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NFL Draft 2017: Ranking 12 safety prospects

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NCAA Football:  Florida at Louisiana State Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In a surprising twist, the Eagles probably will finally not be needing a safety this year. Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney Mcleod make up one of the better safety duos in the NFL and the team just re-signed Jaylen Watkins as a depth player. It is somewhat of a shame that the team likely will not end up taking a safety this year because this class is loaded with talent at the position. There are a handful of players who can step in immediately at strong or free safety and impact the game. While there is no blue chip type prospect, the players this year all have high upside to be enamored with.

2016 Stats by CFB Stats

12. Josh Harvey Clemons, Louisville, 61 Tackles, 4 TFLs, 2 Sacks, 2 PBUs: Josh Harvey Clemons arrived at Georgia with massive expectations before eventually being dismissed from the team and transferring to Louisville. The 6’4”, 218 pound safety has a ton of potential but has flown relatively under the radar in this class. While he is not a polished cover guy, he is an aggressive player who can roam the lower level of the fields and intimidate. If he can hone his athletic ability and not let his aggressive play style create more negative plays, he could be a steal in a deep safety class.

11. Jadar Johnson, Clemson, 61 Tackles, 2 TFLs, 5 INTs, 7 PBUs, 2 FFs: Despite being a one year starter, Jadar Johnson was an incredibly important role player in the Clemson defense. Johnson is incredibly savvy and rangy over the top of a defense and that combined with his ball skills turned him into a playmaker. His run defense is pretty poor and the lack of experience is a bit concerning, but there is no doubt the playmaking upside Johnson can bring to the table.

10. Marcus Maye, Florida, 50 Tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 1 Sack, 1 INT, 6 PBUs: Marcus Maye was having an awesome season before breaking his arm towards the end of the year. The six-foot, 210 pound safety is versatile in where he can line up due to strong coverage and run defending skills. He is a very savvy player, but also is limited slightly by lacking athletic ability. While he may never be asked to play single high full time, he is the type of player who can be moved around a defense and play in two-deep looks.

9. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan, 71 Tackles, 15 TFLs, 3.5 Sacks, 1 INT, 7 Hurries, 1 FF: Jabrill Peppers’ Heisman campaign highlights how gifted of an athlete he is. What’s frustrating is he could have been so much better of a college player if Michigan let him grow into one position over his whole career. The 5’11”, 213 pound Peppers will not be playing linebacker in the NFL at that size, so strong safety makes the most sense. The issue is that he is still raw in coverage due to having to constantly move positions in college. What is encouraging is the flashes he showed as a run defender and coverage player that show he can do something and his strong combine supports that he is a high upside player. Him being ranked ninth is less a knock on him as a prospect and more a testament to the strength of this class. Going to a good coaching staff and having positional consistency will help him meet his potential and that will be an exciting moment.

8. Eddie Jackson, Alabama, 24 Tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 1 INT, 2 PBUs: Eddie Jackson had a strong season cut short by a broken leg. The former cornerback convert turned his career around when he moved to safety, picking off six passes in 2015 after the switch. Jackson is an incredibly smart player who makes up for average athleticism with high-level instincts. Jackson is not a plus run defender and could stand to bulk up, but if he is healthy, he will be a quality defender in the NFL.

7. Josh Jones, NC State, 109 Tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 3 INTs, 1 Sack, 8 PBUs, 1 FF: One of my favorite players in the class is NC State’s tackling machine, Josh Jones. Jones was the guy on that defense and his combination of size (6’1”, 220 pounds) and speed makes him a tantalizing prospect for the NFL. He is a super aggressive player that yields a lot of jaw dropping hits and plays in coverage, but can also hurt him and the defense. If he can become more consistent, he will be a versatile and game changing defender at the next level.

6. Tedric Thompson, Colorado, 63 Tackles, 3 TFLs, 7 INTs, 16 PBUs, 1 Hurry: Tedric Thompson was the glue that held together Colorado’s incredibly talented secondary. At six foot and 204 pounds, he could stand to get a bit bigger and he is not an impact run defender, but his coverage skills are excellent. While he is not a natural athlete, his instincts are among the best in the class and his ball skills speak for themself. Thompson has a defined role in the NFL as a free safety, but it is one he could make a great impact at.

5. Obi Melifonwu, Connecticut, 118 Tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 4 INTs, 3 PBUs: It is hard to understate how special an athlete Obi Melifonwu is. The 6’4”, 224 pound defender had a record breaking combine and that freak athletic ability shows up on tape. When people think big safeties, it is easy to immediate think of in the box type players, but Melifonwu has the range and ball skills to play over the top as well as having the size, physicality and tackling ability to play closer to the line of scrimmage. Melifonwu has to become a lot more consistent in this game, but I have a feeling the NFL takes him a lot higher than people think because of the potential he brings to the safety position.

4. Marcus Williams, Utah, 64 Tackles, 1 TFL, 5 INTs, 3 PBUs, 2 FFs, 1 Hurry: Marcus Williams has picked off ten passes in his last two years at Utah and his rangy, playmaking ability will be incredibly valuable in the NFL. Williams is not a great run defender and has a pass first mentality, but the value he brings as a free safety is pretty tremendous. His ball skills and athletic ability will go a long way for him at the next level.

3. Jamal Adams, LSU, 76 Tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 1 INT, 1 Sack, 4 PBUs, 1 FF, 1 Hurry: The top three safeties in this class are relatively interchangeable, but Adams is the “lowest” of the three due to him being less polished as a coverage player. He has the athletic ability to succeed in coverage, no doubt, but it is not the strongest point in his game. Where he does excel is his awesome run defense and ability to intimidate over the middle of the field. He is a violent, physical player who will change the way receivers run shallow routes with him lurking around. Expect him to have a similar impact as a rookie as Keanu Neal did last season.

2. Malik Hooker, Ohio State, 74 Tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 7 INTs, .5 Sacks, 4 PBUs: A former basketball player, Malik Hooker has outstanding athletic ability and ball skills that change the makeup of a defense. His range over the top is rare and game changing. He is an inexperienced player as a redshirt sophomore with only one season starting and is raw as a run defender, but he is also incredibly young with the ability to grow. Hooker, even in a safety class as deep as this, has the highest ceiling of all of these players.

1. Budda Baker, Washington, 71 Tackles, 10 TFLs, 2 INTs, 3 Sacks, 6 PBUs, 1 FF, 1 Hurry: Budda Baker does not have Jamal Adams’ size or Malik Hooker’s flashy ball skills, but the overall solidity of his game is what makes him such an impressive player. He is a good athlete and an even better football player with high level insticts and physicality, even for a smaller safety. Baker played at a high level covering over the top, in the slot and against the run. His biggest flaw is probably his size, but he offsets it with how big he plays and also his awesome instincts. It is fair to say that Hooker and Adams have higher NFL ceilings, but Baker is a complete player right now who can help an NFL defense in a variety of ways.