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2017 NFL draft rankings: Top 10 safeties

A quietly deep safety class.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Ohio State
Hooker intercepts pass.
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Honorable mentions: Lorenzo Jerome, St. Francis; Rayshawn Jenkins, Miami; John Johnson, BC; Eddie Jackson, Alabama; Josh Harvey-Clemons, Louisville; Delano Hill, Michigan; Josh Jones, NC State.

10. Tedric Thompson, 6’1” and 205 pounds, Colorado: The younger brother of former Dolphin, Cedric Thompson, Tedric Thompson remains raw in technique at the safety position.

He’s still learning to anticipate what assignment to bite on in Cover 2 help coverage. He’ll occasionally bite over aggressively on plays underneath, leaving vulnerability concerns over top. He’s dependable in man to man, but a bit handsy downfield. Thompson lacks an explosive burst, but displays above-average instincts on throws. Despite being a quick athlete, he plays with inconsistent speed – especially in pursuit. He has decent size with a thin lower half, though he is not afraid of physicality. Thompson has good ball skills, and shows fluid mobility in his back pedal and lateral movements. His tackling angles need work, and he’ll need to become more of a wrap-up finisher. Numerous times he put himself in position to hit the quarterback, but failed to make the play, which is attributed to his poor tackling angles. He was poor in run support and seemed conflicted on what angle to take.

He’s strictly a free safety who needs to polish his game. He’ll start as a backup with a chance to become an average starter down the line.

9. Marcus Maye, 6’0” and 215 pounds, Florida: Maye isn’t flashy, but he’s dependable.

He’s underwhelming in size, but has a thick and muscular frame. Maye is a physical, hard-hitting tackler, but he needs to consistently wrap up. Too many times he just threw himself at players thinking it would be enough to bring his target down. His speed allows him to show an exceptional burst toward targets, though he loses feel for fast receivers. He’s average in man to man coverage, leaving him exposed against quick athletes. Maye has good instincts and vision in dissecting plays, showing good break on the routes. Turning and sprinting against faster receivers is a weakness of his, especially with his tight hips. With his liabilities in coverage downfield, and his ability to shed blocks in the trenches; box-safety would be a nice fit for him.

He’ll be a starter very early in his career. He’s a smart, mature player who will likely be taken in the third or fourth round range.

8. Justin Evans, 6’0” and 199 pounds, Texas A&M: Evans is a big hitter, but he had his share of missed tackles. He needs to avoid making the highlight hit every time and strive for the sure tackle.

He’s an outstanding athlete who has great closing speed. He can roam as a centerfield of your defense, but will shine playing inside the box of the defense. Evans wasn’t asked to do much in man to man coverage, and his aggressive, big-hit style could get him in trouble against agile athletes. He times his jumps with great instinct, and tracks balls well, though he won’t get a ton of interceptions. Evans makes up for the lack of turnovers by setting the physical tone for your secondary. He’s a strong safety who can flourish by using physicality and speed, sideline to sideline. He’ll need to add bulk to withstand his physical style of play at the next level.

He’ll likely be taken in the third or fourth round.

7. Desmond King, 5’10” and 200 pounds, Iowa: King was one of the best ball hawks in the nation with over 30 interceptions for his career.

The former Iowa cornerback lacks ideal height, but has impressive physicality to make up for it with terrific open-field tackling. He has some experience playing press coverage, but he displayed his true potential in zone or off coverage. His read and react skills are outstanding, and he can dissect the field quickly to recognize route patterns. King displays good quickness and closing speed to plays in front of him, but his turn-and-run speed is below average. He opens his hips way too earlier and can get exposed against faster receivers. He also lunges toward receivers at the line of scrimmage in press coverage, leaving him vulnerable. On tape, he was stiff when chasing receivers across the field on drag routes, displaying a lack of top-end speed against elite athletes. That can be coached, but he must improve his timing and instincts on defending faster athletes. King has had some off the field concerns. He skipped multiple team meetings which lead to suspensions. That doesn’t make him a head case, but it raises questions about his maturity level.

His game translates more into a safety rather than a corner at the next level. He’ll likely be taken in the second or third round.

6. Obi Melifonwu, 6’4” and 224 pounds, Connecticut: Another under-the-radar defensive back out of UConn tore up the combine.

Melifonwu has elite size and length for the position. He’s a reliable tackler, who doesn’t need to give a lot of effort to lay someone out. He can play both Cover 2 or box-safety due to his fluid athleticism. He drops his hips in coverage and shadows receivers downfield. Despite using a quick burst for short distance, his play speed is a bit inconsistent at times. It doesn’t always match the 40-yard dash time he posted. Melifonwu tends to allow underneath throws to keep everything in front of him, but will rarely get beat deep. He has solid instincts and reacts quickly, but occasionally will be a second late in responding to what he sees. He struggles with pad level and must be taught to get lower when tackling in run support. He needs to improve the angles taken to the ball, and suffered from inconsistency which lead to boom-or-bust plays. He’ll thrive as a Cover 2 deep safety with good hands and ball hawk ability.

Melifonwu is the first safety on this list that I like for the Dolphins in terms of fit. He could compliment Reshad Jones well, but may be slightly over-drafted within the first 40 picks. Miami would likely have to trade up in the second round to select him.

5. Marcus Williams, 6’1” and 202 pounds, Utah: The game comes easy to Williams.

He’s an incredibly fluid athlete who displayed smooth footwork and backpedals. Williams rarely is overaggressive in play style, but wasn’t asked to cover one on one often. He showed flashes of being a dangerous ball hawk that can cover a lot of ground in Cover 2 defense. He tracks the ball well but needs to whip his head around slightly sooner at times. He’s a good tackler who takes good angles, but plays too upright at times, leading to drag-tackles rather than wrap-up tackles. Williams must do a better job of keeping his emotions in check, as he was penalized with personal fouls at inopportune times. He has exceptional hands, awareness and IQ for a safety, allowing him to be a day-one starter.

An ideal fit for Miami, and will be available in the second or third round.

4. Budda Baker, 5’10” and 195 pounds, Washington: Baker plays with a swagger and excellent instincts.

He’s an explosive and agile athlete with outstanding play speed. He’s undersized and struggles against bigger tight ends. Despite being a physical guy who is a good tackler, he needs to wrap-up more oppose to jumping at opponent’s ankles. Baker has good ball skills, but his hands are inconsistent. He makes great, acrobatic plays, but drops the easy ones. It seemed like most of his drops were focus drops, especially when jumping routes. Baker can also positively influence a defense as a blitzer and playmaker in the short passing game, as he is quick to diagnose each play. He won’t shy away from run support, as he sheds blocks nicely, though he’ll need to add bulk to compete with the bigger athletes at the next level.

He’s a great fit at free safety for Miami if he can bulk up. He could find himself as a late first-round pick.

3. Jabrill Peppers, 5’11” and 213 pounds, Michigan: Peppers is the most versatile athlete in the draft.

He’s quick-twitched, explosive and has outstanding acceleration. His 4.46 40-yard dash time proved he’s fast enough to play cornerback, linebacker and safety, though I would argue his ceiling is at box-safety. Peppers is always looking to deliver powerful hits, and he may be the most intimidating defenseman on the field. Peppers can read plays and dissect them quickly, and hits the correct gaps in run support without getting lost in blocks. He has a high motor, and will be an emotional leader on and off the field. His athleticism makes him dangerous in the open field – he was utilized on offense many times at Michigan. He occasionally is overaggressive in his decision making and pursuit, causing bad angles on tackles. Despite his athleticism, he isn’t a guy that showed great ball skills and made few game-changing turnovers on defense. He plays better with everything in front of him, and occasionally loses assignments downfield when asked to cover for a significant amount of time. Peppers is still a bit raw as a safety in coverage, but that’s due to lack of consistency at one position in college. He possesses all physical tools you want, but must be coached well.

He’s at his best as a physical, free-range player at strong safety or outside linebacker. I’m not sure he’s a very good fit for the Dolphins on paper, good coaches find a way to get the most out of elite athletes. He’ll likely be selected in the top 40 picks.

2. Malik Hooker, 6’1” and 206 pounds, Ohio State: Hooker is a true ball hawk, who plays like a running back with the ball in his hands.

He has great athleticism and coordination for a safety. He’s not an explosive athlete, but he’s a smooth one. Think of how Ed Reed didn’t have blazing speed or exceptional athleticism, but he was just an overall smooth athlete who became a master of his ball hawking craft by learning how to play the game at the highest level with what he physically had. Hooker isn’t Ed Reed, but the same comparison for his athleticism could be said. He’s not an exceptional athlete, but a smooth one. Hooker is built well with good size and width for a free safety in Cover 2 defense.

He has elite instincts and IQ, and diagnoses plays with rare quickness, showing terrific range in coverage. He has a knack for timing his closing speed and hitting a player as soon as he receives the ball. Hooker has great top end speed, allowing him room for error on recovery.

Hooker takes great angles to the ball carrier, but isn’t considered reliable in run support tackling. He tends to be a bit indecisive in run support, and is often jumping at ankles rather than wrapping up high. He is a bit upright in the way he plays, which prevents him from changing direction smoothly, and he remains raw in man to man coverage.

He’ll likely be a top 10 pick.

1. Jamal Adams, 6’0” and 214 pounds, LSU: Adams can be the centerpiece of a team’s defense.

He’s considered the quarterback of your defense, and has an elite IQ of where defenders should be at all times. He can play all over as a strong safety or free safety, and will rarely hesitate in decision making. His outstanding read-and-react skills, speed and acceleration lead to crushing hits. He moves fluidly enough to play like a corner in coverage, with the ability to cover and offensive weapon. Adams is a playmaker with the ability to force turnovers, rather than wait for the ball to come to him. He has good hands that will translate to interceptions at the next level, but he impressed me with his ability to knock the ball loose from a player’s hands. He has a knack for finding ways to break passes up at the last second. His style will occasionally cause overaggressive tackling angles. He must avoid being handsy in coverage, especially downfield on big tight ends. He doesn’t possess great speed, and is more quick than fast. Recovery speed will be a question at the next level, and one might wonder if he’s better suited as a strong safety.

He’s an elite player that can be used in any defense. He’ll likely be a top five pick.