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How a bumper crop of unexpected free agents impacts the safety class in the 2024 NFL draft

It’s hard to get draft analysts and talent evaluators to agree on pretty much anything, but it’s difficult to find anyone bullish on this year’s draft class at safety. It became a bit of a parlor game during last week’s NFL Scouting Combine to try and figure out if any safeties would be selected before the end of the second round of the 2024 NFL draft.

It’s not a strong safety class. In my personal rankings, two safeties are ranked in the top 50: Utah’s Cole Bishop and Minnesota’s Tyler Nubin. They are No. 38 and 40, respectively — and I’m higher on both than most analysts.

In short, the draft supply at safety isn’t looking all that good. And with each passing few hours, the safety class keeps becoming less and less important for teams looking for immediate help.

That’s because the free agent market has suddenly, unexpectedly become flooded with quality starters. Over the past few days, a decent crop of free agent safeties have been joined by a veritable who’s-who at the position.

Since the NFL Scouting Combine safety workouts last week, all of these safeties have been released by their teams:

Kevin Byard, Eagles

Rayshawn Jenkins, Jaguars

Jordan Poyer, Bills

Jamal Adams, Seahawks

Quandre Diggs, Seahawks

Justin Simmons, Broncos

These are not insignificant players. Poyer was an All-Pro in 2022. Simmons earned second-team All-Pro status in four of the last five seasons. Byard was fifth in tackles by a safety last season and a first-team All-Pro in 2021. Diggs ranks third in the NFL overall in interceptions since 2019.

Earlier in the offseason, Chicago dumped veteran stalwart Eddie Jackson and Detroit released longtime starter Tracy Walker.

They join a group that already features appealing starters like Xavier McKinney of the Giants, Detroit’s C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Kam Curl from Washington, and Buffalo’s Micah Hyde—and that’s far from a complete list of safeties worthy of signing around the league. Heck, while I was producing this very article, the Steelers cut experienced starter Keanu Neal.

All of a sudden, the free agent supply of starting safeties has gone from a decent but limited pool to a well-stocked lake full of players. Teams can find other fish in that abundant sea. Presumably, the high supply should keep the costs down in landing one of the free agents, too.

What does that mean for the draft class?

Perhaps the easiest way to answer that is by asking a hypothetical question:

Pretend you’re an NFL GM and need a starting safety in 2024. Would you rather sign an established veteran for what will likely seem under market value, or would you take a risk on the thinnest (at the top anyway) draft class at any position?

That doesn’t seem like a difficult choice. That’s bad news for 2024 draft prospects like Caden Bullock, Kam Kinchens, Jaden Hicks and Dadrion Taylor-Demeson (a personal fave). Those potential Day 2 selections could very well get pushed down the draft priority chart into Day 3 because teams won’t have the urgency to reach for them, knowing better, more proven option to provide immediate help are readily available.

And that might ultimately benefit the safety class. They’re less apt to be tossed into the deep end of the pool without any swim lessons or floatation devices. They can develop more at their own pace without the pressure of “perform or else!” It could also allow individual teams to be more patient in targeting a specific player who seems like a great fit instead of rushing to snatch a safety who might not profile as well for its defense.

As for its draft stock, however, it sure looks rough for the safety class as the NFL approaches free agency with more safeties hitting the open market by the hour.

 

Story originally appeared on Draft Wire