NFL draft profile: No. 35 — Washington S Budda Baker, feisty and undersized missile

Shutdown Corner

Washington S Budda Baker
5-foot-10, 195 pounds

Key stat: On a talented Washington defense with several future pros, Baker tallied 200 tackles (10 for losses in 2016 alone) and 21 passes defended in three seasons combined.

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Washington S Budda Baker can pack a punch, but will his size limit him in the NFL? (AP)
Washington S Budda Baker can pack a punch, but will his size limit him in the NFL? (AP)

The skinny: Prep track star who went three straight seasons in high school without suffering a loss. Baker has been a starter at safety from Day 1 with the Huskies, earning honorable mention All-Pac 12 honors as a true freshman, first team All-Pac 12 on defense the past two seasons and All-America honors in 2016. He applied early for the 2017 NFL draft and won’t turn 22 until next January. Baker had a strong performance at the NFL scouting combine (ranking in the top five among safeties in the 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill and short shuttle) and looking fluid in position drills there and at Washington’s pro day in March.

Best-suited destination: Baker’s frame likely limits his duties somewhat, but his skills suggests he can play deep safety and up in the box, with the ability to cover in the slot and occasionally blitz. Teams that are not hung up on his lack of size and are willing to find ways to use Baker’s talents, such as the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions and Tennessee Titans could be solid fits.

Upside: Strong run defender despite his stature. Attacks the ball. Excellent run blitzer who can lay the wood, even against bigger backs. Flies in from off the screen to make plays seemingly every game. Should be factor in base defense and subpackages, and his versatility and toughness even could keep him on goal-line and short-yardage duty. Potential to be impact special teamer (see Idaho game) with kickoff-team ferocity. Baker has a zest for football and a winner’s makeup. Energy seems to go only up in the fourth quarter. Impressed NFL teams with his football acumen on the whiteboard at the NFL scouting combine. Can play post safety, up in the box or as a slot corner. Teams that targeted him — such as Washington State and Colorado — often regretted the strategy. Seems to have a nose for the ball and reads quarterbacks’ eyes effectively.

Played a whale of a ballgame in the Peach Bowl loss to Alabama — baited freshman QB Jalen Hurts into nearly throwing a pick on the first play of the game, pressured Hurts for a key intentional grounding and made several other eye-opening plays, even as Bama seemed to avoid throwing his way.

Downside: Size is a concern, especially given the way he plays the game. Played at 190 pounds or fewer and gained weight for the combine that he might not keep. Will whiff on tackles, especially in space (see Bo Scarborough TD vs. Bama), by taking poor angles, playing too fast or not wrapping up. Also can open up too much in coverage or get too flat-footed at the tops of receivers’ routes. Appears to be a more effective player the closer he is to the line of scrimmage. Might only be a nickel for some teams. Can’t match up in coverage with tight ends, who can overpower him. Short arms and small hands — and for as many passes as Baker gets his hands on, he doesn’t intercept many passes (only five in 39 career games). Has very little return experience on special teams.

Scouting hot take: “I love the kid, man. He’s small and you have to rein him in a bit, but he’s just a baller. Just let him attack the ball and keep him in the right coverage responsibilities and he’ll be fine.” — AFC West Coast scout

Player comp: Baker is not the same level of playmaker Tyrann Mathieu is, but there’s a lot of crossover in their games.

Expected draft range: Top 40 pick

Previous profiles

Nos. 51-100: Here’s who just missed the cut
No. 50: Indiana OG-C Dan Feeney
No. 49: Iowa DB Desmond King
No. 48: Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham
No. 47: Wisconsin pass rusher T.J. Watt
No. 46. Alabama pass rusher Tim Williams
No. 45. Washington CB Sidney Jones
No. 44. Alabama LB Ryan Anderson
No. 43. Ohio State WR-RB Curtis Samuel
No. 42. Florida DT Caleb Brantley
No. 41. Connecticut DB Obi Melifonwu
No. 40. USC CB-KR Adoree’ Jackson
No. 39. Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes
No. 38. Michigan State DL Malik McDowell
No. 37: Ole Miss TE Evan Engram
No. 36: Florida LB Jarrad Davis

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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