Updated: Apr 28
Disclaimer - DB is the hardest position to grade because I don't have access to "all 22" film. Grades are based on what we can see: athleticism, physicality, instincts, attitude, & production. I put ( * ) next to players that are likely Saints targets & scheme fits, and I put ( + ) next to guys who might fit scheme but I don't expect Saints to target. With so many different potential uses of the position (slot, single high, 2 deep/conventional FS & SS, box only, cover only, & interchangeable) it's becoming harder to put safeties in only 1 category. That said, I've split this year's crop into 2 conventional categories (coverage FS types & box SS types) so it's understandable, yet it's the one position group where you may be better off considering each profile on it's own merit & how it fits into what you're seeking, rather than how a particular player "ranks" in contrast to others (i.e., target a guy who fits your role better & not just 'grades' better).
SS - 'Strong Safety' - box types
Versatile 3 year starter with solid production throughout ND career. He's somewhat of a positionless player; ND moved him all over the field. He played either safety, single high, in the slot, in the box. Very rangy, reliable wrap up tackler, physical. Not a super bursty athlete, but he's 6 foot 4 with good long speed. His tackling in the open field is promising too, almost every play I watched, he took good angles on the ball carrier and arrives with physicality. He's a high IQ player in space and you trust him in run support which is really where he looks best. He had some nice PDs and plays on the ball, but overall he looked best in run support. I didn't see much completed on him in coverage though. I watched entire games like versus Purdue where he barely allowed a completion for the entire game. Well rounded prospect. I'm unsure if he'll be used as a traditional safety, or in a hybrid role. Either way he's very versatile and I could picture him in a lot of different schemes. Production was good from day 1, and he'll start from day 1 in the pros. His game in 1 word: instinctive. 41 TKL, 4 INT, 6 PD as a FR. 63 TKL, 1 INT, 7 PD as a SO. 34 TKL, 3 INT, 4 PD as a SR.
Scout Grade - 1st Round
*Jaquan Brisker Penn State
More of a strength athlete than a bursty athlete. Not sure how his long speed will translate. He's athletic, but may be best equipped in run support/box. Examples of reading routes and he plays the ball well when passes are tipped. Flashes examples of being a very good vertical athlete. Has some big hits in run support. Best stuff is around the line of scrimmage. Sort of a throwback. Reminds me a little bit of Roman Harper who was a hard hitting in run support & had good moments in coverage but wasn't necessarily elite in coverage. In Brisker's case, he flashes better ball skills than Harper, and as a prospect is a hair above Harper's coverage grade (Harper went around pick 40 in draft when he came out for perspective), but I do wonder if he'll have the range to be elite. It's fringe though, right on the line. Hard to bet against someone capable of really bone crushing tackles like this. The kind of player you pull for & wouldn't expect to bust because at the very least you'll take this kind of physicality in your DB unit. Lower floor, but certainly a high ceiling player. Not an easy grade. 20 years ago, he's a 1st round pick no doubt about it. In today's game as the position evolves to nearly a cornerback type skill set, I'm not sure where he goes. More than any other safety in this class, he's either going to be great or a bust. It's hard to tell, but there's Jonathan Cyprien type upside so he could climb as early as late 1st and likely no later than late 2nd. Pedigree of the program & recent success defensively may push him towards the higher end, so I think wise teams need to guard against that potential bias and really consider him on his own merit. Almost wish I could watch his tape in black & white because these athletic Penn State guys immediately make you "want to like." PFF grades indicate that he's 89.5 in coverage (which is high) & 67.4 in run support (which is low), yet projecting him pro, on tape alone, I almost lean the reverse of that. To me, he seems more like a box player and big hitter who can cover TEs and bigger, physical players. Tape kind of tells a different story than the analytics. One of the more well-rounded safeties in class.
Scout Grade - Late 1st/Early 2nd Round
*Jalen Pitre Baylor
Oh yea. The very 1st play JUMPS off the screen. Pitre lines up in the box like a LB, takes on a pulling lineman like it's nothing and practically wins the rep. In years of watching football, the only time I can remember a player this small being this physical, was Cam Chancellor (S) ending Alex Boone (OG) in a head-on collision. It's that unique. Pitre's about 30 pounds lighter than Chancellor too, but it's that type of attitude. Might be nearly too aggressive in the sense that he's a hard charging decisive player looking to make plays, so it runs the risk of overrunning the play & missing tackles. However you'd rather have to coach a guy into patience, than having to light a fire for more aggression. Rangy for the box, but maybe not for a traditional role deep. More of an instinctive, tough nickel LB/box safety who lives in the backfield on run support and blitz, almost like a combination of a slot CB & SAM LB. Really unique. Fast, physical, dangerous potential for special teams. Production's off the charts. For perspective, Cine from Georgia had 2.5 tackles for loss over the course of 3 years. As a 5th year SR, Pitre had 18.5 TFL. Added 75 TKL, 3.5 SK, 2 INT, 7 PD, 3 FF, & 3 FR. In his JR year (the only other season he really played) had 60 TKL, 11 TFL, 2.5 SK, 2 INT, 2 TD, 2 PD, & 1 FF...in 9 games. FR season listed at LB but sort of disappeared as a SO & JR. Redshirt somewhere in there. May have to do with covid or off field; may update as I dive deeper into the process. Production matches what you see on tape. He lines up in the box/in the slot and is everywhere in the backfield. On the few plays where he drops into coverage, he did not look out of place but may not be elite deep coverage guy at pro level. Athletically, he's got pro tools, yet there's a slightly stiff/clunky nature to how he runs when covering deep. What's odd though is Pitre might have the most pure speed I've seen in this class when it comes to functional 'fast in short space' plays in the box. In essence I trust him in 10-15 yard splits around the line of scrimmage, yet might not want him covering deep (30 yards+) vs pro speed. On tape, athleticism, and production alone you'd think this is a 1st or 2nd round pick. He's a unique, position-less player. Essentially the defense ran through him as a slot DB, which is rare. It's a unique role that some D Coordinators will have to scheme around instead of trying to fit him 'into a box' (no pun intended). The league is finding ways to utilize these type of players more, so that may not hurt him as much as it would've in years past. There's a lot to like here. The man plays fast, extremely physical, and is all over the field. He clearly is a leader. I need more tape to assess his coverage ability, but overall he's a backfield nightmare. High IQ, instincts, finds the ball. Type of guy who if he became a pro bowler despite being a mid round pick, people would say "nobody saw that coming" when in reality, upside is really high. There's a lower floor than most acknowledge, but overall I would not bet against someone this maniacal. Good fit for the Chiefs. Could see them picking him as high as end of 1st. At the latest, early 3rd. Pretty wide range of potential outcomes because he's so unique.
Scout Grade - Late 1st/Early 2nd Round
*Bryan Cook Cincinnati
One of the few in class that could fit either FS or SS category. He's fringe for both & somewhat interchangeable. You'd think that helps draft stock, but that's not always the case. Teams normally want a clear vision & I don't know that Cook easily presents that. However, he had big time production on a good Cincy team w/ 96 TKL, 5 TFL, 1 SK, 2 INT, & 9 PD. Some of his hits are big time too. Had moments where he took out a blocking lineman and ball carrier at the same time. Naturally powerful especially for his size. Unassuming in build/traits, yet somewhat overachiever who made it on IQ & toughness. Has hits like he's 230 & some of the prettiest tackles in this class. Flashes serviceable range albeit not elite. This might be the 1 safety who climbs the most come draft time. Flashes enough potential to develop into a quality pro. May start in the slot, than possibly develop into a starting strong safety for a team that needs a balance of run support & coverage. Love his physicality. Not overtly athletic, not elite at any particular aspect, but may have just enough balanced of traits (juice, instincts, & versatility) to develop into a starter. Really need his all 22 film. One concern, or consideration at least, is last year Cincy had a S (James Wiggins) who played a similar role and I was higher on than consensus, yet he might've gone 7th round despite being projected 4th/5th. Does their system enhance DB production? Teams may guard against that. Could go as high as late 3rd rd or as low as 6th. Interesting prospect. Only 1 year of big production, and it came late. If I had to guess, I'd say he goes mid to late 4th rd. Seems higher floor, lower ceiling type.
Scout Grade - 4th Round
*Reed Blankenship Middle Tennessee
6'1 204 I've liked safeties out of this program for multiple years now. Javonte Moffat from a recent draft was undrafted, and I reached out to him personally online because I felt it was crazy that NFL's website didn't have a profile on him. He's currently on the Browns. Long story short, most casual fans may not realize how solid the safeties from M TN have been. They're starting to develop a reputation at the position and are a program to really watch moving forward. Blakenship continues their tradition at the position and may be the most backyard style of the bunch. Reminds me of the guy who gets picked last in 7 on 7's at the playground, but opens the game with a pick 6 because he's heady. High IQ, instinctive, physical arriving to the ball, finds the ball 1st. Makes many splash plays. I trust his instincts will put him in position. Playing fast is often above the neck just as much as it is foot speed. I like his IQ, physicality, aggression. Reed Blankenship checks all of my favorite boxes. I'm not sure where he gets picked, or even if he gets picked, but this is the type of player I'd draft and want on my team. I expect he gets drafted day 3. Most outlets don't even have him listed as a draftable prospect (like PFF doesn't have him listed in their top 300). Yet, his pursuit in space is so evident. He diagnoses early, arrives on time, pursues with vengeance, & really brings the wood. Nearly a wrecking ball in space. I see pro athleticism too. One of the few players in this DB class where my eyes tell a different story than consensus "grades." Sort of like, "what am I missing here? why is he not graded higher or even listed?" So I seem to be on an island with this prospect, but it's one I'll live on comfortably. It's very rare for a projected UDFA to be nearly my "favorite" at a position, yet the more I watch, the more I lean towards considering Blankenship a favorite and maybe even a "must have" prospect. My Saints draft board is 138 players, with 50 "love" prospects and only 12 "must haves." He's one of my "must haves" and the only projected UDFA in that category. Production was nearly off the charts. Finished 5 YR career with 419 TKL, 26.5 TFL, 3 SK, 9 INT, 1 TD, 19 PD, 4 FR, & 3 FF. On tape and production alone, could go as high as early 4th round. But other safeties I've liked from this program went undrafted, so who knows. He just seems different pedigree than Moffat and previous DBs from the program. Main thing he'll have to work on is overpursuit/overaggression can cause him to overrun plays (better that than the inverse IMO). Will likely be a box asset, yet flashes enough range & athleticism to potentially grow into a viable deep type too. Missed time due to injury and not the 'burstiest' player, but I see a ton of upside, value. Among DBs he led the country in TKL w/ 112. At worst he presents special teams value. It's the highest grade I've had on a projected UDFA safety since Tony Jefferson came out of Oklahoma. He was one of my favorite safeties in that class, uber productive, athletic, instinctive, yet went undrafted. The film has to come first & I get those same feelings about Blankenship. I don't rank him higher than Jefferson, however as far as value he's close. I really like his fit on the New Orleans Saints to compete with Daniel Sorensen for their SS2 & special teams unit.
Scout Grade - 4th/5th Round
*Markquese Bell Florida A&M
95 TKL w/ 5 FF, 5 INT, 2 SK, & 1 PD. Not much game film available, mostly highlights. Most of his tackles are in the open field. At 1st it looks like he plays high, but he is tall so have to take that into account. Very physical. Will knock the snot of dudes. Might have enough versatility to develop into a starting box safety w/ enough range to not be a liability in coverage. May not be the most "ball skills" oriented player, but considering projections show him as a 5th/6th rd guy, I think he's very underrated and I expect him to climb into late 3rd/4th come draft day. Physical athletes like this don't usually fall that far. He makes some deep INTs on bombs, as well as many plays in the box. Not super bursty, but flashes closing speed in space and strength when arriving to the ball carrier. Converts speed to power. Very limited tape available, but from what I can find he's very intriguing. May be one of the better "value" options in this class. Athletically, he doesn't necessarily pop as an "OMG" type prospect, however there might be enough here for a potential starter. 1st impression is that he's likely a rotational player early, but with starter potential flashes.
Scout Grade - 4th/5th Round
Nick Cross Maryland
Started as a FR with 45 TKL, 2 INT, 5 PD, 1 TFL; missed time as a SO, started as a JR with 66 TKL, 3 INT, 2 PD, 2 FF, 3.5 TFL, 3 SK. Strong tackler who looks best tackling in space. Heaviest shoulders in class. When he hits, you really feel the impact. Doesn't shy away from contact. Not immensely fast, but may have just enough juice to develop into a rotational player. Likely core special teamer who could develop into a slot DB. Slight potential to develop into starting strong safety. Not sure if he has enough range in coverage, but need more tape to really assess fully. Appears nasty enough to have value in the box, rotationally for sure, possibly full time. You like that he looks natural in multiple phases of the game. Made a lot of plays and did it from his 1st day on campus. Could go as high as 4th, and as low as 6th round. I question his upside in coverage but like his physical demeanor and floor for special teams and goalline/short yardage situations. (edit: following added on 4/28 pre-draft) Cross measured with track speed at the combine so will climb into round 2 or 3. My initial profile was based on limited intel, still in my further studies since, I do worry about his floor. I like his physicality but he does not play as fast as has timed speed, plus his speed is more oriented downhill than in coverage. In a box role, he has upside but I do think he's slightly overrated. I see the ceiling, but worry about floor. Wouldn't pick until 4th or late 3rd round at earliest. Initially I had graded as a 5th round pick.
Scout Grade - 4th/5th Round
Sterling Weatherford Miami (OH)
4 year player, rsJR who missed some time as a JR. As a SO had 98 TKL, 5.5 TFL, 2 SK, 1 INT, 10 PD, 2 FF, & 2 FR. That's fantastically productive for a true SO. Level of competition has to be factored, however the tackles & PD numbers are a nice combination. After injury, coming back rsJR year, had 66 TKL, 2 TFL, 1 SK, 2 INT, 4 PD. Looks reliable as a tackler, wraps up well and brings some force on his hits. Lacks foot speed, flashes moments of adequate range via his length and closing speed with a 2nd gear when needed. Hard player to grade because I could see him running a slow 40 and falling down draft boards, however he was all over the field and productive enough to indicate instincts and playmaking potential. And as much as 1st impression makes me think he might be too slow to transition to the pros, there are moments where he'll flash a 2nd gear. Should get a chance on special teams, and may be able to develop into a rotational defender in the box/slot, possibly starter long-term is he converts to a LB/safety hybrid. Naturally powerful. Even as a FR there were plays where he looked stronger than older, bigger ball carriers. Arrives with a bit of a nasty streak. Reliable tackler. Special teams upside. More than any other safety in this class, his 40 time may dictate whether he gets picked or not. With a poor time, he'll be a trying out for teams. If he runs under 4.6 he'll get a shot and could climb as high as 4th round. Reminds me a little bit of JaCoby Stevens last year from LSU, albeit slightly more upside because more pro style nastiness. Similar prospects in size, role, skill set, and athletic profile. Need more tape, very limited film available. His flashes are really fun, physical w/ both moments in coverage and big hits in space. Most likely rotational, however for 6'4 at 221 there's size adjusted value.
Scout Grade - 4th/5th Round
Smoke Monday Auburn
4 year contributor that really developed as a JR & SR. Has some beautiful form tackles where he'll really lay out to make the play, often looking like a soccer goalie. Made plays on special teams like blocks & big stops, as a blitzer, sideline to sideline, run support, coverage. Even though he's thin & tall, he knows how to get leverage on contact, and he's physical. On tape alone, you'd think he's 210. His thin frame might move him down draft boards, but that would be an opportunity. Even though he's not super bursty, he is long and physical. Length allows deceptive range. For teams that miss on Kyle Hamilton, he is the consolation prize later in the draft. Pretty instinctive, mostly going to be a box player. Good value option late and one of the mid/late round players who will likely develop into a contributor, even possible starter. At worst, he might lead a special teams unit. His downhill demeanor reminds me a little bit of Hamlin from Pitt last year who went around 5th round. As a SR had 63 TKL, 9 TFL, 2 SK, 1 INT, 5 PD, & 1 TD. Against SEC competition that's versatile enough to take note for a long box safety and potential slot DB. Concerns about lack of "burst" could cause him to fall. Anywhere on day 3 is reasonable. Could arguably grade between 4th-7th round depending on team. I lean higher end of that range.
Scout Grade - 5th/6th Round
Kendrick Duncan Jr
Branded as a S/LB hybrid, Duncan is a 4 year player who made plays across the stat sheet and at all 3 levels of the field for GA Southern (in his 1st 3 seasons) before transferring to Louisville for his SR season where he had 76 TKL, 4 TFL, 1 SK, 1 INT, 4 PD. As a SO at GA S, had 79 TKL, 3.5 TFL, 2 INT, 8 PD, & 1 FF so production was consistent across programs. That's an encouraging sign. Duncan does not fit into a box, and is sort of a chess piece defender. There's very limited tape available, however from the little I can find he does appear to move well for his size. There are a few examples where he doesn't read the play as quickly as you'd like. Nothing egregious, but you wouldn't call him immensely high IQ. What you like is there are plays in run support where a lot of defenders have a chance to bring the ball carrier down, yet Duncan ends up being the guy to make the play. He can navigate the noise. Flashes athletically where he moves surprisingly well. Intriguing prospect. Currently, he's projected to go undrafted; I could see him running well and climbing to a day 3 pick. Either way, he's got a nice enough balance of size, size adjusted athletic traits, versatility that he'd be a high upside priority free agent. Not much tape available, will need to check back closer to draft time. Seems like a unique chess piece type defender that could oscillate between WIL LB in passing situations and slot DB/S on running downs. Sort of a consolation prize for teams that miss on Jalen Pitre & JoJo Domann. Ranked by most outlets as a 7th rd/undrafted type prospect but I expect him to climb because of versatility, fluidity.
Scout Grade - 5th/6th Round
Leon O'Neal Jr. Texas A&M
Flashes toughness, ball skills, physicality. Thick frame yet can move sideline to sideline. Not overly bursty, agile or deep speed type, yet flashes moments of better range than I expected. Still the speed traits only were in flashes and I wish were more consistent. It's hard to pulse his athleticism. Best moments look like a pro athlete, yet overall can appear near the slower side. Arrives to the ball carrier with good thump. I've seen some outlets rank him undrafted and others rank him around 4th round. He is not afraid to hit. May be best suited for a slot role where he can cover bigger, more physical players. May measure better speed than actual tape speed. Could be a climber come draft time if he runs well. If ranked 7th round now, could climb to the 4th or 5th w/ a good 40 & especially 10 yard split. Normally, I'm not an "athlete 1st" type scout & I tend to look at IQ, attitude, and things that can't be measured, however safety is the one position where you need range. Range is functional speed meets acceleration meets desire meets instinct. It's hard to measure or even describe, yet you 'know it when you see it.' It's why a guy like Daxton Hill despite the holes in his game & probably being more of a 3rd round type player...could literally go 1st round. That 1 attribute has become so important, coveted. The 1st time I realized the importance of range to the position was watching Marcus Williams in his 1st preseason game for the Saints vs. Titans; he closed on a RB in the flats faster than any safety I'd seen in a black and gold uniform, and that 1 moment made me realize the position had changed. Seemingly overnight. That 1 attribute became the new direction of NFL backend, and even has moved into 2nd level. Just 10 years ago, it was more downhill warriors with linebacker type skill sets in the box, but coverage is trending at such a premium. O'neal does not appear elite in this regard, which may hurt him, yet what makes him a challenging grade is he was effective in coverage vs the highest level of competition w/ production vs SEC so that is hard to ignore. Plus he's a little thicker, meatier, nastier so that still has some value even though it's not in vogue (to me, at least). Flashes ball skills. Long story short, O'Neal flashes less range, a lot of nasty, some ball skills, yet is a hair below what's currently valued for the position. In a downhill role or slot role vs strength, I could see him being a good developmental prospect & rotational contributor because he flashes versatility. I wish I had more game film because it's only a couple games available on him. He's someone who could climb boards with a good 40 or go undrafted with a bad one. If I had to guess, I'd say day 3 pick, possibly undrafted. I'll admit this is not an easy player for me to grade. Low low floor because may not have pro athleticism, yet there's so many good flashes against good teams that it feels odd to grade him too low. Ball skills and physicality should count for something. I lean later though. As odd as it may sound, I think his best bet might've been to play around 220/225 and be more of a glorified coverage LB who plays from the box instead of deep. Expectation is most likely special teams and developmental box type w/ SS2 rotational potential.
Scout Grade - 7th Round
Yusuf Corker Kentucky
3 year starter who improved each year and made a lot of plays for the Wildcats. SR year finished with 82 TKL, 3.5 TFL, 1 SK, & 8 PD. Corker has some good examples of converting speed to power. He's not an overly imposing safety but he's active and pretty physical. He's rangy at the college level, but just on the line athletically to make it hard to grade whether he can translate that skillset as a pro. It's not that he's a bad athlete, but safeties in the NFL have to be so rangy, that I'm not sure he has that top tier explosion required. I think he's likely a special teamer who's trying to develop into a slot DB. You like his physicality in the box, but he's not brute enough to make you think he'll be a thumper as a pro. A few examples of getting beat deep make me concerned for his potential in coverage. Even though some of those plays weren't completed, you know that margin for error is less at the pro level. He's sort of a single note player, 1st and 2nd down run support player who plays his assignment by the book, but overall there isn't any one attribute that makes you think he's a must have player or that he's going to be a starting pro. He was highly productive in SEC, and he plays intelligently, but nothing jumps off the screen as an elite trait. At best he might develop into a Rafeal Bush style rotational safety, who was a decent player that's hard to hate, but he's not going to push your defense over the top, and he will get beat in coverage.
Scout Grade - 7th Round/UDFA
Bubba Bolden Miami 6'3 204
rsJR who's JR year was his best with 74 TKL, 6.5 TFL, 1 SK, 1 INT, 3 PD, & 4 FF. Made some plays sideline to sideline on fast players like Tutu Atwell but it's not top tier range on a consistent enough basis. It's just enough to flash potential. He converts his speed to power and can arrive with some thump. Timed some hits beautifully and has good angle IQ. Aggressive player who looks like a potentially good special teamer...maybe enough upside to develop into more like a box defender from the slot. Not bursty, but may make up for it to a degree with length & IQ. He's the type of prospect that should've returned for a SR year to show he can improve in coverage and make more splash plays on the ball. You'd like to see more pass breakups and INTs. His ability to find the ball carrier in space makes me think he could develop on special teams though so he could hear his name called late. That will likely be his role. Not sure he's fast enough to develop into a starter but reliable enough in run support to maybe carve out a role.
Scout Grade - 7th Round/UDFA
3 year productive starter who's built more & runs more like a linebacker than a safety. Build, frame and athleticism are similar to Hufanga from USC last year who I didn't think was athletic enough to start as a pro yet was picked mid rounds. Harvell-Peel despite making a lot of plays as a collegiate, may be a hair under the athleticism required to start as a pro. In 3 years he was productive with 185 TKL, 9.5 TFL, 4 SK, 10 INT, 20 PD, 3 FR, & 3 FF. He is instinctive; there are tipped balls where he adjusts in live-time quickly, so he makes some turnovers that a lot of players wouldn't. That indicates high overall football IQ. He's a priority free agent you'd bring in hoping that he can cause some turnovers for your special teams unit. I don't think he's the type to develop into a starter or even rotational DB, but he does fit what you look for on special teams.
Scout Grade - UDFA
FS - 'Free Safety' - coverage types
*Lewis Cine Georgia
Whoa. He has some kamikaze hits for sure. Very rangy. Moves naturally and closes space quickly in coverage and in run support. Converts speed to power and really looks to smash. Range definitely pops off of the screen more than most of the safeties in this class. I think that attribute alone could have him become the 1st safety drafted. It gives him NFL starter upside. He doesn't appear very big, in fact he's very thin to where you worry about durability vs pros, however there are enough monster hits that you can't question his toughness. Not a ton of game film available, but 1st impressions are fast and physical player who was the leader of the backend of a historically great defense. As a JR had 66 TKL, 8 PD, & 1 INT. No sacks, FF, or FR in 3 years. 8 PDs is what you want to see. If teams are okay with his frame, arguably could be the 1st safety taken even ahead of Kyle Hamilton. High ceiling/low floor.
Scout Grade - Late 1st/Early 2nd Round
*Kerby Joseph Illinois
No film or highlights available yet. Need to check closer to draft. 1st impressions from few plays I could find are athletic w/ ball skills. (added following on 4/3/2022). So a few more highlights became available but still no game film. On highlights alone Joseph appears to be one of the better cover safeties in this class. What might separate him from other cover-only types is he flashed some very surprisingly physical moments especially considering his wiry frame. Joseph is scheme, fit dependent. Don't ask him to live in the box. He's a rangy, deep cover playmaker with pro athleticism and starting upside. The criticism is he's sort of a 1 year wonder that came out of nowhere. That doesn't bother me. He allowed the least amount of completions in his direction in this class. I prefer to grade on film, however based on the flashes alone, he looks like an underrated player in this class and I have to increase his grade from 3rd to 2nd round. Might be the best sleeper among all FS types.
Scout Grade - 2nd Round
Daxton Hill Michigan
Good closing speed and can cover ground quickly. Flashes top of class range. Moved around the field. Played some single high, but mainly in the slot. Thin frame. Even though he's not a powerful player, he is a physical player. Especially when timing hits on WRs as the ball hits their hands. In run support, he's not what I'd consider heat seeking. There are plays where in the box you'd want to see him attacking the ball, but he allows others to make the play. Because of size limitations, most of his big hits are "shoulder smashes" instead of wrap up tackles. Overall, he looks like a rangy slot corner that can provide value on 3rd downs, especially as a blitzer. He may also convert to FS deep more conventional role. His initial foot quickness isn't overtly explosive where off the LOS he's more plodding than cat quick, but his acceleration, physicality, & closing speed are enticing. Had some games like versus Wisconsin where he made plays all over the field. Had other moments where I wanted more downhill attitude, more ambitious nose for the ball. Versatility may push him up draft boards. I could see a team picking him as high as early 2nd round and as low as 4th. High risk/high reward option. Depends on if he stays in slot or converts deep. Given his athletic profile, surprised he wasn't more of a deep guy so why'd Michigan play him in the slot? Type of guy I'd personally aim for around early 3rd, but he has rangy traits to go high as late 1st rd. Too many unknowns in trying to project what he might be or can be (like, 'maybe we'll convert him deep') instead of being able to see it. What I'm getting at is I don't know what position he'll play so despite most outlets showing him as a late 1st round grade, and despite having top tier range, I'd rather have seen it on tape first. In some scenarios I may justify it. For example, the Cowboys at pick 24 could make sense because I think he fits there in the slot. In that example, it might be justified. In essence, his grade is more dependent on fit than most others in this class. Upside is very high long term though simply because of elite range. The most challenging evaluation among all safeties in class. I'm softly reluctant, but like his traits.
Scout Grade - 2nd Round
Verone McKinley III Oregon 5'11 194
Not much tape available, but very productive player who finds the ball routinely. ORE defensive scheme may allot for safety production because a lot of safeties seem to produce well in their system (i.e., Javon Holland last year for example could boost McKinley's stock), yet on his own merit, he made a lot of plays so it could just be that the program recruits the position well too (i.e., program is a plus). This is a high IQ player with many backyard style flashes of playmaking potential. He's not necessarily built in an ideal fashion (lacks frame, length), however that may present some value. Not a burner, but very smooth, fluid. Somewhat deceptive athletically. Doesn't appear fast, but has flashes of serious 2nd gear like when the balls on the turf and it's a live ball, he all of a sudden appears like the fastest player on the field. May be more here than initially meets the eye. He's not Javon Holland by any means, yet McKinley had 77 TKL, 6 INT, 6 PD, 1 FF, 1 TFL last year. Flashed both physicality w/ big hits & coverage ability to jump routes and makes plays on the ball. Had surprising last second INTs where he sort of 'came out of nowhere' & routinely brought in tipped balls for INTs. One or two times might feel like luck, but when you do it enough, it's starts to become an indicator of "right place, right time high IQ." Upon 1st glance, you might not expect him to be a pro level athlete, yet made too many plays to ignore. McKinnley & Bryan Cook are the 2 safeties in this class that are sort of interchangeable between conventional FS & SS roles, and seem pretty scheme diverse. They could arguably be classified in either category depending on team. The fact that they don't fit into a box could either hurt or help depending how you look at it. In his case I think it helps more, in Cooks case I could see slightly lower draft position (albeit I have them graded similarly). Both are like the defensive versions of WR Jalen Tolbert (from this class) where the production and plays they made are beyond what you might think possible considering "eye test" or "traits." Some refer to that as an overachiever. Call it what you will, but there's value here. Not a big player, not physically imposing, yet he appears willingly physical w/ ball skills. I need more film, but 1st impression looks like he could go as high as late 3rd round and as late as early 6th. Turnovers alone will gain attention. Early 4th seems most likely.
Scout Grade - 4th Round
Baylor 6'2 193
Contributed all 4 seasons for Baylor, improved year after year, and shined as a JR & SR. Final season had 57 TKL, 4.5 TFL, 0.5 SK, 5 INT, 1 TD, 2 PD, & 1 FR. Unfortunately no game film or highlights available. I've checked over and over and over because he graded as one of the top cover guys in the class, yet there is surprisingly little available on Woods. He didn't grade well in run support according to PFF, but in the couple games I saw, he made some huge hits so I don't question the potential for physicality. I have a slight bias because I've liked DBs from this program Baylor so much. Baylor & Washington are my favorite DB programs because they play fast, physical brand of football. It's sort of an overachiever chip on shoulder type m.o. The challenge is I've been much higher than consensus on players from this program before (like Grayland Arnold) so I will need to check for more tape as we get closer to draft time because I need to guard against my positive bias towards the program. From the flashes that are available, I see a deep cover type with physical flashes. Thin frame with decent athleticism (on pro standards). Potential starter. Grades range widely on Woods. PFN has had him in 3rd/4th for months. PFF had him as a UDFA for a while, than slight bump over time. I need more tape to truly assess, but on flashes alone, looks like a 4th/5th round player w/ upside.
Scout Grade - 4th/5th Round
Damarri Mathis Pittsburgh
This program put out 4 draft eligible DBs last year. Mathis fits their mold too of an undersized yet physical DB who plays bigger than his listed size & better than his measurables. He's not a top tier athlete, but he's instinctive, physical. What might separate him from previous prospects from the program is Mathis flashed some good ball skills deep and made quite a few acrobatic INTs & PDs deep. He took a long time to peak and mainly only produced as a JR & as a 5th year SR. However those flashes of ball skills and physicality give him viable upside. He's someone that should hear his name called on day 3 despite being very 'off the radar.' 23 TKL, 2 INTs, 11 PDs as a JR. 43 TKL, 2 INT, 5 PD as a 5th yr SR. Rotational at college level, yet may have skillset and potential to develop into better pro than collegiate. Likely still a rotational player, but there's a demeanor here of overachiever that's hard not to appreciate. Athletically, although not elite in any phase, he doesn't appear outclassed, and has a certain fluidity and natural feel that's promising. Good program and good flashes, you just wish there was more production. Likely a slot DB. Actually has some similarities in traits to Mykael Wright from this year's CB class. Could be a consolation prize late for teams that miss on Wright.
Scout Grade - 5th Round
Isaiah Pola-Mao USC
Tough, long. May get drafted based on measurables, but frankly in the games I watched he didn't jump off the screen much (for better and for worse). I didn't see much completed in his direction but I also didn't see many plays made. Entire games where he's not often in the frame. Really need more tape. USC v Wash St was only game available and #21 was really only in on 1 play where he fought through a block to make a goal line stop. I think to develop into a starting safety he'd have to be more aggressive in run support & more play-making overall. For a bigger player, he doesn't really heat seek. Some physical flashes but not a 'nose for the ball' type player in space. However, as a lengthy coverage asset on 3rd downs, he has some rotational potential and slot potential. In the game that was available it's worth noting that he did go this entire game without having anything completed in his direction, so it's hard to criticize effectiveness, yet I'd need to see more to fully assess. Based on what's available, he doesn't stick out as a "must have" type of target. Seems higher floor, lower ceiling. Best season was 3 years ago as a SO with 73 TKL, 4 INT, 2 PD. Production indicates a box player because he doesn't have much 'ball skills' production (as a SR had 57 TKL, 1 PD, 1 TFL), yet tape doesn't show a mean enough breed to play box as a pro. Sort of caught between skill sets (i.e., tweener). Not someone I'd target, yet may have more coverage upside than meets the eye.
Scout Grade - 6th/7th Round
Looks bigger than his listed ht/wt. Not sure he's fast enough to rotate in as a pro. Flashes some physicality but not often enough. Likely a special teamer. I just don't see the speed needed to develop into a starting safety or slot defender. He was productive enough at UCLA to make you think he's got special teams potential, but frankly he doesn't convert speed to power well. Graded decently in coverage, but best days are likely at the college level for Lake. Not someone I'd target. It is based on limited games, but watching him vs USC I see a guy that isn't heat seeking in run support, nor is he reliable enough with deep speed to be a coverage asset. He's not a bad player, but there's not enough here to make me think he'll be a good pro or teams will go out of their way to target. Too often there are plays where I'd like to see him attack, but he doesn't. A nasty streak could've done him well, and that's the main thing he'd have to add. Athletic limitations don't help his case either. Needs to get nastier and prove himself on special teams to present value to a roster and I'm not sure that's his makeup.
Scout Grade - UDFA
DIDN'T DECLARE EARLY (in next year's class)
Jordan Battle Alabama
Very productive physical safety on a deep defense. 81 tackles, 3 INTs, 3 PDs, & 2 TDs as a JR. Lack of pass deflections and high tackle numbers indicates what type of safety Battle is. He's similar to Brisker from Penn State stylistically however Battle flashes a bit more fearlessness and reckless ambition when smashing runners. Because of that, I could see him going higher than pre-draft ranks indicate. There isn't any game tape available so I only had highlights to go by, however from what I can tell he looks like a physical box safety capable of making big plays. He's not super rangy and looks sort of "one speed" however he takes on players twice his size and plays the position with a lot of toughness. If utilized correctly, as a run support box player, I could see him making an impact early and bringing a lot of toughness to your unit. Not sure he has the coverage ability and monster range you need to be a starting safety in today's game, but he plays decisive so instincts can override athleticism at the position. He's tough enough to where you wouldn't want to bet against him. Breaks down well in space and finds the ball. His game in one word? Attitude. Need game film.
Scout Grade - 2nd/3rd Round
Demani Richardson Texas A&M
Run and chase defender who finds the ball in space. Made a lot of plays in the flats, and is sort of a sideline to sideline player. Not super bursty athlete but wraps up well. Need more tape. Very limited highlights available. Seems more like a 1st and 2nd down run support rotational safety. Not sure if he has the range to be a top tier cover guy. Need more film though because that 1st impression is based on about 2 mins of available highlights.
Tykee Smith Georgia/W Virginia
Transfer player with 1 year left of eligibility. May return. Played well for WV with 61 TKL, 8 TFL, 2 INT, & 5 PD as a SO & 50 TKL, 2.5 TFL, 1 SK, 2 INT, 1 TD, 4 PD, & 1 FF as a FR. Only played 1 game for UGA as a JR & finished the season with 3 TKL. No game tape available, only highlights. Lined up in the slot and some in the box. Looks more like a slot CB than a traditional safety. Flashes good physicality for his size. Appears patient and shows some good ball skills even deep. Hard to get full picture until more tape becomes available.
Trey Dean III
More of a DB than a CB or S. UF used him in a multitude of ways and he contributed from day 1 on campus as a true FR. Mostly rotational role in 1st 3 seasons but final SR year had 88 TKL, 4 TFL, 1 SK, 1 INT, 8 PD. I like that when lined up on the outside, he didn't look completely out of place. He kept up with some WRs stride for stride down the entire field. Not a ton of tape available (2 min highlight reel is it), but 1st impressions are that he's a long physical player. He's not bursty athlete but he appears to have good long speed. Overall considering that he's projected to go undrafted, I'd say there's value here. He's a productive long SEC safety. He's an above average athlete and flashes moments of good range. It's more smooth than explosive but I think he might be deceptively more athletic than 1st meets the eye. Need more info, but 1st impression is pretty good. Definitely worth a late round flier or priority camp invite. Potential rotational upside, possibly even starter. Tools and pedigree are there at least. There are players like Bell from Florida A&M who are projected to go higher, but frankly there's not much difference between Dean and some of the guys who will go ahead of him.
Scout Grade - 7th Round
Josh Proctor Ohio State
Good special teams defense. Limited production throughout 4 years with Buckeyes. At a different program, he may have been a productive player because there are some athletic tools here. He looks rangy, and he also had some massive hits in space. There's just very little film available because he wasn't a full time starter, than he got hurt and missed last year. 10 TKL as a SR & 20 TKL as a JR so 44 TKL in 4 years of college is not what you look for. Only had 2 INTs but both are highlight reel type plays that if you just saw those plays you'd think you're watching an early to mid round prospect, athletically, physically. Best plays were in the Kick Return game tackling players behind the 20. Long, rangy, & physical. Athleticism does pop a bit. A ton of upside if he can get healthy.
Scout Grade - 6th/7th Round
Scout Comp - Justin Hardee
Xavier Henderson Michigan State
Highly productive box safety who's athleticism may be best fit for the pro game. 1st impression, athletically, is he's like Hufanga last year from USC. People liked him, but I didn't think he was fast enough. Too many examples of slow foot speed being a liability. Henderson gives me similar vibes. Statistically he had 96 TKL, 10 TFL, 3 SK, 1 INT, 2 PD, 1 FF. So based on that you'd expect him to be a top safety in the class. But he's really the 1st prospect at safety in this class where the tape doesn't match the production. The one thing you notice is he is disciplined. He makes tackles where 3 guys on his D will miss, yet he's the guy to finally bring the player down. I think this is a special teamer, and possibly a good one, but I don't see attributes of a rangy pro safety. That special teams potential might warrant a very late round pick like 7th round, plus his production will bait teams into thinking maybe he can develop into a box player who contributes in run support, but the draft capital to find out will likely be late. He's the type of player where I will disregard his 40 yard dash time. I don't care if they tell me he ran a 4.3 at his pro day because I don't see explosion or game speed. Athletically I see a potential liability. The best example I can give is in the Northwestern game early in the 3rd quarter. Their RB hits the hole and has space, and Henderson isn't able to cover the ground needed to impede the runner. The idea of seeing him diving and missing in college makes me think that will be amplified as a pro against better athletes. His best bet would be to gain weight and convert to WIL. The one thing in his favor is he is instinctive and he is a high effort player. He also provides some value as a potential backfield menace. For it to work, teams would have to build a role that keeps him around the LOS, utilizes blitz.
Scout Grade - UDFA