Fran Duffy's Combine Preview: Safety

This group of safety prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft is brewing with potential. Depending on what your team is looking for there should be plenty of options. Need your single-high safety to play in the post and be a ballhawk? Check. Need a guy to play near the line of scrimmage and cover tight ends? Check. Need a guy who can play in the slot and be counted on in man coverage? They’re there too. The safety position is always evolving in the NFL, and with prospects coming in all sorts of shapes and sizes, options are plentiful for the 32 teams in the league.

Top Pick

This is the player who I feel is at the top of the class coming into the event.

Taylor Rapp, Washington

I’m on the record as saying how much I love this senior class of safeties. The group at this year’s Senior Bowl was probably the best I’ve ever seen at the event. There are a handful of talented juniors as well. Some people are really high on the junior ballhawk from Alabama, Deionte Thompson. He’s intriguing because of his length and his ability to play the ball, but I want to offer my evaluation of Rapp who I just studied for the first time this week. The junior, who grew up in Doug Pederson’s hometown of Ferndale, Washington, wore a lot of hats for the Huskies' defense.

An outstanding tackler and a smart, instinctive coverage piece, Rapp may not have the explosive range to play sideline to sideline in the deep middle. But he can man up on the slot and do that well. That’s actually how he broke into the Washington lineup as a true freshman playing alongside Sidney Jones. He’s a phenomenal run defender, a great blitzer, and an outstanding kid away from the field. Teams may view him differently across the league, but it wouldn’t shock me at all if he snuck into Round 1 for a team looking for a Day 1 starter at strong safety.

Workout Warrior

This is the player who I expect to see perform best in the athletic testing portion of the workout.

Johnathan Abram, Mississippi State

I studied the Bulldogs' defense last summer and Abram flashed instantly with his movement skills on film. A heat-seeking missile with really fluid hips, strong recovery speed, and easy change-of-direction skills, Abram should be one of the top testers at the safety position. Chauncey Gardner-Washington from Florida is a versatile coverage piece who should also test very well.

Trust The Tape

This is the player who I don’t expect to test off the charts and is a better football player than he is an athlete. With that in mind, don’t drop him down the board with a subpar workout!

Malik Gant, Marshall

Gant has received a lot of buzz lately, and for good reason, as he’s a pretty fun player to study. The junior safety has no conscience as a hitter, laying blow after blow on receivers crossing over the middle or on ballcarriers attacking downhill. A smart zone coverage defender, Gant excels at reading the quarterback’s eyes in space and allowing them to take him to the football, which results in him playing faster than I think he will test in Indianapolis. Gant likely won’t test well for the safety position, at least based on what I’ve seen so far of him on film, but that doesn’t matter to me. He’s a tough, hard-nosed football player.

Stopwatch Shocker

This is the player who I expect to see test better than most in the media believe they will perform based off of current projections.

Evan Worthington, Colorado

In any other year, Worthington would have been at the Senior Bowl and would have been one of the more intriguing options in attendance. With all of the talent at the position this year, however, the senior ended up at the East-West Shrine Game, and I thought he was one of the best prospects in St. Petersburg. Worthington is a high-upside safety who is flying a bit under the radar right now. He's a long, athletic, versatile kid who needs to improve overall as a tackler but checks a lot of other boxes for the position. I bet he’ll be one of the better testers at the safety position at the Combine.

Will Kill The Drills

This is the player who may or may not be a great athlete, but he will look the best in the position-specific drills after the athletic portion of the workout.

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida

I’ve still yet to complete my study of Gardner-Johnson, but the junior is very competitive, was used in a lot of ways, and offered plenty of value in the slot. He matched up numerous times against Deebo Samuel, one of my favorite receivers in the country, and performed well. He was a great special teams player throughout his career and he takes his craft seriously. Gardner-Johnson is quick in and out of breaks, has range, can finish on the ball, and will be giving all-out effort. I expect him to look pretty good in the drills portion of the workout.

Most To Prove

This is the player who has the most to prove away from the field, whether it’s during the interview process, medical examinations, or even the weigh-ins.

Marquise Blair, Utah

I really enjoy watching Blair on film because he’s one of the most violent defensive backs I’ve studied in the last couple of years. This guy LOVES to lay the wood. He is, however, extremely undersized. At the Senior Bowl, the two-year starter checked in at 6-1 1/2, which is a good height, but at just 180 pounds. For some context, no safety has been drafted in the last 10 years weighing fewer than 184 pounds. Ahmad Black (2011) and former Eagles draft pick Blake Countess (2016) both checked in at that weight pre-draft, but were both under 5-10. Can Blair add on more weight? Will he check in bigger in Indianapolis? How will he run and move with the extra weight, and will he be able to keep it on? I really like his film, but it’s a question evaluators will ask.

Most Productive College Player

This is the player who produced at the highest level, either in his final year in college or throughout his entire career.

Juan Thornhill, Virginia

No safety at the Combine from the FBS level has more ball disruptions (interceptions and pass breakups) than Thornhill, one of my favorite safeties in this class. The senior began his career at corner and slowly made the transition to safety, where his ballhawking skills were put on full display in his final year on campus. Thornhill reminds me a lot of Chicago Bears star Eddie Jackson. The former Virginia star is instinctive, athletic, versatile, tough, and a great kid away from the field. He’s about as "safe" as it gets, at least in my mind, when evaluating players making the transition to the NFL in this class.

Best Pro Comparison

Comparing draft prospects to NFL players is tough, but here’s a player with the easiest picture to paint when looking at their NFL future through my eyes.

Amani Hooker, Iowa

I just studied Hooker for the first time Wednesday morning, and he’s an intriguing player for sure. A two-year starter at strong safety, the junior actually spent half of his final season playing as a quasi-linebacker for the Hawkeyes. He’s lined up all over the place for that defense. He’s a very smart zone coverage player and someone who I believe will be able to do numerous things in different subpackages in the NFL. I do think, however, his best value comes in a middle-of-the-field role. For that reason, he reminds me a lot of former Eagles safety and current Patriots starter Patrick Chung. He’s a bit undersized and a bit unassuming as an athlete, but he’s smart, tough, versatile, and has a good feel for playing in coverage.

Best Story

Let’s face it, all of these players have great stories to tell, but which guy has taken the most unbelievable journey to get to this point in their career? Here’s the one that has caught my eyes (and ears) the most.

Sheldrick Redwine, Miami

A two-year starter at free safety for the Hurricanes, Redwine is another player with impressive eye discipline in zone coverage. He also has the range to play the post in the NFL. His teammate, Jaquan Johnson, was viewed by analysts as a potential first-round pick entering the season, but I had my eyes more set on Redwine. Fun fact, though. Johnson and Redwine weren’t just a safety pair in college, as they both starred together in high school as well and were a part of the same recruiting class to The U. A career safety in South Beach, Redwine went to the Senior Bowl and proved his versatility, participating in the week of practice as a cornerback. He’s an interesting name to keep a close eye on moving forward.

Small-School Standout

This is the player who comes from a lower level of competition (outside of the Power 5 conferences) but still has a very bright future in the NFL.

Andrew Wingard, Wyoming

No safety drafted in the last decade has recorded more tackles than Wingard, who posted 454 tackles in 50 starts for the Cowboys, an average of just over nine tackles a game! There will be some analysts who question his athleticism, and that’s fair, but Wingard is a very instinctive player with high-level competitive traits and a strong ability to finish tackles one-on-one. He has the makings of an outstanding special teams player in the NFL.

Philly Connection

This is the player with a special tie to the City of Brotherly Love or to the Eagles who you should keep a close eye on in Indianapolis.

Nasir Adderley, Delaware

Wingard isn’t the top small-school safety in this draft, however, as that moniker belongs to Adderley, the Philadelphia native who made the short drive south to Delaware to play his college ball. A four-year starter for the Blue Hens, Adderley began his career at corner but made the switch to safety going into his junior season. He’s a strong athlete for the position, can play the ball really well in the air, plays every special teams unit, and offers versatility on the back end. The senior has gotten some first-round buzz, but keep a closer eye on him on the second day of the draft.

Mr. Average

We get to read all about the measurements for all these players over the next few weeks ... but wouldn’t it be nice to have some context? What is considered a "good" 40-yard dash time for any given position? What about arm length? The broad jump? Here’s what the average player drafted has looked like over the last decade (by my records).

Table inside Article
Safeties
Height 6-0
Weight 208 pounds
Hand Size 9 3/8 inches
Arm Length 31 5/8 inches
Wingspan 76 1/2 inches
Unofficial 40 Time 4.53 seconds
Official 40 Time 4.57 seconds
10-Yard Split 1.57 seconds
3-Cone Drill 6.96 seconds
Short Shuttle 4.23 seconds
Broad Jump 121 inches
Vertical Jump 35.5 inches

Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices, and opponents.

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