This series will go position by position to look at the tiers of where NFL draft prospects stack up against each other. Rankings are great for discussion, but so many factors such as coaching, scheme fit, and usage will affect who will actually have more NFL success. Every player in each tier could easily be the top player in the tier based on these factors. Any prospect not discussed unfortunately did not have enough adequate tape to have a full evaluation. For this edition, we will look at safeties.
2017 NFL Draft: Safety Tiers
1. Jamal Adams, LSU
Adams is quite possibly the safest player in the draft. He is a locker room leader, and last season did not commit a single penalty. He can play high, in the box or the slot and has experience in each spot. Adams has great knowledge of angles and is a stud form tackler. The versatility that he brings, along with a high floor and a pretty high ceiling make him a safety prospect worth considering in the top five.
2. Malik Hooker, Ohio State
Hooker is a classic single high, cover-three safety. He has great range and shows an ability to roam sideline to sideline in centerfield with ease. He has strong ball tracking skills and plays the ball very well. Hooker brings an effort to tackling within in the box, and while that is a part of his game that can be worked on, it is better than other high safeties.
3. Budda Baker, Washington
Baker plays like a caged animal finally out in the wild. He is extremely versatile and attacks off of the edge like a madman. Baker can play the slot and has quick feet to defend backs and slot receivers but can also play single high and roam. He is a bit smaller, but plays big and is a savage of a tackler who is just extremely fun to watch.
4. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
Peppers is not quite in tier one because his position is more of a projection than anything. He did a lot of things on the field, but mainly played as a linebacker in college. Peppers has great game acumen and his knowledge of angles and precision tackling is impressive. He is disciplined and when asked to set the edge, no one gets outside of him. When asked to attack the middle he has the speed to blow plays up. He does not have the freelancing, game-changing style of play yet, but with his skill set so raw, it would not be a shock to see him develop it over time.
5. Obi Melifonwu, UConn
Melifonwu is the talk of the draft after the Combine. For his size, his athletic testing was one of the best in recent memory and has spiraled a lot of first round talk. The athlete and the size that bring upside may be worth it, but he is not quite there yet. For someone the size of Kam Chancellor, he plays more like a single high free safety and does not have a physical prowess yet. Some have mentioned his best fit either being a cornerback or a hybrid, nickel linebacker. His traits give him an ability to succeed, but he is a projection more than a player in a similar way to Peppers.
6. Marcus Maye, Florida
Maye is a strong combination safety. It can say something when Keanu Neal and Vernon Hargreaves were first round picks while Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor have gotten big talk this year but all four have mentioned Maye as the field general of their unit. He is a leader who keeps his team in place. He can play high, but also is not afraid to get his hands dirty in the box and is a strong form tackler. He might not be the most fluid playing deep in coverage, but his do-everything play makes him a very intriguing, and scheme diverse option.
7. Tedric Thompson, Colorado
Thompson is another classic single-high, cover-three type of safety. He is a former wide receiver and his ball skills, ability to read the quarterback and understand where he is going are his best traits. Thompson has the speed to roam sideline to sideline too, and in coverage, only Hooker can be considered better. However, Thompson is much poorer as a form tackler, and even an effort tackler in the second level, and will never find himself in the box.
8. Desmond King, Iowa
King is another projection. He played cornerback in college and while he showed great ball skills, he may not have the size or the speed for the position. However, he does have range, ball skills and an ability to read the quarterback. He has mentioned being open to a switch to safety and very well can take snaps on the outside, inside, the slot and even deep as a safety at the next level. He needs to get better at defending the run to be a starting safety, but his skill set could fit.
9. Marcus Williams, Utah
Williams is a great athlete who shows it on the field. He has good recognition and his athleticism shows in his breaks on the ball and ability to move sideline to sideline and defend the deep half. Similarly to Thompson, Williams is a high safety who will hardly ever find himself in the box or making strong tackles against the run, which can limit his upside.
10. Justin Evans, Texas A&M
Evans is a hitter. He is not afraid to put his hat in there and brings it with highlight tackles and big hits. He also has the ability to play deep and uses his big hitting stick to break up plays along the sideline and to warn quarterbacks not to throw over the middle. The issue with Evans is that he does not play the game very precise. He misses tackles, and takes poor angles, sometimes trying too hard for the big hit. He also has lapses in coverage and can be seen over pursuing. His ceiling his high, but this makes his floor lower than others.
11. Eddie Jackson, Alabama
Jackson is a very interesting case. He is a former cornerback who shows ball skills and an ability to jump routes and take them to the house. He is capable of playing man and zone, in the box or deep as well. However, he broke his leg last season and also has an ACL injury on his resume. Add in that his stats may have been taking advantage of being associated with the talent in front of him, and his ceiling may be a bit limited.
12. John Johnson, Boston College
Johnson is the definition of a ball hawk. He is a former cornerback turned safety who can flat out play the deep middle as a single high player. Johnson shows understanding and an ability to move in space and find the ball. He takes good angles when tackling, and while he does not lay a boom, he can get you down. Johnson can play in man at times and has the ability to grow and learn to be a more well-rounded safety, giving him a high upside.
13. Josh Jones, North Carolina State
Jones has everything you want from a height, weight and speed perspective. He is a heavy hitter and as an in the box threat, can bring fear to anyone running his way. However, he has real troubles in coverage and may have to stay in the box. He also tends to overshoot his spot at times and is very similar to Evans in that sense.
14. Delano Hill, Michigan
There is a reason Peppers played out of position last season, and it is because Delano Hill is a player. Hill is not afraid to run downhill and make a play. He makes great breaks on the ball and is ideal for what you are looking to get from a strong safety. He does not show the instincts in coverage to be a starter right away, but his tackling will get him a job on special teams, and his breaks on the ball and raw athleticism give him that upside.
15. Xavier Woods, Louisiana Tech
Woods is a playmaker who has great ball skills and reaction time. He has very quick feet and can make plays as a deep center fielder. He is a below average tackler and needs to learn angles and is a bit undersized, but his ball skills and game acumen give him a chance to get on the field.
16. Jadar Johnson, Clemson
Johnson has a great build and has the looks and athleticism to be a starting safety. He can move sideline to sideline and has better fluidity in the deep half of the field than T.J. Green, a second-round pick from Clemson just a year ago. However, Johnson does only have one year of experience because of Green. He also seems to want no parts when it comes to stepping in and making tackles, whether it be downhill or in the box.
17. Lorenzo Jerome, St. Francis (PA)
Jerome is an extremely intriguing small school product. While the competition and quarterback play was not on a great level, he stood out as a stud tackler and ball tracker. Jerome is a bit smaller, and his athleticism showed that he may have just shined because of his competition. However, he shows great instincts and ball skills and at worst should see snaps on special teams.
18. Monte Nicholson, Michigan State
While Jerome in precise, but undersized and unathletic, Nicholson is a stud athlete possessing great size to go with extreme rawness. When it comes to height, weight, speed, and athleticism, Nicholson checks every box. However, he takes poor angles, is a liability in reading and reacting, and is not a physical presence in the box.
19. Damarius Travis, Minnesota
Travis has great size and is not afraid to step into the box and make a play. He struggles in zone coverage and is not going to take the deep parts of the field though. Still, you can line him up on tight ends, and he plays with the physicality to see special teams snaps.
20. Josh-Harvey Clemons, Louisville
Harvey-Clemons may be the next safety that teams try to move to linebacker. He has elite size for the position, but unfortunately, has little to compliment it. He is a decent mover for his size but does not have the quickness to play free safety. However, he also may be too light and thin framed to step into the box and play the run as a downhill in the box safety. The closer to the line of scrimmage he can get the better, but you likely only want him on the field in the nickel to take on big tight ends.
21. Nate Gerry, Nebraska
Gerry has great size and has played a combination of deep half and in the box in his career. He is really strong in the box, but the number of missed tackles he has shows up almost instantly. He is another player who is better when you can get him closer to the line of scrimmage, and he will likely have to develop and learn the nuances of the NFL on special teams.