Preseason Top 5: SEC Safeties

Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

If you're looking for top 100 safeties in the 2019 draft class, the SEC probably won't give you much to get excited about. High-end athletes are lacking at the position, and ball skills are almost nowhere to be found. After watching many of the conference's finest, here is my best shot at identifying the top five draft-eligible safeties in the class.

1. Deionte Thompson, RS Junior, Alabama

Size. Speed. Length. Range. Intensity. As a safety prospect, Thompson is easily the best in the SEC and one of the best in the country, despite the fact that he's started just two collegiate games. Those games were in the college football playoff, where Thompson surrendered just one catch against Clemson and none against Georgia. He nearly intercepted the pass he did allow to be completed, showing off his closing speed and ability to contest underneath passing windows with anticipation.

Thompson is physical and active, but his mental processing and tackling still need work. The traits and temperament are so eye-popping on tape, that it can be easy to forget that we simply haven't seen enough of Thompson on the field to draw many overarching conclusions about him. He's currently receiving no buzz, but I bet that changes early on this college football season.

2. J.R. Reed, RS Junior, Georgia

Reed is probably one of the unknowns I'm most excited about seeing in action this season, not because he has a crazy high ceiling or first round potential, but because he's the kind of mid-round addition to a team that can go unnoticed, yet make a big impact. Think John Johnson, the L.A. Rams safety.

Reed is versatile enough to play around the line of scrimmage, in the slot or even in a single-high role at times. He isn't a dynamic playmaker, nor does he have great ball skills, but Reed is smart, consistent and athletic enough to execute a host of assignments well. His mental processing is one of his strongest qualities, allowing him to excel against the run from a deep safety position.

Most of Georgia's defense moved on after last season, but Reed will join DeAndre Baker as the returning starters in the Bulldogs secondary. I'm not convinced that Baker is the better of the two prospects, and I'm excited to see how much Reed can elevate his stock in 2018.

3. Mike Edwards, Senior, Kentucky

He's not the biggest or the fastest safety, but I still like Mike Edwards. He's scrappy and smart, showing a good understanding and execution of assignments, both in coverage and run defense. He's a steady tackler that finds ways to get runners on the ground despite his lack of hitting power.

Edwards has some intriguing man coverage ability , but his lack of awareness to get his head around and make plays on the ball victimized him a lot last year. He plays the pocket well and competes through the catch point, but range, ball skills and playmaking are probably not going to be his forte in the NFL. Edwards will need to carve out a versatile role in the secondary while making his mark on special teams to survive at the next level.

4. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Junior, Florida

Wait a minute, Jon? Isn't this the guy SEC skill players used as a speed bump according to the multitude of clips you posted on Twitter near the end of July? 

The one and only, ladies and gentlemen. And if you think those clips were bad, there's about ten more missed tackles from the games I watched that I didn't even show you. Gardner-Johnson is the worst tackler among all draft-eligible SEC players that I watched this summer, and frankly it isn't even close. His angles to the ball, lack of commitment as a tackler and the consistency with which he was physically dominated are all extremely concerning.

But Gardner-Johnson did play better toward the end of the season, Florida's whole defense was a disaster and it was his first year at a new position. He's a good athlete with man coverage skills that could make him a good option in the slot. I wouldn't currently take Gardner-Johnson in the top 100, but I do think the tools are there for him to work his way into that rd 3-4 conversation if he can accept the physical aspects of the game and become more reliable as a tackler. If not, I'll likely have an undraftable grade on him.

5. Nigel Warrior, Junior, Tennessee

I need to see more of Warrior's tape, but if you can tie your shoes and play safety in the SEC you've got a good chance at qualifying for this list. Right now he's a big safety with a first round name and some flashes on tape, but athletic limitations and inconsistent tackling could hold him back.

Warrior is a slow mental processor who finds the ball late in run support, resulting in some tough angles. He can wrap up outside his frame due to length and strength, but he doesn't finish as consistently as he should, nor is he as big a hitter as you'd like him to be.

Questions about his long speed will abound after he gave up some deep balls this past season, but I think his lack of instincts and even effort at times are more concerning. He looks like a future special teamer who could have some box safety responsibilities if he starts to process quicker against the run.

Also add to SEC watch list: Johnathan Abram, Mississippi State. Mark McLaurin, Mississippi State. Zedrick Woods, Ole Miss. Ladarius Wiley, Vanderbilt. Larry Pryor, Texas A&M. John Battle, LSU.

Written By:

Jon Ledyard

Former Senior NFL Draft Analyst