Safeties are rarely taken inside the top-ten picks, but all bets are off this year. This class is loaded with talent from top to bottom, with at least ten potential starters available. The group also has a ton of star power in it, with two players that could make the Pro Bowl in their rookie seasons.
Here are the 12 best safeties in the 2017 NFL Draft class.
1) Jamal Adams: 94/100
It’s really hard to find a problem with how Jamal Adams plays football. Adams has flawless instincts that constantly leave him in position to make plays. He also trusts those instincts, and that allows him to react to plays quicker than most NFL safeties could. Adams has impressive play strength as a tackler, and he’ll be a feared hitter once he starts playing on Sunday.
There is simply no hole in Adams’ game. He can cover, stop the run and even rush the passer with ease. The only thing harder than finding a flaw in his game is picturing a scenario in which he falls out of the top-ten. Frankly, Adams has a shot to go in the top-three, which shows how special he is. He definitely has a shot at making the Pro Bowl as a rookie, and might even be an All-Pro from the jump.
2) Malik Hooker: 92/100
Malik Hooker is another can’t miss safety in this class. Hooker has exceptional ball skills and instincts over the top of a defense. He is a monster at jumping routes, and is just as deadly once he has the ball in his hands as a returner. Any team looking to get more opportunistic on defense would love to have him in the lineup.
It’s a little easier to find some flaws with Hooker. He lacks experience in general, and very nearly quit football a year ago. Hooker lacks play strength as a tackler, and his instincts aren’t as polished as Adams’. He certainly carries a bit more risk that Adams, but he brings just as much upside to the table.
3) Marcus Williams: 82/100
Marcus Williams is another free safety with a ton of upside. Williams has phenomenal instincts and unlimited range back deep. He reads the quarterback’s eyes well, and has solid ball skills when supporting corners downfield. Williams also does a good job of tackling bigger receivers despite a smaller frame.
That smaller frame might be what haunts Williams in the NFL. He’s a very physical player, and could end up enduring a lot of punishment from running backs and tight ends. He also needs to use his vision better in pursuit, as he gets too bogged down by blockers at the second level. Williams’ overall sharp instincts and ball hawking tendencies make him worthy of going early in the second round.
4) Obi Melifonwu: 81/100
None of the safeties in this class benefited more from the draft process than Obi Melifonwu. After flying pretty under-the-radar during the season, Melifonwu put on a show at the combine. He tested toward the top of the class in the 40, as well as the broad jump and the vertical. That performance has sent a lot of attention his way, and his tape is just as impressive.
Melifonwu showed off excellent instincts in the box, and pretty effective technique as a tackler. He doesn’t have the best ball skills, and isn’t as reliable over the top of the defense. Still, he’d be a fantastic asset to any team in the box as a strong safety. Melifonwu has an outside shot at going in the first round.
5) Jabrill Peppers: 80/100
Jabrill Peppers may not even play in the secondary in the NFL, but it made the most sense to group him with the safeties. Peppers has seen time as a corner, running back, linebacker and as a safety during his college career. Overall, Peppers seems to have spent the most time at safety, so that is where he got evaluated.
It might not be a bad idea for a team to use Peppers as a super-utility guy. Injuries happen in this league, and it could be a shrewd move to have him provide depth at three or four different spots while starting as a returner. He’ll never improve at any one position like that, but he could still offer a lot of value. If Peppers does end up sticking at one spot, expect it to be at strong safety, because his frame and skill set make the most sense there.
6) Budda Baker: 79/100
Budda Baker is yet another rangy free safety in this loaded class. Baker has split time at safety and slot corner throughout his college career, but he’ll definitely be much better off as a full-time safety going forward. That’s because he’s a bit undersized, and receivers will take advantage of that if he’s forced into man coverage constantly.
Baker is incredibly quick, and he has solid instincts over the top. He can cover ground with ease, which helps him makes plays on the ball in big spots. Baker doesn’t have great hands at all, but he’ll break up plenty of passes. He’s always around the play, and looks like a solid starter at the free safety spot.
7) Josh Jones: 77/100
Josh Jones is easily the most underrated player in this group of safeties. Jones didn’t draw much attention until he ran a 4.41 at the combine, and he still hasn’t gotten the respect he deserves even after that. While most people have him ranked much lower than this, he is clearly one of the more special talents in the class.
Jones has endless range out in space, and he’s very instinctive in the box. He’s a wrap-up tackler, and has some ball-hawking tendencies back deep. Jones is a bit overaggressive at times, but it’s hard to find very many flaws in this game. This would generally be considered a generous projection of his talent, and it may turn out to be too low at the end of the day.
8) Justin Evans: 74/100
Justin Evans has intriguing athletic capabilities, but his instincts need plenty of polish. Evans can impact plays that he has no business getting to, but he has to do a better job of recognizing those plays. He tracks the ball as well as any strong safety in this class, and is a talented kick returner. There is a chance he could make the switch to the slot if his instincts never sharpen, but he’ll likely start at strong safety for a team that runs a lot of cover 2.
9) Marcus Maye: 73/100
Marcus Maye is one of the last potential starters in this group of safeties. Maye is a classic strong safety who hits hard and has fantastic instincts in run defense. He covers ground with exceptional quickness, and does a solid job as a tackler. Maye isn’t as versatile as some of the other safeties in this class because he isn’t as good in coverage. He’s still a quality starter in the box, and should be a day-three selection.
10) Josh Harvey-Clemons: 69/100
Josh Harvey-Clemons could end up being one of the best safeties in this class. Harvey-Clemons is massive, and uses his length to be a more-efficient tackler. He covers a ton of ground out in space, and has the agility to match-up with even the most-athletic tight ends. Harvey-Clemons failed a few drug tests in college, and may go undrafted because of that. He has first-round potential, but his performance during interviews will be a big deal.
11) Tedric Thompson: 67/100
The brother of Cedric Thompson, Tedric Thompson seems more suited for a backup role in the NFL. Thompson has fantastic speed and ball skills, but he lacks the physicality to start in this league. He takes bad angles in pursuit, and isn’t a great tackler. Thompson could be a decent option on special teams, but don’t expect him to have a massive impact at the next level.
12) Eddie Jackson: 66/100
Eddie Jackson is easily the most overrated player in this group of safeties. Jackson shined at times in Alabama’s defense, but he was often the 11th most impressive player on the field. He has good ball skills, but most of his interceptions were a product of supporting players who shutdown receivers in coverage. Jackson’s tape isn’t all that impressive, but he might get drafted based on raw star power.
Nick Rodriguez is the Managing Editor of EndZoneScore.com. He also covers the covers the NFL Draft, along with the Jaguars, Buccaneers, and Giants. Follow him on Twitter @NickRodriguez22.