Monday, April 3, 2017

2017 Safety Rankings

1) Jamal Adams, LSU Tigers
Career Stats: 209 tackles, 5 interceptions, 14 pass deflections
Height: 6'          Weight: 214
40 Yard Dash: 4.56 Seconds
Vertical Jump: 31.5 inches

The standard for safeties has become Eric Berry. A do it all safety that can come up in the box and lay the hammer on ball carriers or have the ability, quickness and ball skills to drop into coverage and makes plays on the ball. Jamal Adams is as close to a true star strong safety as can be. His ball skills and coverage are above average but he is at his best when in the box and breaking up whatever play comes his way. The pop he adds on his tackles is fun to hear and he fills the gap well when asked. Adams does occasionally take plays off but this may have been the result of playing a little banged up last year. I love that he has fantastic intuitions and is the student of the game. You can tell that he watches a lot of film. He quickly diagnoses plays at the line of scrimmage and then goes right to where the ball will be. You can tell that when he trails receivers, he will start to grab the jersey. Sometimes getting penalized but this can be fixed. He just needs to play with more patience in pass coverage. Adams is an absolute beast and definitely warrants a top 5 selection. A team leader captain on and off the field that can change a culture of a team and make an instant impact on defense. Safety is not always the most important position on the field but when there is a future star in the making, you take that kind of game changing player. At a strong safety position in the NFL where there are so few stars, Jamal Adams could be the next big prospect to translate and change the makeup of an entire defense.

Stat to Know - 16: Total number of touchdowns the LSU defense allowed this past year. Adams was a clear part of that.

2) Malik Hooker, Ohio State Buckeyes
Career Stats: 49 tackles, 7 interceptions, 4 pass deflections
Height: 6'1          Weight: 206
40 Yard Dash: DNP
Vertical Jump: DNP

Please stop the Ed Reed comparisons. Malik Hooker is a fun player to watch but he is not perfect. Ed Reed is a top five greatest safety of all time. Hooker played one season at Ohio State. That is not to say there aren’t parts of his game that look like Reeds. When he reads a quarterback’s eyes and breaks on the ball, there are so few players that can cover the amount of ground that he has (just watch the endzone throw from Deshaun Watson). Hooker came from the middle of the field and got into fantastic position on the run, all while pulling in an interception that showed off the athleticism that this kid can bring. The seven interceptions, three returned for a touchdown, was just a little bit of what he can provide. He did play out of position a decent amount and he does have a tendency to miss tackles but I love how much he developed throughout the year. He played a bit hesitant in the first few games of the season but by the time he played Clemson in the semi finals game, he was much more aggressive and sure of where he was going. To quote the great Michael Jordan, “the roof is the ceiling” for this kid. Hooker is the best free safety in this class and with the National Passing League becoming more and more focused on throwing the rock, a cover man like this former Buckeye is needed to scare quarterbacks from throwing deep.

Stat to Know - 3: Number of interceptions returned for a touchdown by Hooker in 2016.

3) Budda Baker, Washington Huskies
Career Stats: 138 tackles, 5 interceptions, 18 pass deflections
Height: 5'10          Weight: 195
40 Yard Dash: 4.45 seconds
Vertical Jump: 32.5 inches 

There is something that gets to me about smaller safeties. Size of the fight in the dog. I loved Karl Joseph last year. His explosiveness and ability to quickly diagnose a play and fly towards the ball was a thing of beauty to watch. Budda Baker reminds me a lot of him. Stature aside, Baker plays just like Joseph. Compact, explosive, comes in to clean up plays and he plays bigger than his size.  Sometimes though, you have to know your physical limitations and Baker knows when he can’t go high on a tackle against a bigger receiver or tight end, so he goes low and smartly wraps up the legs to get the sure tackle. When going into the backfield to make a play on a quarterback or running back, Baker has the innate ability to edge bend around the tackle and explode towards the ball carrier. Some defensive coordinator is going to have a few fun blitz packages for the former Husky. One underrated defensive skill is your ability to weave through traffic to get to where you need to be. Whether it is because of his smallish size or his instincts, this kid can get from A to B in a hurry. Being small is a disadvantage at times though. Baker does get bodied by bigger players when they get their hands on him, so Budda will have to do a good job of winning hand fights. His coverage ability and ball skills are above par so when you wrap it all up, why wouldn’t you want a tone setter like Budda Baker on your defense?

Stat to Know - 40: Baker started in 40 out of a possible 41 games. His small stature does not mean that he is injury prone.

4) Marcus Williams, Utah Utes
Career Stats: 125 tackles, 11 interceptions, 8 pass deflections
Height: 6'1          Weight: 202
40 Yard Dash: 4.56 seconds
Vertical Jump: 43.5 inches  

Looking at Marcus Williams’s measurables and combine numbers, he stands out and looks like an all pro player. Then you watch his game tape and he stands out, some good and some bad. Everybody knows the top free safety in Malik Hooker but there is a case to be made that Williams is not far behind. He is a true center fielder and makes some great plays on the ball when it is in the air. Ten interceptions in his last two seasons is no joke. The former Utah safety has incredible break on the ball while reading the quarterback’s eyes. I just want to see more tenacity out of Williams. On the defensive side of the ball, there needs to be an anger and want to rip the head off of the offensive player. Marcus Williams plays a little subdued at times. I want him to drive his feet through the ball carrier when he wraps up instead of giving the tackle the old dead leg tactic. Another one of his weaknesses are his poor angles that he can take. This can be improved on by good coaching though. Williams has tremendous upside though in a league that is desperate for true free safeties. He may be as good as Malik Hooker, if he is in a situation that utilizes his skills well.

Stat to Know - 43.5: His vertical at 43.5 inches was second to only Obi Melifonwu's 44 inch vertical.

5) Jabrill Peppers, Michigan Wolverines
Career Stats: 86 tackles, 1 interception, 11 pass deflections
Height: 5'11          Weight: 213
40 Yard Dash: 4.46 seconds
Vertical Jump: 35.5 inches   

Jabrill the enigma. Who is he? What position can he play? It is very rare when you say somebody is too versatile. They play too much of everywhere and never hone in on one craft to maximize their full potential. He is a strong safety. Peppers will play well with his nose to the line of scrimmage, but once he starts backpedaling and drops to cover a wide receiver he loses it. Athletic ability can only do so much in this day and age of designed timing routes, crossing patterns and backshoulder fades. Coverage ability is a lot of feet quickness and technique and there is only so much that you can improve upon. He is quick to react though when a ball carrier comes near him and is a sure enough tackler when he gets his body close enough to make the tackle. But it always comes back to the coverage flaws. Too many times you watch a receiver get past him and is wide open downfield. This liability in the passing game is tough to warrant an early first round pick on him. At times, he gets so far behind the receiver that it is almost like he is baiting a quarterback to throw towards him, but as noted by his one career interception, that’s not his intention. I do love that he finds ways to make stops in the backfield. He reminds me of a Johnathan Cyprien, just a smidge faster though. Both players were incredible against the run and have had their faults against the pass. In this day and age though, we all know what is more important to defend. Sorry fans, he is not the next Charles Woodson but he is still a very good player.

 Stat to Know - 1: I know it's like beating a dead horse but it's still hard to believe that it took Peppers until the last game of his career to make an interception. 27 games!

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