2016 Draft – Position Group – Safety
Safety is another position in this draft that is very deep. There are really only 1-2 players who are 1st Round players, but from Round 2 until the end of the draft there is a lot of talent. Part of that is the fact that Safeties are by nature of their physical blend of talents natural Special Teams guys, but part of it is also that teams are running more Nickel and Dime package groups, where depending on who they have they are favoring Safeties over Cornerbacks as a way of keeping the same personnel but being more physically equipped to stop the run.
The first type of Safety most teams are looking for is more of the Centerfielder, the Free Safety playing over the top in single high Safety coverage and looking to take away the deep pass. There are some very athletic players who fit this bill like Jalen Ramsey (Florida State), Jalen Mills (LSU), Darian Thompson (Boise State), or Vonn Bell (Ohio State). Mills is one of the players in this draft who has also played Cornerback, and Thompson is a four year starter who never recorded less than 3 Interceptions. You even have players like Jordan Lomax (Iowa) who is an experiences starter from a big college program who would make a really interesting Nickel Safety and likely won’t go until the 7th Round.
The other standard type for the modern day NFL Safety is the in the box safety, who is often tasked with stopping the run and taking on bigger pass catchers like Tight Ends. This class also offers a lot of talent for this role in players like Jeremy Cash (Duke), Miles Killebrew (Southern Utah), and Kavon Frazier (Central Michigan). Frazier is a really talented player who has played a lot of football and made a ton of Tackles for Central Michigan. In the late rounds? Elijah Shumate (Notre Dame) and Clayton Fejedelem (Illinois) and both big time Tacklers who are used to playing in the box and showed a lot of improvement throughout their college careers, and they will likely go in the 6th – 7th Round.
Both of those types and all of that talent still leaves out players like Karl Joseph and K.J. Dillon from West Virginia who could profile either way. This is a deep draft with all sorts of versatility at Safety, as the position has continued to evolve to counter Spread Offenses and looks for so many types of athletes in so many different uses and schemes.
1. Jalen Ramsey – Florida State – 6’1 209Lbs
Ramsey is a fast, athletic, explosive Cornerback who just so happens to have the instincts and size to play a devastating Safety. He plays coverage at the level of a top tier Cornerback, to the point where on some boards he is the top rated Corner in the draft. Has plus jumping skills to go and get the ball, and good enough hands to finish the catch. Change of direction skills are great, jamming and route blocking skills are plus as well. The way he reads the Quarterback’s eyes, drops quickly in coverage, and is able to play sideline to sideline with anticipation is what has me thinking of him more as a Free Safety. Throw in quality wrap tackling and an ability to play the run and he presents the kind of complete package that any team would want.
Once he gets into the NFL and they decide on a position, he will need to add a little bulk as a Safety. His Tackling technique and pad level at impact will need to improve, and if the team uses him as a blitzer he will have to develop more technique to supplement the talent. He’ll also need to learn to read and recognize the run faster as he embraces his new position full time. Defensive Backs don’t often get looks in the Top 5 of the Draft, and though not everyone is fully sold on Ramsey he has enough teams convinced that there is little doubt that is where he lands. The Chargers at 3rd (if it isn’t traded), Cowboys at 4th, and Jaguars at 5th will all have to look very hard at him.
2. Karl Joseph – West Virginia – 5’10 205Lbs
There is a lot to like with a player like Joseph. He was a team leader at West Virginia who the coaches rave about at every opportunity. He was a team captain, leader, and big time playmaker. He has the ability to play man coverage against slot receivers, fill and Tackle in the box, and has plus ball skills when going for a pick. He is naturally quick and decisive, playing with a lot of aggression and attacking at full speed. He looks for the home run with every hit, striking through the ball carrier and making sure to finish the play.
For a player that throws his body into every hit and plays such a physical style, Joseph lacks ideal size. Teams also have to consider his ACL injury that cut his Senior season short. While he is a big time hitter, his tackling technique needs some help as he at times misses or picks up a flag. He brings so much upside and so many skills that he projects as a playmaker and difference maker in the NFL. He’s the kind of player who could step in and provide game changing plays and leadership for a young defense, which could make him a good fit for the Jaguars, Titans, or Browns in the 2nd or 3rd Round.
3. Vonn Bell – Ohio State – 5’11 199Lbs
Bell has pretty good size for a Centerfield style or Coverage Safety. Reads and plays well, doesn’t get caught looking into the backfield. He has plus coverage skills for a Safety, and position flexibility to cover in the slot or over the top. His ball skills are good and he has the ability to go up and make a play on the ball, which gives him potential as a game changer. While his size isn’t exceptional, he does have good burst downfield and will put his body in on a blocker or to make a hit in the running game. A big piece that adds to his value is his position flexibility, playing Centerfield, Slot Corner, and in a pinch can cover on the outside.
While Bell has solid height, he doesn’t have a lot of bulk which creates some worry about durability and prevents him from really being any kind of imposing presence in the middle. His technique against the run can break down, and while his pre-snap reads are usually good he can get swept up and lose track of a play. With all of his natural physical talents and the technique he already possesses there will be a number of teams interested in him. If a team thinks he will develop quickly with NFL coaching they may take a shot at him at the end of the 1st Round, but for sure he will be picked up in the early-mid 2nd Round.
3 MORE TO WATCH
1. K.J. Dillon – West Virginia – 6’0 210Lbs
Dillon is the other half of a dynamic and talented pair of Safeties for West Virginia. He has great size, with good length and athleticism. He can play down in the box or high in coverage, giving him greater value for whoever drafts him. He can play man coverage in the slot effectively, and has the field awareness and intelligence to drop in zone or make a play on receivers crossing his face. Plays with anticipation in coverage and has good ball skills to come up with the pick. Throw in a big hitter and good block shedder in the run game and he is a very complete player. The knock is that while he is very complete he isn’t tremendous at any one thing a Safety does and therefore doesn’t pop like some of the other players. I really like him though, possibly more than Vonn Bell, and he’s the kind of player a team will fall in love with and take some time in the 2nd – 3rd Round.
2. Jeremy Cash – Duke – 6’0 212Lbs
If you are looking for a big time in the box type Safety, Jeremy Cash might be the best one in this draft. He is very aggressive, fighting with Tight Ends or Fullbacks and barreling in off the edge like a Linebacker to put a big time hit on a ball carrier. He lowers his shoulder and delivers a blow driving through the target and stopping them. He can also cover a little in the slot which means he doesn’t necessarily have to come out of the game on certain downs. However, he is limited in his coverage abilities and fast receivers may blow past him. Because of how he would be a right fit for specific systems he is the kind of player not every team wants but specific teams covet. He’ll probably go in the 2nd Round, but could slip to the 3rd.
3. Miles Killebrew – Southern Utah – 6’2 217Lbs
Killebrew is bigger than some of the top Linebacker prospects in this draft, so clearly he has the size to play in the box. He has the acceleration and change of direction skills to play Safety though, which makes him a versatile player who can cover in the slot as well as play hard in the box. Plays tough in the run, powering downhill and putting a hit on the runner in the alley. At time gets a bad case of tunnel vision and can overrun on lose balance and not keep his feet under him for a tackle. The physical tools are all very good, and he is a good kid with a lot of maturity, but a team has to decide if they think his field awareness and reads will improve with NFL coaching or if he is more of a plus Special Teams player and backup. He’ll probably go somewhere in the 3rd Round.