NFL Draft

Top 10 safeties of the 2023 NFL Draft:

We have arrived at the final defensive segment of our positional draft breakdowns! In this edition, we’ll look at the top safeties available, which is always a somewhat challenging group, just because of where you project guys to play at the next level already. Whether it’s cornerbacks who will make the transition or some guys who could be seen as safeties or pure sub-packagelinebackers.

This class includes three names just in my personal top five, who primarily played nickel at the collegiate level and actually project best to stay there as they move on to the NFL, but otherwise their skill-set lends itself more to safety than outside corner. The rest of the list consists of a bunch of combo safeties, who can fill a multitude of roles and will offer their future defensive coordinators flexibility in terms of how they’re deployed, even though they aren’t necessarily great in one specific area. That’s sort of a sign of the NFL becoming more split-safety centric, where those guys are asked to fill a lot of different shoes.

Here’s what the top-ten looks like for me, along with a couple of guys that just missed the cut:

Brian Branch


1. Brian Branch, Alabama

6’0”, 195 pounds; JR


The number three safety recruit in the recruit for 2020, Branch started three of 12 games as a true freshman, but was very productive in limited time (27 tackles, seven PBUs and two INTs). In year two, he turned into a full-time starter, racking up 55 total stops, a team-high nine pass break-ups, along with a sack and fumble recovery each. Those numbers increased significantly last year, with 90 total stops, 14(!) for loss, three sacks, two INTs and seven PBUs, making him a second-team All-American.


+ Played the STAR spot from the Crimson Tide defense with the physicality of a linebacker, but you saw him basically line up at every single spot in the back-seven for the Crimson Tide at some point

+ Flies downhill against the run and hits with a purpose, thinking that he’s 220 pounds

+ Shows some suddenness to navigate around blockers, as well as the force to go through the chest of receivers, when needed

+ Understands when he can “shoot his shot” and slice through creases in the blocking, to create negative plays – 14 TFLs last year

+ Has his eyes locked in the backfield as he’s sinking with targets down the seams and rapidly shoots downhill against screens, dump-offs, etc.

+ Earned an elite run-defense grade by PFF last season at 90.7

+ The best tackler of this entire class, shooting low and clutching the back of the ball-carriers knees, so they can’t pull their feet out – Only missed four tackles for his entire career, giving him a miniscule miss rate of just 2.3% (176 attempts)


+ Played a ton of off-man against a strong group of SEC slot receivers, which may be the most difficult task

+ Low and balanced in his pedal, with no wasted movement as he has to redirect forward

+ Excels at reading the hips of his man and is so quick to jump on in-breaking or slot curl routes, where he effectively swipes through the receiver’s hands

+ Recognizes when the guy across from him tilts his stem and positioning himself to not lose phase on the actual cut

+ Does well to pin the near-arm of receivers and slow them won by initiating contact in their routes

+ Has plenty of experience carrying tight-ends and number threes in trips on seams/benders, where he typically stays stride-for-stride with them

+ What you really like is Branch’s understanding for when to get into the side-shuffle momentarily as receivers are just about to pass him, to not overrun the break-point, but then having the speed to not actually allow the target to detach vertically

+ Stays locked in on his man and rarely allows them to separate on secondary route, not allowing a single catch of more 20 yards last year


+ Shows an understanding for route patterns and being able to cut off angles for guys in match-zone

+ Bama regularly was put in the middle of three-deep safety looks and raced up as a robber/rat, ready to knock the head off guys breaking towards the middle

+ Confidently drives up against completions in front of him and reliably gets them on the ground

+ You see Branch go from mugging the A-gap to sinking to the hook/seam area on the field-side, line up over the slot and fly to the deep middle and stuff like that to change up Bama’s coverage looks

+ As a blitzer, Battle times things up tremendously well and is very deceptive with his body-language, as times leaning as if he’s dropping out after threating up a gap and then shooting through it unblocked

+ Got that wiggle to not allow running backs in pass-pro to square him up, but he also doesn’t away from running through them

+ Was one of the most effective pass-rushing DBs in the country across these past two seasons, with 17 total pressures across 80 blitzes (in passing situations)


– Sub-par physical dimensions for a slot role nowadays, weighing in at 190 pounds at the combine, with only 30 and ¾-inch arms, where more well-schooled power slot and flex tight-ends may be able to lock him up as blockers

– There’s a lot of hook and general spot-dropping for Branch, where he doesn’t actually have to flip and run with guys

– While rarely actually isolated in deep coverage, you see him get beat in those situations a few times – the 4.58 in the 40 is a bit concerning

– Slot receivers with legit speed can put him on his heels, by pushing vertically at him – Texas’ Xavier Worthy and Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt blew by him a couple of times, and guys with a more complete route-tree will be able to take advantage of that space they create for themself underneath


I can promise you that basically every defensive coordinator in the NFL is hoping his team drafts Branch some time in round one. The way he can even out the numbers in the box as a run-defender from the slot and type of outstanding tackling would be a major addition for anybody, even though his TFL production was in part due to his freedom to shoot inside of blockers. I think be an effective safety in a system that allows him to drive on routes from depth and play as that free-roaming defender when dropped down, but his best landing spot remains at nickel. The one question I do have is if he can he play true man-coverage against receivers with legit vertical prowess, when he can’t work with leverage and funnel those guys towards the deep coverage. And you’d like him to be a little bit bigger (without losing speed of course). If you do have a lockdown number one corner and you want to play that 10-vs-10 with condensed space as Branch is leveraged outside the slot, this is your guy. I don’t think he should slip out of the first round.



Sydney Brown


2. Sydney Brown, Illinois

5’10”, 210 pounds; SR


Born in Ontario (Canada), this three-star recruit from 2018 immediately became a starter for the Illini and was so in all but one of 51 of his career games, as the defensive counterpart to his brother Chase Brown at running back. Across those, he piled up 320 combined tackles, ten of those for loss, ten interceptions (two of those returned for touchdowns), 16 pass break-ups, four forced fumbles and a scoop-and-score. In 2022 he was voted first-team by the coaches and second-team All-Big Ten by the media.


+ Definitely not a safety who is content with sitting back on waiting for the ball-carrier in the run game, where you see him blow through the inside shoulder of blockers in reduced splits and fill the C-gap

+ Was regularly deployed in the box and you see some great moments of pulling bigger insert blockers off himself, to make an impact on the ball-carrier, while taking some receivers motioning into condensed splits for a ride

+ Shows no regard for his body with the way he crashes into some piles at full force, and he will shoot through the legs of fullbacks in the hole when needed

+ Does a nice job of swatting away the hands of hands of tight-ends and avoiding being pinned on the backside, in order to chase the ball

+ If you think you can assign a smaller slot receiver with blocking Brown in the run game, you’re sadly mistaken, plus he times up his hand-usage well and fights over rubs or gets around blockers in the quick screen game frequently

+ Regularly gets involved on tackles late and makes the sure the ball-carrier goes backwards

+ You see Brown blitz off the edge and dip underneath pullers or just chase from the backside, to create havoc in the backfield a few times


+ Was constantly asked to match up with tight-ends and despite those guys having around 50 pounds on him, Brown was the one to dictate terms if anything, and used that contact to feel breaks coming, with plenty of pop in those massive 10 and ¼-inch hands

+ Such an easy mover, who presents excellent change-of-direction and has some teaching tape reps in off-man coverage – whether it’s streak routes/benders, corner or pivot routes, he typically is able to stay in phase

+ Even when his alignment dictates him opening one way and he should be vulnerable as guys work across his face, Brown has the snap in his hips to not get lost

+ Not afraid of guys being able to run by him down the middle of the field and actively swipes with the inside hand as guys trying to hold him off

+ Something he excels at is wrapping around and raking right through the hands of the intended receiver, without initiating contact with the body

+ Despite being right at that six-foot mark, Brown isn’t somebody you can take advantage of in jump-ball situations, He had a perfect rep against the Wyoming TE flexed out wide, being engaged the whole way and looking back at the quarterback, to pull the ball down with one hand and ending up with the PBU through that guy’s mitts

+ Had an incredible interception against Michigan State, where he beat up their flex TE Daniel Barker on a corner route, undercut it, located the football and came down with it through contact


+ Showcases high football IQ and spatial awareness in zone coverage, plus he regularly contests the catch-point on late throws to targets around him

+ Illini coaches asked him to play the hook/flat area, bail out from the box into two-high shells, act as a robber, carry routes down the seams and more

+ Rarely seems to just be covering grass, adjusting his drops to the pattern and attaching to targets late

+ IDs running back screens and shows the quick burst to shoot through a lane between two blockers to shut those down

+ You saw Brown be mugged up in the A-gap and also come on those, happily launching himself through the back in protection

+ Improved his PFF grade each of the last three years, with a 78.4 this past season, being responsible for just one touchdown, compared to his six picks (58.7% completion percentage)

+ Arguably had as good a Senior Bowl week as anybody, just locking up WRs and TEs in man-coverage, making plays in coverage during team drills and exceling in run support

+ Finished top-four at the combine in the 40 (4.47), vertical jump (40.5 inches), broad (10’10”) and bench press (23) among safeties (the latter three being above the 90th percentile), along with looking throughout the on-field portion of the workout


– Very short for a role in the box or slot, at 5’10” with 31 and ½-inch arms

– According to PFF, Brown only spent 60 snaps last season at deep safety, which isn’t optimal for a projection to an NFL that uses as much two-high looks as it’s ever done

– When asked to rotate into the deep middle every once in a while, that’s the one area where Brown is more so just getting to his landmark rather than processing the game and is able to track the quarterback’s eyes plus the targets around him

– Has a tendency of overrunning plays from the backside and fully committing his shoulders, when you’d like him to be in position to redirect his flow for cutbacks

– Missed 14 of 74 tackling attempts this past season, oddly losing his balance as he’s redirecting and failing to wrap up properly on too many occasions – He needs to learn how to come to balance and shoot his hips through contact


This is one of my favorite players in this entire draft. I highlighted Brown as one of “my guys” a couple of weeks ago, because even though he’s seen a massive rise in terms of draft stock, when looking at consensus boards, I’m still significantly higher on than the consensus. He has show less positional versatility in terms of how he was deployed at Illinois than teammate Jartavius Martin – who will come up on this list very soon – but with the tremendous feet he has and how feisty he is against bigger bodies, I feel comfortable matching him up with anybody on the inside, I think he fits very well in a split-safety based systems thanks to his closing burst and ability to disrupt the catch-point, and if he can just learn to gather himself better as a tackler, he can be a top-tier run defender from anywhere in the secondary. How much more he can provide at the next level in terms of utilization as a coverage asset will be key to how early he goes, but he’s a no-doubt top-50 overall prospect for me personally.



Antonio Johnson


3. Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M

6’2”, 200 pounds; JR


One of the top-100 overall recruits in 2020, Johnson saw very limited playing time on special teams in year one, before becoming a second-team All-SEC performer the following season, with 79 total tackles, 8.5 of those for loss, an interception and five PBUs, plus a fumble forced. He repeated second-team all-conference last year, when he had similar tackling numbers and a career-best three forced fumblesk, but only one pass defensed.


+ Very long defender, who can be used in a creative fashion by NFL coaches

+ Played pretty exclusively in the slot for the Aggies as a sophomore, before spending 22.0% in the box and 18.9% as a deep safety last year, showcasing his versatility

+ Shows good feel for how to position himself as a high-low defender and uses his leverage well, to force receivers to go through him in zone coverage

+ Can sink with his hips and shoulders pointed at the quarterback, but simultaneously gaining ground diagonally

+ You frequently see Johnson shut down hook and stick routes for minimal gains, just as those guys catch the ball

+ When he gets a bit of a runway to go through targeted receivers, they are typically going backwards

+ Held opposing pass-catcher to just 5.1 yards after the catch on average


+ Has the body-type and athletic skills to match up one-on-one with different types of bodies on the inside and understands who he’s facing – where their strengths are and what to expect based on film study

+ Doesn’t overreact to those slot receivers, who try to fool him with trigger-steps and exaggerated movement off the line

+ When playing off-man, he recognizes any tilt within the stem or deceleration by receivers trying to set up breaks, already slightly shuffling that way, to challenge the catch-point right as the ball arrives there

+ Times up well when he swipes down with the near-arm or receivers trying to release outside, in order to pin their arm

+ Against tight-ends, he seems very comfortable playing with outside leverage and sticking with guys working across the field

+ Shows good feel for navigating around traffic as offenses try to pick/rub him off

+ With the way he rips through the reach of his man, you see him force some incompletions that look to already be in the books as receptions


+ Really physical tackler, who tosses a lot of receivers to the ground like they’re nothing

+ At the same time he can create stalemates with bigger ball-carrier around the line of scrimmage, by hitting with a square chest and utilizing his hips to stop momentum – Earned tackling grades above 70 in all three years with the Aggies

+ You really like what Johnson presents as an edge-setter for your defense, consistently making sure to force the ball back inside near the point of attack as well as to bring the ball-carrier to the ground when unblocked on the backside against a cutback

+ Does well generally to play with extension through blocks and tracking the ball, yet he’s also routinely able to beat blockers to the spot and knife inside of guys, by turning his shoulder away from contact

+ You see him track from the backside as a slot defender and stand up running backs in the hole as they try to cut upfield a few times for basically no yardage, as well as flatten and trip them up as they’re about to clear the second level

+ Was asked to mug the B-gap and blitzed off the slot quite a bit, where he shows good anticipation for the snap


– Saw very limited usage throughout his career with the Aggies as a deep safety, where it currently seems more like somebody sprinting back, just so he doesn’t get beat deep, or if he’s already aligned in single-high looks, almost walking back in an upright back-pedal

– With how high-hipped Johnson’s build is, there is some clunkiness to when he legitimately has to flip his hips fully vertically or pivot around after opening the wrong way initially

– Absolutely minimal ball-production across well over 1500 total snaps

– His prior missed tackle rate through the last two years basically doubled to 15.5% last season, with a large amount proportionally after he had to come down from depth, where he didn’t look as comfortable when working in expanded space


Johnson lost some shine looking at public opinion compared to in which regard he was held last summer, because he missed three games, the Aggies finished with just a 5-7 record and his individual numbers were also slightly worse. However, as I checked the tape, other than what I saw in terms of his movement and the tackling as a deep middle safety, I didn’t really see anything that would lessen my opinion of him compared to heading into this past season. His length, instincts and football IQ make him a tremendous coverage player in the slot, on top of the way he improves your run defense whether he’s packed in tight or detached and how reliable he is at bringing ball-carriers to the ground, if you don’t ask him to work upfield by 10+ yards. The only things you don’t love is his projection against burners on inside if he can’t play with leverage and his miniscule ball-production. However, I don’t see that large a gap between him and Alabama’s Brian Branch, as a pro-ready big nickel.



Jordan Battle


4. Jordan Battle, Alabama

6’1”, 210 pounds; SR


The number two safety and a top-50 overall recruit in 2018, Battle was already a key player for the Tide as a redshirt freshman in a somewhat limited role, but became one of the fixtures in 2020, when he recorded 66 total tackles, three of them for loss, four PBUs and a pick-six. He improved on those totals as a junior, with 85 total stops, three picks (two taken back the distance) and three more PBUs. Those numbers slightly decreased last season, but he still made first-team All-SEC in back-to-back years.


+ Turned himself into the kind of versatile piece in the secondary the Crimson Tide lost to the draft a couple of years ago in Xavier McKinney – was challenged with basically every type of coverage and a variety of rules under Nick Saban and Pete Golding

+ Considerably increased his PFF grade in each of the first three seasons there, with a tiny dip last year, as one of the most consistent DBs in the country since entering the starting lineup late in his freshman season

+ Reliable deep middle safety, not allowing pass concepts to make him void his space prematurely

+ Easy in the way he gains ground vertically and diagonally, showcasing well-coordinated footwork whilst processing information

+ Won’t overreact to sudden breaks, when he’s playing in-between routes in zone

+ Does a great job when asked to bracket receivers or if that’s what the coverage turns into, with just a single threat to his side, playing to his leverage, anticipating the break and cutting off space

+ When he’s buzzing down in cover-three or as a robber, Battle does a great job of shutting down crossers instantly, as the ball is caught


+ His understanding for opponents and anticipation of routes have made him an effective man-defender in the slot

+ Was capped over the slot receivers to replace slot blitzers regularly and understands that the ball would come out quickly, driving hard on that first break and jarring the ball loose on multiple occasions, or at least sling guys to the ground for no YAC on quick in-breakers

+ Does a great job deciphering who he ultimately gets matched up with on cross-releases and not get caught out of position as he has to lock into his man

+ Showcases excellent ball-skills, to track down the field, position his body and play it at the highest point

+ Had a highly impressive pick-six against Mississippi State in 2021, when they were in a three-deep safety look and their opponents were running a scissors concept, where Battle let the post be picked up by one of his teammates and he undercut the corner route at the sideline; And he actually ended that game with another pick in cover-two, on a prayer thrown up to a fade route

+ For his career, his NFL passer rating responsible for of 72.9 is really solid

+ Often time became the add-on blitzer when somebody motioned in-line or the backfield and came off the edge with some heat; Uses his hands well to get around the back in protection typically


+ Consistently works the alley with a good balance between urgency and control

+ Recognizes when the nickel jumps inside or is pinned there and he needs to widen his angle to position himself with outside leverage

+ Overall his angles from depth are chosen to not put his defenses in bad positions, as you don’t see him get outraced and he frequently “covers” for his buddies

+ You love what Battle brings to the table rotating down as a robber/buzz defender and using that to his advantage, in terms of shutting down run plays

+ Has the size to be a plus run defender inside the box or from the slot, while using his hands well to not let blockers get into his frame and keep vision on the ball

+ You see Battle bang into tight-ends and slot receivers trying to cave him in and keep his pads clean

+ Maintains active feet and can reduce the shoulder to elude blockers inside the box, plus then he’s not just a drag-down tackler, bringing his hips and feet along to drive through contact


– Gets sucked in a little too much on play-action and is left chasing routes being hit on the move because of it

– Floats back in deep zone coverage considerably, to where he’s already bailing before even really being able to decipher the pass concept and then he can’t really make an impact when the ball is thrown in front of him

– Closer to average in his range (4.55 in the 40), as somebody who doesn’t project to be an impact center-fielder

– Doesn’t bring a lot of thump initiating contact with blockers or the ball-carrier to create anything beyond stalemates, not playing up to his frame


I understand the love for Alabama teammate Brian Branch and there’s nothing that really jumps off the screen with Battle, but I don’t think he’s getting the credit he deserves. He was an extremely reliable starter under one of the most demanding coaching staffs in the country, being tasked with just about any assignment in the book. To me would fit best in a split-safety based system, where he can break on routes in quarters, position himself between receivers in cover-two and rotate down, with the peripheral vision to pick up targets. If he’s asked to play extended stretches as a deep middle safety or legitimately play man-coverage on speedy receivers in the slot without that in-built cushion, I’m a bit more worried about him. However, especially in today’s world, finding a complete player on the back-end like this with his kind of football IQ is worthy of a mid-day two selection, I believe.



Jartavius Martin


5. Jartavius Martin, Illinois

5’11”, 195 pounds; RS SR


A three-star recruit in 2018, Martin started eight of ten games at corner as a true freshman, before moving to safety midway through year two (12 games, five starts). These last two seasons he’s been a full-time starter for the Illini at STAR spot (primarily a nickel), combining for 120 total tackles, 6.5 of those for loss, two forced fumbles, four interceptions and 17 more passes broken up.


+ Has been able to fulfill an extremely diverse role – logged over 200 snaps at outside corner, slot, box safety and deep safety

+ Was regularly asked to sink towards the deep half in cover-two from his nickel alignment, where he fluidly flips his hips around towards the receiver he isn’t originally turned to

+ When playing two-deep and having to open with inside fade routes, the ability to turn for the ball with his hips towards the middle, yet still flip around and play through the hands of the intended target is special

+ Provides the range to line up at center-field and float over the top of routes by the single receiver when Illinois blitzed their boundary corner, to not leave them vulnerable

+ On 54 targets this past season, he only surrendered 24 completions for 309 yards and no touchdowns, while intercepting two passes

+ Made several key plays on the ball last season, with 15 forced incompletions (second-most among safeties), three picks and a couple of forced fumbles

+ Had an awesome interception against a slot fade route versus Minnesota last season, where he got his head around late and showed tremendously quickly hand-eye coordination to haul it in


+ Played a ton of off-man coverage for the Illini, where his ability to anticipate routes and cut off the path for receivers was excellent

+ Shows great patience, to stay square and not flip his prematurely, while keeping his eyes locked on the receiver’s hips across from him pushing downhill

+ Has the long speed to stay stride-for-stride with slot fade routes on numerous occasions

+ Great explosion out of flat-footed breaks, to squat on quick-breaking routes and not get surrender easy completions – Short outs and flat routes are basically off the table against him as viable receiving options

+ Doesn’t get antsy against guys trying to throw extensive footwork and hesitation releases at him

+ Yet if receivers hesitate off the line and then try to take off vertically, his closing burst allows him get back into phase if there’s a little separation initially

+ You rarely see him lose contact against crossing receivers, even when he’s playing with outside leverage and has to take that little shuffle-step inside as he sees his guy tilt that way

+ Held opposing receivers to just 4.0 yards after the catch on average since 2020


+ Continues to fight through blocks, in order to not be shielded by guys in the slot and allow the ball to get out wide

+ Not afraid to run into offensive tackles and try to funnel the ball inside, when blitzed off the edge (on early downs)

+ From limited tape on Martin as a legit single-high free safety, you see him work upfield in controlled fashion and not get caught out of position, as he sees the back cut out towards the sideline – earned an elite PFF run defense grade in 2022 (91.0)

+ Has been a physical and uber-reliable tackler for the Illini, only missing seven of 127 attempts these last two years combined

+ Consistently is able to gather himself and at least clutch one leg of the ball-carrier, to not let that guy get away, and does a nice job of swiping down stiff-arm attempts and securing tackles out on the perimeter

+ You see Martin outrace fellow DBs – among a very fast secondary – on multiple occasions, providing chase speed across the field

+ The 44-inch vertical jump he posted at the combine ties him for fourth-best all-time for any position and he also led the safety group with an 11’1” broad jump, along running a 4.46 in the 40; During the on-field workout, he covered good ground, changed direction effectively with rapid foot-fire and made multiple nice high-point grabs


– Frequently gets foot-faked with a little English at the top of routes and seems to get his own feet stuck in the mud momentarily

– Can get a little too enamored with wanting to look back at the quarterback when he thinks he’s in control of the routes and loses touch

– Due to the limited experience in deep coverage, Martin’s ability to find the right balance of staying on top and squeezing down windows is still a work in progress

– Not the quickest reaction skills against play-action, IDing nearby targets

– With his lankier build, Martin not only could be vulnerable to push-offs by power slot receivers or maybe even when asked to cover tight-ends, but you also see him take the worse off head-on contact with running backs


If you missed out on Alabama’s Brian Branch and Texas A&M’s Antonio Johnson, “Quan” Martin is a very attractive alternative some time later on day. Considering the absurd testing numbers he put up at the combine, you probably won’t be able to wait for too much longer however. In terms of man-coverage in the slot and tackling, you won’t find much cleaner tape out there. I want to see him improve his foot activity against receivers who can give him something a little extra at the break point and play stronger against big bodies down the field, but that’s about it. The question to me is what his role may look like beyond that. Martin shows the tools in terms of explosiveness and ball-tracking to grow into a viable single-high safety option, but he doesn’t have a ton of quality tape to judge him on that being a long-term landing spot. That bumps him down just a little bit from the very top of the class, but I think he ultimately goes in the second round.



Chris Smith II


6. Chris Smith, Georgia

5’11”, 190 pounds; RS SR


A four-star recruit in 2018, Smith had to wait his turn with the Bulldogs, due to all the great safeties they’ve had there during the Kirby Smart era, with his first five starts coming in 2020. The following season – during the Bulldogs championship run – he started 11 of 12 games, recording 34 combined tackles, four PBUs and three interceptions (with one returned to the house). Last season he picked off three more passes and broke up five, along with career-highs in tackles (61) and TFLs (five), along with a fumble forced and recovered each, on his way to first-team All-SEC and All-American honors, along with another Natty.


+ Started 31 games for the dominant defense in college football, whilst filling a multitude of roles in a very detailed coverage scheme

+ High-level range and instincts as a center-fielding free safety, where he rarely moves himself off the middle of the field without a legitimate threat, to be able to play top-down and have favorable angles

+ When they’re in zone shells, Smith plays extremely well to his leverage and shows a tremendous understanding for spacing

+ In split-safety looks, he understands when slot receiver are slightly stemming outside and anticipates breaks across his face are coming, to where he can jump dig/shallow post routes

+ Consistently identifies the biggest threat playing deep and floats that way to bracket that target

+ Displays active eyes and good feel for positioning himself between targets when coming down as a rat/robber

+ Overall, arrives at the target on time and with the force to jar balls loose


+ Doesn’t seem uncomfortable matching up with then number two or three receiver in trips when they blitz the defender over that guy, as he’s playing 15 yards deep, positioning himself according to the stem

+ Shows good patience as a slot defender when he’s lined up there pre-snap, leveraging his man towards the deep coverage and slowly giving ground, whilst being ready to rapidly redirect to breaks and has the juice to attach to the hip-pocket of guys on in-breakers

+ In general, the way he anticipates routes and reads the hips of receivers when put in man situations is definitely better than you’d expect from somebody playing deep safety as much as he did

+ Displays the snappy hips to slightly by tilted towards his guy pushing off the line yet be right there to undercut routes intended to go across his face

+ Has the play strength to not get knocked off by bigger bodies, who try to run into him and create separation that way

+ Really attacks the catch-point and is able to dislodge receivers from the ball when he has a runway on multiple occasions

+ Over the past two seasons, he allowed 38 of 60 targets his way to be completed, for just 341 yards and two touchdowns, compared to his six interceptions


+ Has that quality I’ve raved about with Georgia safety multiple teams before, where he comes downhill from depth and just accelerate into contact on plays out towards the perimeter

+ Yet he understands how aggressive he can be depending on which press-snap look they’re in and where he’s aligned

+ From two-high alignments, he consistently stays in position to not get beat out to the sideline and tracking the near-hip of the ball-carrier

+ Regularly is able to shoot his hips through and stop receivers on sweeps right there on the spot

+ Very effective as a tackler in space, putting his face-mask into the frame and driving his legs through contact

+ Especially on those deeper in-breaking routes when he has to come up, you rarely see guys be able to cross his face and rip off big gains

+ Had three huge plays in the 2022 season-opener at Oregon, where he flew up in run support from depth to stop the back cold, then had an awesome interception off Bo Nix and finally dislodging the ball on a deep shot, where the receiver seemed wide open originally, with him getting over there as the single-high safety


– Showing up at combine weighing 192 pounds and then running a 4.62 in the 40 is rough for his draft stock

– The lack of size does show up when he’s coming downhill and someone makes him go airborne as they get hands on him from the side

– With how much of his man-coverage snaps were spent in outside leverage, funneling receivers to the deep middle safety, Smith didn’t have to fear getting beat deep by himself, yet from limited instances, you can question if he has that extra gear to keep up with true speedsters one-on-one

– Tends to drift too deep in two-high shells because he may not fully trust his speed and ends up covering grass at times

– You love the aggressive mindset, but he does come in too hot as a tackler at times and missed 11 attempts this past season (15.1% miss rate)


After stepping into the starting lineup for Georgia’s defense in 2021 due to an injury to one of their transfers at the position, Smith turned himself into a key piece to winning back-to-back championships with his play down the stretch that year and this past season. He comes very much in the mold of the last few guys we’ve seen enter the draft from that program, with some concerns about frame plus speed. I definitely believe he plays faster than he times and this kind of reminds you of what happened a couple of years ago with former teammate Richard LeCounte II, whose GPS data would show how much better he moved in actual game situations, in relation to other players. I do question if the NFL believes his range isn’t quite there to be trusted as a center-fielder and that the lack of size could create some matchup issues, but this is one of the most complete safeties and best football players in this class. If he can become a little more reliable as a tackler, he can be a starter early on and stick around for several years. That’s worthy of a mid-day two pick in my book.



Jammie Robinson


7. Jammie Robinson, Florida State

5’11”, 195 pounds; RS JR


A top-500 overall recruit for South Carolina in 2019, Robinson immediately became a contributor for the Gamecocks, with 135 tackles, two INTs and eight PBUs over his first two years. He decided to transfer to FSU ahead of 2021, when he reached career-highs in tackles (84), TFLs (seven) and picks (four), making him a first-team All-ACC selection. He repeated those honors last year, with 99 total stops, five for loss, an interception and five PBUs.


+ This guy plays with the energy and demeanor I love to see from any safety; Plus he has quality experience on punt and kick coverage, along with the demeanor to excel in that area

+ His urgency to charge up the alley is top-tier – I’ve seen him be lined up 12 yards deep and shoot through the legs of the back on power runs bounced wide for no gain

+ You can put him in the box and he’ll create negative plays in the run-game by aggressively shooting through the C-gap

+ Defeats blockers in the slot with quick hands and funnels the ball back inside regularly, yet I’ve also seen him put receivers on their butts who try to shield him on screens

+ Won’t shy away from putting his body in the way of ball-carriers with a head of steam, after coming off his initial responsibility, and even if he takes the worst of those collisions, he at least manages to drag guys down as he gets run over

+ This guy is such an uber-reliable tackler, constantly just finding ways to bring the guy with the ball to the ground, whether he has to wrap, drag or lasso

+ Missed just 6.2% of his tackling attempts across the past two seasons (12 of 195 total)


+ His ability to anticipate breaks, decipher through patterns and leverage receivers as a deep zone defender is very advanced

+ In quarters, he routinely shows the understanding for when the pattern allows him to drive on routes and challenge catches into what should be comfortable windows in-between the levels of the leverage

+ With his awareness for targets around him and smarts to position himself accordingly, I really like him in robber/rat responsibilities

+ Brings some thump when driving down on in-breakers and other routes in front of him – Absolutely blows up some receivers after catching hooks over the middle, just as they try to turn upfield

+ His feel and IQ for the game allowed the Seminole coaches to put him in a lot of different places as a coverage defender

+ The short-area burst and reckless abandon make Robinson is a legit asset as a blitzers across all three downs – along with running plays down from the backside, he also put up 14 pressures across just 33 pass-rush snaps

+ You saw the Seminoles rush him through the B-gap from two-deep alignments, where he would accelerate even if a guy with a good 100 pounds on him might slide over towards him


+ While hard as a hitter, Robinson is light on his feet to take on man-coverage responsibilities

+ Does not get antsy when WRs/TEs push at him from off-alignment and is quick to close that gap as that guy sticks his foot in the ground

+ When moved down into the slot, he lands some impactful one-handed stabs at the pec of pass-catchers to make them commit to the release and then he does a nice job of putting his elbow in front of receivers, to impede their progress

+ Immediately IDs crossing routes and doesn’t allow himself to get into catch-up mode just because he’s leveraged outside

+ Aggressively rakes through the catch point, to strip some balls loose

+ I thought during Senior Bowl week, Robinson really held his own when asked to cover wide receivers during those one-on-one’s re-routing them and making up for a little detachment with the way he could rake through the hands at the back-ends

+ Held opponents to a career-low completion percentage of 56.0%, with 6.9 yards per target and one touchdowns as well as one pick


– Extremely short arms at 29 and 5/8 inches, which will make it tougher for him to keep touch with pass-catchers and lock out against blockers in more condensed space

– With sub-par length and long speed, you question how many different types of pass-catchers he can legitimately cover one-on-one

– You see tight-ends push him off track at times as he tries to get in their way during the route stem

– When he was in man-coverage on slot receivers, Robinson typically had help, being able to funnel those guys towards one of his fellow safeties – I don’t believe he has the burns to stick with vertical threats, UNC’s Josh Downs in particularly gave him some issues

– I love Robinson’s fearlessness, but you have to wonder if that fully translates to the next level and what I really worry about is his long-time durability due to it


Robinson has been one of the most reliable DBs in the ACC over the last two years in the role of boundary safety and some big nickel – and he’s been one of my personal favorites to watch. The violence he plays the game with when needed, but also the instincts and intelligence for the position he displays makes him a great asset across the secondary. What I think will hurt him in terms of where he’s drafted is the fact some teams may not look at him as somebody who can be a full-time nickel, yet the further you take him away from the ball, you’re losing more of the impact he can provide probably. Being as short as he measured in as is really the one thing that discouraged me a bit, but I think if you’re just talking about how exactly you’ll deploy him best, you’re overthinking it. Robinson is capable of fulfilling a multitude of tasks on the back-end and he’s the type of guy every DC will want to add to their unit. The third round seems very appropriate for him.



Ji'Ayir Brown


8. Ji’Ayir Brown, Penn State

5’11”, 205 pounds; JR


A three-star JUCO recruit in 2020, Brown primarily did work on special teams his first year with the Nittany Lions, before becoming the starting safety alongside Jaquan Brisker in 2021, when he put up 61 solo tackles, six interceptions (one returned to the house), five PBUs, a fumble forced and two recovered. This past season he put up career-highs in total tackles (74), TFLs (seven), sacks (4.5) and forced fumbles (two), along with four more picks. That surprisingly only amounted to third-team All-Big Ten in both years.


+ Received high praise from his DC Manny Diaz for his physicality and the pride he takes in being a menace against the run

+ Great size for any role in the secondary, with more than adequate ability to hold his own in condensed areas

+ Actively approaches blockers with a punch and is looking to come off those quickly

+ You’re not going to take care of him in the run game if you draw up one of your slot receivers blocking him one-on-one, as they don’t even want to put their hands on him

+ Gets involved on several car-crash collisions in the hole after racing up from depth

+ Has plus instincts at sorting through the trash and get to the ball-carrier working up into the box and create stops in the run game, more so in the fashion of a linebacker

+ Provides tremendous chase speed across the field and you see knock ball-carriers out of bounds that by alignment you wouldn’t think he could actually get his hands on


+ Penn State was running a lot of split-safety coverages, where Brown’s aggressiveness at driving on routes could really shine

+ However, he was regularly trusted in the deep middle, with good enough range to be an asset – spent a career-high 345 snaps in deep coverage last season

+ Covers ground in a hurry when flying down on underneath completions as a deep zone defender

+ When he’s allowed to buzz down and sees somebody turn for a flat route, he can absolutely light that guy up out there

+ Deployed as a robber quite regularly, where his ability to track the eyes of the quarterback and make up ground to targets around him is a big plus

+ Recognizes quickly when inside targets curl up over the middle or break across the field and he has a chance to attack those, even making some tight-ends go straight back and to the ground at contact

+ Had a tremendous interception in the end-zone of the 2022 Outback Bowl against Arkansas, when he was unassigned basically as the boundary safety, as there was no threat by the single receiver and he flew all the way across the field to the opposite numbers basically, Along with another easy one thrown right towards him, getting over the top of a WR double pass


+ From limited snaps covering in man as a slot defender, you see patience and ability to lock into the hips of guys across from him, being right there against curl routes on multiple occasions

+ When guys break away from his initial alignment, he makes sure to get his hands on the target and stay attached

+ On 57 targets across these past two seasons, Brown has been responsible for less than 400 yards and all three touchdowns came in 2021, compared to ten(!) combined picks

+ Last season, that amounted to an (NFL) passer rating of just 56.3

+ Ferocious blitzer, who doesn’t mind crashing into offensive linemen who outweigh him by a good 100 pounds

+ There’s very few around 200-pound safeties that college coaches happily bring up the A-gap – Brown is one of them

+ Recorded 15 total pressures across 51 pass-rush opportunities this past season


– Running a disappointing 40 of 4.65 at the combine, you question what type of range he can provide playing the deep post and getting out wide, Plus you do see him give too much ground at times when he’s gaining depth from his initial alignment

– Can be moved by the quarterback’s eyes or allow himself to get locked in on one target in zone, getting himself out of position for nearby routes

– You rarely saw Brown be asked to play any type of man-coverage by the Nittany Lions coaching staff and on most of those snaps he had held over the top, being able to squat on routes to some degree

– His aggressiveness can border on being reckless at times, with his approach from depth, getting burnt on a couple of angles, and how he throws his body around

– Doesn’t consistently break down in space when he becomes the last line of defense and his pursuit angles in general are rather inconsistent – missed 14.0% of his tackling attempts over the last two years


There’s definitely a theme with this safety class, where I really enjoyed watching these guys during college season and later on tape, but there are some athletic concerns, that do show up some degree as I put them under the microscope. With Brown, those worries showed up tom a larger extent, whether he had to drift too deep, got run around after thinking he could be more aggressive with his angles from deep alignments or how little he was put in isolated situations versus speed. That combined with a pretty high missed-tackle rate is what I’m concerned about. Now, with that in mind, I do still believe he can be a valuable starter, if you run a quarters/cover-six heavy scheme or maybe deploy him regularly as a robber, because of how quickly he can click-and-close on routes and the punch he packs when he arrives there. If he can become more dependable at getting people to the ground, the way he charges into action against the run along with that, he could become a tone-setter for his future team. He’s the last name of this list that I certainly think should absolutely go ahead of day three.



J.L. Skinner


9. J.L. Skinner, Boise State

6’4”, 220 pounds; SR


One of the top-1000 overall recruits in 2019, Skinner appeared in all 14 games as a true freshman in backup duty. The following season he started all six games he was available for and picked off one pass. In 2021, he was logged all 14 starts and led the Broncos in tackles (92), solo tackles (66), fumbles forced (two) and recovered (three), along with seven TFLs, five PBUs and a couple of INTs. However, it was this past season when he improved from second- to first-team All-Mountain West in 2022, with lower tackling numbers (65 total, just 0.5 for loss), but more ball production, with four picks and five PBUs.


+ Big, physical safety, who sets the tone whenever he can initiate contact – Says he molds his game after Kam Chancellor

+ Steps down and confidently fills the C- or D-gap when offenses run counter or power plays, where they block down and kick out to create that lane for him

+ And he’s strong enough to create those stalemates in the hole against bigger backs, before the rest of the defense arrives there

+ When the offense runs draw or screen plays and he has a tight-end working up to him, Skinner stays balanced and then has the punch power to rock their pads backwards; Also shoots through between linemen at times on RB screens and make the tackle for minimal yardage

+ Blocking Skinner with a slot receiver is generally a mismatch, and he’s certainly not somebody wideouts want to crack down on, because they typically take the worst of it

+ Shows great pursuit away from the action and you see him blow up some receivers on fly sweeps at the opposite sideline for limited yardage – Had an unreal TFL against Oklahoma State in 2021, tracking down a swing screen off orbit motion where the target tried to reverse field

+ And one-on-one in space with scrambling quarterbacks and backs on check-downs, Skinner has been a very effective tackler – despite his aggressive play-style, the 12.0% missed tackle rate each of the last two years is fine in the context of what you see on tape


+ For a bigger safety, who has the physicality to play near the line of scrimmage, Skinner is actually rotated or straight-up lined up as a center-fielder very regularly

+ Does a great job as the single-high safety to put himself in position to double receivers streaking downfield between the numbers

+ You like what he presents driving down on things in front of him in quarters and there’s a good chance he dislodges the ball from receivers, if he gets there as they touch it

+ Even when he ends up in quasi-man against a quick out route, how hard he drives down on those allows him to knock the ball out

+ Has the short-area burst to attach to the hip-pocket of tight-ends/slots running crossers against his outside leverage – Made a great pick against Oregon State in the 2022 season-opener, where he reached between the receiver’s hands, batted the ball to himself and set up his offense in scoring range

+ Quickly shoots that crease to get out to the corner route off scissors concepts in match zone

+ However, he can also be a valuable asset dropping down as a robber and taking away those lay-ups over the middle, where you can visibly tell that receivers are slowing down/try to short-arm catches as they approach him


+ Combining his anticipatory skills and short-area burst, Skinner can challenge quick-breaking routes in man-coverage and if you allow him to be aggressive with another safety over the top, that could be a valuable asset

+ Doesn’t typically allow receivers to get him turned the wrong way as they tilt during the route stem and try to beat him across his face

+ With 32-inch arms and his mindset, he has the potential to frustrate tight-ends off the line when allowed to play press-man by his future team

+ His length and feistiness allow him to challenge the catch-point effectively, yet he has the proven track-record of plus ball-skills when he can actually turn and locate

+ Held opposing quarterbacks to an (NFL) passer rating of 40.1 this past season, going 17-of-32 for 176 yards and one touchdown, compared to his four picks

+ For as aggressive as Skinner’s play-style is, he was never penalized more than once in any of his four seasons with the Broncos


– Still misses too many tackles, wanting to blow up ball-carriers near the line of scrimmage, rather than being disciplined with bringing them to the ground

– You like the aggressiveness to attack blockers and not just sit back there against the run as a deep middle safety, but at times it’d be better if Skinner made sure he stays between the ball-carrier and his own end-zone, leveraging and forcing cuts, so maybe the rest of the pursuit can catch up

– You see Skinner overrun some plays from the backside or shuffle inside as he sees a condensed formation and gets himself out of position against cutbacks

– Generally, the way he commits to the initial break of routes and how more advanced quarterbacks can get him turned the wrong way, he could be taken advantage of with some double-moves and big plays generally in the pass game as a deep zone defender

– Seeing him on the field in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, how gangly his build is and the stiffness he showed changing directions with those long legs when asked to play man-coverage against receivers definitely worried me


In terms of real splash plays at the safety position, I would put Skinner’s highlight reel up with anybody in this class. That’s definitely not me saying he’s a pure feast-or-famine type of player, but with how overzealous he can be as a tackler and allow himself to be led to the wrong target as a deep zone defender, there’s some of that to him. I wouldn’t call Skinner a top-tier athlete, in terms of top-end range or explosiveness to be a classic free safety or somebody you want to play a ton of man-coverage against shiftier receivers. However, his mentality as a run-defender, the extensive tackling radius he presents, his awareness and anticipation for plays, along with the burst out of his breaks to attack routes in front of him, make him one of the best all-around defenders in the back-seven among this draft. I just don’t know exactly where to put him and his body-type is a bit concerning. He suffered a torn pec training during this pre-draft process, but is supposed to be back at 100% the day he gets selected and should go around the compensatory pick range.



Anthony Johnson Jr.


10. Anthony Johnson Jr., Iowa State

6’0”, 205 pounds; RS SR


A three-star cornerback recruit in 2018, Johnson saw good action as a substitute corner his true freshman season. He followed that up with three solid seasons on the perimeter (157 total tackles, three sacks, 19 PBUs and four forced fumbles, but no interceptions). He took advantage of the COVID exception after that and moved to safety for his best season – 60 tackles, his first two INTs, four PBUs, a sack and forced fumble each – while improving from honorable mention the prior three years to first-team All-Big 12 in 2022.


+ Very solidly built safety with three years of starting experience at corner and an effective transition for his final season with the Cyclones

+ Played quality snaps at slot, in the box and at deep safety in a pretty creative coverage scheme, where they were calling some invert cover-two and more

+ Tracks the deep ball exceptionally well and is able to flip his head over the opposite shoulder and get his hands on the pass

+ Seems to be very comfortable in match-quarters, staying capped over slot receivers, but then efficiently redirecting forward to challenge the catch

+ When receivers tilt inside, he keeps his leverage towards the sideline, but is ready to burst out of that position once he sees the man he ends up covering commit to working across the field

+ Quickly erases that space when offenses try to hit drag or slide routes off play-action and he deciphers those from depth

+ Does a nice job of pushing targets off track and funneling them towards the deep coverage when buzzing down


+ His experience at corner shows up in how comfortable he is at playing soft press-man against slot receivers

+ Presents solid speed to stay in phase against inside fade, seam routes and other vertical patterns

+ Can stick his foot in the ground and get back into the hip-pocket of his guy after breaking away from his leverage

+ Showcases the ability to elude fellow receivers when they’re in the way of him as he tries to get to his man

+ His 32-inch arm length helps him crowd the catch-point and challenge passes that are placed well, away from his position

+ Opposing quarterbacks went 19-of-29 for 236 yards and two touchdowns, compared to two picks (84.8 passer rating)


+ While he’s still mastering his angles from depth due to playing on the outside for so long, he rarely gets overzealous and is able to chase plays down at the sideline

+ Charges up the alley with conviction and no fear of getting banged around as he tries to shoot a crease between bigger bodies out on the edge – You see this guy race upfield and meet pulling linemen low out on the perimeter, in order to funnel the ball back inside

+ Doesn’t shy away from crashing through the outside shoulder of tight-ends when lined up on the edge of the defense, in order to squeeze down run plays

+ Really plays like he has no regard for his body a lot of times, but isn’t reckless with his assignment at the same time

+ Shoots low as a tackler and is able to bring big running backs to a halt on the spot

+ Got challenged with several tough spots where he had to bring down ball-carriers one-on-one out on the perimeter

+ Was a regular on punt return and punt coverages (418 career special teams snaps)


– At this point, Johnson regularly just bails deep (in cover-two) and covers grass, opening up windows between him and the shallow zone coverage

– There’s some clunkiness in the way he flips his hips the other way as a single-high safety

– Lacks impressive recovery burst to get back into the picture after receivers get his to stop his feet momentarily with stutter-steps or if they work a double-move against him

– Has a career missed tackle rate of 16.5%, with no improvement to speak of, in terms of the pure numbers – too often overstrides, having to revert to reaching out and trying to trip up guys

– Overall coming to balance and being able to react laterally as he navigates the trash and track the ball-carrier is something he needs to work on


Johnson feels like a gem in this draft class, who I wasn’t really familiar with during the regular season as a prospect. For a former corner, he picked up the details of the safety position remarkably quick, while still having room to grow. I don’t look at him ever playing center-fielder a whole lot, but I love his smarts in a match-zone based defense and now it’s up to squeezing down windows better in more shell coverages. The big story with him of course is bringing ball-carriers to the great more regularly, where he certainly needs to calm his feet and do a better job of getting straight wraps on those guys. However, I don’t believe his missed tackle is totally representative of his technique in that regard, where plenty of those come with a ton of space around him and a couple last year just from the tapes I watched, where he was trying to dive at the legs of the ball-carrier rumbling towards the end-zone, as he had no chance of stopping them short otherwise. When he doesn’t overshoot the target, I actually like what he does in that regard. The ceiling may not be through the roof, but this was a very pleasant surprise on my watch list.



Just missed the cut:


Ronnie Hickman


Ronnie Hickman, Ohio State

6’1″, 205 pounds; RS JR


A four-star recruit in 2019, Hickman decided to redshirt his first year in Columbus and then saw very few defensive snaps the following season. In 2021, he amassed 99 tackles, a sack, two interceptions, and a forced fumble. This past season, the tackling numbers went down and he only had one pick, but seven passes broken up and another forced fumble. That earned him second- and third-team All-Big Ten accolades respectively.


+ Bulked up safety with a chiseled physique and 33-inch arms

+ Has a thirst for contact in the run game and quickly charges up the alley from split-safety alignments

+ When playing the deep middle, you don’t see him void his space before confirming what he sees, but then he gets downhill in a hurry

+ Shoots through the legs of bigger bodies to bring them to the turf effectively

+ His tape includes some tremendous stops in the hole, where the back has plenty of room to work and put a move on Hickman

+ You love the forceful nature of this guy to run through blockers and disrupt screen play s

+ Was used as a blitzer from depth on some run downs, where his frame and mentality make him a legit asset


+ Saw diverse usage at Ohio State with 48% in the box, 18.8% at slot and 30.5% as a deep safety across these past two seasons

+ You really like the instincts and play-making skills of Hickman as a single-high safety, where he sees the entire field well and knows how much depth he needs to gain as receivers are pushing vertically

+ Does a nice job picking up crossers as a robber, as well as when playing match quarters at times

+ When buzzed down into shallow zones, he positions himself to make quarterbacks turn down a throw, yet already tilt his body towards a secondary target if he sees that guy back there move along in his progressions

+ Understands where offenses want to attack and what to expect off play-fakes, taking away the primary read towards the space opponents to open up that way

+ Shows a great understanding of staying true to his landmarks initially, but then what phase of the play is progressing to and he can attach to the next-closest target, in order to not allow easy completions

+ Made a great interception against Minnesota in the 2021 season-opener, when they were trying to sneak the tight-end down the seams off their typical zone run look and he stepped in front of the pass


+ Was asked to cap over the number three in trips regularly, where by alignment there was a massive cushion for the receiver to work with

+ Explosive out of his back-pedal to drive on quick breaks and contest the catch-point emphatically

+ Displays excellent awareness for any deceleration or lean in the routes stems of the guy he’s covering

+ Provides the frame and physicality to match up with tight-ends one-on-one for extended stretches, where he occasionally already showed the speed to carry those guys down the seams

+ You’re not going to throw screens to the guy he’s manned up against off motion, rapidly erasing that distance and crashing through the shoulder of fellow receivers try to pin him inside

+ His coverage number this past season were exceptional, holding opposing quarterbacks to 13 of 30 targets his way for 107 yards and no touchdowns, while he made one pick and logged a passer rating of just 39.2

+ Only penalized once in each of his two seasons as a starter


– Can get sucked up a little bit too deep in the run game when he’s the last line of defense and has to chase the ball out to the sidelines, rather than taking more direct routes from depth

– You see Hickman round off a bunch of his pursuit angles and allow more yardage than necessary – with even better speed at the NFL level, instead of pushing guys out at the sideline late, those may end up being house-calls

– Had a massive missed-tackle rate for his career with the Buckeyes at 14.9 percent, not really bringing his hips and arms through the hit

– Should find more conviction in his game as a zone defender to attack routes and put himself in position to make plays, rather than just controlling his space

– After seeing him get smoked a few times during Senior Bowl practices, I’m worried about how much legit man-coverage he can play against WRs – Michigan State’s Jayden Reed blew right by him on a fade route in their very first rep of one-on-ones, and then somebody else badly beat him towards the middle of the field, where he was worried about getting run by again


Hickman sort of feels like the forgotten the man of this safety class. There were a bunch of really good guys at the position in the Big Ten, but you can argue this guy played it as well as any of them across the past two seasons. There are two things that he definitely needs to work on and one more area I’m worried about – his initial pursuit angles and how he initiates contact as a tackler both should be cleaned up, while he looked a little lost one-on-one out there with those Senior Bowl receivers. If he can become a little more assertive with his decision to break on routes, I really like his feeling for space and positioning in zone, while I do believe he could be a matchup piece against tight-ends at the next level. Plus, if he learns to consistently utilize his length fully against blockers blockers, you have yourself a pretty complete safety, who you may be able to snag early on day three.



Quindell Johnson, Memphis

6’0”, 200 pounds; RS SR


A three-star recruit in 2018, Johnson decided to redshirt that year, but entered the starting lineup midway through the following season and didn’t leave the lineup ever since, being named second-team All-AAC in 2020 and ’21, before rising to first-team this past season. Across his career (49 games), he racked up 320 total tackles (226 solo), 15.5 of those for loss, ten interceptions, 24 PBUs, four fumbles forced and three more recovered.


+ Smooth, fluid athlete, who was used pretty evenly between deep safety, slot and in the box for his career with the Tigers

+ Put together four productive seasons as a starter with Memphis, with PFF grades between 72.0 and 83.2 in each of those, put together by pretty even numbers across the different categories

+ Processes the game and fulfills his assignments at a high level, with excellent instincts for the position

+ Showcases expanded peripheral vision to decipher through passing pattern and doesn’t allow the quarterback’s eyes to move him off his landmarks

+ Was deployed in a lot of deep middle and halves coverage, where he consistently stayed deeper than the deepest and showed an understanding for how to play between routes effectively

+ Even when he’s playing center-fielder, Johnson knowing where the biggest receiving threat is, he will peak that way and be ready to affect the catch point

+ Consistent with his angles from depth to stop completions for minimal yardage – Held opposing receivers to just 4.5 yards after the catch on average last season


+ These past two seasons he was assigned with man-coverage duties more regularly and held slot receivers in check pretty well

+ Understands who he’s facing and doesn’t prematurely open his hips a whole lot

+ Reads the hips of receivers well to anticipate when breaks are coming and then dislodges the ball to great effect when raking through the catch point

+ With 33-inch arms and a solid frame he projects pretty well as somebody matching up with tight-ends for extended stretches

+ Generally excels at wrapping around the target and making a play on the ball, but also works well through the hands when he has to play with his back to the ball

+ His coverage numbers last season were excellent, as QBs went 32-of-54 when targeting him for 399 yards and two touchdowns, compared to four INTs and six more incompletions forced, resulting in a passer rating allowed of just 63.7


+ Called the “heartbeat” of the defense by his coaches at Memphis, thanks in part to his physicality and the way he would attack against the run

+ From two-high alignments, Johnson maintains outside leverage, being in position to wrap up the ball-carrier if he cuts behind the last man on the edge, but also shooting inside if he sees that guy gets vertical

+ When walking down pre-snap, he can confidently fill the C-gap and attack backs low in the hole for defensive stops

+ There are plays where Johnson snuffs out reverses and running back screens and runs them down all the way across the field for limited yardage

+ Has done a great job for most of his career to break down in space and secure tackles one-on-one against dynamic receivers

+ Yet he also understands when to cut off an angle and chop down guys at their legs

+ Even when he’s engaged with a blocker or has to work around traffic, Johnson effectively shoots through the hips of ball-carriers and gets them to the ground on an angle


– Not super explosive or snappy in his hips, to range out to throws outside his area

– Has to be rather conservative with his angles from depth, because he doesn’t quite trust his speed to hang with the legit game-breakers

– His missed tackle number sky-rocketed this past season from around the 10 percent range to missing 18 of 95 attempts (18.9%), overstriding the target and slipping off guys with his arms

– When he misses the jam in press-man, Johnson has a tough time getting back into phase, without the recovery burst to close that gap

– Tends to arrive a little bit early at the target and will be flagged more regularly for it at the next level


I have talked about Quindell as one of my favorite sleepers in this class, because while he isn’t a perfect prospect, the fact he’s currently projected to be one of the first guys to not get drafted is wild to me. He doesn’t have great explosive traits or long speed to project well for an extensive center-fielding role or as a matchup-agnostic slot defender, but his tape is way too good to ignore. The way he processes the game, anticipating and confirming information, the ability to make plays on the ball and work up the alley effectively in the run game are all definite positives. What really bothered me last season was the increase in terms of missed tackles, but I’m banking on him returning to his prior form, where that was actually a strong-suit of his games. He’s not the lightest, most fluid athlete I’ve ever seen at safety, but running a 4.53 at his pro day is good enough for me and because he clicks quicker, he gets to where he needs to go quicker than guys who are faster on track, but don’t possess his football acumen.




The next few names:

Daniel Scott (California), Jason Taylor II (Oklahoma State), Jordan Howden (Minnesota), Chamarri Conner (Virginia Tech), A.J. Finley (Ole Miss), Brandon Hill (Pittsburgh), Brandon Joseph (Notre Dame) & Trey Dean III (Florida)



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s