2022 NFL Draft rankings: Safeties

·12 min read



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Scroll right for each prospect's RAS composite and comp. RAS size-adjusted athletic composites provided by Kent Lee Platte. RAS scores should be read as percentiles - i.e., "5.0" is 50th-percentile. The rankings below are based on 141 qualifying, draft-eligible FBS safeties in my database.

1. Kyle Hamilton | 6041/217 | Notre Dame

DOB: 03.15.01

RAS: 9.33

PFF grade: 28

PFF coverage: 19

PFF tackling: 19

PFF run D: 56

PFF pass rush: 48

Hamilton was a three-year starter at Notre Dame after signing as a consensus top-100 overall recruit. Over his last two seasons, Hamilton blossomed into one of the country’s elite all-purpose defenders. In both 2020 and 2021, he earned first-team AP All-American recognition.

Blessed with upper-tier safety athleticism in a freakish linebacker-sized frame, Hamilton is supremely versatile. He played all over at Notre Dame, with 644 career snaps coming as a deep safety, 313 in the box, and 437 in the slot.

Hamilton plays like a linebacker in the box. Not afraid of contact, he willingly takes on blocks and is able to shed them. He doesn’t miss running backs coming through the hole when he’s on the doorstep. Elongated tackling radius aided by adherence to technique, a wrap-up tackler who accelerates through contact and lifts his opponent's feet off the ground.

That was an area of Hamilton’s game that greatly improved on campus. As a freshman, he missed 18.2% of his tackle attempts. This past year, he missed only 6.5% (11.4% if you combine the past two seasons). His sideline-to-sideline range cleaned up a lot of messes for the Irish.

In contrast, Hamilton was outstanding in coverage from Day 1. As a true freshman, he posted an elite 89.4 PFF coverage grade. And over his three-year career, Hamilton picked off eight balls and knocked away 14 more while ceding only one touchdown.

His career 24.3 NFL passer-rating against speaks for itself. Hamilton never allowed a 30-yard reception. Hamilton’s instincts and jetpack closing speed shine in this area. He sees things before they happen and can traverse one side of the field to the other in a blink to defend passes he has no earthly business being near.

Once seen as a strong bet to go in the top-5, Hamilton’s stock has fallen over the past month-plus due to the 4.59 forty he ran at the NFL Combine, and his injury-shortened, inconsistent 2021 season. Questions about his athleticism are at best overblown and at worst specious. Hamilton displayed upper-tier athleticism on the field for three years in South Bend and is one of the rangiest safeties in the class.

He showed that, too, during pre-draft testing, posting a 93rd-percentile RAS athletic composite with a 96th-percentile broad jump and 87th-percentile vertical. He tested as basically a jumbo-sized Harrison Smith.

Hamilton is one of the best safety prospects to enter the NFL in decades. Over the past 30 years, only two safeties went in the top five, Sean Taylor (2004) and Eric Berry (2010). Hamilton may not ultimately be able to match that feat due to the devaluation of his position, but he absolutely possesses the same superstar ability.

Comp: Bigger Derwin James

2. Jalen Pitre | 5110/195 | Baylor

DOB: 06.03.99

RAS: 8.47

PFF grade: 4

PFF coverage: 37

PFF tackling: 53

PFF run D: 1

PFF pass rush: 3

At this point, NFL fans don’t have a ton of respect for Matt Rhule’s ability to evaluate and develop players. This was arguably his single-best trait as a college coach. Pitre was one of many lightly-recruited prospects that Rhule found and polished into an NFL player, an overlooked three-star recruit who was part of Rhule’s first recruiting class in Waco.

Believe it or not, Pitre actually entered college as a linebacker. During his first three years on campus, Pitre was groomed as a strong- and weak-side LB. He basically split time 50-50 between the box and the slot when on the field those first three years (2019 was cut short by a shoulder injury).

Upon his return in 2020, new Baylor HC Dave Aranda converted Pitre into the full-time “Star” defender in his defense, a jazzed-up nickel defender who would sometimes move into the box. Pitre showed immediate aptitude for it, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors in 2020. Pitre’s coming-out party occurred in 2021, when he was named the conference's Player of the Year.

I list Pitre as a safety. But he’s not really that. At Baylor, Pitre was a nickel defender. Per PFF, 2,065 of his 2,109 career snaps (97.9%) came in the slot or the box. NFL teams should be looking to predominantly use him the same way.

Pitre diagnoses like an NFL veteran. The instant he senses run, he triggers downhill in a straight path to the ball. Impossible blocking assignment for slot receivers. Pitre has a real knack for locating the ball and evading blockers in his path to it.

He's feisty and slick-footed in coverage. Makes his presence felt along the route in his opponent’s back pocket. Picks up tells and will run a receiver’s route for him. Effortless agility to mirror, with the explosiveness to crash down and contest at the catch point.

Pitre’s a banshee on the blitz. Whether sent from the slot or lined up off the edge, he's a legitimate weapon. Over the past two years, on 147 pass-rushing attempts, Pitre recorded seven sacks and 26 additional hurries en route to a 25.2% pressure rate.

How mind-boggling is that last number? Consider this: Michigan EDGE Aidan Hutchinson -- the 2021 Heisman runner-up and betting favorite to go No. 1 overall next weekend -- had an 18.3% pressure rate in 2021. Last year, Pitre recorded the most QB pressures (25) of any defensive back since 2014, and he did it on a mere 97 pass-rushing reps. Georgia's Travon Walker, the other candidate for Jacksonville's 1.1 pick, had 34 pressures over 381 pass-rushing snaps last year.

Pitre didn’t slow down at the Senior Bowl. He was the most impressive defensive back in coverage during practices in Mobile. His one-on-one reps became must-see events for the assembled media throng. It defied logic how often he got his hands on the ball. He was named the National Team’s Player of the Week at safety.

It would be easy to dismiss Pitre -- he's not the biggest, he’s not the fastest, he’s not the strongest, and he’s a “safety” prospect who only took 16 deep snaps total during his five years in Waco -- but that would be a mistake.

Pitre evokes the Honey Badger in frame, on-field attitude, and preternatural ability to end dang-near every play around the ball. Pitre seems destined to fall a little further than he should because of his measurables. The Big 12 is thrilled he’s gone, now he’s the NFL’s problem. I think he’ll be a star.

Comp: Tyrann Mathieu

3. Lewis Cine | 6022/202 | Georgia

RAS: 9.92

PFF grade: 11

PFF coverage: 16

PFF tackling: 9

PFF run D: 10

PFF pass rush: 76

Cine was a two-year starting free safety on Georgia’s vaunted defense. He was a paragon of consistency. Cine was the leading tackler for the national champions last year, and he rarely got taken advantage of in coverage.

Hard-charging downhill safety. Fearless sprinting down the alley to storm the castle in run support. So good against the run that he’s basically a fourth linebacker in that phase. Cine triggers instantaneously, accelerates like a cheetah, and takes direct paths. He throws his body around on the field as though he doesn’t own it.

Violent hitman. Brings body bags to the collision point, and takes care to wrap up every victim. He’s the most-reliable tackler in this safety class. Over 159 career tackle attempts, Cine missed only 11 (6.9% missed tackle rate).

Only two of my top-25 safeties in this class posted a missed-tackle rate under 9.0% last year: Kyle Hamilton and Bryan Cook. Each barely squeaked under Cine’s career rate. Hamilton posted a 6.4% rate, Cook checked in at 6.5%.

The most famous of Cine's hits was the frightening 2020 collision with Kyle Pitts. The car crash-like impact left both players with concussions. Pitts was medically removed from the game. Cine would have been had he not been ejected for targeting first. In the aftermath, Cine vowed to keep playing “fast and physical,” but perhaps with a bit more discretion.

What we’ve described so far sounds like an enforcer at strong safety, right? In actuality, Cine was a base free safety at Georgia with supreme versatility. He took the majority of his 2021 snaps as a deep-safety (534), but Cine was also heavily deployed out of the slot (118) and in the box (155).

He sees the field well like a center fielder and makes plays. Receivers fear his power over the middle. Cine wants to emphatically dislodge the ball at the catch point. A clever thief in zone coverage. He quickly deciphers routes and knows his responsibility.

He surprises quarterbacks the first-time around with how quickly he closes. Cine is at his best when he’s diagnosing from depth and triggering downhill in a straight line. He’s not nearly as effective in coverage with his back to the quarterback, chasing a joystick around the field.

Those are the moments he can lose his bearings. Cine doesn’t have an instinct for finding the ball in the air over his shoulder and doesn’t contest nearly as many balls in those scenarios as he does when he’s crashing downhill.

I spoke with Cine’s agent in Indianapolis a few days before Cine’s athletic testing day. The agent told me that Cine was going to put on a show – and was going to shock people with his jumps. Cine went on to post a 98th-percentile 131” broad jump, along with a 99th-percentile 4.37 forty featuring 99th-percentile 10- and 20-yard splits. His 9.92 size-adjusted RAS composite ranks No. 8 out of 846 safeties with testing data since 1987.

So long as his NFL organization understands that Cine wrecks offensive plans playing forward, and is Sampson with his hair sheared when not, they’re going to get a playmaking free safety in coverage with a Night Train Lane appetite for violence against the run.

Comp: Adrian Amos

4. Daxton Hill | 6002/191 | Michigan

DOB: 09.29.00

RAS: 9.06

PFF grade: 30

PFF coverage: 39

PFF tackling: 41

PFF run D: 22

PFF pass rush: 9

Comp: Darnell Savage

5. Jaquan Brisker | 6013/206 | Penn State

DOB: 04.20.99

RAS: 9.14

PFF grade: 12

PFF coverage: 2

PFF tackling: 61

PFF run D: 64

PFF pass rush: 82

Comp: Vonn Bell

6. Nick Cross | 6001/215 | Maryland

DOB: 09.10.01

RAS: 9.87

PFF grade: 60

PFF coverage: 94

PFF tackling: 51

PFF run D: 25

PFF pass rush: 24

Comp: Kamren Curl

7. Kerby Joseph | 6007/203 | Illinois

DOB: 11.14.00

RAS: N/A

PFF grade: 1

PFF coverage: 1

PFF tackling: 17

PFF run D: 24

PFF pass rush: 11

Comp: Steven Parker

8. Bryan Cook | 6006/206 | Cincinnati

RAS: N/A

PFF grade: 3

PFF coverage: 4

PFF tackling: 4

PFF run D: 11

PFF pass rush: 20

Comp: Sheldrick Redwine

9. Alontae Taylor | 6001/199 | Tennessee

DOB: 12.03.98

RAS: 9.06

PFF grade: 8

PFF coverage: 18

PFF tackling: 63

PFF run D: 6

PFF pass rush: 116

Comp: Shaquill Griffin

10. JT Woods | 6021/195 | Baylor

DOB: 06.10.00

RAS: 9.43

PFF grade: 59

PFF coverage: 34

PFF tackling: 95

PFF run D: 132

PFF pass rush: 110

Comp: Jimmie Ward

11. Verone McKinley III | 5100/192 | Oregon

RAS: N/A

PFF grade: 82

PFF coverage: 68

PFF tackling: 88

PFF run D: 92

PFF pass rush: 114

Comp: Juju Hughes

12. Dane Belton | 6006/205 | Iowa

DOB: 12.07.00

RAS: 9.42

PFF grade: 24

PFF coverage: 12

PFF tackling: 73

PFF run D: 84

PFF pass rush: 119

Comp: Amani Hooker

13. Tycen Anderson | 6017/207 | Toledo

DOB: 06.13.98

RAS: 9.49

PFF grade: 53

PFF coverage: 59

PFF tackling: 39

PFF run D: 73

PFF pass rush: 33

Comp: Tarvarius Moore

14. Markquese Bell | 6020/212 | Florida A&M

DOB: 01.06.99

RAS: 8.95

PFF grades: (N/A)

Comp: Kamu Grugier-Hill

15. Smoke Monday | 6016/207 | Auburn

RAS: 6.46

PFF grade: 31

PFF coverage: 32

PFF tackling: 54

PFF run D: 21

PFF pass rush: 8

Comp: Barry Church

16. Percy Butler | 6002/194 | Louisiana

DOB: 05.29.00

RAS: 7.35

PFF grade: 19

PFF coverage: 9

PFF tackling: 111

PFF run D: 74

PFF pass rush: 57

Comp: Chris Culliver

17. Leon O'Neal Jr. | 6005/204 | Texas A&M

DOB: 12.23.98

RAS: 6.07

PFF grade: 41

PFF coverage: 21

PFF tackling: 93

PFF run D: 104

PFF pass rush: 74

Comp: Kenny Vaccaro

18. Yusuf Corker | 6000/199 | Kentucky

DOB: 12.26.98

RAS: 6.45

PFF grade: 61

PFF coverage: 66

PFF tackling: 33

PFF run D: 51

PFF pass rush: 49

Comp: Shawn Davis

19. Bubba Bolden | 6021/209 | Miami

DOB: 05.28.99

RAS: 8.12

PFF grade: 130

PFF coverage: 124

PFF tackling: 101

PFF run D: 116

PFF pass rush: 112

Comp: Chris Conte

20. Juanyeh Thomas | 6006/213 | Georgia Tech

DOB: 06.24.00

RAS: 8.48

PFF grade: 93

PFF coverage: 120

PFF tackling: 47

PFF run D: 19

PFF pass rush: 37

Comp: Jayron Kearse

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