We’re back again breaking down prospects for the 2017 NFL Draft, set to kick off on April 27th through the 29th. Our goal this season is to write reports on at least 150 players and hopefully, as many as 200. It will, of course, have a focus on Pittsburgh Steelers’ wants and needs but we will look big-picture too at the best players in this year’s draft.
If there’s a player you would like us to breakdown, let us know in the comments below.
Budda Baker / S Washington 5’10 192 lbs #32
– Proper tackling technique
– Physical enough to play near the line of scrimmage
– Experience playing in the slot
– Comfortable in deep zone
– Shows ability to jump routes
– Blows up many plays due to high athleticism
– Sometimes fooled when diagnosing the run
– Could add some more size
– Will be difficult for Baker to cover larger NFL tight ends
– Locks on to quarterback’s eyes for a second too long at moments
– Struggles with elusive backs in open field
– 2016: 70 Tackles, 9.5 TFL, 3 Sacks, 2 Ints
– Has 5 interceptions in his career at Washington
– Season high 10 tackles vs Arizona
– Sporting News First Team All America
– NCAA Consensus First Team All America Safety
– Began at Washington as a 167-lb freshman before bulking up
When it comes down to size, the National Football League is a setting where bigger is usually better. That’s why Washington safety Budda Baker faces so many questions about his size and durability as he awaits to be drafted later this spring. Going through Baker’s tape, I can confidently say that while his size may be his biggest question mark, it is far from being a glaring weakness. Though being an undersized player often links to poor tackling fundamentals and inability to play in the trenches, Baker does not match the description that is generalized with players his size. When watching one of Baker’s game tape, it is more likely to see a play like the one below than a missed tackle.
During his time at Washington, Baker spent a lot of his time near the line of scrimmage. The result of that was Baker finding himself with many opportunities to make a big play, an opportunity that Baker capitalized on quite often. Whether it be a running back screen, off tackle run or an end around, Baker was a master of blowing up the play before it had a chance to develop.
While Baker was a nightmare for ball carriers near the line of scrimmage, the Washington safety also poised as a viable threat as a pass rusher. Baker tallied three sacks in his final season at Washington, but Baker’s most impressive showcase as a pass rusher came on a play that did not result in a sack. Watch below as Baker blitzes off the edge and is met by the USC running back.
Though Baker did not ultimately sack the quarterback, the hand work and strength shown did more for Baker’s stock than a sack ever could. With effort like the play above, Baker can become a focal point of many creative blitzes in the NFL.
Baker’s ability to play at the line of scrimmage is half of the test set in front of him. In today’s era, an NFL safety is required to be more than just an eighth man in the box. Today’s starting safety must also be able to hold his own in coverage, whether it be a deep zone or even lined up in the slot. Baker finds himself in prestigious company because the Washington safety has shown the ability to do both.
Watching Baker on tape, the Washington safety appears comfortable playing in a deep zone when asked. More impressive though is Baker’s work in the slot position. It is here where Baker flashes great ability to read and diagnose. Two plays specifically stood out the most to me while watching, one where Baker is in man coverage and the other in zone coverage.
Here against Washington State, Baker is deployed in the slot and is responsible for following the receiver faced in front of him.
For a moment, it appears that Baker is a half-step behind the receiver he is responsible for following, that is until Baker jumps the route and nabs an interception.
Baker does not come up with an interception in this second example, though he probably should have. Watch how Baker watches the quarterback’s eyes throughout his drop and then pounces on the throw.
The drop on that play likely costs Baker a pick six there, but that is just gravy to what teams are looking for when scouting defensive backs. Baker’s ability in the slot makes me ponder if teams will experiment with Baker in the slot like the Steelers did with Sean Davis earlier this season. Playing Baker as the nickel corner in passing situations does not seem far fetched when you consider his past performances.
As you may have noticed, Baker’s game revolves around being aggressive in all phases. While being aggressive is the fuel that powers Baker, it too shows a need for improvement. Baker can sometimes be fooled if his initial instinct betrays him. An example of that can be found on Arizona’s opening touchdown on a red zone carry that Baker likely should have stopped.
Baker, lined up on the left side of the offense, is fooled by the movement of Arizona tight end Josh Kern. As Kern, lined up off the line slides over to block the backside defender, Baker follows this and takes himself out of the play, leading to an easy touchdown.
When it comes to Baker’s draft stock, the first team All America selection has more positives going for him than negatives. Baker has the aggressiveness and coverage capabilities of being a starting safety at the next level. Though Baker’s size will continue being a topic of discussion, I believe the concern is exaggerated. Considering that Baker has increased his weight every year since his arrival at Washington, there is valid reason to believe that Baker can continue to increase his size and be a long-term contributor in the NFL. Look for Baker to be selected during the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Projection: Day Two
Games Watched: vs Arizona, vs Rutgers, vs USC, vs Arizona State,