The safety class in the 2016 NFL Draft is one that may not have a stellar big-name player, but it has several solid options. This class is especially strong in safeties who can set the tone with big hits in the passing defense.
Vonn Bell of Ohio State leads the group because he's the best combination of power and coverage ability. For the Buckeyes he lined up a lot as a single high safety, which is a role not every safety prospect can lock down. He was also used to come down and defend the slot. Bell has good range and changes direction effortlessly to track the ball and close on a play. A two-year starter, Bell got better as last season progressed in stopping the run. His tackling is decent, though he could be more forceful and tackle higher. He makes up for that by taking proper angles to the ball carrier.
If a team is looking for a classic hitter at safety, Karl Joseph of West Virginia should be the guy. The single best word to describe Joseph is violent. He's a bit of a throwback player who comes downhill in a hurry to just crack people. He's adept at coming down and making plays against the run in the box, despite his somewhat smaller frame. Before tearing his ACL as a senior, he showed a lot of improvement in pass coverage and seems comfortable playing zone.
Another big-time hitter is Florida's Keanu Neal. He is still a bit of a work in progress in coverage, but he's pro ready as a box safety who can hammer against the run. One of the most notable plays last season was Neal coming down in the box and absolutely wrecking Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry with a big hit. Neal could be viewed by some teams as a hybrid safety/linebacker because of his downhill speed and tackling skills. Miles Killebrew of Southern Utah is the same way. He stood out in games because he plays so fast and so violently. Whether that style will work in the NFL the same way will be seen, but he can level some people.
Duke's Jeremy Cash pretty much played that hybrid role for much of his college career. He's comfortable playing near the line of scrimmage, whether it's working over the slot or coming off the edge to stop the run. As a senior he had 18 tackles for a loss, which is almost unheard of for a safety.
Arguably the best coverage safety in this class is Darian Thompson of Boise State. He can handle man coverage on tight ends because he has some length, and is athletic enough to stick with quick slot receivers. He has excellent hands, and it showed with 28 career pass breakups and 19 interceptions. Thompson needs to tighten up his tackling because he'll swing and miss at times.
Other good coverage safeties this year include Justin Simmons of Boston College, Kevin Byard of Middle Tennessee State and Jalen Mills of LSU. Both Mills and Simmons have past experience playing cornerback in college. Neither are known for their tackling, but they have good anticipation in the passing game.
Jalen Ramsey of Florida State and Su'a Cravens of USC would be at the top of these rankings, but they're in the cornerback and outside linebacker rankings, respectively. Ramsey is most likely to stick at cornerback, but Cravens is the interesting one. Of all those hybrid players, he would be the best.
Day 3 gem: DeAndre Houston-Carson of William & Mary is another safety prospect who spent time at corner. He only played one season of safety in college, and some teams may see him as a corner. As a safety he covers a lot of ground and is willing to come down and support against the run. He's a very good special teams player, but shouldn't be stuck just on that duty.
Overall position grade: B-
|1. Vonn Bell, 5’11, 205 pounds, S, Ohio State|
|2. Karl Joseph, 5’11, 197 pounds, S, West Virginia|
|3. Darian Thompson, 6’2, 212 pounds, S, Boise State|
|4. Jeremy Cash, 6’2, 210 pounds, S, Duke|
|5. Keanu Neal, 6’1, 216 pounds, S, Florida|
|6. T.J. Green, 6’3, 205 pounds, S, Clemson|
|7. Sean Davis, 6'1, 200 pounds, S, Maryland|
|8. Justin Simmons, S, 6’3, 201 pounds, S, Boston College|
|9. K.J. Dillon, 6’1, 203 pounds, S, West Virginia|
|10. Kevin Byard, 5’11, 217 pounds, S, Middle Tennessee State|
|11. Jalen Mills, 6’0, 196 pounds, S, LSU|
|12. Miles Killebrew, 6’3, 230 pounds, S, Southern Utah|
|13. Tyvis Powell, 6’3, 210 pounds, S, Ohio State|
|14. Jayron Kearse, 6'5, 220 pounds, S, Clemson|
|15. Marcus Maye, 6’0, 207 pounds, S, Florida|
|16. DeAndre Houston-Carson, 6’2, 195 pounds, S, William & Mary|
|17. Tevin Carter, S, 6’1, 215 pounds, S, Utah|
|18. RJ Williamson, 6’0, 216 pounds, S, Michigan State|
|19. Elijah Shumate, 6'0, 224 pounds, S, Notre Dame|
|20. Michael Caputo, 6'1, 206 pounds, S, Wisconsin|
|21. Lee Hightower, 6’1, 198 pounds, S, Houston|
|22. Jordan Lucas, 5’11 5/8, 201 pounds, S, Penn State|