2017 NFL Draft: Top 5 Safeties

Story posted April 11, 2017 in Sports, CommRadio, NFL Draft by Mitch Stewart

An always evolving position requiring an impressive blend of athleticism, knowledge and strength, the safety spots have now become the anchors for many of the NFL's best defenses, such as the Seattle Seahawks. Stellar defenses of the past decade, like the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, have been led by the likes of Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed, respectively. As the need for a stud at safety increases in demand, here's a look at the best five safety prospects in this year's draft class:

1. Jamal Adams, LSU

Continuing the tradition of the Tiger pipeline of successful defensive backs out of the Bayou, Adams has all of the necessary tools to become a career Pro Bowler. A phenomenal leader for "DBU", his motor and intangibles inspired his team as LSU upheld their reputation as one of the nation's most tenacious defenses during the 6-foot safety's career in Death Valley. 

Although he may not dethrone Myles Garrett at the top of the board, Adams seems to be the most likely to succeed on Sundays. It would be shocking to see Adams fall out of the top five. 

2. Malik Hooker, Ohio State

Despite starting for just one season and completing just five football seasons in his entire life, Hooker had a breakout campaign for the semifinalist Buckeyes. He has earned plenty of comparisons to current and former superstar defenders such as Ed Reed, Earl Thomas and Reggie Nelson, after his phenomenal ball skills and raw talent were put on display during a season in which Hooker ended with 74 tackles and tied for second-most interceptions in the nation with seven.

A first team All-American, Hooker was originally thought of as a high-end top 10 pick, with the San Diego Chargers being rumored as a potential destination. Yet, recently Hooker has climbed up some boards to as high as number three to the Chicago Bears. Hooker may have the most upside in the entire draft, but his immense, untapped natural ability must be accompanied by better mechanics, intangibles, and instincts.

3. Budda Baker, Washington

A safety on the upstart Huskies team that made the College Football Playoff in 2016, Baker stands just 5-foot-10, weighing just 195 pounds. However, Baker plays with the heart of a lion in the secondary. Flying all over the field and setting the tone for the stingy Washington defensive unit, Baker was a first-team All-Pac 12 selection during the past two seasons. 

The versatility and athleticism that enable Baker to provide excellent pass coverage at not only safety, but potentially even slot-nickelback. The three-year starter in Seattle may be a potential top 20 reach for a team that really appreciates his ball skills and his ability to finish tackles.

4. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan

The do-it-all player for the Blue and Maize has always been criticized for his lack of production, but his closing speed and overall sheer athleticism make Peppers one of the most intriguing players that college football has seen in this generation. A fluid, explosive player who seems to just fit in everywhere he tries to play, Peppers is strong enough and aggressive enough to take on bigger players and even played linebacker for Michigan in 2016.

 Sometimes, Peppers lacks some play recognition skills and simple instincts that would make him a dominating pro safety. That, along with his lack of numbers in coverage defensively, Peppers isn't as high on the list as his celebrity suggests. However, Peppers will likely be a first-rounder, and has incredible potential due to his raw football talent that has been utilized in all three phases of the game.

5. Obi Melifonwu, Connecticut

At 6-foot-4, the four-year starter at UConn possesses the strength and size comparable to Seattle star Kam Chancellor. His downhill approach and long arms make him a tackling machine, as he racked up 351 career tackles in Storrs.

Melifonwu lacks agility despite impressive speed, likely due to his long frame. He also needs to improve his coverage skills before he can be counted on as a reliable starter. Yet, Melifonwu will immediately contribute as a key reserve as an early second round pick, giving him time to adjust to the speed of the game.

 

Mitch Stewart is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email mitchstewart1997@gmail.com.