NFL draft Safety rankings: Excellent, rare crop of talent might be the best since 2010

As we mentioned in our Cornerback rankings, you just don’t see this kind of depth every year. We have 11 safeties ranked in our top 69 overall players for the 2017 NFL draft, so all told that’s more than 30 percent of the players in that range coming from the secondary.

NFL teams might draft defensive backs high, throughout Rounds 1-3, every year. But rarely does the talent at the position match up with the need as well as it does this year.

LSU’s Jamal Adams (L) leads the way for 2017 NFL draft safeties, but the talent runs deep. (AP)
LSU’s Jamal Adams (L) leads the way for 2017 NFL draft safeties, but the talent runs deep. (AP)

Two safeties have a chance to go in the first dozen picks — LSU’s Jamal Adams and Ohio State’s Malik Hooker. Adams might have the higher floor as a prospect, but we believe Hooker has the higher ceiling and could be one of the best three or four pure talents in this crop. His labrum/hernia surgery has him on the shelf for a while, and being so new to football — he started as a junior in high school and only started one year at OSU — just holds us back ever so slightly.

But if teams miss out on either of them, there’s a wave of skilled players cresting right behind them. Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, UConn’s Obi Melifonwu and Washington’s Budda Baker all could be top-40 selections, and they offer a range of sizes and skill sets to fit different schemes. All three even could be projected to play corner on the next level.

Beyond that? The depth, we believe, stretches well into Day 3 of the draft. That’s rare for this position, which often sees a precipitous dropoff. Case in point: Only four true safeties drafted after Round 4 since 1997 have made a Pro Bowl: Kam Chancellor, Dashon Goldson, Reshad Jones and Glover Quin. (And all four were taken in Rounds 4 or 5, although there have been a few undrafted safeties over the past 15-20 years who have slipped through the proverbial cracks.)

Positional grade: A-minus

With two potentially special talents at the top, plus four or five more who have a chance to be very good, this has the makings of an excellent crop. It’s rare for a draft to have one safety land in the top half of Round 1; the last time we saw two go in that range was 2010, when Eric Berry and Earl Thomas went fifth and 14th, respectively. That year featured maybe the best safety group in decades, along with Devin McCourty, Chancellor, T.J. Ward, Jones, Nate Allen, Morgan Burnett, Kurt Coleman and other contributors. The 2017 group might not quite reach those lofty standards, but it’s easily the best the draft has offered since then.

Shutdown Corner’s Top 10 Safeties for 2017

1. Jamal Adams, LSU — 6-foot, 214 pounds — Tough, physical, smart hitter and playmaker who could be a terrific locker-room leader right away
2. Mailk Hooker, Ohio State — 6-1, 206 — Easily could end up first on this list, with injury, inexperience holding him back temporarily; a special talent with incredible ball skills (Full scouting report)
3. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan — 5-11, 213 — Is he a safety for sure? That’s what most teams believe, but he has terrific versatility and athleticism (Full scouting report)
4. Budda Baker, Washington — 5-10, 195 — Size is legit concern, but playing style and varied, dynamic skill set are highly enticing (Full scouting report)
5. Obi Melifonwu, Connecticut — 6-4, 224 — Top-five measurables and athleticism combined with top-50 tape makes him a possible first-rounder — and a potential CB (Full scouting report)
6. Desmond King, Iowa — 5-10, 201 — College CB (and a damned good one) might be best suited for a zone-heavy scheme or becoming a heady free safety (Full scouting report)
7. Josh Jones, North Carolina State — 6-1, 220 — Hard-hitting striker whose best role might be in the box; reminds scouts of Steelers’ Mike Mitchell in some ways
8. Justin Evans, Texas A&M — 6-0, 199 — Speaks to depth of position that he’s this low, relatively speaking, and yet we think he could be a very good NFL starter in time
9. Marcus Williams, Utah — 6-1, 202 — Read the above comment for Evans; we can split hairs with him and Williams as NFL prospects, both very good
10. Marcus Maye, Florida — 6-0, 210 — Football-smart, versatile performer who can hit and move very well

Sleeper
Tedric Thompson, Colorado

Lost a bit in the hype of the Buffaloes’ excellent “Money Gang” secondary, Thompson (the brother of Minnesota Vikings safety Cedric Thompson) has some really enticing coverage ability and range. He’s not freakishly athletic and not a huge thumper as a hitter. But as a center fielder, Thompson has very good range, nice ball instincts and always seems to put himself in a position to make a play.

Turn on the Utah tape — the game the Buffs needed to win to advance to the Pac-12 title game — and you’ll see Thompson all over the field. He intercepted a Hail Mary pass in the end zone at the end of the first half, pulling the ball out of the hands of a Utes receiver, and another INT later in the game. He also added four passes defended (he totaled a terrific 14 on the season) and a fourth-down stop in CU’s 27-22 victory. All told, Thompson helped hold Utah to 160 yards on a mere 13-of-40 passing.

As a sophomore, Thompson suffered a scary concussion against UCLA in 2014 that was the result of poor tackling form. In the two-plus years since then, he has become a smarter tackler and a better player as a result. Thompson had another two-INT game against Stanford last season and fits the profile of a very solid free safety who could slide because of the rare depth of talent at the position.

Small-school wonder
Lorenzo Jerome, St. Francis (Pa.)

The four-year starter and all-conference player at the FCS school was noticed enough during an 18-INT career and for his special-teams work to be invited to the Senior Bowl (after a very good week at the East-West Shrine Game), despite no St. Francis player being drafted into the NFL since World War II. Jerome is a two-time captain at the school and has decent size (5-11, 204 pounds) and good versatility, having also played cornerback, occasionally caught passes as a receiver and returned punts and kicks through a prolific college career.

Jerome lacks high-end athleticism and might not be the dynamic returner in the pros as he was amid lesser competition. But he’s a passionate, instinctive player who has the makeup to earn a spot on the roster and work his way up the ladder in time. There’s work to be done — see the Villanova game for a few missed tackles and a blown deep coverage on a broken play, for instance — but a good template with which to start. His postseason rise has been remarkable, but this is an experienced player with a knack for making things happen on the field.

Book it: Jerome will be drafted somewhere by Day 3.

Other 2017 NFL draft position rankings:

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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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