Top 5 safeties in the 2020 NFL Draft
The safety position is evolving in the NFL, and nowadays teams need many different players in the defensive backfield who can do a variety of different things. This year’s draft class is deep at safety, and there are plenty of versatile players to be found into Day 3. Here are the five best.
5. Ashtyn Davis, California
A track and field star in high school, Davis didn’t get a single offer to player football in college. He decided to run track at Cal, and earned a tryout for the football team shortly after arriving on campus. His first year as a starter came in 2018, and he played extremely well. His 2019 campaign wasn’t quite as good, but Davis has all the makings of an excellent single-high defender in the NFL.
At 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds, Davis has a solid frame for the position. He is by no means a strong safety, and shouldn’t play in the box. That isn’t to say he’s a poor tackler; he loves to hit and while he will miss some, he’s far from a liability.
In coverage, Davis has shown the ability to play some man from the slot, which adds to his versatility, and will certainly be taken advantage of by his defensive coordinator. But where Davis really shines is playing deep. He wasn’t able to work out at the Combine due to a groin injury, but his range, explosiveness, agility, and long speed are all elite. He can cover a crazy amount of ground in a hurry.
Davis had seven interceptions over the last three years, which is decent production, but that doesn’t do his ability justice. Since 2018, when lined up at free safety, Davis has more combined picks and pass breakups than allowed catches. That’s seriously impressive. He is on the older side (will turn 24 in October), so that may drop his stock a bit, but he’s an instant impact player on the back end, and should be a great draft value at some point on Day 2.
4. Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois
Isaiah Simmons gets all the hype for his rare physical traits, but Chinn is right behind him. At 6-foot-3 and 221 pounds, he has great size, and his athleticism is even better. He put on a show at the Combine, with his 4.45-second 40-yard dash, 41-inch vertical, and 138-inch broad jump. He has both safety and linebacker traits, and will be used in a versatile role once drafted in the NFL.
Chin did play at SIU, so his competition level was not great, and he is somewhat behind from a processing standpoint, but his potential is off the charts. He can play man coverage from the slot, line up as an outside linebacker, or cover tight ends as a strong safety. He is a light version of Simmons in many ways, and while he likely won’t have anywhere near the same impact right away, Chinn can become an excellent player if coached up properly.
3. Antoine Winfield Jr., Minnesota
The son of a Pro Bowl corner, Winfield could easily find the same success as a safety. He’s had some injury issues throughout his career, but he was completely healthy in 2019, picking off seven passes and running one back for a touchdown. His feel for the game is fantastic. He is incredibly instinctive and proactive, and reads QBs and WRs extremely well.
He isn’t the biggest guy at 5-foot-9 and 203 pounds, but his ball skills and smarts more than make up for what he lacks in size. Winfield misses more tackles than one would like, but he is a willing hitter and doesn’t shy away from contact (a play style that lends itself to injury, which is a concern with him). He can play single high or in the slot, and is very good at both.
His speed was a question mark heading into the Combine, but he answered that with a 4.45-second 40-yard dash. As long as he stays healthy, Winfield should be a defensive cornerstone for a very long time.
2. Xavier McKinney, Alabama
McKinney is the definition of versatile. He can play deep, in the box, and in the slot. He is effective in man, zone, and as a blitzer. He got moved around a ton for the Crimson Tide, and excelled everywhere he played. Splash plays aren’t his thing, but he still generated five interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and six forced fumbles over the past two seasons.
He is not an explosive athlete, but he’s good enough there with his six-foot, 201-pound frame. He is smart and refined, and should make an instant impact in the NFL. Is he going to be a superstar? Probably not, but McKinney is the type of consistently good defender that every team would love to have in their secondary, and is worth a first-round draft pick because of it.
1. Grant Delpit, LSU
Had Delpit entered the 2019 Draft, he may have been a top-15 pick. Now, he’s projected anywhere from the early 20’s all the way to the second round. That’s because his 2019 campaign was not nearly as good as his 2018 season (this is becoming a trend for LSU defensive backs — see Greedy Williams last year).
An injury slowed him down in 2019, but that fails to explain his regression completely. Let’s start with what Delpit does not do well: Tackling. Whether it’s taking angles, breaking down, or wrapping up, Delpit is flat-out bad at it. His 25 percent missed tackle rate is atrocious, and even in his stellar 2018 season he missed 20 percent of his attempts. Perhaps he can improve his technique as he develops, but Delpit is probably going to always be a very poor tackler.
Even with that glaring weakness, he’s still worthy of a first-round pick. He has excellent size at 6-foot-3 and 203 pounds and is a very good athlete. In coverage, he is simply special. He can stick with slot receivers in man, erase tight ends in the box, and play center field as a single-high FS. He is incredibly versatile, and as long as it involves coverage, Delpit is great at it. His instincts and ball skills are superb. With how pass-happy the NFL is today, a player like Delpit who can do many different things at a high level should be coveted in the draft, even with his tackling issues.