—BACKUP CALIBER)
PRO COMPARISON: Antoine Bethea
23. Mark McLaurin, Mississippi State
—Intimidating size for the position; played in the box often and looked like a linebacker
—Length and agility match up well with tight ends and running backs.
—Able to close in on running plays and screens to both running backs and receivers on the outside.
—Played multiple positions at Mississippi State, including box safety, slot corner and deep safety.
—Unbalanced at the point of contact, leading to missed tackles and extra yards.
—Struggles to disengage from blocking tight ends.
—Rarely makes plays on the ball, excluding 2017 Louisville tape.
—Lacks physicality despite impressive size.
Looks like a physical box safety, but never shows the aggressiveness to fill that role. McLaurin possesses great instincts and excels when coming downhill to fill rushing lanes and blow up quick screens. Tends to get lost in deep coverage and has trouble sticking with agile receivers. I would like to see McLaurin play with more dog in his game and become an imposing box safety.
GRADE: 5.25 (ROUND 7—BACKUP CALIBER)
PRO COMPARISON: Dashon Goldson
22. D'Cota Dixon, Wisconsin
—Natural leader on the field and in the locker room. The story of his upbringing is incredible and shows how he has become a leader.
—Has played almost every role and position in the secondary.
—Physical safety that can consistently tackle and make plays on the ball.
—Takes good angles to the ball and excels when coming forward in the run game.
—Lacks the ideal length to match up in man coverage against tight ends, as well as the lateral quickness to cover receivers.
—Stiff when he has to turn and run; lacks recovery speed.
—Undersized frame at 5'10", which could keep him off boards as he doesn’t meet the threshold set by defensive coaches.
—40-yard time of 4.81 seconds won’t help his case as a prospect.
High-character safety with versatility and awareness that teams will value late in the draft. Dixon does lack the optimal physical traits to be a starting safety, but his special teams' ability is a selling point.
GRADE 5.40 (ROUND 6—BACKUP CALIBER)
PRO COMPARISON: Darren Smith
21. Ugo Amadi, Oregon
—Team captain and leader of the defense at Oregon in 2018.
—Came to the Ducks as a corner recruit and has spent time at the position, which proves versatility.
—Above-average blitzer from the nickel position with ability to disguise his intentions.
—Dangerous with the ball in his hands. Had four touchdowns at Oregon on three pick-sixes and one punt return.
—Slow to play the run and lacks a physical element to his game.
—Not an ideal matchup against tight ends due to lacking height and length at 5'9".
—Not an excellent tackler for a safety. Does more grabbing than wrapping up and doesn't put much power behind his punch.
—Does not contest many receptions. Loses 50/50 balls and doesn't play well above the field.
Amadi was an impressive player at Oregon but is limited by position. As a corner recruit he lacked the length to play on the outside and was moved to nickel corner, which is where he will find value in the NFL. Amadi can blitz, play the run and contribute on special teams, while providing depth at safety and corner.
GRADE: 5.50 (ROUND 6—BACKUP CALIBER)
PRO COMPARISON: Karl Joseph
20. Lukas Denis, Boston College
—Two-year starter at free safety who showed off ball skills with eight interceptions in the last two seasons and has experience in the valuable single-high role.
—Can line up in the slot and play some cornerback with good speed and coverage instincts; valuable as a fifth defensive back given his versatility.
—Good at the line of scrimmage with short-area quickness and fast feet.
—Has some return skills that get showcased on interceptions; could see a role there in the pros.
—Athletic testing at the combine was sub-par with 4.64-second 40-yard dash, 33 ½” vertical jump and a broad jump of only 9’8”.
—Thin frame at just 185 pounds and 5’11"; could be looked at as a nickel safety only.
—Not a consistent tackler and lacks the power to stick ball-carriers; doesn’t always show great effort at the point of attack.
—Dominated in 2017 but then dropped off sharply in 2018, so teams will have to worry about the potential of a one-year wonder.
—Gives up too much space in man coverage and struggles to use length to swat the ball away from receivers. Allows a high level of completions.
Denis shined in 2017 but his senior tape wasn’t good enough to get him an invite to the Senior Bowl. Denis struggled to stand out at the East-West Shrine and wasn’t a great performer at the combine. Teams that look at his junior tape will be intrigued, but his testing times and most recent tape suggest risk.
GRADE: 5.50 (ROUND 6—BACKUP CALIBER)
PRO COMPARISON: Marcus Allen
19. Jonathan Crawford, Indiana
—Plays both safety positions and has great size for free or strong safety work.
—Good hand use at the line of scrimmage and while taking on blockers.
—Consistent but not punishing tackler.
—Enough quickness and strength to match up on multiple receiver types.
—Slow to process plays and gets confused by quarterback's eyes.
—Will take poor angles to the ball-carrier. Gets too far outside and opens lanes.
—Get sucked in by play-action and lacks recovery speed.
—Struggles to match up in man coverage due to poor feet quickness
Crawford doesn’t do anything that will wow you with his tape but he consistently does everything well. His size and quickness will transition to the NFL and make him a good addition late in the draft. With his ability to step in and play special teams or be a third safety, he has added value for roster depth.
GRADE: 5.59 (ROUND 6—BACKUP CALIBER)
PRO COMPARISON: Husain Abdullah
18. Andrew Wingard, Wyoming
—Held his own against top tight ends when locked up in man coverage.
—Able to mirror quick ball-carriers and bring power against physical runners.
—Always looking for the ball and ways to force turnovers; smart, instinctive player.
—Gets a jump on the ball before receivers with enough speed to close the gap.
—Looks to deliver a blow rather than make a tackle, which allows runners to bounce away.
—Below-average athleticism in coverage allows receivers and tight ends to get behind him.
—Lacks lateral quickness in the slot in man coverage; doesn't have loose, fluid hips.
—Slow in back-pedal drops and slow to transition from a pedal to a run.
Wingard lacks the athletic ability and lateral movement to be more than a box safety. He lives to make plays in the run game and is confident stepping up to make plays, but will need to contribute on special teams and land with a team looking specifically for a box safety.
GRADE: 5.59 (ROUND 6—BACKUP CALIBER)
PRO COMPARISON: Tre Boston
17. Marvell Tell III, USC
—Length and range to play a valuable role in the NFL as a single high safety.
—Effective blitzer from all over the field.
—Can flip his hips and run with receivers and athletic tight ends.
—Quick, agile feet to close on runners from deep safety.
—Adequate at closing gaps in running lanes and will stick his nose in the mix to make plays.
—Not physical at the point of impact, allowing too many yards after contact.
—Slender build, at 198 pounds on a 6'2" frame, will be overpowered by tight ends.
—Loses in deep coverage by allowing receivers to get deeper than him.
—Slow to close on running plays.
Tell will shine when he is determined to make a play. Many teams will fall in love with his range and ball skills. He can be slow in the run game, especially runs up the middle, but tracks well to the outside.
GRADE: 5.60 (ROUND 5—BACKUP CALIBER)
PRO COMPARISON: Marcus Williams
16. Mike Bell, Fresno State
—Big safety prospect (6’3”, 210 lbs) who starred at free safety in 2018, earning second-team All-Mountain West honors while notching 86 tackles and three interceptions.
—Easy mover on tape who has short-area quickness and light feet.
—Awesome combination of size, length and power to handle slot duty in man coverage and work well against tight ends and receivers; can also play single-high and uses his size well there to go up and attack deep balls.
—Size is intriguing enough that teams could fall for his upside and positional versatility despite just two years of starting experience.
—40-yard time might crush him on draft boards after posting a 4.83-second run at the combine.
—Gets overly aggressive, losing discipline and technique when the ball is in the air; wants to make the highlight play and will allow pass-catchers too much separation.
—Misdirection gets him taking false steps and he doesn’t have the pure recovery speed to make it up.
—Plays more like an athlete than a technician at safety; takes poor angles and jumps for too many balls instead of trying to position himself for the breakup or interception.
Bell had very good tape in 2018, but his linear and rigid play with poor awareness at safety are a concern. With his below-average time in the 40 and just 10 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, Bell’s stock is in a tailspin as the draft approaches.
GRADE: 5.69 (ROUND 5—BACKUP CALIBER)
PRO COMPARISON: T.J. McDonald
15. Malik Gant, Marshall
—Former walk-on who earned a scholarship for the 2017 season and team MVP in 2018.
—Big hitter who oozes a love for football; relishes the intricacies of the game and doesn’t take plays off.
—Excels coming downhill and filling the box as a hard hitter against running backs.
—Tough, physical player who is relentless in his pursuit and doesn’t shy away from contact.
—Has the versatility to be a box safety but can also play like an extra linebacker, especially in nickel packages.
—Slow 40 time at the combine (4.63) raises red flags after struggles on tape keeping pace with fast receivers downfield.
—Limited range over the top in bracket or zone coverage.
—Can get lost in man coverage due to limited speed, but also due to instincts on when to turn and run and how to time transitions.
—Tight hips and not a natural, fluid mover; jerky from his backpedal to sprint.
—Will struggle to keep pace with NFL speed.
Gant is an infectious player and one of the most fun safeties to watch in the 2019 draft class. His love of the game is obvious and his penchant for hard, well-timed hits can shake up an offense. His limited athleticism is a concern, though, and will keep him from being a priority selection.
GRADE: 5.70 (ROUND 4—BACKUP CALIBER)
PRO COMPARISON: Patrick Chung
14. Saquan Hampton, Rutgers
—Ideal height, weight and speed for the NFL (6’1”, 206 lbs, 4.48-second 40-yard dash); checks every box from a size and speed standpoint.
—Team captain and excellent leader on and off the field.
—Was able to play single-high and box safety while also playing slot cornerback.
—Plays the ball at all opportunities with strips, PBUs and interceptions.
—Injuries to both shoulders in college are a major red flag for a tackler.
—Not a punishing tackler at the finish and looks timid at the point of attack.
—Gets thrown off pursuit angles and eaten up by simple stalk blocks.
—The 4.48 40 never shows up on tape.
A well-above-average 40 time had us going back to the tape, but we never saw his speed in coverage or when coming downhill to make a tackle. In fact, too many times Hampton let ball-carriers get into him first. His versatility in the secondary will give him the chance to find a role in the NFL and stick with it, though. Especially with his ability to find and make a play on the ball.
GRADE: 5.70 (ROUND 4—BACKUP CALIBER)
PRO COMPARISON Morgan Burnett
13. Will Harris, Boston College
—Height, weight and speed (6'1", 207 pounds, 4.41-second 40-yard dash) that can contribute on special teams immediately.
—Rare safety in this class withthe experience and ability to play in the box and at high safety.
—Can click and close to come downhill, match up in man and cover sideline to sideline.
—Frequent and efficient blitzer from multiple positions.
—Priority is the hit not the ball in coverage.
—Loves to come down and hit, but is sometimes slow to get there.
—Lets receivers make plays in front of him. Doesn’t always separate the ball from the player.
—Takes on blockers, but struggles to disengage.
Super physical safety that can play all over the secondary. Harris hits his top speed quickly and covers a lot of ground. Will come in and provide depth at both safety positions and excel on special teams.
GRADE: 5.75 (ROUND 4—BACKUP CALIBER)
PRO COMPARISON: Michael Griffin
12. Jaquan Johnson, Miami
—Undeniable leader, the team captain at Miami brought energy and excitement to the field.
—Sound technique in tackling and enough dog in his game to deliver a punch.
—Tracks ball-carriers with elite vision and has the burst coming downhill to close quickly.
—Constantly around the football. Whether it be in the running game, passing game or special teams, he can find the ball and create turnovers.
—Lacks speed to run with receivers up the seam and can't stay in phase with receivers from the slot.
—Lacks size to man up against tight ends; offers limited support at the line of scrimmage in press coverage.
—Limited range as a free safety with average speed and hips.
—Tweener safety that will need to prove he can play in the slot.
An undersized but talented player that many teams will view as a box safety. Johnson lacks range in coverage, size versus tight ends and speed versus receivers—but he will come downhill with a full head of steam and make plays underneath. Johnson will be able to get the attention of many teams with his play on special teams.
GRADE: 5.80 (ROUND 4—BACKUP CALIBER)
PRO COMPARISON: Quandre Diggs
11. Mike Edwards, Kentucky
—Versatile, smart safety prospect who can also work as a cornerback in the slot after starting for three years at Kentucky.
—Led the team with 96 tackles in 2017 and came back with another impressive total of 82 in 2018.
—10 interceptions in his career showcase hands and instincts.
—Excellent playing in the slot with three-tool skills there. Can blitz, cover slot receivers and stop the run off the edge. Could be an early player in NFL defenses as a third safety.
—All heart and very good aggressiveness across the board.
—A lot of missed tackles on his tape; comes down aggressively but doesn’t routinely bring down the ball.
—Size an issue at 5’10” and 205 pounds; height and length (30 ⅞” arms) are not what NFL teams want from a starter.
—Lets his lack of recovery speed result in poor timing and jumpy coverage in phase. Uses his hands too much.
—Doesn’t have the speed to carry receivers downfield and might be best in zone coverage or sticking at safety.
—Lacks the power to effectively jam up receivers when matched up in the slot.
Edwards has value as a combo defensive back who can work in single-high sets, but might have his best value playing in the slot as a hybrid cornerback and safety. His lack of size and speed are reasons that teams might be lower on him, but he has some starting traits.
GRADE: 5.85 (ROUND 4—BACKUP CALIBER)
PRO COMPARISON: Rashad Johnson
10. Marquise Blair, Utah
—Hybrid safety that played all over the secondary for Utah.
—Loves to come up and make plays in the run game and does a good job taking on blockers.
—Has enough speed and range to play single high safety in the NFL.
—His physicality and aggressiveness will transition to special teams very nicely.
—Lacks the bulk in his frame to shed blockers or play physically at the line of scrimmage.
—Costly penalties and undisciplined at times.
—Leaves his coverage to make plays on mobile quarterbacks.
—Takes himself out of plays with poor angles in run and pass defense.
Highly aggressive and competitive player. That aggression can be both a strength and a weakness as it has taken him out of plays and games, but at the same time helped him position to make plays. Blair will be able to take a role as a special team player early in his career while providing depth throughout the secondary.
GRADE: 5.99 (ROUND 3-4—FUTURE STARTER)
PRO COMPARISON: Chris Conte
9. Evan Worthington, Colorado
—Exceptional size at 6’2”, 210 pounds and checks all boxes for athleticism.
—Good instincts and vision from deep safety allow him to make plays on balls most safeties his size cannot.
—Can match up in man with a variety of receivers, while also excelling in single high coverage.
—Ideal third safety that can play tight ends in the slot and handle duties of high and box safety as needed.
—Suspended all of 2016 for violation of team rules.
—Takes poor angles to the ball; needs to clean up his alleys and pursuit angles.
—Needs to play with more aggression when tackling and taking on blockers.
—Plays flat-footed when working up to plays in front of him.
When asking about his character we've heard varying reports. Some say the concerns are still there while others say he came back from suspension a new player. Without doing our own interviews it’s hard to say. Worthington brings exceptional size as a single high safety that can come in and play multiple roles immediately in the NFL.
GRADE: 6.00 (ROUND 3—ROOKIE IMPACT)
PRO COMPARISON: Kevin Byard
8. Amani Hooker, Iowa
—Starter at free safety, strong safety and also a hybrid safety spot in 2018 that saw him work as an extra linebacker at times.
—2018 Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year with four INTs, 3.5 TFLs and seven passes broken up.
—Versatility is a key to his game; can line up at any of the safety positions and would excel in the box or hovering in the middle of the field taking away underneath and seam routes.
—Able to set the edge in the run game with the play strength and bulk (5’11”, 210 lbs) to get the angle on blockers.
—Fast processor with ideal awareness and instincts; looks to be a well-developed safety with a quick trigger on read-and-react plays.
—Had three interceptions in 2018 where he showed hands off in his only full season of starts.
—Missed three games in 2017 with a bruised knee.
—Has limited experience at single high safety and doesn’t project well there; slow to turn to the ball and doesn’t play the pass behind him well.
—Frequently missed tackles from looking to run through the ball instead of wrapping up.
—Gave up too much ground in man coverage that allowed receivers to convert yards-after-catch.
—Doesn’t find the ball well when targeted and saw most of his on-ball production on easy catches; has to do a better job punching the ball away from receivers.
Hooker has a ton of upside at the safety position and could be an instant starter for teams in need of a strong safety with plus coverage skills and good in-the-box toughness. He’s versatile enough to hang in man coverage and, at 20 years old, his best football is likely ahead of him.
GRADE: 6.30 (ROUND 3—ROOKIE IMPACT)
PRO COMPARISON: Kenny Vaccaro
7. Darnell Savage Jr, Maryland
—Experienced, versatile three-year starter at safety with excellent speed (4.36-second 40-yard dash) and coverage skills to step right into a free safety role in the NFL.
—Smart and consistent; rarely found out of position. He’s able to take tape study and apply it on the field with a high football IQ.
—Burst is explosive with great top-end speed and the ability to quickly close on the ball whether it’s behind or in front of him.
—Seek-and-destroy mentality as a tackler; quick to diagnose and get to the ball.
—Doesn’t get fooled by misdirection or play-fakes. Holds his ground and is patient enough to read his queues and diagnose.
—Small (5’11”, 198 lbs) for a top-end safety; might be typecast as a nickel player.
—Not a hitter; small body bounces off runners and results in missed tackles.
—Doesn’t play above the rim well and is more likely to attack the receiver after the catch than challenge a 50/50 ball.
—Allows more space in the route than you'd like, which often results in giving up more yards after catch and letting receivers or tight ends run past him post-catch.
With excellent speed and instincts, Savage is a blast to watch, but he could be judged harshly by NFL teams that want more size and length at the position. He has the athleticism and experience to hit the field immediately in sub-packages and could be a starter at free safety soon.
GRADE: 6.30 (ROUND 3—ROOKIE IMPACT)
PRO COMPARISON: Adrian Amos
6. Juan Thornhill, Virginia
—Versatile defensive back who has experience at cornerback and free safety with good size (6’0”, 205 lbs) for duty across the secondary.
—Top-notch tackler who brings power and is incredibly consistent at bringing down ball-carriers in space. Rarely missed a tackle in his three years as a starter.
—Has ball production with 13 interceptions and 26 passes defensed in his career at Virginia.
—Testing and tape show closing speed (4.42-second 40-yard dash) to recover or close on the ball; has the speed to keep pace with athletic tight ends, but can also run in the hip of slot receivers.
—Has upside at safety after moving there for only the 2018 season; instincts and size are an ideal fit at free safety.
—Gives too much of a cushion at times and lets receivers pick up yards after the catch that should be erased.
—Isn’t always in the right position to eliminate receptions when quarterbacks challenge him; needs to do a better job of using length and closing speed to separate the ball from the receiver.
—Looked small when viewed in person and doesn’t play to his size.
—Gets caught stepping upfield instead of staying true to his alignment in coverage; wants to get sucked down into the box.
—Still developing, which can be dangerous. Teams might get more skills and production from Thornhill or opposing offenses in the NFL could find weaknesses in his game that weren’t fixed at Virginia.
Thornhill can’t be overlooked in this deep safety class. He’s a two-year starter at cornerback with one year of top-tier play at safety in which he showed instincts, ball skills and athleticism taking away the ACC’s best receivers and tight ends. As an early Round 2 selection he will be an impact in the NFL as a third safety or nickel cornerback with future starting potential.
GRADE: 6.75 (ROUND 2—ROOKIE IMPACT)
PRO COMPARISON: Marcus Maye
5. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida
—Athletic, well-built (5’11”, 210 lbs) defensive back prospect who has experience at cornerback and safety, making him perfect for the modern NFL as a matchup defender.
—Shows off good recovery speed on the field and on the track (4.48-second 40-yard dash) with the ability to attack the ball behind him and catch up to receivers.
—H-I-T-T-E-R who isn’t afraid of contact and will come downhill with a full head of steam; can play in the slot and work as an extra linebacker.
—Has experience playing single high safety; showed instincts and range in deep coverage and has the speed to play center field.
—Raw prospect that can be developed into whatever teams need and might be able to play multiple positions in the course of a season; the ideal defensive chess piece to line up across from whatever the offense’s best player is.
—Could get a tweener label from teams given he hasn’t been used exclusively at one position over the last two years at Florida.
—Footwork can get heavy in a phone booth and might not have the short-area quickness to consistently handle slot duties in the pros.
—Aggressive style will get him into trouble; jumps on play-fakes and can get fooled by misdirection.
—Plays a little tall in man coverage, which can cause his transitions to be slower.
—Allows too many runners to bounce off his frame when attempting to make a big hit. Missed a lot of tackles in last two seasons.
Gardner-Johnson is a lot like Minkah Fitzpatrick or Jalen Ramsey were coming out of college—fantastic defenders the NFL can’t agree on where to play. Unlike those former first-rounders, Gardner-Johnson doesn’t have great production on the ball or in coverage to back up his versatility. What he does have is excellent potential and versatility, which should make CGJ a top-50 pick.
GRADE: 6.90 (ROUND 2—ROOKIE IMPACT)
PRO COMPARISON: Justin Reid
4. Nasir Adderley, Delaware
—Experienced at both cornerback and safety with the burst and balance needed to excel at either spot.
—Wrap-up tackler who drives into the legs of runners and will secure the ball-carrier with a high rate of success.
—Agile and loose when moving side-to-side; able to cut and change direction on the fly with light feet and flexible hips.
—Has the speed to run in phase when working in man coverage; uses his timing and speed to recover well if beat off the line.
—Smooth backpedal as a single high safety allows him to get depth and maintain vision while covering ground.
—Shows ball skills on tape with the ability to jump and attack high passes, but also with the speed to dart between the ball and intended receiver.
—Low level of competition has left him with underdeveloped instincts in coverage, which leads to too many guesses.
—Needs to learn to read his cues and be more accurate with play diagnoses.
—Doesn’t play to his size (6’0”, 206 lbs).
—Isn’t the first guy to duck in and attack the run; will look to stay out of traffic and make plays in space.
—Can get lost in high coverage and struggled at the Senior Bowl to time his breaks against better competition.
Adderley is one of the best coverage safeties in the entire draft, showing a full tool set of instincts, ball skills and athleticism when matched up in man or zone. Despite coming from a small school, he has the ability to play immediately in the NFL as a starter at free safety or in nickel cornerback situations. His versatility will be a big selling point.
GRADE 6.90 (ROUND 2—ROOKIE STARTER)
PRO COMPARISON Damarious Randall
3. Deionte Thompson, Alabama
—Breakout player during 2018 season who started his Alabama career as a redshirt before playing special teams to earn a starting spot.
—Range and speed over the top allow him to blanket the field and take away deep routes in bracket coverage.
—Has ideal burst and speed to get to the ball midair. Can play single high safety and reach any part of the field once locating the ball.
—Good read-and-react skills with rare instincts for a first-year player. Quick to diagnose the play and is rarely found out of position.
—Easy mover; light feet, loose hips and good overall speed.
—No NFL Scouting Combine due to wrist surgery.
—Very lean build (6'1", 195 lbs) and needs to work on adding and maintaining strength.
—Only three career interceptions in college despite being billed as a center fielder with range and instincts.
—Missed tackles were notable and speak to concerns about his frame being too small to handle the pounding of an NFL season. Made a lot of business decisions and didn’t bring heat when attacking the ball.
—One-year starter who needs reps and experience in coverage; Clemson notably went at him in the national title game and he was exposed on several plays.
Thompson is the most promising free safety prospect in the 2019 draft class, but there are legitimate concerns about his frame and the poor play showed against Clemson and Oklahoma in the playoffs. If he can add some bulk to his frame while maintaining his speed and range, teams should be excited by his potential as a top-50 selection.
GRADE 6.90 (ROUND 2—ROOKIE STARTER)
PRO COMPARISON: Devin McCourty
2. Johnathan Abram, Mississippi State
—Play speed and strength are on 100; aggressive, violent player who loves the game and hits like a Mack truck.
—Scares offensive players with his intensity and hitting power; dominates with downhill range between the sidelines in the run game.
—Short-area burst is impressive; he closes on the ball with one-step speed and big power at the point of attack.
—Strong on the field and is able to press tight ends at the line of scrimmage or put a body on players over the middle when they run routes in his area.
—More athletic and flexible than he looks thanks to muscle tone; has the hips to open and run to the ball.
—True Alpha that coaches and teammates love and follow.
—Shoulder injury flagged in Mobile kept him out of the Senior Bowl.
—Ejected for targeting foul in 2018 (UMass game); can get too aggressive at times.
—Limited ball skills and will be typecast as a box safety who doesn’t play over the top in coverage; very limited experience in deep coverage.
—Allows a high number of receptions when in man or zone coverage; instincts and awareness are low when tracking the ball.
Abram might be a bit of a throwback at safety, but as NFL teams adapt to the current style of teams, and as more running quarterbacks take the field, he’s the answer to many of the issues defenses are facing. Abram’s ability to be an eraser in the run game while showing the athleticism to develop in coverage makes him a top-50 target.
GRADE 6.95 (ROUND 2—ROOKIE STARTER)
PRO COMPARISON: Keanu Neal
1. Taylor Rapp, Washington
—Physical, smart and versatile defensive back who can line up in various alignments and be a matchup defender in the secondary.
—Never misses tackles; comes in hot and knows how to put a shoulder on the ball-carrier to get them down. Excellent balance, hip sinkage and vision to get the runner down.
—Playmaker; impacts the game as a tackler, cover man and enforcer against the run. Lived around the ball at Washington.
—Is able to cover up and blanket tight ends or backs; has the awareness and instincts to dominate in man coverage and graded out as one of the best coverage safeties in the class on our board.
—Limits receptions by erasing his man, but also uses his length and short-area quickness well to break up passes when quarterbacks do challenge him.
—Tough, aggressive player who goes at 100mph on every down.
—Very poor pro day time in the 40-yard dash (4.70-4.75-second range) could push him out of Round 1 despite good tape.
—Tends to make plays in the run game downfield instead of coming downhill to fill rushing gaps.
—Sat out the 2019 Rose Bowl due to a hip injury.
—Doesn’t have the body to play as physical as he is; takes a lot of punishment because he’s such a violent hitter.
Rapp is the ultimate case study in the importance of the 40-yard dash. His tape is fantastic and should make him the No. 1 safety in the draft. Teams could panic, though, and cause him to slide below his grade. The team that gets Rapp will benefit from a physical, smart, instinctive safety with total field range.
GRADE 6.99 (ROUND 2—ROOKIE STARTER)
PRO COMPARISON: Minkah Fitzpatrick