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2019 NFL Combine: Safety prospects to watch for the Falcons

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While safety isn’t a primary need for the Falcons, the team could always use more depth behind Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen in the later rounds of the draft. We take a closer look at some potential options for Atlanta participating in the 2019 NFL Combine.

NCAA Football: Miami at Virginia Tech Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Combine is here, which means that we’re about to witness the top NFL Draft prospects in the 2019 class compete in the on-field workouts that we playfully refer to as the “Underwear Olympics”. It’s pretty good fun if you’re a fan of the NFL draft—although we can certainly debate the usefulness of some of these metrics in evaluating prospects—and hopefully it will help complete the picture on some of the more polarizing players.

I’ve been breaking down each position group by giving you the top 10 players that might be of interest to the Falcons. If you’ve missed any of the previous entries, you can find them below:

Offense

Defense

Today’s report is about the safety class. The Falcons clearly aren’t interested in any of the big-name players—like Nasir Adderley, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, and Deionte Thompson—with two good starters in place in Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen. What Atlanta is looking for is depth at both FS and SS, especially if Damontae Kazee is moving back to CB in 2019.

Here are ten of the most interesting safety prospects for the Falcons who are attending the 2019 NFL Combine.

Marquise Blair, Utah

Listed Size: 6’1, 195

2018 Production: 59 tackles, 44 solo, 2.0 TFL, 2 INT, 2 PD, 1 FF

Utah’s Marquise Blair is an interesting—and very fun—evaluation. What immediately stands out is Blair’s bat-out-of-hell, crazy aggressive style of play. This man legitimately flies around the field looking to make plays happen. He’s persistent in run support and in coverage, and is fearless in his tackling. Blair is also versatile, with plenty of athleticism to find success in either safety role.

But that style of play comes with consequences. Blair’s aggressiveness has gotten him ejected three times in two seasons. He’s also likely to pursue the big play, which can leave holes in the defense and cause problems elsewhere. Blair has good size at 6’1, but he’s thin through his frame, leading to concerns about his durability. As a versatile backup that will bring plenty of passion to the field, I like Blair as an early-Day 3 prospect. You just have to accept that there are two sides to that coin.

D’Cota Dixon, Wisconsin

Listed Size: 5’10, 204

2018 Production: 43 tackles, 28 solo, 2.5 TFL, 3 PD, 1 FF (9 games played)

If the Falcons are looking for a late-Day 3 option that can serve as depth for both safety spots, Wisconsin’s D’Cota Dixon could be an ideal fit. Dixon is a versatile, well-rounded safety prospect that lacks ideal size. He spent time all over the secondary at Wisconsin, where he contributed in both coverage and run defense.

Dixon is a good, not great athlete that is unheralded because he lacks any elite traits. If you’re looking for a starter, Dixon doesn’t provide a ton of upside. But he does provide consistency, reliability, and excellent character and football IQ. What he lacks in traits he makes up for in attitude, and I think Dixon certainly has a place on an NFL roster. For the Falcons, he’d be a good fifth safety or “big nickel” player that can do a little of everything.

Mike Edwards, Kentucky

Listed Size: 5’10, 205

2018 Production: 82 tackles, 56 solo, 9.5 TFL, 2 INT, 6 PD, 1 FF

Kentucky’s Mike Edwards is a physical, instinctive, and versatile safety prospect that can make plays in both coverage and run defense. He’s not a great athlete, but he’s quick and smooth enough in space to match up successfully in man coverage on TEs and RBs. Edwards is aggressive as a tackler and a blitzer, and can be used in a lot of different ways.

In several aspects, Edwards actually reminds me of Brian Poole—which means the Falcons could theoretically see him as an option at slot CB too. He lacks ideal size for strong safety and he isn’t athletic enough to handle deep coverage responsibilities. Regardless of his shortcomings, I think Edwards can carve out a role in Atlanta—either as an eventual upgrade over Neasman at SS, or as versatile CB/S depth. At his mid-Day 3 price tag, that could be a good value for the Falcons.

Malik Gant, Marshall

Listed Size: 6’0, 209

2018 Production: 95 tackles, 45 solo, 9.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 2 INT, 8 PD

An under-the-radar prospect from a non-P5 school, Marshall’s Malik Gant certainly plays like he has a chip on his shoulder. Gant is an extremely physical strong safety prospect that hits like a truck. His aggressiveness, toughness, and competitiveness immediately stand out. Gant is a relentless player in run support that is always seeking to deliver the big hit, and he’s got the size to follow through.

In coverage, however, Gant is relatively limited. He can be serviceable in the short areas of the field and is far more comfortable in zone, but he can be easily outmaneuvered by more technically refined or athletic players in man coverage. Still, Gant looks like an above-average athlete, and his football character is undeniable. With his late-Day 3 (or even possible UDFA) price tag, he’d be well worth picking up as a reserve safety that can possibly be developed into something more.

Will Harris, Boston College

Listed Size: 6’1, 207

2018 Production: 75 tackles, 43 solo, 1.0 TFL, 1 INT

A Georgia native and four-year starter at safety, Boston College’s Will Harris is a versatile mid-Day 3 option. Harris has good size for the position at 6’1, 207, with solid athletic ability. He has experience at both free and strong safety, and could potentially play both in the NFL. Harris is very good in coverage—although I think he’s a better fit overall in man—and is a good form tackler. He’s dependable in run defense and wraps up reliably.

There are a few negatives to Harris’ game. For starters, he’s never had good ball skills, with very minimal turnover production. He’s much more comfortable in man coverage, and seems to lack instincts when playing zone. Harris is a smart player, so he’s rarely caught out of position, but he doesn’t end up making as many impact plays as you’d like. Still, I like Harris a lot as a versatile depth pickup on Day 3, and he’s already proven himself to be very good on special teams.

Amani Hooker, Iowa

Listed Size: 5’11, 210

2018 Production: 65 tackles, 36 solo, 3.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 4 INT, 7 PD

If the Falcons are looking for a bigger impact addition to the safety group, Iowa’s Amani Hooker could be a fit. Hooker reminds me a little of Damontae Kazee before Ricardo Allen got hurt. At Iowa, they used him in a sort of hybrid role as a nickel defender that moved around the formation depending on the matchup. Hooker has a thicker frame than Kazee at 5’11, 210, but I have questions about his overall athletic ability.

Hooker has great instincts in both run defense and coverage and has a knack for being around the ball. He’s a physical tackler with excellent football IQ, which can help make up for his lack of ideal athleticism. However, Hooker’s aggressiveness and desire to make plays often led to mistakes in play action. He’s versatile and also has an ability to contribute on special teams. His athletic testing will be big for his stock: if he tests well, expect him to go late on Day 2. If he tests average, which is about what I expect, the Falcons could scoop him up early on Day 3.

Jaquan Johnson, Miami

Listed Size: 5’10, 191

2018 Production: 92 tackles, 44 solo, 1.5 TFL, 2 INT, 1 PD, 2 FF

A early-Day 3 option that could potentially take Kazee’s place as the third safety, Miami’s Jaquan Johnson is a physical hitter that offers a versatile skillset. The first thing that stands out about Johnson is his aggressiveness and overall physicality: he loves going for the big hit and regularly blows people up. Johnson is also a reliable tackler in the open-field, and he consistently takes good angles in run defense.

Technically, Johnson is adequate in coverage—but he lacks ideal ball skills. His small frame could give him issues against NFL TEs, and you also have to worry about his long-term durability. Johnson has good quickness and change-of-direction skills, but I’m not sure if he has enough long speed to play as a deep safety. Still, Johnson’s leadership (he was a team captain) and capabilities on special teams help make him a well-rounded player that should contribute immediately for an NFL team.

Sheldrick Redwine, Miami

Listed Size: 6’0, 196

2018 Production: 64 tackles, 35 solo, 3.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 3 INT, 2 PD, 1 FF

The other half of Miami’s safety tandem, Sheldrick Redwine actually plays pretty similarly to Jaquan Johnson. He’s also a versatile safety with impressive physicality and aggressiveness. I love Redwine’s run defense and tackling skills—he’s reliable in the open field and knows when to go for the big hit and when to simply wrap up. Redwine is inconsistent in coverage, but he’s good when he’s on. He has good ball skills and soft hands, with the size to match up with TEs and the quickness to keep up with RBs. Plus, Redwine is an excellent player on special teams.

Jaquan Johnson seems to be generating more hype in this class, but I think Redwine might eventually wind up being better. Where Jaquan might be ready to start immediately, Redwine might need some time. Redwine, however, has better coverage instincts and superior ballhawking traits to go along with a more NFL-ready frame. As a mid-Day 3 pick, I prefer Redwine as a player that can potentially develop into the third safety.

Andrew Wingard, Wyoming

Listed Size: 6’0, 209

2018 Production: 87 tackles, 46 solo, 2.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 2 INT, 1 PD

If the Falcons are looking for a very affordable (seventh round or UDFA) safety prospect to compete for a depth role, Wyoming’s Andrew Wingard could be surprisingly good value. He’s a reliable, physical tackler with great instincts in run defense. Wingard is solid in both man and zone coverage and is capable of holding his own against RBs and TEs. Put simply, he’s a well-rounded safety with few glaring holes in his game.

However, Wingard lacks starting upside. He’s not a flashy player—his athleticism is average, and he doesn’t have great long speed. Wingard does have good ballhawking ability and instincts when playing deep, but he might be best suited to a box safety role in the NFL. Still, he’s a reliable option that can play at both safety spots in a pinch, and should be a contributor on special teams. For his late-Day 3 or even UDFA price tag, that’s pretty solid.

Evan Worthington, Colorado

Listed Size: 6’2, 212

2018 Production: 41 tackles, 25 solo, 3.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 1 INT, 4 PD (9 games played)

A big safety prospect with good athleticism and coverage ability, Colorado’s Evan Worthington checks a lot of boxes as a potential NFL starter. At 6’2, 212, Worthington certainly has the size to play in the box and matchup with TEs, but he’s a surprisingly good athlete and was often deployed as a deep safety in Colorado’s defense. Worthington is a reliable tackler with good instincts in run defense, although he isn’t as physical as you’d like.

He’s smooth in space and possesses excellent range, whether playing deep or in the box. In short, Worthington probably should be getting Day 2 buzz based off his game tape. The issue is that he has had significant off-field issues in the past, including a year-long suspension in 2016. Worthington has also suffered two concussions during his college career, which is concerning. Still, his talent is undeniable, and if the Falcons are satisfied that his character issues are in the past, he’d be a great value in the early-to-mid Day 3 range.


What are your thoughts on the 2019 safety class? Any prospects that you’ll be watching closely for the Falcons? When do you think Atlanta should address the position in the 2019 NFL Draft?