Round-by-round ranking of 2016’s best safety prospects

John Kosko breaks down and ranks every safety prospect available in the 2016 NFL draft.

| 1 year ago
(Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

(Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Round-by-round ranking of 2016’s best safety prospects

PFF’s positional rankings are in the final stretch, as we move on to review this year’s draft class of safeties a week ahead of the 2016 draft. West Virginia’s Karl Joseph is the lone name with Day-1 potential, but the rankings based on our latest draft board show a number of mid-to-late-round gems in this year’s group.

Let’s take a look:

Round 1

  1. Karl Joseph, West Virginia

Joseph is coming off a torn ACL, but he checked out medically at the combine. Joseph showed good range and incredible aggressiveness in the run game in his first four games before going down to injury. Joseph was graded as the third-best safety in 2015 through five weeks and still ended up as our 22nd-graded safety in the 2015 despite logging 400 fewer snaps than anyone in the top 30 safeties. In a limited sample size, Joseph was targeted 12 times and had 5 interceptions and one pass defense – a ridiculous pass disruption rate.

Rounds 2-3

  1. Kevin Byard, Middle Tennessee State

Byard was snubbed from the combine but showed his speed at his pro day with a 4.46 40-yard dash. That speed shows up on tape as he is arguably the best deep FS in this class showing great range, instincts, and ball skills – Byard recorded four interceptions and seven pass breakups on 46 passes thrown in his coverage. With the seventh-best coverage grade in the class, Byard has a chance to break the dearth that is the free safety position in the NFL. While his competition level is a question and his ability to take proper angles in the run game, Byard’s specialty is a big need in the NFL today.

  1. Jeremy Cash, Duke

Whatever position Cash is – whether he is a linebacker, strong safety, or the new hybrid Deone Bucannon position – there is no denying his production in college. Cash started 2015 on a torrid pace grading almost double than the next closest safety (+37.1 vs +19.9) through nine weeks. While Cash did struggle to finish the season grading at -7.8 in Weeks 12 and 13, he still graded as our top safety in 2015. Don’t expect Cash to play as a deep safety or to cover in the slot as he is best rushing the passer and in run defense.

  1. Darian Thompson, Boise State

Thompson graded well the past two seasons for Boise State – second in class in 2014, fourth in 2015. While excelling in 2014 in pass coverage, Thompson was better in run defense in 2015. Thompson isn’t limited to a specific scheme which makes him attractive to every team in need of any caliber safety. He shows good instincts in coverage and aggressiveness in the run game. While his aggressiveness can be a concern by missing tackles, he provides a versatile safety that should be productive at the next level.

  1. Vonn Bell, Ohio State

Bell looks best as a 2-high safety showing good instincts in working angles in the pass game and run game. He shows good ball skills and range from the deep safety position. While he has good speed, Bell will sometimes look slow to react and lacks aggressiveness in tackling – whether in the run game or pass game. While he has the athleticism to play in a variety of schemes, his hesitation to tackle leaves question marks on the table.

Rounds 4-7

  1. Justin Simmons, Boston College

As bad as Boston College’s offense was in 2015, its defense was just as good if not better. A big reason for that was the play of Simmons as he allowed zero touchdowns and had five interceptions when targeted. Simmons might be limited in the NFL because he lacks top-end speed and explosiveness. He tends to keep spacing when in coverage instead of locking up with the receiver and seems to be overly cautious about being beaten deep. Simmons likely fits better as a strong safety where his speed won’t be exposed and his excellent work in the run game can be best utilized.

  1. Will Parks, Arizona

Parks has graded extremely well the past two seasons. He was used as slot corner/strong safety in 2014 and excelled in all facets grading as the second best cover corner and best run defender. In 2015, Arizona used him more in a strong safety/outside linebacker role and he continued to graded well as a run defender but struggled in coverage. Parks is aggressive and does not shy away from taking on bigger blockers. He does so while also showing a good ability to shed the bigger and stronger player. His 2015 role may be best suited for him as his change of direction ability in space is a concern.

  1. Jayron Kearse, Clemson

A boom-or-bust player, Kearse is overly aggressive which leads to splash plays as well busted coverages and missed tackles. Kearse shows good instincts initially but often finds himself out of position due to taking poor angles and stopping his feet when looking to tackle – his tackling efficiency ranked 71st in the 2015 class and ten missed tackles ranked 63rd. His measurables are big question marks – 4.60 short shuttle, 7.06 3-cone, 4.62 40 – but his size and instincts are worth a Day 3 pick.

  1. Keanu Neal, Florida

Neal is another flashy prospect but is much too inconsistent in making plays. Like Kearse, Neal is overly aggressive leading to the big plays and also the missed tackles and assignments. Grading as our 78th safety in this year’s class, Neal’s athleticism is pushing him higher on many people’s draft boards. He is too risky for our liking – his 16 missed tackles and -3.0 grade back that up.

  1. T. J. Green, Clemson

Green is another athletic safety prospect being talked about as high as even round 1, but his tape shows a different story. Green shies away from blocks and is susceptible to play action passes. Green is projected as a free safety and his elite speed lines up with that, but his -10.8 coverage grade ranked last in the class. Any concerns about Green are on full display in the Nation Championship game where he was torched for 133 yards and a touchdown.

  1. Miles Killebrew, Southern Utah

Killebrew comes from the FCS level but his size and athleticism alone make him an attractive day three prospect. In three games we have on Killebrew against FBS competition, he graded at +4.7 from the strong safety position. He shows aggressiveness in the run game and smoothness in changing directions when covering the slot.

  1. Tyvis Powell, Ohio State

Like his Buckeye counterpart, Powell would be best-suited as a 2-high safety. Powell has the speed and range to cover deep and closes well on passes underneath. He is suspect in run defense as he shoulder tackles and drops his head just before contact leading to missed tackles – 28 combined the past two seasons.


Jalen Mills, LSU

Mills has good size and speed but he doesn’t used them to his advantage. He plays with poor technique, back pedaling standing high and slow to react to plays in front of him. Mills will probably be drafted based on his measureables and school but he leaves a lot of plays on the field.

Tanner McEvoy, Wisconsin

McEvoy is a tweener prospect in that whatever team he ends up on won’t know where to play him. He graded very well as a deep safety but his size (6-6, 230) and movement skills don’t translate to the position in the NFL. While he does move well for his size, he might be best suited as a tight end.

Michael Caputo, Wisconsin

The other Wisconsin Badger has the more prototypical size for a safety but moves similarly to McEvoy, which is not good for Caputo. He shows aggressiveness in the run game but much of his success in the pass game was due to getting lucky to poorly thrown or late passes.

| Analyst

John is an analyst for Pro Football Focus and former safety for the University of Kansas Jayhawks (2004–2006).

  • edromeo

    No KJ Dillon?

  • Tom Campagna

    No Sean Davis?

    • codered5

      Corner this year

    • Jim

      Sean Davis is a huge miss. Davis will play Safety in the pros. He was moved to CB his senior year because he was the best DB on the team. He led the Big 10 in tackles among all DBs as a junior. He is good enough in coverage to be moved to CB his senior year.

      One of the best times at the combine in 3-cone at 6.7 secs, led all DBs with 21 reps on the bench, ran a 4.4 40—the kid is quick, fast and strong. He is also big at 6-1, 205 lbs. Sean Davis is also smart, he speaks English, French and Chinese.

      He is a big hitter and a sure tackler. Over 300 tackles his last 3 years! He is one of the few safeties tough enough to play in the box and also fast enough to cover center field. He would be a perfect fit playing along side Harrison Smith on the Vikings. PFF doesn’t mention him in their top 200. Everybody else has him in the top 100. He will not last past the 3rd round.