Prototypical Patriots: Best safety fits in 2022 NFL Draft class

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Perry: Prototypical Patriots safeties in 2022 NFL Draft class originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Patriots are loading up at the safety position. They've added Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips and Jabrill Peppers over the course of the last several offseasons to play alongside Devin McCourty. And they may not be done.

Are they looking for more depth at the second level if they want to swap out linebackers for safeties in sub situations? Are they looking for a McCourty succession plan? Both?

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Safeties drafted in the first three rounds by Belichick over the years usually had 40 times close to 4.5 seconds or lower. Their verticals were in the 35 to 40-inch range. Most had broad jumps of 10 feet or better. Jordan Richards -- an athletic outlier for the Patriots at the position (4.65-second 40, 32-inch vertical, 9-foot-3 broad) -- had an above-average three-cone time (6.74 seconds), but most others were closer to 7.0 seconds.

Players at this position have been at least 5-11 and 192 pounds. Players who skewed more toward free safety (McCourty, Duron Harmon, Eugene Wilson, Brandon Meriweather) were all between 5-11 and 6-feet, between 192 and 196 pounds. Players more built for the box (Chung, Dugger, Richards and Tavon Wilson) -- not surprisingly -- were a little bigger, measuring between 5-11 and 6-1, between 205 and 217 pounds.

There are a bunch who fit that profile this year. Here are the best of the best...

Daxton Hill, Michigan, 6-feet, 191 pounds

2022 NFL Draft Highlights: Daxton Hill

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Across positions, Hill looks like one of the best fits for the Patriots in this draft class. He’d be a classic “the more you can do” pick. He’s played safety, slot corner and boundary corner for Michigan, where he played for a Belichick favorite in former Wolverines defensive coordinator Don Brown. He also served as a gunner on the punt team, and he proved he could be a terror as a blitzer when called upon. He’s considered a highly instinctive player by evaluators and easily coachable.

Hill would fit right into what it appears Belichick is building at the moment, which is a faster defense that has a plethora of versatile options to mix and match depending on the opponent’s collection of passing-game threats. He's a tad light for what the Patriots usually draft highly at safety. But he's plenty athletic. And he has the measurables to fit at corner for the Patriots if they wanted to try him there. He ran a 4.38 40-yard dash, a 6.57 three-cone and a 4.06 shuttle at the combine.

Lewis Cine, Georgia, 6-foot-2, 202 pounds

2022 NFL Draft Highlights: Lewis Cine

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Cine played his high school ball at Everett High (Mass.), winning a state title at Gillette Stadium in 2017 before transferring to Trinity Christian in the Dallas area. Could he make his way back to Foxboro this offseason? Hailing from Kirby Smart's program, he's got a chance. He's more than athletic enough to fit what New England likes in its safeties (4.37-second 40, 11-1 broad jump), and he loves contact.

He's a little lighter than other strong safeties the Patriots have drafted early. But he's physical enough to fill that role and athletic enough to play in the deep portion of the field. Like Hill, he's among the best fits in the draft class for Belichick's club. The question is whether or not the team will want to invest highly here with four safeties already on the roster and projected to play real roles.

Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame, 6-foot-4, 217 pounds

2022 NFL Draft Highlights: Kyle Hamilton

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Hamilton tanked his 40 time during the pre-draft process, clocking a 4.59. No matter. He has the potential to be a transcendent player at a position that is losing value in today's NFL, and he'll be a top-half-of-the-first-round selection in all likelihood because of it. If for some reason he falls to within range for the Patriots, they could scoop him up to play just about anywhere in the secondary.

Want to use him at free safety? He has the range and instincts to wreck offensive game plans. Want to play him closer to the box? He's big enough and athletic enough to be a versatile matchup weapon in man coverage. He'd thrive in Foxboro with a coaching staff that would be willing to deploy him in a number of different ways. He just won't fall to them.

Nick Cross, Maryland, 6-feet, 212 pounds

Another play-him-anywhere type at safety, it's easy to envision Cross in a Patriots jersey. He clocked a 4.34-second 40 to go along with a 6.85-second three-cone drill so he has plenty of athleticism to man the post in Belichick's single-high safety coverages. But he's well built and clearly appreciates contact enough to play in the box. He played everywhere for the Terrapins under (former 'Bama assistant) Mike Locksley and though he may be willing to bite too often on eye candy in front of him, he has the traits the Patriots covet at this position.

Tycen Anderson, Toledo, 6-foot-2, 207 pounds

Special-teams talent is available at this position every year, but Anderson is among the most interesting "teams" specialists in this class. He's a bigger body who flew at the combine (4.36-second 40, 6.64-second three-cone drill) and has the kind of balance and change-of-direction ability the Patriots would love. A two-time captain and Senior Bowl participant, he may not be ready to chip in defensively in 2022, but in the kicking game he'd be an immediate staple.

Jaquan Brisker, Penn State, 6-foot-1, 206 pounds

An excellent fit for the Patriots from a height-weight-speed perspective, Brisker ran in the 4.4s prior to the draft, jumped 38.5 inches in the vertical and hit 6.91 seconds in the three-cone drill. But he's an intangible fit as well as a willing (though not completely sound) tackler, a team captain and an alpha among some next-level Nittany Lion athletes. His tackling may bump him down the Patriots' board, but he's tough and he's capable of splash plays attacking the line of scrimmage (six tackles for loss last season) or in the passing game (19 passes defensed, five picks in three seasons).

Kerby Joseph, Illinois, 6-foot-1, 203 pounds

Joseph is a difficult projection for this list in that he chose not to run at the combine. Not ideal. (He did have an impressive 38.5-inch vertical in Indy.) Then he dealt with a hamstring issue that prevented him from running at his pro day. But he seems like a good athlete, and his whopping 33-inch arms are built to help him make plays on the football.

The Patriots should have great intel on Joseph coming from Illinois head coach and former Patriots assistant Bret Bielema. If he gets a good recommendation -- along with his five picks last season and his extensive special-teams experience -- he could end up in New England as a late Day 2 choice, but it would have to be as a free-safety-only type of addition since he didn't do much else defensively with the Fightin' Illini.

JT Woods, Baylor, 6-foot-2, 195 pounds

Like a lot of the defensive backs at Baylor, Woods has speed to burn to patrol the middle and he falls right into Belichick's size range as a free-safety type. Playing within a system constructed by highly-regarded defensive mind and Baylor head coach Dave Aranda, he had six picks last season and earned the nickname The Heartbreak Kid for what he did to quarterbacks, which on creativity alone should put him into the early Day 3 conversation.

His instincts aren't the best in the class, and his tackling needs work, but with his turnover production and rare athleticism he'd be an intriguing choice as an understudy to Devin McCourty.

Percy Butler, Louisiana, 6-feet, 194 pounds

Butler is one of the most productive special-teamers in this year's draft class, having racked up eight tackles in that phase last season to go along with a blocked field goal. Makes sense. He's another potential Patriots safety with blazing speed (4.36-second 40 at the combine) and requisite lower-body explosiveness (35-inch vertical). His ability to come in and contribute for special teams coach Cam Achord right away could put him on New England's radar in the last few rounds.

Jalen Pitre, Baylor, 5-foot-11, 195 pounds

2022 NFL Draft Highlights: Jalen Pitre

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Pitre is an interesting case from a Patriots point of view. He's built like one of several well-known Belichick free safeties, but his play style is closer to what would be considered a strong safety in New England's system. He's a blitzer extraordinaire and a rugged tackler. He played linebacker under former head coach Matt Rhule because of his effectiveness in the box. He's played on the edge. He's played in the slot. He's a higher-upside Josh Bledsoe type (taken by Belichick in the sixth round in 2021)... but his frame may not hold up as well as others' since he's about 10 pounds lighter than most who've manned that spot for the Patriots.

Either way, Pitre would be a special-teams ace -- he played 451 "teams" snaps, per The Athletic -- and he's smart enough to pick up whatever would be thrown at him at One Patriot Place. He has his degree in business and finished his master's in educational psychology.