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NFL Draft

TDN Scouting Roundtable: Which Safety Traits Are Important?

  • The Draft Network
  • June 25, 2020
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It seems like the 2020 NFL Draft just happened, but we move fast here at The Draft Network.

Currently going through summer evaluations for the 2021 NFL Draft class, our scouting team of Kyle Crabbs, Joe Marino, Jordan Reid, and Drae Harris are meeting up every day to discuss prospects, traits, and concepts. New to TDN is a daily scouting roundtable where we go through and identify the most important points of conversation from that day’s meeting.

On Thursday, we went in-depth to discuss the safety position, including what main traits to look for when evaluating prospects on the back-end.

Versatility

One of the main takeaways from our safety debate today was the importance of versatility. With multiple different roles like single-high, traditional box, and even big nickel safeties all playing an important factor in today’s day and age, the more roles you can play, the better off you’ll be.

Look at all of the top safeties in the league right now and they have one thing in common: versatility. Players like Jamal Adams, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Derwin James can fill a multitude of roles on defense and have a massive impact as a result. Our staff recognized as much during the discussion.

“Coordinators are so good now that they’ll turn your strong safety into your free safety (and vice versa). More than ever, it’s a “more you can do league,” Harris said. “Teams now want guys who can do it all. It gives you so much more flexibility as a defense when you’re able to do a number of different things.”

Crabbs further added to this point, using Indianapolis Colts safety Malik Hooker as an example of how poor versatility can serve as a huge detriment at the professional level.

“I think it goes back to finding guys who can do multiple of those archetypes,” Crabbs pointed out during the conversation. “Malik Hooker is a great example of this because he was a pure single-high free safety with all the ball skills possible, but he gets to Indianapolis and he doesn’t really move the needle. It’s because he wasn’t a great tackler, can’t play man-to-man, and doesn’t play close to the LOS. Nowadays, it’s all about if a guy can do more than one thing and Hooker simply can't.”

Special Teams Ability

As a sort of follow-up on the versatility dialogue, one of the main takeaways from today’s meeting was also about the importance of special teams play from a defensive back. One-third of where the game is played, a prospect’s ability on special teams can make or break his chances of a draft selection, and Harris, a former DB, made it a point to emphasize this fact.

“Size, toughness, and physicality,” Harris stated in regards to what to look for out of a core special teamer. “Can he tackle in space? Those things are transferable in terms of seeing whether a player can project or not.”

Other Takeaways

Versatility and the concept of “the more you can do, the better” really stood out in the meeting, but some other traits and concepts also were worth mentioning. 

Here are a few important quotes:

  • “What’s most important in the aspect of tackling is efficiency. If he gets the ball-carrier on the ground that’s all that matters. You don’t have to be a killer.” - Harris
  • Roughly 70% of today’s game is sub, so you have to be able to cover. If you can play in the slot, that will allow you to keep one extra man in the box.” - Harris
  • “(Safeties) that have range, ball skills, and can tackle is a really good starting point. If you can do those three things that’s a really good foundation.” - Marino
  • “I don’t think ball skills (at safety) are a necessity, but it’s certainly an extra bonus that’s important to have.” - Reid

Age Factor

No matter who, what, and when, it's an unfortunate reality that father time comes for us all at some point. Thankfully, it seems like at safety it isn’t as big of an issue compared to at other positions.

“To me, you can play safety for forever as long as you’re smart,” Reid brought up. “As long as you have good instincts you’ll be fine. That’s why corners can slide back and extend their careers like three or four years.”

“Kareem Jackson and Malcolm Jenkins are good examples of this,” Crabbs added.

Best of the Best

To finish up the conversation we took a look at some of our favorite safeties in the game.

“You have to say, Earl Thomas,” Harris stated to kick off the conversation. “He had the best tape I've ever seen for a DB coming out. He just allows you to do so many different things.”

“That’s how I feel about Derwin James,” Reid continued. “There’s nothing he can’t do. He can play single-high, can come down into the box, and can even play defensive end as a rusher. If he can replicate what he did in his rookie year, he has a strong argument to be the best in the game.”

“I (also) think Justin Simmons deserves to be mentioned here”, Marino replied, while also briefly mentioning names like Eddie Jackson, Tyrann Mathieu, Jamal Adams, and Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Overall, it was telling that no one clear answer arose, as it speaks to both the current quality and depth at the safety position in today’s day and age.

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