The safety group in the Big Ten is, well, not looking great this year. Teams hoping to find a single high starting safety or a prowler in the middle who can strike fear into opposing receivers? You’re out of luck. As a matter of fact, the five best safeties from the Big Ten eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft include a position transfer, a limited starter and several specialists. Sounds great! Meet them below.
With a full season left to play, plenty can (and will) change for these Big Ten Safeties and their resumes for the next level. Some may not even enter the 2019 NFL Draft prospect pool, as several have more than one remaining year of eligibility. But as things stand entering the season, here are the five best draft eligible Big Ten Safeties.
1. Khaleke Hudson, Michigan
Hudson currently resides in the same role on Michigan’s non-existing depth chart that Jabrill Peppers held before jumping to the NFL. That role allows Hudson to showcase his athletic ability effectively, as he has a ton of quickness and is typically granted unimpeded lanes into the backfield. There, he can chase down plays from the backside and pressure running backs and quarterbacks alike.
Hudson has bulked up to a reported 220 this offseason after playing at 205 in 2018 in an effort to be more effective in the box. He’ll have to prove he can keep his athleticism and fluid movement with that extra weight. Until he does, I’m regarding him as a safety.
Hudson can be a good one, too. He’s been played all over the field but as a box safety and nickel defender, Hudson can hold value to be a potential starter.
Needs to improve: Deep coverage skills
2. David Dowell, Michigan State
Dowell has a great nose for the football, having logged five turnovers in 2017. Dowell doesn’t illustrate a high level of range on the back end, instead he should be considered more of a traditional strong safety prospect who can handle all sorts of coverage responsibilities within 10-15 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Going forward, Dowell will need to amp up the physicality inside the contact window, he’s too passive in opportunities to uproot routes or when trying to play through contact in pursuit of the ball. Dowell’s biggest issue, however, lies with his tackling habits. Too often Dowell will cut ball carriers, to the point where he’s conceding extra yardage at first contact and running the risk of missing the tackle all together.
Needs to improve: Head up tackling
3. D’Cota Dixon, Wisconsin
Dixon is going to have a long career in the NFL, health willing. It just isn’t going to be as a high level defensive starter, unless he’s able to mold and re-work his game. Dixon is a high energy defender and a leader on the Badgers’ defense, he’s valuable in that regard without a doubt.
But Dixon, for being a compact 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, doesn’t show up in run support in high traffic, he’s too often lost in the trash. His fearless style of play allows him to fly into challenges and he’s certainly quick to step into the D-gap in run support if he’s provided a clear avenue to the ball.
Dixon currently feels like a depth defender and a high level special teamer on coverage teams unless he makes a significant jump to hold a trump card.
Needs to improve: Man cover skills
4. Jonathan Crawford, Indiana
Crawford is a long safety, listed at 6-foot-2. He uses that length to his advantage in man coverage, which is where Crawford shines the brightest on the field for the Hoosiers. I was impressed with his ability to latch onto receivers from the slot. Crawford could have potential as a safety tasked with locking down athletic tight ends in the NFL, as he carries his weight well in space and could feasibly have the functional strength to not get knocked around.
Crawford’s upside comes at a price, however. He’s pretty undisciplined on the back end and falls for the bells and whistles of false action too often. Because of this, he’s not looking favorable in a single high role, especially when adding in a lack of straight line acceleration skills.
Needs to improve: Discipline
5. Tyree Kinnel, Michigan
Kinnel was a frustrating watch, but only because there’s potential here for him to be an effective player. Kinnel, who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 206 pounds, has flashed peripheral vision in zone coverage, good angles to drive and finish at the catch point and more in his first season as a starter.
But then there’s the bad. Some really poor form as a tackler jumped off the screen just as badly. Kinnel has potential to shoot up this list and I want to like him as a player, but he’s got to tighten up his play in year two as a starter.
Needs to improve: Consistency