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2017 NFL Draft: Safety Rankings

Justin’s targets for the 2017 NFL draft at the safety position.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

In recent years, I’ve committed to the concept of an NFL Draft “target board.” The idea is to narrow my scope down to 100 prospects, grouped into tiers that indicate where I’d look to select them in an actual draft. Instead of ranking every single player I’ve watched and graded, these are prospects I feel most confident in from a tape, measurables, production, and athletic testing standpoint. In the following days leading up to the draft, I’ll post my board position by position, and to help everyone understand the methods behind my madness, I’ll even include some handy charts and stats to give some insight into which players “checked all the boxes,” and which ones made the cut despite falling short in one area or another.

The cells in the accompanying charts are color-coded based (liberally) on NFL scouting combine averages per position:

  • Green = Significantly Above Average
  • Blue = Above Average
  • Yellow = Average
  • Orange = Below Average
  • Red = Significantly Below Average

Check below for my Safety rankings

(Note Malik Hooker was not rated due to injury and lack of athletic data)

Jabrill Peppers Michigan 5’11” 213

  • DOB: 10/4/1995
  • 2016: 71 TKL (48 solo) 15 TFL 3.5 SCK 1 FF 1 INT 3 rush TD 1 PR TD
  • Career: 124 TKL (88 solo) 20.5 TFL 3.5 SCK 1 FF 1 INT 10 PBU 5 rush TD 1 PR TD in 27 games

Peppers stepped in to play linebacker when it became apparent the roster lacked the desired talent at the position, and he mostly flourished in his new role. In fact, early in the season I was on board with Peppers staying at linebacker in the NFL. I've backtracked on this and now view him as a safety, but I still worry about his ability to turn and maintain coverage down the field.

Flash back to 2015, when Peppers had 10 pass breakups, and we see that he's at his best when the play is in front of him. He's a fast guy with fluid movement skills, and clearly lives to play football. He was willing to sacrifice his draft stock for the sake of his coaches and teammates last year. I find myself trusting his athletic ability and work ethic, and believe he will find success as a pro. Peppers tested for a diluted urine sample at the NFL combine, and this will need to be investigated. But I've never heard another peep about him off the field.

Grade: 2nd Round

Jamal Adams LSU 6’ 214

  • DOB: 10/17/1995
  • 2016: 76 TKL (42 solo) 7.5 TFL 1 SCK 1 FF 1 INT 4 PBU
  • Career: 209 TKL (127 solo) 17.5 TFL 1 SCK 2 FF 5 INT 15 PBU in 37 games

Adams is an interesting case where ran a 4.56 at the combine, and as fast as a 4.33 at pro day (officially a 4.45). In other areas he didn't test like the type of athlete you'd expect for a player being touted as a potential top two pick. A couple of analysts even call Adams the best player in the draft. There's no way for me to prove this, but I think it's an overcorrection to Landon Collins, who fell to Day Two after a lackluster draft season, and rose to contention for Defensive Player of the Year in 2016.

I see Adams as a more finished version of the safety I believe Peppers can become. The two players are very close for me - they're even almost exactly the same age - and I could probably be convinced to flip-flop my order on them.

Grade: 2nd Round

Budda Baker Washington 5’10” 195

  • DOB: 1/10/1996
  • 2016: 71 TKL (49 solo) 10 TFL 3 SCK 1 FF 2 INT 6 PBU
  • Career: 200 TKL (139 solo) 13.5 TFL 4 SCK 3 FF 5 INT 19 PBU 1 kick BLK in 40 games

Washington's little missile is drawing Honey Badger comparisons, but I see Baker as similar to former Indianapolis Colt Bob Sanders. Like Sanders, Baker will throw himself into the action with abandon, and his hammer as a hitter belies his small stature. Baker is fast and aggressive. He didn't get his hands on a ton of passes this season, but he will scrap for the ball, and his career numbers are pretty good. My only worry is that his play style will lead to injury down the road, just like it did with Sanders.

Grade: 2nd Round

  • Marcus Williams Utah 6’1” 202
  • DOB: 9/8/19962016: 64 TKL (46 solo) 1 TFL 2 FF 5 INT 3 PBU
  • Career: 189 TKL (125 solo) 4 TFL 4 FF 11 INT 8 PBU in 36 games

For my money Williams has as much range as any safety in the class not named "Malik Hooker." Williams is athletic, with long arms, but just a few hairs slower than I'd like to see. He makes up those steps with his ability to read the quarterback and get good jumps, but those reads will become tougher against NFL passers.

Grade: 2nd-3rd Round

Obi Melifonwu Connecticut 6’4” 224

  • DOB: 4/5/1994
  • 2016: 118 TKL (73 solo) 2.5 TFL 4 INT 3 PBU
  • Career: 351 TKL (222 solo) 11 TFL 2 FF 8 INT 16 PBU in 48 games

One look at Melifonwu and I expected to see this heavy hitting thumper. And when UConn was in short yardage and goal line defense, that is what I saw. Between the 20-yard lines though, I was surprised to find that Melifonwu had better range than I anticipated, and I found myself respecting his potential as a deep center fielder. Still, it's hard to put my finger on it but he leaves something to be desired. Maybe I'm missing that imposing short-yardage presence when the ball is in the middle of the field. He's clearly an exceptional athlete, so maybe I'm nitpicking, but I enjoyed watching the players ahead of Melifonwu on this list more than I enjoyed watching him.

Grade: 3rd Round

Nate Gerry Nebraska 6’2” 218

  • DOB: 2/23/1995
  • 2016: 74 TKL (47 solo) 5.5 TFL 0.5 SCK 4 INT 8 PBU
  • Career: 273 TKL (163 solo) 14.5 TFL 2 SCK 3 FF 13 INT 19 PBU 1 TD

Gerry has the sharpest edge of any player on this list. He's a mean, tone-setting throwback with linebacker size and just enough speed to make consistent plays on the ball. Gerry doesn't have much wiggle room as an athlete. He makes this list more for his tape, size and production than for upside. He's a late round guy but I do think he can at least play on special teams and in a safety rotation.

Grade: 5th-7th Round