2019 NFL Combine: Safeties Winners, Losers, And Risers

Winners

Juan Thornhill, Virginia

You can’t talk about winners at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine at the safety position without talking about Juan Thonhill. The Virginia safety started off the day strong with a 44-inch vertical jump, and not long after that posted a crazy 11-foot, 9-inch broad jump to go along with it. But the real affirmation of Thornhill’s athletic ability come when he ran an official 4.43 40-yard dash.

Thornhiill is a converted cornerback, so we were hoping that he would check the athletic boxes, and he certainly did. Now we know that he definitely has the ability to cover the deep parts of the field and play in some deep coverage areas, while also showing the ability to explode in one direction towards a pass or a ball carrier, if needed.

It was a big box checking day for Thornhill.

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida

For starters, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson showed up at a weight of 210 pounds, which was a very solid weight for him. At that size, you can not only expect him to be durable but can also match up against a variety of different receivers.

Following the weigh-ins, I was also encouraged by Gardner-Johnson’s time at the podium for his media session. He sort of flirts with that line of confidence and arrogance, but he holds a swagger to him that hints he can play defensive back at the highest level in the NFL. It’s a position that requires attitude with it.

Gardner-Johnson’s solid week was confirmed when he ran a 4.49 40-yard dash, which is a great time for a player his size. His size and athletic profile will allow him to play a variety of different roles in a defensive backfield. He could be the next best mismatch neutralizer in the NFL. 

Losers

Lukas Denis, Boston College

Lukas Denis started his week behind the 8-ball when he showed up at just 190 pounds, which is pretty light for a safety. Denis was a player whose skills depended on him being fast, so his smaller weight wasn't too much of a surprise, though not ideal.

The bad part was when he still ran just a 4.65 40-yard dash at 190 pounds.

Denis is a player who has good ball skills, but with a slow 40 time like that we're forced to come to terms with the fact that his production may have been either more opportunistic or just won't be as abundant at the next level. He's not going to be able to cover the amount of ground he's going to need to to show off those ball skills, and that is the concerning takeaway from his workout.

Mike Bell, Fresno State

My co-host and colleague Jon Ledyard really liked what he saw from Mike Bell on tape. Bell is a physical safety who shows nice ball skills when the ball is in the air. He's a guy who does not get beat deep often, and when you pair that with the fact that he's also strong in run support, that gives him the making of a solid safety prospect. But Bell was rarely asked to play in man coverage.

When he ran a 4.83 40-yard dash we found out why.

Bell may have good eyes and instincts for the position, but at that speed he just will not be fast enough to be dependable in a variety of schemes. He'll get picked on if he can't play in zone exclusively.

Risers

Marvell Tell, USC

Marvell Tell's week started off strong when he showed up with some great measureables. He was above the 90th percentile in both arm length and wingspan, and was above the 80th percentile in overall height and hand size. He was a little undersized weight wise at 198 pounds, but that was OK.

When Tell jumped 42 inches in the vertical jump with an 11-foot, 4-inch broad jump, that's when the eyes got wide. A defensive back with that kind of size and explosiveness will be coveted in the later parts of the draft.

Zedrick Woods, Ole Miss

Here's a list of all the defensive back who have run in the 4.2s at the Combine:

Demarcus Van Dyke, Stanford Routt, Champ Bailey, Jalen Myrick, Fabian Washington, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Zedrick Freaking Woods.

Woods did not have the instincts in coverage to be able to showcase that speed, but knowing he has it means a team can believe in him as a guy who can improve preparation and anticipation to get the most of that rare speed in coverage on the back end.

Written By:

Trevor Sikkema

Senior NFL Draft Analyst

Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-Host of the Locked On NFL Draft Podcast.

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