2023 NFL Draft Primer: S Big Board Rankings (FS & SS)
The NFLDB Primer Series: Exploring the Best Safety Prospects!
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"As we celebrate our 21st year of independent scouting analysis, NFLDB is excited to provide a preview of the 2023 NFL Draft Primer: S Big Board Rankings (FS & SS) Draft Class. Based on our initial assessments, this year's class is showing that the safety position is one that is defined by blurred lines. In the modern-day NFL, many teams employ their safeties in dual roles. That could mean playing both free and strong safety, or safety and slot, or maybe even safety and linebacker. On average, the league has been very consistent, drafting approximately 20 safeties per year over the past decade." - Ric Serritella, NFLDB
Thank you to Baldy’s Breakdown for sponsoring the remainder of our 2023 NFL Draft class positional primer series. Thanks Baldy!
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In the modern-day NFL, many teams employ their safeties in dual roles. That could mean playing both free and strong safety, or safety and slot, or maybe even safety and linebacker. On average, the league has been very consistent, drafting approximately 20 safeties per year over the past decade.
For the purpose of the NFL Draft Bible big board, we have done our best to separate prospects into free safety and strong safety designations.
There are several safeties who stand out as mid-round selections that possess starter traits. While he doesn’t receive the same national recognition as his peers, Sydney Brown of Illinois is a Sunday impact player. His coverage ability was on full display at the Reese’s Senior Bowl and he flashed nearly every week of the college football regular season with a splash play, so make sure you remember the name come draft day. If you don’t know Marte Mapu of Sacramento State, you will now. A relatively unknown entering the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, Mapu won over scouts in attendance so much that he was immediately shipped to Mobile, in order to compete against a higher level of competition—Mapu dominated at both all-star games and will be impossible to take off the field at the next level as a safety/linebacker.2023 NFL
DRAFT BIBLE BIG BOARD: STRONG SAFETIES
Brian Branch, Alabama, Jr, 5115, 190, 4.58 (1.56), 0948, 3068, 7528, 14, 34.5”, 10-5, 4.45, NIC, Rd1
Sydney Brown, Illinois, rSr, 5100, 213, 4.47 (1.51), 1028, 3148, 7518, 23, 40.5” , 10-10, SRB, NIC, Rd3
Jammie Robinson, Florida State, rJr, 5105, 191, 4.59 (1.58), 0868, 2958, 7218, 23, 33.5”, 9-10, 4,41, 6.89, SRB, NIC, Rd3
Ji'Ayir Brown, Penn State, rSr, 5113, 203, 4.65 (1.56), 1018, 3128, 7568, 18, 32.5”, 9-11, 4.21, NIC, Rd5
Marte Mapu, Sacramento State, rSr, 6025, 217, 4.60e, 0938, 3338, 8000, SRB/NFLPA, Rd5
Daniel Scott, California, rSr, 6007, 208, 4.45 (1.55), 1000, 3028, 7448, 22, 39.5” , 10-8, 4.17, 6.75, SRB, NIC, Rd6
Brandon Hill, Pittsburgh, NIC, Jr, 5103, 193, 4.43 (1.50), 0948, 3068, 7348, 15, 35.5”, 10-3, Rd6
Trey Dean III, Florida, rSr, 6021, 200, 4.75 (1.60), 0928, 3268, 7668, 25, 36.5”, 10-4, 4.26, 6.69, EWS, NIC, Rd6
Nico Bolden, Kent State, rSr, 6033, 208, 4.44, 0928, 3038, 7248, 11, 41”, 10-07, 4.33, 7.04, NFLPA/CGS, Rd7
Jason Taylor II, Oklahoma State, rSr, 5115, 204, 4.50 (1.52), 1000, 3200, 7728, 14,
One player who seems to sit atop big boards around the league is Brian Branch of Alabama. More of an in-the-box safety type, Branch is also strong in coverage when lined up as a slot defender. His overall game should translate well to the next level and it would not be surprising to see him be the first safety selected.
BRIAN BRANCH | Alabama | SS | #14 | Jr | 5115 | 190 | 4.58 | Fayetteville, GA | 10.22.01 (21.11) | Rd1
Ric’s 2023 Evaluation: Though he projects as a nickel corner and man coverage specialist early in his NFL career, Brian Branch has the athleticism, instincts, and physicality to play any defensive back position in the league. He can at least be an elite special teamer. The defensive back has the versatility to play any position in the secondary and even boasts elite special teams potential. Branch is a fluid and clean mover who makes easy changes of direction and transitions. The Alabama safety is explosive in all directions and has good long speed. Further, Branch plays with elite physicality in all areas of the game. He attacks blockers with straight, accurate hands to establish distance and work through them. He is effective against linemen for his size, but he overpowers and sheds skill position blockers at will. What’s more, Branch is a remarkably efficient tackler who plays with safe technique and a hard-hitting style. He easily tracks the ball carrier and navigates traffic. On top of his downhill traits, Branch is a standout in man coverage. He has a knack for playing the top shoulder and dominating from there, though he can win from the low shoulder. He mirrors pass-catchers before and after contact but excels after landing his hands and slowing receivers down. Branch leverages routes well and avoids committing prematurely in man. He takes clean recovery angles and keeps sound eye discipline while minimizing blind spots. Branch also flashes spatial awareness and route recognition in zone. He understands route development and combinations. At the catch point, Branch is outreached or boxed out too often. He occasionally takes improper angles to the tackle point. He should start as a rookie and can develop into a stellar defensive chess piece.
Background: Invited to NFL Combine, timed 1.56 ten-yard split, 14 bench press reps, 34.5” vertical jump, 10-foot-5 broad jump, 10-inch hands, 31-inch arms, 75-inch wingspan. Brian Branch, from Fayetteville, Georgia, is a key contributor to the Crimson Tide defense. A four-star recruit out of Sandy Creek High School. Klutch Sports Group.
Background: Invited to Senior Bowl and NFL Combine; timed a 1.57 ten-yard split, 41.5-inch vertical jump, 11-foot 6-inch broad jump, 4.05 short shuttle, 6.63 three-cone, 10-inch hands, 34-inch arms, and 83-inch wingspan. A three-star recruit from Warren Central High School; also participated in track. Originally committed to Iowa. Repped by Sportstars.
Sticking to the SEC, you will find numerous tremendous talents such as Christopher Smith of Georgia, another versatile safety who can line up at multiple spots due to his speed, instincts and ability to cover lots of ground. A longer safety who can help stuff the run, in addition to play centerfield in pass coverage is Antonio Johnson of Texas A&M, who also figures to hear his name called early. Another interchangeable part would be Trey Dean of Florida.
S Trey Dean [Height: 6025 | Weight: 211 | Hand: 0948 | Arm: 3228 | Wingspan: 7668]
Dean can play either safety spot and was a man amongst boys at the East-West Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas. In fact, he projects to be one of the best value picks in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Arguably the most consistent performer from start to finish throughout the Shrine Bol week, Dean is a moving chess piece on defense. He can lineup at any position in the secondary and even step in at linebacker if needed. His ball-hawk instincts, and ability to help out in the run game, in addition to being a competent cover man, make him one of the top prospects in this year’s event. Dean was named East-West Shrine Bowl Defensive MVP for his efforts.
2023 NFL DRAFT BIBLE BIG BOARD: FREE SAFETIES
Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M, Jr, 6020, 198, 4.52 (1.57), 0968, 3218, 8, 31” , 9-10, NIC, Rd2
Christopher Smith, Georgia, Sr, 5105, 192, 4.62 (1.56), 0958, 3118, 7500, 15, 33” , 9-8, 4.41, 7.45, SRB, NIC, Rd2
Jordan Battle, Alabama, Sr, 6010, 209, 4.55 (1.56), 0948, 3200, 7458, 17, 29.5”, 9-06, 4.37, 7.31, NIC, Rd3
Ronnie Hickman, Ohio State, Jr, 6004, 203, 4.45e, 0938, 3300, 7738, SRB, NIC, Rd3
JL Skinner, Boise State, Sr, 6040, 209, 4.44e, 0828, 3200, 7778, SRB, NIC, Rd3
Brandon Joseph, Notre Dame, Sr, 6003, 202, 4.62 (1.56), 0900, 3078, 17, 30.5”, 9-10, 4.23, 7.08, NIC, Rd4
Jartavius Martin, Illinois, Sr, 5110, 194, 4.46 (1.47), 0958, 3118, 7728, 15, 44” , 11-1, NIC, SRB, Rd5
Demani Richardson, Texas A&M, Sr, 6005, 215, 4.55e, Rd5
Kaevon Merriweather, Iowa, Sr, 6000, 205, 4.62 (1.58), 0928, 3178, 7648, 17, 35.5”, 9-10, 4.24, 7.14, SRB, Rd6
Rashad Torrence II, Florida, Jr, 5115, 193, 4.72 (1.59), 1000, 3200, 7758, 20, 33.5”, 9-11, 4.22, 6.83, Rd6
JOHNSON, ANTONIO | Texas A&M | S | #27 | Jr | 6020 | 198 | 4.52 | East St. Louis, IL | 10.29.01 (21.11) | Rd2
Evaluation: One-half of the Aggies dynamic safety duo, Johnson prowls the secondary like Batman. A cover safety who predominantly lines up at nickel back, the plan for this upcoming season is to move Johnson around like a chess piece, which bodes well for his draft stock. He can navigate the open field like a centerfielder or step up in the box like a linebacker. Long, drawn-out frame with lengthy limbs. Primarily positioned as a big nickel, with responsibilities over No. 2 and in-the-box support. Signal-caller that aligns his secondary. Ball finds him. Functional athlete with adequate speed and fluidity. Can click and close on out routes and in breakers. Mirrors tight ends and slot receivers in man coverage. Feet react before he does on screen plays, arriving prior to blocking setups. Eyes follow the hips of his assignment. Fast enough to float from the line of scrimmage to the hash at the snap. Squeezes spaces between the hash and boundary. Marvelous in his blitz technique. Has the speed to charge from depth and the intelligence not to tip it off. Exceptional in the role of a box safety. Plays the run with linebacker technique. Quintessential form tackler, seldom allowing ball-carriers out of his grasp. Strong at the point of attack, shedding tight ends and holding his own against linemen multiple times. Light frame despite his length. Johnson stars in the role of nickel and apex defender thanks to his length, athleticism, and mental processing. Despite a lanky frame, Johnson is willing to stick his nose in the dirt and is a key contributor in the run game, capable of making wrap-up tackles in the open field. In fact, his lasting legacy at Texas A&M will likely be some of the legendary hits. While Johnson will need to bulk up for the next level, he possesses a combination of length, natural instincts and position flexibility that could make him an immediate impact player.
Background: All-SEC First Team; combine invite. A 1.57 10-yard split, 8 bench-press reps, 31-inch vertical jump, 9-10 broad jump, 9.5-inch hands, 32-inch arms. A four-star recruit from East St. Louis High. Repped by Alliance Management.
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