We are mere days from the beginning of the 2017 NFL Draft. More and more prospects have come in for visits, and analysts are starting to go off the rails predicting crazy things like Jabrill Peppers becoming Atlanta’s selection at 31. Absolutely crazy.
What is substantially less crazy is Atlanta selecting another safety prospect, one who is actually good at football and has a set position. I speak, of course, of Budda Baker from Washington, who Atlanta recently held a private visit with. Baker is an exceptionally rangy player with phenomenal instincts, and could be a dark horse candidate to be the Falcons’ selection on Thursday night.
Speaking of, if you happen to be bored on Thursday night, you could come and hang out with all of us at The Falcoholic Draft Party. Yes, that was a totally shameless plug. On to the scouting report!
S Budda Baker, Washington
Excellent range with explosive closing speed. Baker is a smooth mover, with the ability to change directions fluidly. Can mirror and match shifty receivers and has the long speed to cover deep. Great coverage technique with the ability to drop down and match-up on receivers 1-on-1. Baker has perhaps the best instincts in the class—has a feel for where the ball is going on every play and is always in the area. Good ball skills and awareness in the passing game. Reads the QB and lurks in throwing lanes in anticipation of the throw.
Despite his small stature, Baker is a physical hitter. Looks to the lay the wood on opponents and jar the ball loose at the catch point. Possesses exceptional versatility—can play all over the field as a DB and did so at Washington, including: single-high safety, box safety, and slot CB. Plus ability as a blitzer with 3 sacks in 2016 and several TFLs in the run game. Great football character and IQ—Baker is a passionate player and a student of the game.
Baker's primary weakness is his size: he's small for an NFL DB and will struggle if matched up against bigger WRs or TEs. His best fit at the next level may be single-high S to minimize these mismatches. Baker is not a great leaper and isn't able to out-jump receivers at the catch point. Sometimes takes questionable angles in run support and can get washed out by blocks.
Physical, aggressive style of play needs refinement to cut down on broken and missed tackles. Tendency to go for the big hit and sacrifice his own body lead to concerns about Baker's ability to stay healthy in the NFL. Will need better discipline as the "last line of defense".
--NO OFF-FIELD OR INJURY CONCERNS--
Grade: 1 (first-round)
Budda Baker would be an excellent fit in Dan Quinn’s defense in a variety of roles. His best position might be single-high safety, but he’s versatile enough to drop down and cover one-on-one. That flexibility would allow the Falcons to be more creative with their coverages and personnel packages. Three safety sets are becoming more common, and a package with Neal, Allen, and Baker could allow Atlanta to do some interesting things defensively.
Baker is also an ideal fit for the “Earl Thomas” role in Quinn’s defense. His instincts may be the best in the class, and he has the range and ball skills to prevent big plays on the back end. He’s also a physical hitter with great football character, two traits which Quinn covets in his defensive players. If he refines his tackling technique a bit, he could be a Pro Bowl-level single-high safety in the NFL.
The only hang-up is that safety is not exactly the biggest need for the Falcons, particularly in Round 1. RG and EDGE are both arguably more important, and the value for those two position groups should be good around pick 31. However, if Atlanta’s top choices at those positions are gone, Baker could be a dark-horse candidate to become Atlanta’s selection.
What do you think about Budda Baker joining the Falcons? Is he worth a 1st round selection? Who are some other safety prospects that you think the Falcons might be interested in?