A year ago I didn’t think any of the safeties were deserving of first round picks. That statement couldn’t be more inaccurate in regard to the 2017 Draft class. Not only is it a loaded cornerback class, but the safety group might be even better. Let’s take a look at the safeties that impressed me at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine.
The Next Ed Reed?
Ohio State Safety Malik Hooker might end up being the best player in this year’s draft. The problem is we haven’t seen a ton of him as a one year wonder at Ohio State. Hooker is recovering from labrum and hip surgery but those aren’t the only question marks. This guy was contemplating quitting football a year ago. Hooker picked off 8 passes this past year in part because he has the most range of any safety I’ve ever witnessed and that’s not a joke either. If he can stay healthy and continue to develop this guy is going to be a center fielder in the secondary and play at a Pro Bowl level.
*Justin Evans, Josh Harvey-Clemmons, and Eddie Jackson also were not able to work out and are highly rated on my board.
The Next Eric Berry?
Jamal Adams of LSU reminds me so much of Eric Berry when he played for Tennessee. The style of play coming out of the SEC is so similar. Adams really took control of the defensive back unit showing some great leadership qualities at the combine. It’s hard to argue with the success of LSU defensive backs in the NFL and Adams could be every bit as good as Tyrann Mathieu. Adams is a really physical safety, who lays out big hits and constantly finds his way to the football. I expect his interception total to be similar to Berry in the NFL. His 4.56 time is plenty good for a safety and showed up well in the on-field drills.
The Undersized Playmakers:
This year’s safety class has 3 guys that don’t necessarily have that big safety build but are just playmakers in the secondary. Budda Baker of Washington, Lorenzo Jerome of St. Francis, and John Johnson fit this mold. Baker, 5’10” – 195, ran a 4.45 time and looked smooth in the drills. His backpedal was flawless and has a quick change of direction. When you watched him play those instincts are always on display and is a plus tackler too.
Lorenzo Jerome and John Johnson were both at the Senior Bowl. Jerome of St. Francis couldn’t have raised his stock more at the game recording 2 interceptions and a forced fumble. He didn’t run as fast as some would have hoped with a 4.70, but his ball production makes him worth the flier. For a small school guy, Jerome’s games were awfully fun to watch because of how instinctive he is. Johnson probably had the smoothest feet of any of the safeties in the class. A 4.61 – 40 time and 37 inch vertical showed that lower body explosion.
Is He Even Human?
Obi Melifonwu is simply a genetic freak of nature. There is no other way to describe the UConn safety. A couple years ago UConn had another safety in Byron Jones that took the Combine by storm and has played really well since for the Cowboys after they took him in the first round. At 6’4″, 224, Melifonwu jumped 44 inches in the vertical and 141 inches in the broad jump. He also ran a 4.40 – 40 time. It’s hard to fathom how those numbers are even possible. At the next level, he could play corner, nickel, free safety, or strong safety. Someone is going to fall in love with those athletic traits in the first round. In 2016 he had 118 tackles and 4 interceptions for UConn.
In The Box Safety:
Jadar Johnson reminds you of the safety that was more typical in the NFL 10 years ago. In today’s NFL, everyone has leaned towards the faster safety that can cover more ground. Clemson’s Jadar Johnson is going to stick his face in the box and lay the heavy hits. Johnson was a huge factor in the National Championship limiting Alabama’s run game. Johnson ran a 4.60 and benched 19 reps.
Let’s Hope He’s Malcolm Jenkins:
Desmond King of Iowa came into the draft process as one of the higher rated cornerback prospects. That was before he stunk up the place at the Senior Bowl. He got wrecked in one on one drills showing poor coverage skills. Since it has become clear that King is better suited for safety lacking the elite speed and movement skills for the cornerback slot. Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins was a similar type of case study who carved out a nice career for himself. I questioned how fast he was and King declined to run the 40-yard dash. At this point, there’s no way I can draft him higher than the 4th round.
*Side Note: I thought both Miami safeties Jamal Carter and Rayshawn Jenkins could be worth late round fliers.
Top 5 Safety Prospect Rankings
- Jamal Adams (LSU)
- Malik Hooker (Ohio State)
- Budda Baker (Washington)
- Obi Melifonwu (UConn)
- John Johnson (Boston College)