Draft 2020: Safety

It’s fair to say the 2019 Rookie class was largely disappointing from a secondary perspective in their first year, especially when it came to safety. A class that looked to have two or three solid safety options for teams generally flattered to deceive, though some do show signs for promise as their careers progress.

Juan Thornhill was probably the closest to being the exception to the rule with a solid first year in Kansas City and Johnathan Abram has to be worth a mention, even if his over eagerness to be the enforcer for the Silver and Black ended his season before it began!

For a position more and more defensive coordinators want to be the “swiss army knife” in their defensive scheme, very few appeared up to the task.

So what of the 2020 class? On paper at least, I think there are once again a few prospects that will have DCs making a strong case to their GMs to add them to the roster next month. Two in particular look like they could easily go “plug and play” from the get-go next season.

The top two prospects for me are very much a 1a and 1b scenario, but my personal favourite is Xavier McKinney out of Alabama. At 6’0 and 201lb he can play either safety role but I personally think he looks more effective at strong safety up around the box.

That said, he did play slot corner several times this year and even covered on the outside when needed to, and looked equally adept in all of them. He has very good coverage skills, especially when playing man coverage either up at the line or from over the middle picking up backs out of the backfield.

His read and react style of play is well suited to this, but also means that when he is playing as the free safety over the top he does a great job of playing the QB and anticipating the play to close down the ball. This speed and athleticism earned him a couple of picks from playing single high although he did sometimes whiff on the jump and give up a big play as a result. Mind you, show me a college safety that that doesn’t happen to…

The thing with McKinney for me is that, quite often, he’d pop up in the right place at the right time kind of thing to make a play. Once or twice and it’s fortunate but when you keep being in the right place at the right time it speaks to you being a really good player with a good understanding of the opposing offense and the game as a whole in my opinion. That is something that sets him apart from most of the class this year for me.

Pete Golding used him a lot on the safety blitz this year when Alabama would line up with 5 or 6 DBs. Even then, he could rush from the edge or stunt inside and still get the sack, such is his speed and versatility. It’s the sort of thing the modern DC will drool over.

He had a HUGE game against LSU which would suggest there are no issues with the big lights as it were which is a problem we’ve seen with some prospects. They can put the numbers up against the lesser teams, but do very little when they’re playing the big guns. This doesn’t seem to be an issue for McKinney.

If I’m looking for faults, he does have poor tackling form sometimes if he’s more intent on going for the big hit, which will be a downtick, but he seemed to be better as the year went on and his overall skillset more than makes up for something that can be easily addressed.

He had 175 tackles, 13 of which were for a loss, 6 sacks, 5 INTs, 15 pass break ups, 6 FF and a fumble recovery in three years at Alabama. I fully expect him to be able to clock up some serious numbers in the NFL as well if he ends up on the right sort of defense.

The same could be said of my “1b” prospect here – Grant Delpit out of LSU.

It wasn’t that long ago LSU gave the NFL a certain gentleman by the name of Jamal Adams. You may have heard of him? Whilst he’s perhaps not as well rounded coming out of the college game as Adams was, there is no doubt Grant Delpit is of the same mould.

For me, he’s the better option as the free safety more than box but he can play up at the line and is a solid presence in the run game given his size. He started the season playing a lot of snaps in the box but then moved to playing a lot deeper when Todd Harris busted his knee in the 3rd or 4th game of the season, and he was even more impressive.

The big thing that stands out with Delpit for me is his ridiculous range. He struggled with a lot of different injuries this year which was more evident watching some games than others, but even then his ability to go sideline to sideline is crazy. One particular play in the Texas game saw him line up about 10 yards deep on the right hash and ended up with him making an interception outside the left numbers, purely from his reading of the play and his ability to get crossfield.

He also goes North/South really well, and chalked up a few sacks coming from deep on a delayed blitz using his closing speed and power. It makes home the sort of playmaker teams will want.

If there are some downsides to Delpit, I’d say he plays a little soft when on coverage detail sometimes which gives a good opposing offense chance to hit underneath against him, and he does sometimes do all the hard work to put himself in place to make the play… and then doesn’t, which I think will drive some coaches nuts, but there is a reason he got given the Jim Thorpe Award this year so those mental errors will likely be largely overlooked and addresses in training camp.

I think when you take in to account his overall game and his numbers, as well as the difference he makes to the whole defense from just being present, it tells you a lot about how good of a player he is.

As mentioned earlier, I’m not sure he’s quite as good as Jamal Adams was at the same stage, but I think there’s every chance he can catch him up when he gets to the NFL.

For me, it’s those two plus the rest this year. Antoine Winfiled Jr from Minnesota is a hard hitting option with some excellent open field skills and another player with great range. He will be sure to draw some interest from a number of teams, as will, I think, Ashtyn Davis out of California. He’s another ballhawk type safety that will make splash plays. His body of work isn’t as solid as some others, but that big play ability with certainly excited a few.

All in all, not the deepest safety class we’ve seen in recent years but I think there is an outside chance that, when the 2020 season nears its conclusion, a safety is in the conversation for DROY.