As we did for the cornerbacks earlier today, we’ll go through my 2016 safety rankings. This only includes the players I have watched so obviously, there are a couple name players I’m missing. But I’m not going to rank a player I don’t feel confident writing about. Remember, this are my internal rankings and don’t always reflect where I believe the player will ultimately be drafted.
1. Karl Joseph/West Virginia: Difficult to argue he isn’t this classes #1 safety and had he stayed healthy, it would’ve been impossible. He’s a 42 game starter, played everywhere on WVU’s defense, and will take your helmet off. But he’s disciplined in his run fills. Not someone who flies around and gets himself out of position. His coverage improved and thought he did well in 2015, finding and tracking the ball.
Knee injury aside, there are very few complaints about his game. Has to be a little more consistent wrapping up and need to lower his tackling angle in coverage – has to avoid illegal hits that are going to get him flagged.
2. Keanu Neal/Florida: Neal’s draft journey has been up and down. Started off as an unknown, got a lot of buzz, and now, it’s a little more popular to be critical of him. But I like this kid. Though he’s made mistakes and has blown coverages, he isn’t the refined, 42 game starter that Joseph is. He’s a true junior. 19 career starts. Of course, he was going to struggle, especially if you check out that ’14 tape. I’m sure Joseph had similar problems early on.
Neal is big, cut, and plays with a violent attitude. Diamond-tipped shoulder. And his coverage improved from year-to-year, though he wasn’t used as often as the single high safety compared to Joseph. His inconsistency is a lot more noticeable, bouncing off tackles and not doing anything elite in coverage, but when he’s on his game, the gap between he and Joseph isn’t wide.
Grade: Late 1st-Early 2nd
3. Justin Simmons/Boston College: Smart player. Tons of range. Played everywhere but profiles best as a single high safety at the NFL level. Aggressive, impactful yet reliable open field tackler. Experience at corner but likely sticks at safety. Playmaker. Showed awfully impressive vertical and agility drills (40 inches, 3.85, 6.58). Few flaws in his game. Will ignore run fills. Needs to show stronger hands playing the pocket. Underrated player.
4. Darian Thompson/Boise State: Some will rise, some will fall. Include Thompson in the latter category. At one point, he was my first round pick for Pittsburgh. After a poor Combine and only average Pro Day, he’s fallen squarely into the second half of round two. Still, I like his tape. Well-rounded player with a great frame. Able to hit and support the run and 19 interceptions speaks to his ability to cover. I don’t think he’s a true single high safety, ideally, but as that SS who can take away the intermediate routes while filling the alley against the run.
5. Kevin Byard/Middle Tennessee State: Byard was arguably the biggest Combine snub and I’m still scratching my head as to why. Had a decent Senior Bowl week and came off a strong senior year at MTSU. Like Thompson, he may not have a defining trait but is well rounded. Not a huge hitter but a reliable, shut-it-down tackler. His ball skills, tracking and high-pointing the football, are some of the best in his class. Not sure how many guys are better than him and he made one of those plays in Mobile. High-character and if you’re into the feel good element, he’s a Steelers’ fan.
6. KJ Dillon/West Virginia: Just put the profile up on him today. I’m a fan. Not the big hitter that Joseph is but his coverage skills are strong, primarily being used over slot in 2015. Offers return value. Reliable, though not forceful, tackler. Gives good effort in run support. 29 game starter with five career interceptions.
7. Deon Bush/Miami (FL): Bush is Mike Mitchell. Born to hit. That can create some recklessness, taking poor angles and consequently missing tackles, but if you can clean that up, you have a solid player. Coverage skills are better than credited and I think he can function in the single high at times, though he profiles as your typical strong safety thumper. Timed well across the board: 36 inch vertical, 10’3″ vert shows explosiveness.
8. TJ Green/Clemson: A late “riser” who some think could go in the first round. That’s a pretty crazy thought to me because he’s so raw. One year starter with only a lone interception. Some think he can move to corner. Big hitter. Terrible in coverage, poor angles to the ball and struggles to play catch points. Special teams impact year one because of his ability to hit but I see him as a serious work in progress. Far from round one material.
9. Tyvis Powell/Ohio State: Powell is built well, explosive through his tackles, and had some big-time performances in the most meaningful games. 2015 BCS Title Game defensive MVP. He timed well, though I don’t know if I always see sub 4.5 speed on tape, but as a Buckeye, you know Pittsburgh will be interest. I like him.
10. DeAndre Houston-Carson/William & Mary: DHC hails from the school of Mike Tomlin, even belonging to the same fraternity. He made the move from corner to safety last year and played reasonably well. Tough, physical player, who tested well at Indy. 4.54 40 was one of the better times of his group. Elite special teamers player. Blocked nine career field goals. Won’t be an impact on defense but will be a force Year One running down kicks and punts.
Grade: Mid-Late 5th
11. Deiondre’ Hall/Northern Iowa: With even less time to adjust as DHC, Hall was moved to safety mid-season after injuries struck. Blessed with incredible length, 34 3/4 inch arms and a ton of swagger. Showed explosion but straight line speed was poor, a 4.68. Think move to safety should be permanent. Experience in man and zone coverage. Gets out of phase at the top of his route and relies on his length too often to compensate.
Grade: Mid-Late 5th
12. Trae Elston/Ole Miss: Elston plays with a ton of energy and though his frame is on the leaner side, it isn’t horrible. Disicplined in run fills and attacks the alley with a sense of purpose. Shows ability to leap and high point the football. Really strong 2015 campaign and received a lot of high marks against SEC competition. But angles are poor and he’s an ankle nipper as a tackler. Even if the angles get worked out, his tackling will never be consistent. Still, worth a 7th round pick.
13. Blake Countess/Auburn: Underrated player. Corner and safety versatility. Transferred from Michigan to play one year at Auburn and was named Team MVP. Twitchy guy who will throw his face in the fan against the run. Sub 4.5 speed. Shouldn’t be overlooked like he is. Like him even though he’s low on this list, in large part to a below-average frame.
Grade: Mid-Late 7th
14. Stefan McClure/California: Draftable talent but inability to stay healthy, tons of knee problems, really push him down. Good frame, processes info quickly, strong hands to finish tackles. Trouble reading run/pass keys in the box and angles in the run game range from too aggressive to conservative. Really all over the map. 28 career starts. Three-time captain speaks to leadership. Quality UDFA if he falls out of the draft.
Grade: Late 7th-UDFA
15 Jayron Kearse/Clemson: Will get drafted higher but I don’t see a fit. High cut and long arms. But stiff and offers nothing in coverage. Liability in space and by most accounts, had a poor Pro Day. Some believe he should try to become a linebacker or hybrid player. True junior who surprisingly declared early.
Grade: Late 7th-UDFA
16. Miles Killebrew/Southern Utah: Built well and a monster hitter when he lines everything up right. But struggles to carry seam, angles are terrible, and tackling inconsistent, even when he takes the correct path. Doesn’t always play to size in the run game. Has to make competition jump. Too many negative plays to justify the positives ones.