The Big 12 quietly put together a strong class of Safeties for the 2018 NFL Draft, with Kyzir White, Tre Flowers, and DeShon Elliott all being selected in the top-200. Looking ahead to 2019, the Big 12 appears primed to repeat this success with multiple potential draft picks. However, with nearly all of the safety prospects, there are aspects of their games that could fluctuate their draft status depending on how well they develop. Most prospects are unfinished products, but that is even more magnified with this crop of safeties
1. Jah'Shawn Johnson, Texas Tech (5'10, 185)
Closing speed, closing speed, closing speed. That’s the name of the game for Jah’Shawn Johnson and his elite downhill motor. Johnson is a legit alley runner who can make tackles near the line of scrimmage with his short area quickness. He has sticky man coverage skills for a safety, regularly able to carry vertical routes and competing at the catchpoint. Johnson has legit ball skills, tracking and playing the pocket of receivers as he closes. Additionally, Johnson is trustworthy as a high-safety, as nothing ever gets over top of his head.
Johnson’s main deficiencies stem from his lack of size. Johnson is often unable to bring force with his tackling, as he’s somewhat of an ankle-biter who lacks proper leverage as a hitter. Despite his feistiness at the catchpoint, he can get beat above the rim because he lacks the length of taller receivers. Lasly, Johnson will likely need added strength in order to hold up in man coverage against “big slot” receivers or tight ends.
Johnson’s burst and well-rounded, safe game should easily get him looks in the early-to-mid rounds of the upcoming NFL Draft, but his frame likely limits his upside.
2. Brandon Jones, Texas (6'0, 205)
Brandon Jones has the highest ceiling of any safety, and possibly defensive player, in the entire Big 12. The former Texas High School defensive player of the year, High School All-American, and top ranked safety recruit (247 sports) just oozes potential from his well-built, athletic frame.
Jones played in 12 games as a freshman with one start, but became the full-time starting safety in his true sophomore season, racking up 61 tackles (51 solo) and 4 tackles for loss. Jones has sideline to sideline range, stemming from his background as a track and field sprinter. With his nose for the ball, he closes down space on ball carriers in a hurry and does an excellent job of gathering his feet at pace and wrapping up. With his tackling technique and speed, he’s a consistent and sound open field tackler. Jones is solid in man coverage, but was also used in Texas’ defense as a blitzer and has experience in a variety of roles.
While there is a ton to like about Jones’ game, his lack of ball skills (just two pass breakups and no interceptions) holds him back. Jones has all of the necessary range, but will too often play the man rather than attempt to knock the ball away despite bring in phase. Even with his man coverage skills, he can allow receptions because of his inability to play the ball in the air. As a high safety, there were too many coverage lapses on film. Jones allowed receivers to win inside too regularly, as well as bit on some crossing routes which allowed uncovered receivers over his head.
These lapses could be fixed with more experience, but unless Jones develops better ball skills, the status of him as a draft prospect may be limited to a day 2 grade despite all of the physical tools.
3. Dravon Askew-Henry, West Virginia (6'0, 202)
Dravon Askew-Henry projects as a free safety with his short area quickness, and uses his speed to stick ball carriers with physicality. Askew-Henry scans the field well, and fills outside. He possesses solid traits for coverage ability in his hips and technique. When he’s able to close on ball carriers, he’s a safe open-field tackler.
The main concern over Askew-Henry’s game are the questionable angles he takes all over the field. He will overrun ball carriers and miss tackles as a result, or will take poor pursuit angles allowing extra yardage for the ball carrier. Askew-Henry can be unsure at times about when to attack the line of scrimmage and it results in him catching too many tackles, giving up yards through contact.
Askew-Henry has the size and athleticism to play in the NFL, but needs refinement on his mental processing and the angles he takes as a safety. Too often, he’s giving up unnecessary yards and it could potentially push his draft stock all the way down to a late-round selection.
4. Kendall Adams, Kansas State (6'1, 228)
Kendall Adams has a ready made frame to play strong safety in the NFL, and the natural athleticism to go along with it. Additionally, Adams is great at reacting, locating the football and tracking. He is naturally comfortable passing players along in zone coverage, and utilizes his strength well in his re-routes. His field vision and fluidity speak to a player with an NFL-caliber ceiling.
For his size, Adams is only an average tackler. He will occasionally be allergic to contact, more likely to avoid it if necessary, and doesn’t drive his feet through ball carriers. Despite the frame of a strong safety who should be used near the line of scrimmage, he will occasionally take awkward downhill pursuit angles. He consistently struggles and is a half-second late at sticking his foot in the ground and attacking the line of scrimmage.
Despite the all-world frame, Adams’ draft prospects are questionable. His inability to use his dominating stature in his tackling limits his upside as a feared presence over the middle, and his inconsistencies attacking the line of scrimmage hurts his run defense.
5. Ridwan Issahaku, TCU (6'1, 196)
Ridwan Issahaku became a full-time starter for the first time in 2017 and rewarded the Horned Frogs with 66 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 6 pass break-ups, and a pick-six, showing off his versatile game. Issahaku has good size for a hybrid safety who can play near the box or in a high cover-2 shell. On film, he does a good job matching the routes of multiple receivers with his man coverage ability. Additionally, he has the necessary athleticism and open-field tackling to make plays in all levels of the field.
Issahaku plays a hybrid role that makes his NFL projection a bit cloudy. He may be able to thrive as more of a “Big-Nickel” or overhang safety, as he seems limited going against natural outside receivers. Isshaku needs to settle into a more defined role for the Horned Frogs to help his projection into the next level, but he has the tools of a potential draft pick.