It’s almost over—we’ve come to the final day of the NFL Scouting Combine. We’ve seen and heard from everyone except for the defensive backs, which include both cornerbacks and safeties.
The Falcons are likely looking into this safety class for depth and developmental players. Strong safety has been locked down by last year’s first round selection, Keanu Neal, and free safety is currently being manned by converted-CB Ricardo Allen. Allen is a serviceable starter, but he could be upgraded on. The only question is, will the Falcons look to do that early, or go after a more developmental player later on?
Let’s take a look at some of the interesting safety prospects at this year’s Combine.
Budda Baker, Washington
A tremendous athlete that has been generating a ton of buzz lately, Baker is an undersized FS that plays with impressive physicality. He is a fierce competitor with great instincts and coverage ability that projects best playing single-high. 1st-2nd round projection.
Justin Evans, Texas A&M
I’ve already written in-depth about Evans—he’s an athletic, rangy, ball-hawking free safety with a physical style of play. His tackling technique needs some refinement, but Evans has enormous potential as a playmaker in the secondary. 3rd-4th round projection.
Malik Hooker, Ohio State
Hooker is arguably the most talented safety prospect in the class. He’s got amazing instincts as a single-high safety, with crazy-fast closing speed and elite range. The only knock on him is a mere one year of starting experience, and a late season surgery. 1st-round projection.
Eddie Jackson, Alabama
Jackson is a versatile player that has spent time at both safety and corner throughout his career at Alabama. He’s got good instincts and decent athleticism, along with capability as a punt and kick returner. His stock seems to have fallen after an injury cut his senior season short. 3rd-4th round projection.
Lorenzo Jerome, St. Francis
Jerome is a player that actually reminds me of Ricardo Allen—undersized with merely average athleticism, but great instincts and ability to make plays on the ball. He’s an interesting developmental prospect with impressive ability as a returner. 4th-5th round projection.
John Johnson, Boston College
Johnson is an experienced and versatile defender that has played both CB and S. He’s instinctive and possesses excellent coverage technique to go along with above-average movement skills. 2nd-3rd round projection.
Josh Jones, NC State
Jones is a rangy and athletic playmaker in the secondary with ideal size and speed. He’s an aggressive hitter with the ability to play in the box or single-high. Jones can be undisciplined at times and his technique could use refinement, but he’s got the ceiling of an above-average starter. 2nd-3rd round projection.
Marcus Maye, Florida
Maye was Keanu Neal’s counterpart at Florida prior to last season. He’s a versatile player that can fill either the SS or FS role on a defense and play at a high level. Maye has impressive instincts and physicality, but needs to improve his downfield coverage technique. 2nd-3rd round projection.
Tedric Thompson, Colorado
Thompson is an athletic, rangy free safety prospect with great coverage instincts. He’s a ball-hawk that can disrupt plays all over the field. Thompson is a little undersized and projects best as a pure single-high player due to his finesse-based tackling style. 4th-5th round projection.
Marcus Williams, Utah
You might be sensing a pattern with the prospects here. Williams is an athletic and instinctive player that thrived in the single-high safety role in Utah’s defense. Williams could use a little more bulk and he’s not a particularly hard hitter, but he’s a playmaker and a reliable player in coverage. 2nd-3rd round projection.
Projected Draft Round
This is another position group where we’re pretty unsure about the Falcons’ plans. They clearly have capable starters in Neal and Allen, but Allen is a slightly above-average player at best. No matter what, they could use a depth or developmental player at FS.
Unless someone like Malik Hooker is available, the Falcons are most likely to target a FS in the 3rd-5th round. Ideally, they’re looking for a more athletic player than Allen with higher upside in coverage and better size.
Anyone they take in that range is likely to need a year or so of development before assuming a starting role, which works out perfectly with Allen’s affordable contract. Players like Evans, Jackson, and Maye could all be logical options in the mid-rounds of the draft.
Full List of Combine Invites
The entire list of invited players can be found here.
Who are some safeties that you’re interested in at the Combine? Do you think the Falcons should draft a safety early on to replace Allen, or do you think they should go after a more developmental player later?