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Ranking The Best Rookie Safeties

Jabrill Pepper-Safeties Melanie Maxwell |



Ranking The Best Rookie Safeties

Who remembers the days when Ed Reed roamed center field for the Baltimore Ravens? How about when Troy Polamalu changed entire offensive game plans? The safety position has an alluring mystique that seems to attract some of the most talented athletes in the world. For safeties, the entire field is their playground. The best ones aren’t limited to just the back end of the defense, they patrol the entire field. The 2017 class of safeties has the potential to be just as good as any group before them. Three were selected in the first round and seven were selected in the top 50 overall. The talent is there for a few to make instant impacts as rookies, but who will those few be? Luckily, you have me and using analytics and game tape I’ll project which rookie safeties will have the best rookie campaigns.

Jabrill Peppers

If this list factored in popularity, Peppers might be the runaway favorite and for good reason. Peppers has been a household name ever since he made his way into the Heisman race. The thing that kept him from the Heisman, and at the bottom of this list, is that nobody knows exactly what position he plays. I’m pretty sure he’s going to play on defense in Cleveland. However, Browns head coach Hue Jackson seems to think of his first-round pick as a two-way star.

“Obviously, he’s going to play defense for us, but we’ll find a role for him over there on offense. No question,” Jackson said. The Browns have a fantastic problem on their hands, as Peppers has All-Pro potential at any position he lines up at. But, for arguments sake we’ll scout him strictly as a safety.

Peppers in an incredible athlete and it shows in each game he played at Michigan. He covers sideline to sideline and has incredible burst when attacking. He has the strength to cover tight ends and bigger receivers well. Peppers has the speed to recover, if he takes the wrong step towards the ball or a bad angle to the play. However, he often takes the wrong step because he lacks instincts. His ball skills are also questionable as he only has one interception in his entire college career.

Coming to a talent-starved Browns team, Peppers will get a chance to start immediately. But every rookie will experience growing pains. Fans should not look for Peppers to light up the stat sheet, but you will see him often on the highlight reel. At this point Peppers is more athlete than safety, and until he becomes the latter he’ll remain number 4 on my list.

Jamal Adams

I know, I know he was a top ten pick and is going to the tanking Jets. I get it Adams has the talent and the opportunity so why isn’t he ranked higher? Well you’ll have to keep reading to find that out.

Adams was an absolute force on the backend of LSU’s defense. In his two final seasons, he recorded 143 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, five interceptions and two forced fumbles. Adams earned All-SEC honors in both years and second team All-American honors in 2016.

On the field Adams is a physical tone setter, who’s leadership will change the mentality of the Jets defense. When he comes downhill to make a tackle, be somewhere else. His aggressive style of play transfers to his coverage as well, and will have no problem dealing with tight ends. However, this style hurts him from time to time as he tends to overcommit and get exposed. Adams plays too tight on receivers and will get called for unnecessary pass interference calls in the NFL. The trait that will ultimately decide his fate in the NFL is his tackling ability.

Yes, Adams is a hit-stick machine. However, he often will go for the big hit instead of wrapping up and preventing longer gains. Safeties are the last line of defense and their decision-making skills are paramount to limiting big plays for the offense. Adams has to learn when to make the big hit and when to make the good tackle if he want to succeed on the pro level.

Budda Baker

There was not a better match in the 2017 Draft, than Baker and the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals defense loves to play fast, but have lost key players on the back end. Baker is a talented play maker who fills a position of need. Oh and he loves to play fast.

Baker was a stud at the University of Washington, the minute he walked on campus. As a true freshman he started all 14 games and earned Freshman All-American honors. His final season is what put not only the NFL, but the entire football world, on notice. Baker recorded 70 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble. His stats say play maker. His game tape screams difference maker. My gut screams instant impact. That could be my stomach but we’ll just say it’s my gut for the sake of the article.

Turn on any game that Baker played in and the first thing that jumps out is his speed. On blitzes he comes racing off the edge to get to the quarterback. In coverage, his recovery speed affords him a bigger margin of error than most. Baker does a nice job reading the quarterbacks eyes while in zone to make a break on the ball. He has the versatility to play outside, in the slot, or at his natural safety position.

Baker has the opportunity and talent to start immediately in Arizona. However, he is undersized and will be a liability if matched up on bigger receivers and tight ends. His tackling needs some coaching, but that’s normal for most safeties coming into the league. With a great defense already in place, Baker will have time to progress and make mistakes without the same pressure as other first year players.

Malik Hooker

Bet you didn’t see this coming. Well if you’ve read any of my other draft pieces you might have had a good idea.

Hooker has the talent to change the culture of the entire Indianapolis Colts defense. The team has lacked a defensive identity for quite some time now. The Colts recent moves feel more like quick fixes than actual thought out plans. New general manager Chris Ballard wants to change that and drafting Hooker was the first step.

Hooker quickly rose up draft boards with his performance during his final season at Ohio State. Hooker recorded 74 tackles, seven interceptions and returned three of them for touchdowns. For his efforts he earned First Team All-American and Big Ten honors.

On the field, Hooker is the ultimate lurker. His ability to read and react to a play are the best in his class. Add in his ability to play sideline to sideline and you have yourself a game changing talent. The Colts are very thin for talent throughout the defense but particularly at safety. This is good for Hooker and his playing time, so expect him to see the most action of any rookie safety.