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NFL Draft PRR 2024: Safeties & Nickelbacks

Welcome back to a special edition of this years' PRR, where we'll be looking at both Safeties and Nickelbacks! The motivation behind today's combo piece is that we're seeing more safeties eventually transition into slot defenders once they enter the league, and this class is loaded in box safety and nickel talent. Due to today's special format, we'll be ranking the top 4 free safeties, top 4 box safeties, and top 4 nickelbacks.


For most guys, I'll be using their snap rate at each position, plus their measurables, to determine where their best fit will be in the NFL. This may not be exactly how it plays out, but it's how I see their skillset and production matching up at the next level. I'll also be ranking them by where I have them graded in a collective "Rover Ranking". Next to their overall rank will be an indicator of where they fare at their specific position grouping (FS for Free Safety, SS for Strong/Box Safety, and NB for Nickelback).


Now that the housekeeping's out of the way, let's see how these guys stack up!


Photo: Caylo Seals/The Corsair

 

12. Calen Bullock - USC (#4 SS)

What They Do Well

What Could Limit Them

Gets downhill quick against inside runs, fits decently enough

Gets lost in coverage if QB extends the play, gets lulled to sleep

Long and rangy, covers a ton of ground in a few strides

Won't come downhill hard against bigger skill players

Good open field tackler against receivers, doesn't get juked out often

Late to pursue runs that went away from him, allowed bigger gains

Nice ball skills all around, made some nice breaks on passes


Bullock is decent enough to play over the top and take away chunks of the field, or underneath from the box. He's had minimal opportunities to show off his ball skills, but has made plays on a good chunk of them. He struggles in man coverage and tackling guys who get a head of steam against him. Putting him in the box may help eliminate his weak spots and take advantage of his strengths.


Pro Comp: Darnell Savage


11. Andru Phillips - Kentucky (#4 NB)

What They Do Well

What Could Limit Them

Physical player who will stick his nose in a pile

Gets too handsy and physical in coverage, had some PIs called on him

Good tackler in the space and in the box, wraps up well

Overcommits in run support at times, will just throw his body to make a tackle

Played inside and outside, had better coverage and run defense from the slot


Solid in man and zone, not the fastest, but has fluid hips to stay in phase


Overall, I liked what I saw out of Phillips. Andru is a physical slot corner with nice ball skills. He can line up outside if needed and can play in most schemes. His run support could improve from an over-aggressiveness standpoint, but he comes in with his hair on fire and isn't afraid of contact. A solid nickel for any team that needs one.


Pro Comp: Cameron Sutton


10. Jaylin Simpson - Auburn (#3 SS)

What They Do Well

What Could Limit Them

Great downhill trigger when playing against the run and short passes

Almost plays too aggressive coming downhill, allows cutback angles

Nice coverage over the top, broke up passes vs top receivers in this class

Somewhat small for his playstyle, better blockers will lock him up in the pros

Made some pretty tough open field tackles, wraps up nicely

Not great at taking on blocks, gets displaced quite a bit

Has decent tracking from any part of the field, gets in pursuit quickly


Simpson has some great tools to be a solid box safety in the NFL; he covers well, can fly downhill to help support in the run and short game, and he's a good tackler in the open field. He'll have to put on some weight and be more physical taking on blockers, buy could be a solid mid-round addition for a team looking to add a solid player to their secondary.

 

Pro Comp: Damontae Kazee


9. Malik Mustapha - Wake Forest (#2 SS)

What They Do Well

What Could Limit Them

The most instinctual DB in this class, diagnoses plays quickly, flies to the ball

Gets way too aggressive at times, will get to his gap too quickly and open cutbacks

Has nice ball skills, broke up a ton of passes from unfavorable positions

Has moments where he's an awesome tackler or he flat out misses

Played all over WF's defense, can rush the pass, stuff the run, and cover

Coverage could improve, seemed to cut his zones shallow, got beat behind him

Not afraid to take on a block, has some decent destruction technique as well


With some impressive film, Mustapha has clips where he does it all. He was the heart and soul of Wake Forest's defense; he tackles well, can rush the passer and take on blockers, and can cover. He does need to play with more nuance and be more sound, but that'll come with experience. I really liked what I saw from him.

 

Pro Comp: Josh Metellus


8. Dadrion Taylor-Demerson - Texas Tech (#4 FS)

What They Do Well

What Could Limit Them

Really solid tracking, can chase down a ballcarrier from anywhere on the field

Despite rarely missing tackles, he drops his head a lot, will miss more in the pros

Great zone coverage, takes away a ton of space with how rangy he is

Man coverage isn't that good, allows decent separation by not phasing well

Ball hawk, seems to always be where the ball is thrown


Physicality is awesome to watch, delivers a blow to whoever he hits


DTD is a physical free safety who isn't afraid to deliver a blow to ball-carriers or blockers. He screams downhill and plays well in coverage. His tackling technique needs improvement, as well as his man coverage, but he'll fit in nicely into a modern NFL defense with his skillset outside of that.

 

Pro Comp: Quandre Diggs


Photo: Colin E Braley/AP Photo


7. Javon Bullard - Georgia (#3 FS)

What They Do Well

What Could Limit Them

Good sideline to sideline speed and tracking, fills in run support nicely

Coverage technique isn't clean, gets turned and spun around a good bit

Good open field tackler, breaks down and wraps up well

Could improve his downhill pursuit angles, seems to overcommit to the ball

Smart situational defender, doesn't take unnecessary risks when making plays

Played on a stacked defense, could hurt his stock based on the help he had

Good coverage overall outside of his technique, didn't allow many big plays


From watching his impressive tape, it's clear Javon has a ton of range and good ball skills to be a great cover safety, and he fills in the run pretty well. He needs to take better angles at times and get better with his coverage technique in order to be a complete defensive back. He could be a game wrecker in the right system.


Pro Comp: Jalen Pitre


6. Tyler Nubin - Minnesota (#2 FS)

What They Do Well

What Could Limit Them

Not the fastest guy, but covers a ton of ground with minimal strides

Will get too his gap too fast, opens cutback lanes

Great tackler in space, not afraid to lay a hit, solid in run fit as well

Struggles with zone integrity, gets lost in the sauce in deeper coverages

Knows where to force ball-carriers so his teammates can make plays

Takes tight angle to runners, will underrun them and allow bigger plays

Ball skills are fantastic despite not getting many opportunities


Nubin is a really solid player. He's physical for a free safety and has great ball skills to match it. He needs to improve in deep zones to become the top free safety in this class, otherwise he has great pursuit, tackling, run fits, and a natural instinct for the safety position.

 

Pro Comp: Malik Hooker


5. Kamren Kinchens - Miami (#1 FS)

What They Do Well

What Could Limit Them

Can play over the top and in the box, doesn't give up ground in run fits

Eye discipline isn't great, gets sucked out of his zone from time to time

Excels at squeezing behind blockers when pursuing ball-carriers

Puts his head down on tackles in open space, needs to run his feet more as well

Blazing downhill speed to assist on under routes and the run game

Struggles in the box when he gets blocked, stops his feet on contact

Flows nicely in coverage based on route combos in front of him


I know his combine was lackluster, but the tape doesn't lie, Kam is the best free safety in this class. He has a great sense of where to fit in coverage based on what he sees in front of him, has intensity when flying downhill and cover ground, and a unique skillset for his position.


Pro Comp: Xavier McKinney


4. Ennis Rakestraw Jr - Missouri (#3 NB)

What They Do Well

What Could Limit Them

Fluid corner with great hips and footwork, minimal wasted movement

Not the best in zone, will leave short game vacated, allows considerable YAC

Top end man coverage defender, especially in press

Gets too physical at the top of routes, susceptible to holdings and PIs

Played both outside and in the slot, played better inside


Good tackler and a physical player overall


I know I'm technically cheating here, but I have my reasons. Ennis played just over 100 snaps at nickel, but excelled there with his man coverage, as well as his support in the run game and in tackling. Ennis is a downhill menace who doesn't back down from blocks and plays a lot bigger than he actually is. For those reasons, I'd think he'd be best as a nickel, but could play outside if needed.


Pro Comp: Chris Harris Jr


3. Cole Bishop - Utah (#1 SS)

What They Do Well

What Could Limit Them

Incredibly rangy, can cover the entire field in run support and coverage

Reacts to plays late a few times a game, mainly when rotating and triggering downhill

Fantastic tackler, can gator roll, square defenders up, and bring a hit stick

Will put his head down on tackles at times, and that's when he misses

Good in zone coverage, doesn't get beat over the top and shuts down routes in his area

Didn't get to see his ball skills much, didn't breakup many passes when he got a chance too either

Versatile weapon, played over the top, in the box, and in the slot


I might be naïve, but as of right now, Cole is my top safety. He flows well in coverage, has incredible range and downhill trigger, is a great tackler in space and in the box, as well as an overall dawg. He has a few lapses when reacting to plays and tackling, but that can be forgiven with how his aggressive play style normally pays off.


Pro Comp: Justin Simmons


Photo: Laura Seitz/Deseret News


2. Mike Sainristil - Michigan (#2 NB)

What They Do Well

What Could Limit Them

Hardest hitting DB in this class, always looking to lay a boom

Size isn't that great, plays bigger despite this

Played all over Michigan's secondary, great versatility, exceled at each spot

Incredibly raw, has only played DB for two years after transitioning from WR

Great in run fit, good mix of slipping under blockers and fighting hands off


Tight blanket coverage, locked down some top receivers in this class


Sainristil quickly became one of my guys. He's a hard hitter, great in both man and zone coverage, played all over the secondary, covered some top end receivers in this class, and rarely got beat in coverage. Mike is a complete DB who will be a fantastic nickel at the NFL level. No notes.

 

Pro Comp: Kareem Jackson


1. Tykee Smith - Georgia (#1 NB)

What They Do Well

What Could Limit Them

Coverage is outstanding, plays both man and zone at a high level, rarely got beat

Gap integrity could stand to improve, peeked into gaps that weren't his

Good run defender and takes on blockers well, comes in full tilt

A bit on the older side, could be a deterrent to teams looking to get younger

Above average tackler, does takes some risks, but allows minimal yardage often

Played on a stacked defense, wasn't a big standout because of it

Great ball skills, uses his athleticism to break up passes that are out of his range


If your only knock is that you're older and your gap integrity is shaky sometimes, then you're a damn good player. Tykee covers well and has good ball skills, can play downhill against the run and stop ball-carriers in their tracks, and can blitz from any angle. I'm impressed with his play style and can't wait to see him take over games at the next level.


Pro Comp: Desmond King


Photo: John Bazemore/AP Photo

 

Final Notes:


Josh Proctor, Kitan Oladapo, and Jarrian Jones round out the top 5 for FS, SS, and NB respectively. Each do things well for their positions, but not as well as the others above. I think they will be fine additions to any defense and have a shot at getting playing time early.


Join me at the start of next week for a look at the best interior offensive linemen in this class!

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