Top Safety Prospects for the 2017 Draft

December 6, 2016

By Steven Callahan

Baseball experts often talk about being strong “up the middle” when it comes to defense. With a good defensive catcher, second baseman, shortstop, and center fielder, you’re better equipped to limit the number of runs your opponent scores. The same theory applies in football, and that’s where the importance of a team’s defensive safeties comes in. If you’re weak down the middle because your free safety and strong safety are below average, the other team will take full advantage – especially in this era of pass-happy offenses in the National Football League. While the 2017 NFL Draft is several months away, here’s an early look at today’s top college safeties who are expected to be tomorrow’s NFL stars – as well as a couple of “sleepers.”

#1. Malik Hooker, Ohio State: Most draft evaluators consider Hooker to be a top 20 pick in the 2017 draft. He’s fast, athletic, and can defend the deep pass. He’s also a strong defender against the run and compares favorably with four-time Pro Bowl pick Eric Berry of the Kansas City Chiefs.

#2. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan:  For all his skill – and hype – Peppers isn’t easy to evaluate. He’s played primarily as a linebacker as a junior at Michigan and draft experts have some concerns about his pass coverage abilities. But, make no mistake, Peppers is a unique athlete who has played multiple positions for the Wolverines. He’s a physical tackler, has great speed, and is a quick learner. A team like the Bears, who desperately needs to add defensive talent via the draft, could be a possible landing spot for Peppers.

#3. Jamal Adams, LSU:  Adams is an instinctive defender who’s always around the ball, and who provides tremendous support to his team’s cornerbacks on the deep pass. He’s also good against the run and rarely misses tackles.

#4. Justin Evans, Texas A&M:  Teammate Myles Garrett gets most of the attention when it comes to A&M’s defense, but Evans is a potential first-round pick. He has good size, good pass coverage skills, and is a sure tackler.

#5. Marcus Maye, Florida: Maye has all the necessary skills to succeed in the NFL but has been somewhat inconsistent this season for Florida. While he’s made plenty of impressive plays, he’s also given up some big plays that hurt his team. On the other hand, he’s made his share of touchdown-saving tackles.


Nate Holley, Kent State:  Holley is valued for his versatility and was a tackling machine for the Golden Flashes this season. He’s also been a highly effective pass rusher on safety blitzes. The only knock against him is that his pass coverage skills have been inconsistent.

Obi Melifonwu, UConn:  Hard hitting s outstanding size and he’s worked his way up the draft boards thanks to an excellent 2016 season. He’s considered a mid-round NFL draft pick, but with a serious upside.