NFL Draft Safety Rankings 2022: From The College Perspective

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Draft Safety Rankings 2022: From The College Perspective

College Football Features

NFL Draft Safety Rankings 2022: From The College Perspective


Who are the safeties who’ll matter in the 2022 NFL Draft, and what’s the college perspective on all of the top prospects?

2022 NFL Draft Safety Rankings

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It’s the 2022 NFL Draft’s most underappreciated group at – maybe – the most underappreciated position in all of sports.

Everyone gushes all over the pass rushers, and the quarterbacks, and the big play receivers. Even the tight ends are glamorized now in the modern NFL.

Amazing safeties change everything, especially now, and this year’s crop is something special.

There’s incredible speed, a few intimidating forces, and a few talents who might just be among the best players in the entire draft.

It’s a loaded position full of guys who’ll drop – really, safeties just don’t get enough love – and will turn out to be amazing Day 2 and 3 gets.

From the college perspective, here are the best safety prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft.

2022 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings, Analysis
QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | OTsOGs & Cs | DEs & Edge | DTs
LBsNFL Draft by college over last 5 years: 1-130 rankings

Quentin Lake, UCLA

Size: 6-1, 205

The Good: A solid veteran who was around for five years and stepped up as a fifth-year senior, he’s a big, physical playmaker who brings a good thump and can be used like an extra linebacker on passing downs. Great on special teams, he should be able to find a home of some sort.

The Not-So-Good: He’s not all that fast or shifty. He might have the size, and he’s not slow, but he’s hardly a blazer and might be scheme-specific as more of a run stopper. He broke up 15 passes and picked off six in his career, but the range might not be there at an NFL level.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: There’s enough to his all-around game to like in the later rounds. Again, he’s going to be a willing and strong special teamer if needed, and he’s got the experience and the skills to be a part of a secondary mix.

NFL Draft Projection: Sixth Round

Bubba Bolden, Miami

Size: 6-3, 204

The Good: Very big and very fast, he’s got the measurables to be used in a variety of ways. He blasted away a 4.47 at the combine and looked explosive when he had a chance to show off. There’s no questioning the athleticism, and he’s a good veteran who had an excellent junior year at Miami with 74 tackles, and …

The Not-So-Good: He wasn’t able to build off a great 2020 thanks to a shoulder problem – he still came up with 42 tackles with a sack, though, in seven games. Yes, he’s a great athlete and can fly around, but he’s not a big enough tackler for his size. Don’t expect anything special in run support.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: Ever since he started and USC and moved over to Miami the expectations were through the roof. Safeties with his combination of size and speed are rare, but he’s going to have to translate his game into a more physical style for the next level. Even with all of the concerns, he might be great in different packages as a centerfielder on pure passing downs.

NFL Draft Projection: Fifth Round

Smoke Monday, Auburn

Size: 6-3, 199

The Good: Long, experienced, and really, really tough, he’s a great hitter who could quick grow into an intimidating force at the next level. A big playmaker over the last two seasons, he followed up a 73-tackle junior season with 63 stops last year. He picked off three passes over the last two years and took two for scores.

The Not-So-Good: Yeah, he’s a nasty player who knows how to pop, but overall he’s just okay in pass coverage. There’s nothing fluid about his style and he’s going to have to be scheme-specific as a run-stopping strong safety – you don’t want him to be a free safety in any way.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: Amazing hitter, great football character, strong baller against the run, he’s a thumping linebacker in the body of a 4.5 40 defensive back. He’ll drop because of the pass coverage concerns, but he’ll stick on a roster.

NFL Draft Projection: Fifth Round

Kerby Joseph, Illinois

Size: 6-1, 200

The Good: Around Illinois for four years, he was okay during the first three and then blew up as a senior with 57 tackles and five interceptions. More than that, he was ultra-consistent as he grew into his job after all the experience. He’s got good size, great range, and as he proved last year, he’s a nice playmaker on the ball.

The Not-So-Good: He might not fit every style and scheme. He’s a good tackler who can get physical, but he’s going to be a free safety who has to roam and make plays when the ball is in the air. There’s good speed, but he’s not enough of a blazer to keep up with the warp-wheel receivers.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: The measurables and skills are good enough to think he could be a starter as a roving deep playmaker. There’s a whole lot of upside if he can build off what he did last year and prove it was just the start of something bigger.

NFL Draft Projection: Third Round

Verone McKinley, Oregon

Size: 5-11, 194

The Good: A terrific all-around baller who improved over his four years, he’s part corner, part safety, and with the basics to do a little bit of everything.

He might not be huge, but he’s a good tackler who came up with 77 stops with six picks. Consistent, he played and looked like a guy who’d been in a Pac-12 secondary for four years and knew what he was doing.

The Not-So-Good: A true tweener, he’s not quite fast enough to work as a corner and he’s not bulky enough to be a physical safety. That’s also a problem – where does he work at safety? He’s going to need a specific role without the high-level measurables.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: You want to like him so much. He’s a great football player who should be able to find a home somewhere, but he has to be surrounded by speed. He’s not slow, and he’s certainly tough enough to go along with the experience to know how to get to the ball. He’ll be a great late round value pick.

NFL Draft Projection: Fourth Round

JT Woods, Baylor

Size: 6-2, 193

The Good: Really, really, really fast. He’s got a great frame, he’s a good tackler, and he cranked out a 4.36 40 at the combine. A big play threat with the ball in his hands, he picked off eight passes over the last two years and averaged a whopping 25 yards per return – and it’s not like any of them were the 95-yard variety.

He’s improving as a tackler. No, he’s not built to be a blaster, but he upped his tackle total in each of his four years with the Bears, and he became more of a factor behind the line. But …

The Not-So-Good: He makes a whole lot of mistakes. The physical toughness is there on his tackles, but he misses a few too many of them. There’s a feast-or-famine aspect to his game which might force him to need a specific role. To be what teams will need, the consistency in pass coverage has to be there.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: One of the more interesting calls at safety, he’s got way too much speed and way too high an upside to ignore. There are plenty of fast safeties in this draft, but few have the burst and can fly like Woods. You can work out the kinks and the concerns. You can’t coach a guy to have track star jets.

NFL Draft Projection: Third Round

Tycen Anderson, Toledo

Size: 6-2, 210

The Good: Measurables, measurables, measurables. So, how big would you like your safety to be? How about 6-2 and 210 pounds. You’d like that big safety to check in at around a 4.5 40 … how about 4.36?

He’s fluid, explosive, and he makes the tackle when he gets there. Just about everything with him can be worked on and improved with the potential to have the highest-end upside when it all works.

The Not-So-Good: He doesn’t make enough plays on the ball with just two interceptions – none in his last three years – and 16 broken up passes spread out in his career. You’d love for a guy with his wheels and athleticism to take over the deep roles, but that’s just not his game. However …

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: In the current world of the NFL he might just turn out to be a perfect fit. He’s a five-year player for Toledo with the experience to go along with those measurables, and he’s good enough to grow into the guy who handles the middle of the field or mirrors the tight end or running back. He’s not going to be the star of a secondary, but he can grow into an intimidating piece.

NFL Draft Projection: Fifth Round

Alontae Taylor, Tennessee (CB)

Size: 6-0, 195

The Good: This is a true projection because he’s really more of a corner. He’s got good size and NFL-level 4.36 wheels, but potential-wise he’s got more upside as a free safety.

He made four interceptions and spread out 15 broken up passes, but the toughness is there with his tackling ability. No, he’s not going to be any sort of a massive physical presence, but he came up with over 160 stops in his four years and is more than capable in the open field.

The Not-So-Good: Everything about him screams tweener. He’s got the measurables, but he’s not quite an NFL corner, and he’s not a sure-thing safety. He’s going to need the right fit and a creative coaching staff that just wants to get as much speed, experience, and athleticism on the field as possible. There will be a learning curve no matter where he plays. However …

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: Get that speed on the field. He played in the SEC and saw the wars over the last four years. This isn’t a guy who’s going to be fazed by anything he sees in an NFL camp.

Think of him like a good offensive tackle that you know will end up having a long career at guard. He’ll start out as a corner, and he could be a good starter. Eventually, he’ll be around the league for a long while at safety. More to the overall drafting point, you’re getting an NFL defensive back with sub-4.4 speed after the top 100 picks.

NFL Draft Projection: Fourth Round

Bryan Cook, Cincinnati

Size: 6-1, 210

The Good: He’s got great size, a nose for the ball, and he goes full-bore with a tone-setting toughness that all football players need to have to be football players, only at a whole other level.

He’ll break up passes – he made two picks with nine breakups last year – along with his 93 tackles as he stepped up in a big way in his third year with the program. Best of all, he’s got a whole lot of football in him – he seems like he’s just getting started.

The Not-So-Good: He’ll get to the ball and he’s a guided missile in the open field, but he doesn’t have that high end burst and speed to handle the deep receivers. He’s going to be scheme specific as a tough guy who steps up against the run. That’s fine, but the NFL coverage skills and fluidity are a question.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: He’s one of those guys coaches are going to see and say, “I want my safeties to play like THAT.”

There are a slew of question marks about his overall game, but he proved he could be a consistent producer and outstanding against the run. He’ll find a home in a secondary right away as long as there’s a free safety or two who can help the cause on passing downs.

NFL Draft Projection: Third Round

Jalen Pitre, Baylor

Size: 6-0, 197

The Good: He plays like he’s 6-4, 260 – but with 4.46 speed.

There might not be a defined role for him considering what he does, but that’s okay. He worked in Baylor’s funky catch-all position in the secondary that was part linebacker, part pass rusher, part freelancer, part see-guy-tackle-guy.

Pitre is experienced enough, quick enough, and tough enough to handle a responsibility like that after coming up with 135 tackles and a whopping 31.5 tackles for loss over the last two years.

The Not-So-Good: He’s not 6-4, 260.

He’s as tough as nails, but he’s not big enough to be a thumper in the NFL. He’s got the speed, but he’s not a killer in pass coverage to offer too much right out of the box as a free safety. It’s going to require some thinking about what you want him to do, but …

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: Just take him, send him out there, and tell him to go make things happen. He’s always going to be one of the smartest guys on the field, but really, where does he fit? Seriously, it won’t be that hard. He’ll be a sort of rover who grows into a disruptive force.

NFL Draft Projection: Second Round

Nick Cross, Maryland

Size: 6-1, 215

The Good: The measurables are all there to be the long, fast, athletic safety who can do different things for your secondary.

He came up with 67 tackles with three sacks and three picks last year, but he’s more than the stats – he’s a tone-setter. He combines the intimidation factor – there’s a lot of that in this year’s class of safeties – but with 4.34 wheels. Most of mistakes come from trying a bit too hard to do something big.

The Not-So-Good: The straight line wheels and explosion are great, but he’s not quite the most fluid of defenders on the quicker receivers. No one will get by him down the field, but it’ll be the short-range plays that are the concern. Again, he’ll pop, but he’ll sometimes miss when just the basic tackle will do.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: A very good player for Maryland over the last three years, he came up with a few picks and big plays when the ball was in the air, but that’s not why you’re getting him. The combination of speed and size is exactly what you want for your NFL safety. Everything else is workable.

NFL Draft Projection: Second Round

Jaquan Brisker, Penn State

Size: 6-1, 200

The Good: A terrific – and improved – tackler over his three years at Penn State, he was rock-steady, consistent, and great in the open field. The technique was there from the start, he was good enough in pass coverage, and he was great as a playmaker in the backfield as he started to get more comfortable.

He might not be massive for this class of safeties, and he’s not quite the nasty tough guy some of them are, but that all can be a bit overblown. He’s got sub-4.5 speed, the right size, and he played last year like a professional football player.

The Not-So-Good: There’s not a ton of WOW to what he does. He’s always around and he’s always doing things, but he’s more steady than sensational – if that matters to you. To keep emphasizing this, the class of safeties is full of guys who’ll live on the highlight reel for their thump. That’s not really Brisker, but …

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: He’s one of those players who keeps showing up during games over and over and over again even when he’s not making something special happen. There’s little to no work needing to be done once he hits an NFL camp. The second he gets on the field, he’ll look and play like he’s been there all along.

NFL Draft Projection: Second Round

Lewis Cine, Georgia

Size: 6-1, 200

The Good: On an all-time amazing defense loaded with all-stars and NFL talents, Cine was the leading tackler with 73 stops.

Extremely physical and packing a punch when he gets to the ball, he was an intimidating force who stood out with massive hits as a last line of defense. Combine the fierce hitting style with 4.37 speed and explosive leaping ability and quickness, and he’s a superstar athlete who can get all over the field.

The Not-So-Good: He didn’t do a whole lot when the ball was in the air and he didn’t do anything to get into the backfield. To be very, very fair, neither area had a lot to do with his job, but in three seasons he didn’t get a sack and only came up with three tackles for loss and two interceptions. As a hitter, he sometimes goes for the sensational and misses.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: The biggest problem with his game? He tries too hard to be physical – that’s a terrific issue to have, and it can be harnessed. He’s not as versatile as some of the other top safeties in this draft, but the measurables and experience are there to step into a strong safety role right away and produce.

NFL Draft Projection: Second Round

Daxton Hill, Michigan

Size: 6-0, 192

The Good: Really, really fast, everyone knew he was a good football player, and then he went from looking like he played fast to proving it with a 4.38 40.

This is a loaded draft full of athleticism and skill, but no one has the all-around game that Hill brings with the ability and upside to play anywhere. It’s one thing to have the measurables, but Hill is a good, sound hitter with corner speed and closing ability.

No, he’s not going the crush and thump, but he doesn’t miss – there’s no waste to what he does as a tackler or efficiency in his pass coverage.

The Not-So-Good: He’s about as high-end a tweener as it gets, but he’s not quite as physical as some might like. There’s no real intimidation factor, and there aren’t quite as many big plays on the ball as it might seem. He was a part of an overall puzzle, but he only came up with four interceptions in his three seasons and didn’t start breaking up plays on a regular basis until last season.

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: It’ll be interesting to see just how far he falls after the top 20. There aren’t any real knocks – he could be a physical corner, a silky-smooth safety, or anything in between for any team that needs defensive back help.

Because of how deep this draft is in certain spots – and the team needs at the end of the first round – but if he really does last until Day Two, watch for teams try to move up to get him. Some scout out there will lose his mind trying to get his GM to take him.

NFL Draft Projection: Second Round

Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame

Size: 6-4, 220

The Good: One of the best and most respected safety prospects to come along in a long, long time, he’s an elite athlete who’s smooth as glass with NFL instincts and smarts right out of the box.

He’s not a blazer, but he’s fast enough for a 6-4, 220-pound hybrid playmaker who just knows how to play football. Best of all, he’ll work and work some more to be everything a coaching staff needs.

You want him to play like an athletic linebacker who can destroy a running back? Not a problem. You want him to hang with any tight end and push him around to disrupt the route? He’s got the strength.

A knee problem kept him from cranking out a full season last year, but he still closed out his three-year career with close to 140 tackles with eight interceptions and 16 broken up passes.

The Not-So-Good: Just how much do you care about the 4.59 40?

His size and other athletic traits make up for that, but in this draft that’s brutally slow in a safety group full of blazers, and it’s even a tad pokey for some of the linebackers. His times were all over the board during the offseason process – there’s a 4.7 thrown out there, but he’s really more of a mid-4.5.

There’s a slight risk that he’s too much of a tweener. He’s not a linebacker yet, and he might not have a set position that fits if he gains more weight. He’s not really a deep safety, and …

NFL Draft College Perspective Thought: The measurables are great, the speed is good enough, and everything is in place in a purely good football player who brings franchise-changing talent to the secondary and locker room. As is he might be the best player in this draft, and that wouldn’t be a question if he could’ve cranked out just one great 40.

No NFL scouting staff worth being an NFL scouting staff is going to pass him up on his straight line 40 time, and it’s going to be really, really, really painful for the few teams that will say no early on to go a different direction.

Ten years from now, there’s a strong chance people will be talking about this being the draft that (insert some teams drafting in the top five here) passed on Kyle Hamilton.

NFL Draft Projection: Top 10 Overall

2022 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings, Analysis
QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | OTsOGs & Cs | DEs & Edge | DTs
LBsNFL Draft by college over last 5 years: 1-130 rankings

2022 College Football Schedules: All 131 Teams


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