With the NFL now a full-fledged passing league, teams are looking for versatile safeties who can do a variety of things for the defense. This Draft class features quite a few players who have a lot of potential at the next level, and the NFL Combine is their chance to show some of it off. Here are five safeties to watch.
5. Brandon Jones, Texas
Jones has a rather slight frame at 5’11” 203lbs, but plays like he’s 20lbs heavier. That’s a great mindset for a player to have, but it will get him hurt in the NFL. He played three different safety spots for the Longhorns and appears to have good speed and athleticism.
His instincts, however, are lacking and he had only seven passes defended over three years of starting. He is a Day 3 player right now but could potentially end up as a fourth-rounder if he tests will, which could very well happen. Jones is an instant special teams contributor with potential to become a depth DB.
4. Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois
The linebacker and safety hybrid, or moneybacker, has become a popular trend over the past few seasons. Mark Barron, Deone Bucannon, Landon Collins, and Jabrill Peppers are examples of this type of player. Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons is next in line, but so is Chinn, who could end up being a Day 2 pick after everything is said and done.
He has great size at 6’3″ 221lbs and his athleticism jumps off the tape. He is a perfect fit as a strong safety in today’s game, making plays downhill and executing man coverage. In his four years of college, Chinn had 13 interceptions, 31 PDs, six forced fumbles. Zone coverage is not his thing, as his instincts are not up to par.
There’s always the chance he can improve in the mental game, but often a player is either instinctive or he isn’t. What is for certain is that Chinn is a great athlete who should generate a lot of buzz on Sunday.
3. Xavier McKinney, Alabama
The best pure safety in this NFL Draft class is not LSU’s Grant Delpit. That honor goes to McKinney. He isn’t big at 6′ 203lbs, but he’s smart and athletic. McKinney has played slot corner, free safety, and strong safety and shouldn’t be relegated to just one spot at the next level.
Five picks and 15 PDs over the past two seasons is decent production, but not great. McKinney is an okay tackler but definitely needs to improve his technique. He can also struggle against bigger receivers given his smaller frame. But McKinney’s combination of range, versatility, and instincts make him a legitimate first-round player and should be the second safety off the board, first if you don’t count Simmons.
2. Antoine Winfield Jr., Minnesota
Winfield Jr. stands just 5’9″ 2o3lbs, but don’t tell him that. He’s a playmaker with very good range on the back end. His seven picks in 2019 are evidence of his ballhawking skills, and he is a willing and able tackler in run support. Some teams will knock Winfield Jr. for his size, and he doesn’t appear to be a great athlete.
Antoine Winfield Sr., a former Ohio State Buckeye and first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings, ran a 4.41 back in 1999. Winfield Jr. would certainly like to beat that, but it seems unlikely. If he’s able to time anywhere in the 4.4s, that would be a huge win for him.
The biggest issue for him is medical; He was granted medical redshirts in both 2017 and 2018 due to hamstring and foot injuries that cost him all but eight games. With Winfield’s tireless motor, injuries are likely to be a factor for him the rest of his career. Medical results will be very important, just as much as his athletic testing. Winfield is a fine player, but he can’t help a team if he’s constantly hurt.
1. Kyle Dugger, Lenoir-Rhyne
Like Chinn, Dugger played at a smaller school so he didn’t receive much buzz in the Draft community. That is, until he had a fantastic Senior Bowl week. Over his four seasons, Dugger logged 237 tackles, 10 INts, 36 PDs, six forced fumbles, and six fumbles recovered. The level of competition he faced is a valid concern, but he looked perfectly fine against the best seniors in the country.
On tape, Dugger obviously stands out as a vastly superior athlete. He is a well-built 6’1″ 217lbs, and should absolutely dominate the NFL Combine athletic testing. Due to where he played, Dugger is not at the level of other prospects from a football IQ standpoint, but that’s to be expected. There’s always the chance that Dugger just can’t perform against better players, but he’s such a physical freak that that seems very unlikely.
As long as he performs as expected in drills, Dugger should be in contention for a first-round selection, and even if that doesn’t happen, he won’t last long in the second.