When I write the scouting reports for the Pro Football Weekly Draft Guide, I have an early February deadline, when we don't yet have verified measurables on every prospect and I'm dealing with estimates.
Once we get to the Combine and Pro Days, those estimates turn into verifieds and with that comes changes to grades. Some players exceed the estimates, while others fail to live up to them. When that happens, grades change, and there were a number of them in the safety class. Let's take a closer look at Pro Football Weekly's top seven prospects.
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At 5115 – 210, Hooker is closer to good safety size than some of the others. Like Gardner-Johnson, he has shown he can play over a slot receiver, as well as play deep. He has near- corner suddenness, top ball reactions and hands. In run support, he is fearless, shedding quickly and flashing blow-up hitting skills.
What I like about Gardner-Johnson is that he is a very good man cover guy for a safety and that will get him drafted high. In 2017 he played deep like a more traditional safety but in 2018 with a new defensive scheme he often lined up as a third corner type with coverage duties on the slot receiver.
AT 5107, Gardner-Johnson is short for a safety but he has those excellent cover skills and 4.48 speed. It wouldn’t surprise me if the team that selects him plays him as a slot corner when in their sub-package. He also shows that he can be aggressive in run support and is a very sure tackler. He will probably go higher than Rapp because of the measurables but Rapp’s overall tape is a bit better.
Rapp suffered a hip injury late in the season and didn't play in Washington’s bow game. He timed very well in most of the drills in Indy but did not run. It wasn’t until this week that he finally ran a 40 for scouts — and the time was very disappointing to say the least. Most scouts at the Washington Pro Day timed Rapp between 4.74 and 4.76, hardly what decision makers are looking for in a safety. His other times and jumps correlated with a time in the mid to high 4.5s, so the 4.7 was a huge disappointment.
Rapp's tape shows good-to-very good play speed and top instincts, but the 40 time will hurt him come draft weekend. Regardless of the time, some team is going to get an excellent football player much later than it originally expected.
Alabama safeties always seem to become very solid pros. Thompson will be another to add to the list. I originally had him as my top-ranked safety. But after watching late-season tape, I felt his play fell off just a bit. Because of injury, Thompson was unable to run a 40 and he just did mostly skill work at Alabama’s second Pro Day earlier this week. Without some important verified testing results, it’s hard for me to keep him at the top. Still, Thompson will go high and start as a rookie. Though I felt early on he would be a first-round pick, I now feel he is more likely to go in Round 2.
Savage was a three-year starter at Maryland who showed improvement every year. Last season he finished with 51 total tackles, 10 PBUs and four interceptions. At 5107 (5-10 7/8), he lacks ideal height but 31” arms help make up for that.
Savage tore up the Combine, running 4.36 and jumping 39.5” in the vertical and 10’6” in the long jump. His change-of-direction drills were also excellent. Throw in his coverage ability (especially in zone) and we have a very good prospect. What I like about Savage’s game is his aggressiveness supporting the run and sure tackling. We don’t see many 4.3 safeties in the NFL, and Savage's has the league's attention.
When it comes to drafting skill-position players, workouts and the stop watch matter. It might not be fair, as tape should be the deciding factor, but the fact is, speed and body control matter more when it comes to certain draft positions.
Thornhill had as good a workout for a safety as I have ever seen. At 6004 – 205, he ran 4.42, had a 44” vertical and long jumped 11’ 9”. That’s rare! His tape was very good, but I thought he would only run about 4.52. Seeing that he has elite speed and athleticism, NFL coaches have so much to work with. He can get out of control at times coming up to make plays but that's easily fixable. Ball reactions and hands are among the most important traits we look for in safeties, and Thornhill's are excellent, as evidenced by 10 interceptions the past two seasons.
I originally had Abrams as DS2 but now he’s No. 1, as he should be. The tape is outstanding, revealing he can cover, support the run, tackle and blitz. Abram is a playmaker who can thrive in any scheme and should be comfortable at either free or strong — though I feel strong is his best position.
Abram ran 4.45 and had a 9’8” standing long jump. He did nothing else as far as measurables in Indy. At the Bulldogs Pro Day, he just did positional drills, where he stood out. He’ll have no trouble matching up against tight ends, running backs and even some wide receivers in coverage. He’s a Day 1 starter.
We might see only a couple safeties go in the first round, but I envision several being drafted in the second and top part of Round 3. There is good depth at the position, where clubs still can find eventual starters in the fourth round.