We have seen some truly gifted safeties come out in recent years. Jamal Adams, Derwin James, and Minkah Fitzpatrick just to name a few. What makes a good safety in today’s NFL is much different than a couple of years ago. Today’s safeties are asked to be stalwarts in coverage but also provide a competent run defense. Most safeties are also asked to play more than one position. They will line up in deep coverage, in the slot, as a linebacker, and even occasionally as an edge rusher.
The NFL has also put a premium on safeties who can create turnovers. I mentioned this in an earlier Prospect Preview but teams need players who will buy them extra possessions on offense. So, to recap what are we looking for in a safety prospect? They have to be athletic enough to cover sideline to sideline, quick enough to be a man coverage option, smart enough to be an option in zone coverage, tough enough to make an impact in the running game, and dynamic enough to make turnover worthy plays. Yikes, that is a lot of boxes to check for one position (those are just the basic ones).
Last year’s safety class left a lot to be desired for me with only one first-round grade (Nasir Adderley, Delaware). This year’s class is pretty solid so far with some great players at the top of the class so let’s get into it.
As always any comments or questions hit me up @DanteCollinelli on Twitter.
Grant Delpit, Junior, LSU
I’ve been hearing about how amazing Grant Delpit is for about two years now. I’ve been able to watch him out of the corner of my eye but this was the first time I put him under the microscope. In summary, he’s one of the best players I’ve watched this summer. Remember the checklist of things I listed in the intro? Delpit checks all of those boxes with absolute ease. Delpit is a freak athlete with insane burst on the ball and a great vertical. His straight-line speed looks good on film too with him flying around all over the place to make tackles. In man coverage, Delpit is athletic enough to stay with TEs, RBs, and slot receivers alike. In zone, coverage it’s easy to see that Delpit understands what is happening in front of him. He reads the eyes of the quarterback and breaks on the ball with urgency. Delpit fills his holes against the run quite well and wraps up ball carriers with good form and power. The best part of Delpit’s game, in my opinion, is how dynamic of a playmaker he is. Delpit racked up five sacks, six interceptions, nine pass breakups, and one forced fumble in 2018. Those are all tangible ways Delpit affects the game outside of just being the last line of defense. It exemplifies everything you could ask for from a modern-day safety which is why Delpit ranks as my number one overall safety heading into the season.
Xavier Mckinney, Junior, Alabama
Death, taxes, and Alabama having top of the line safety prospects. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Landon Collins, Deionte Thompson, and Minkah Fitzpatrick are just off the top of my head. Joining them this season will be Xavier Mckinney. On tape, Mckinney shows that he has the requisite range to be a single high safety at the next level. He does a good job of reading the QBs eyes and coming downhill to make plays on the ball. The first play on the thread below is a perfect example of exactly that. Mckinney has the needed acceleration and burst to click and close on the ball in zone coverage, as well. When Mckinney is asked to step into the box he does a good job in run support. Despite being a lean player, Mckinney hits pretty hard and wraps up well through contact. Mckinney’s length and athletic profile point to a pretty high ceiling as a centerfielder. The plays where he does go sideline to sideline and makes a play on the ball are pretty. My biggest complaint with Mckinney is less about his actual play and more about how Alabama employs him. I would love to see him used more as a single high safety which I’m hoping to see with Deionte Thompson now in the NFL. Mckinney needs to get some more love in the national media if you ask me.
Brandon Jones, Senior, Texas
In most cases, I like to talk about a player’s strengths before I mention some of their weaknesses. Jones does so many things well but has such a big Achilles heel I need to mention it first. Jones has no idea how to play the ball in the air. Catching the football looks like a completely foreign concept to him. He prefers to hit the receiver instead of picking his head up and sticking his hand out. Jones has great long speed and has plenty of range to be a single high safety at the next level. He’s got a hard-hitting mentality and isn’t afraid to come up and pop anybody. He does a great job filling his gaps in the running game and making tackles from different angles. I really liked him in deep and short zone coverage for the Longhorns. He does a good job of reading route stems breaking in front of him which he combines with the natural burst to close on the ball. Again, if he could just develop some kind of ball skills then he would be a first-round safety prospect. Without that part of his game Jones’ has a limited impact on the game which is becoming more and more unattractive to NFL teams. Jones’ athletic profile should keep him firmly in the top-50 conversation no matter what which makes him the classic high floor but low ceiling player.
JR Reed, Senior, Georgia
JR Reed is a returning player to the prospect preview from 2019. Reed actually ranked as my number three safety coming into the season but, obviously, he returned to Georgia. There is just something about Reed as a prospect that just draws me to him. I think its got a lot to do with his firey mentality for the game. Reed isn’t afraid to come down from his safety perch and bang bodies with players. He fills his gaps in the run game admirably and shows solid tackling technique when he arrives in control. As a coverage option, Reed displays the ability to stick with tight ends and bigger slot receivers with mirroring and physicality. Reed has some flashes of ball skills which are mostly him playing through the hands of the receiver all the way through the catch point. I think the biggest hiccup on Reed’s tape is his lack of sideline to sideline range. The previous players we have talked about have all had enough speed to be options as a single high safety, but I think Reed misses out on that ship. Sadly, that limits both his ceiling and usage at the NFL level. With that said, I think Reed does a good enough job against both the run and man coverage that he can be viewed as a coverage chess piece. The last thing Reed needs to work on this season is controlling his firey mentality a little better. Sometimes he can get too excited and end missing tackles or assignments.
Antione Brooks, Senior, Maryland
Antione Brooks is one of the most unique players I have watched this entire summer. Honestly, I haven’t seen safety tape like Brooks my entire life. Brooks doesn’t play a lot of deep safety but instead plays more slot, linebacker, and edge rusher. I am not kidding there are reps on his tape of him firing off the edge and dipping his shoulder to corner to the quarterback and make a sack. He’s got better bend then like half of the edge rushers I watched a couple of weeks ago its crazy to watch. As far as actual safety traits go, Brooks shows up a lot in man coverage covering big slots and tight ends. He does a good job keeping up with them using his solid athletic profile. It’s easy to see that Brooks has the long speed and burst to be an effective sideline to sideline safety if needed. Brooks is a temperature changer on the Maryland defense. When he starts hitting people and making plays the whole defense raises their game. I have two main problems with Brooks that are keeping me from ranking him higher. First, while he is versatile I’m not 100% sure where his “Homebase” is right now. I love that he can play a number of positions, but I would like to see him really excel in one spot/role this season. If he does that then everything can be the icing on the cake. Second, he seems like he is late to process things that are happening in front of him. This limits both his ability to be effective in zone coverage and his ability to make plays on the ball. Overall, Brooks is a super interesting chess piece player who I’m excited to watch develop this season.
Number 6: Reggie Floyd, Senior, Virginia Tech
Number 7: Richie Grant, RS-Junior, UCF
Number 8: David Dowell, Senior, Michigan State
Number 9: Alhoi Gilman, Junior, Notre Dame
Number 10: Jalen Elliot, Senior, Notre Dame
Number 11: Tanner Muse, Graduate, Clemson
Number 12: Nigel Warrior, Senior, Tennessee
Players I couldn’t watch because I’m on vacation
Number 1: Jordan Fuller, Senior, Ohio State
Number 2: Richard Lecounte, Junior, Georgia
Number 3: Kyle Dugger, Senior, Lenior Ryne
Number 4: Stanford Samuels, Junior, Florida State
Number 5: Greg Elisworth, RS-Junior, Iowa State