Red Zone

Rating the top safeties in the NFL Draft with an eye on Chiefs’ needs

LSU safety Jamal Adams.
LSU safety Jamal Adams. The Associated Press

Included in measurables are height, weight, age they turn this year (if available) and 40-yard-dash time. Grades and rankings are based on film study (at least six games worth, whenever possible) and proprietary reporting. Quotes are harvested from conference calls, individual interviews and television broadcasts. Grades are intended to convey a general sense of the draftee’s value, and where he might be selected.

Included in measurables are height, weight, age they turn this year (if available) and 40-yard-dash time. Grades and rankings are based on film study (at least six games worth, whenever possible) and proprietary reporting. Quotes are harvested from conference calls, individual interviews and television broadcasts. Grades are intended to convey a general sense of the draftee’s value, and where he might be selected.

1. JAMAL ADAMS, Louisiana State

Measurables: 6-0, 214, 21, 4.56

Bio: Two-year starter who recorded 76 tackles (7  1/2 for loss), one sack, five passes defensed, four pass breakups, one interception and one forced fumble in 12 games in 2016. Declared after his true junior season.

Strengths: Team captain. Posted a 4.13-second 20-yard shuttle, which was among the best times at his position at the Combine. Has outstanding length (33  3/8 -inch arms). Has some burst going forward. Covers plenty of ground and has some ball skills. Also a reliable tackler. Has good instincts and is comfortable playing in space and in the box. Has the look of a guy who can match up with tight ends. A complete safety in the eyes of many. “Jamal Adams, it’s kind of all of it together,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “Talk about a guy that can set the tone with his temperament on the field, his energy is fantastic.” Alpha type who draws comparisons to Chiefs safety Eric Berry because of his leadership ability. Emotional, demonstrative and super competitive. “You hear great stories about him from a leadership standpoint,” Jeremiah said. “Talked to folks at LSU, they say he’s the best leader they’ve had there in 20 years. All those boxes get checked.”

Weaknesses: Isn’t an elite athlete. Aggressiveness bites him sometimes. Doesn’t have a ton of ball production. Some don’t think he’s the best safety in the class. “He doesn’t have the ball skills, explosiveness and range in coverage that (Malik) Hooker does,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr., said. “But Adams running that unofficial 4.38 40 helps. The bothersome part is the 31  1/2 vertical jump.”

Grade: 7.3

Games I’ve watched before grading him: Alabama 2016, Florida 2016, Texas A&M 2016

2. MALIK HOOKER, Ohio State

Measurables: 6-1, 206, 21, N/A

Bio: First-year starter who recorded 74 tackles (5  1/2 for loss), 11 pass deflections, 13 interceptions and zero forced fumbles in 13 games in 2016. Declared after his redshirt sophomore season.

Strengths: Is young for a prospect. Has good size, length (32  1/4 -inch arms) and large hands (10  3/4 -inch hands). Covers a ton of ground; can track the ball, run the alley and make plays from depth. “Has the best ball skills in the class,” ESPN’s Todd McShay said. “A big-time playmaker.” Plays the game with his eyes; that, plus his ability to play the ball, draw legitimate comparisons to the great Ed Reed. “Malik Hooker, his ability, like Ed, to get you the football … to me, he’s pretty special with his instincts, range and ball skills,” Jeremiah said. Willing tackler who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty; throws his body around. Likes shooting gaps and playing in the backfield when allowed to. Emotional player who gets after it.

Weaknesses: Did not work out prior to the hip surgeries. Bigger backs can get the best of him. Very aggressive and sometimes takes the cheese on double moves. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock likes him but has some concerns, including his injury history and tackling. “I love Malik Hooker,” Mayock said. “I think he’s the best center field free safety I’ve seen in a while on tape. But I have two concerns. Number one is the durability. He’s a one-year starter at Ohio State. He’s coming off two surgeries after the season, and you’ve got to worry about his durability. Number two, he’s an inconsistent tackler. And if you’re going to play him at single high safety, one of his main jobs is going to be tackling. He’s the last line of defense, and he’s highly inconsistent, which worries me.”

Grade: 7.1

Games I’ve watched before grading him: Oklahoma 2016, Michigan 2016, Clemson 2016

3. JABRILL PEPPERS, Michigan

Measurables: 5-11, 213, 21, 4.46

Bio: Two-year starter who recorded 72 tackles (16 for loss), four sacks, zero pass breakups, one interception and one forced fumble in 12 games in 2016. Also rushed 27 times for 181 yards (6.2 ypc) and three touchdowns, returned 21 punts for 310 yards (14.8 ypr) and one touchdown, and 10 kicks for 260 yards (26 ypr). Missed the bowl game with a hamstring injury. Declared after his redshirt sophomore season. Winner of the Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player.

Strengths: Tremndous quickness and athleticism; was among his position’s top tester at the Combine in the 40, vertical jump (35  1/2 inches) and broad jump (128 inches). Covers a lot of ground and is at his best going forward and attacking the line of scrimmage; is aggressive and likes contact. Intriguing potential as a box safety; 16 tackles for loss an indication of his ability to help in run support. Has some juice as a blitzer; can duck under tackles and get home. Tough and competitive; gives terrific effort. Alpha, pied piper-type leader who is beloved in the Michigan program and inspires confidence in his teammates while demanding their best. Is intriguing with the ball in his hands; running back might have been his best position had he stayed there in college but already as the look of a Pro Bowl-caliber returner. “He can be an impact returner right away,” Kiper said. “A super-explosive athlete.” Overall versatility is attractive to draft analysts. “The biggest compliment I can give him is he’s a football player,” Mayock said. “That sounds stupid, but he is. I don’t think you can put a label on Jabrill Peppers. He was asked to do a bunch of different things at Michigan, and he did them at a high level.”

Weaknesses: Tested positive for a diluted urine sample at the Combine. There’s some uncertainty about his NFL position; is too small to play linebacker, his college position, and he has almost no ball production and experience playing safety. Will have to train his eyes to recognize coverages and might require some time to adjust to playing in the back half of the field. “Peppers, he’s one of the tougher evaluations in this draft class because he played out of position this year at linebacker,” Jeremiah said. “You don’t really see him do what he’s going to be asked to do at the next level. The lack of production, it is what it is. He’s got one interception that came in his last game. That’s something you got to try to sort through.”

Grade: 6.8

Games I’ve watched before grading him: Penn State 2016, Wisconsin 2016, Ohio State 2016

4. MARCUS WILLIAMS, Utah

Measurables: 6-1, 202, 20, 4.56

Bio: Three-year starter who recorded 64 tackles (one for loss), three pass breakups, five interceptions and two forced fumbles in 11 games in 2016. Declared after his true junior season.

Strengths: Is young for a prospect. Was among his position’s top testers in the vertical jump (43  1/2 inches), broad jump (129 inches) and three-cone drill (6.85 seconds). Experienced and productive. Terrific athlete who is comfortable playing single-high coverage and running the alley. Athletic road runner who has a knack for playing the ball in the air; plays the game with his eyes and has ball skills. Willing tackler.

Weaknesses: Will lower his shoulder to get the job done but isn’t a punishing tackler and will miss some tackles. Not a downhill, in-the-box force; will do his best work patrolling the deep third of the field as the last resort.

Grade: 6.8

Games I’ve watched before grading him: San Jose State 2016, Arizona 2016, Oregon 2016

5. OBI MELIFONWU, Connecticut

Measurables: 6-4, 224, 23, 4.40

Bio: Four-year starter who recorded 118 tackles (2  1/2 for loss), seven passes deflected, three pass breakups, four interceptions and zero forced fumbles in 12 games in 2016.

Strengths: Was among the top testers at his position in the 40, vertical jump (44 inches) and broad jump (141 inches). Grown man with outstanding size and length. Translates to the field, where he moves like a smaller man on film and covers a lot of ground, especially when working from the hash to the sideline. Is built like a box linebacker but spent plenty of time working in space. Experienced and productive. Actively tries to deflect passes away in coverage and has some ball production. Willing hitter who shows the ability to fly up and play downhill. Might be able to be a weapon in coverage against tight ends. “He’s a guy that could cover tight ends one week and go out on a big wideout the next week,” Mayock said. “I think he’d be interesting.”

Weaknesses: Packs a little punch as a tackler but isn’t quite the enforcer he should be given his rare combination of size and athleticism; doesn’t consistently punish players entering his area and is a drag-down tackler more than you’d like. Needs to do a better jobbreaking down and wrapping up in space. “He missed a few tacklers here and there he still needs a little work,” Kiper said. “But he’s supremely talented.” Needs to do a better job getting his head around to locate the ball on deep throws.”

Grade: 6.8

Games I’ve watched before grading him: Virginia 2016, Houston 2016, South Florida 2016

OTHERS TO WATCH

Bishard “Budda” Baker, Washington; Justin Evans, Texas A&M; Josh Jones, North Carolina State; Marcus Maye, Florida; Tedric Thompson, Colorado

GRADING SCALE

7.5-7.1: Top 10 pick

7.0: picks 11-20

6.9: 21-32

6.8: Top half of the second round

6.7: Bottom half of the second

6.6: Top half of the third

6.5: Bottom half of the third

6.4: Fourth-round pick

6.3: Fifth-round pick

6.2: Sixth-round pick

6.1: Seventh-round pick

6.0: Priority free agent

5.9: Non-prospect

2017 NFL DRAFT PREVIEW: SAFETIES

What the analysts say: “I think the safety class is outstanding, depending upon what kind of safety you prefer, whether it's a box safety or a true center field free safety type, those guys are there,” NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks said. “There are also some guys who are kind of following the trend of the hybrid player, meaning they can be the nickel safety linebacker or the nickel corner while also occupying a deep safety role.”

Chiefs’ need at this position: Low. The Chiefs have one of the best safety duos in football with Eric Berry, 27, and Ron Parker, 29, and they extended third safety and dime linebacker Daniel Sorensen — a former undrafted free agent who played 48 percent of the defensive snaps in 2017 — for four more years this offseason. Throw talented 2016 fourth-rounder Eric Murray — a converted corner who plays with an edge and served as a valuable special teamer — to the mix, and it’s hard to find much of a need here unless the Chiefs really like the player.

QB: With no consensus on draft’s top QB, Chiefs could have plenty to choose from | rankings

RB: Chiefs could draft big-play threat from loaded crop of running backs | rankings

FB: Chiefs try Lindenwood’s Connor Harris at fullback during local pro day | rankings

WR: Curtis Samuel showed he can be more than a receiver at Ohio State | rankings

TE: Mizzou’s Sean Culkin eager to prove he can do more in the pros | rankings

OL: Pro day performance caps fun two days for Missouri Western’s Travis Anderson | rankings, to come

DL: Former Park Hill star Ondre Pipkins hoping for NFL shot | rankings

EDGE: K-State’s Jordan Willis has worked his way into first-round discussion | rankings, to come

ILB: K-State linebacker Elijah Lee is betting on himself in NFL Draft | rankings

CB: Confident, deep crop of rookie corners should be enticing for Chiefs | rankings

S: Pitt State’s Deron Washington carries on NFL dream for family | rankings

The Terez A. Paylor All-Juice Team: 2017 | 2016 | 2015

Terez A. Paylor’s mock drafts: 4.0 | 3.0 | 2.0 | 1.0

Terez A. Paylor, tpaylor@kcstar.com

  Comments