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Top 5 safety prospects heading into the bowl season

Our look at some of the top prospects in next year’s draft continues as we examine several key names to keep an eye on at the safety spot. WR | LB | OL | CB | S

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Alabama vs Georgia Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL season is unfortunately approaching its end (insert frowning face here). As it winds down we will continue to ramp up our look at some of the top offensive and defensive prospects heading into the offseason. We’ve already given you guys a glimpse into some key positions of interest for San Francisco - this installment will provide us with some insight into the top safeties in college football. Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Deionte Thompson - Alabama, S, No. 14 - Height: 6’2” | Weight: 196 lbs. | Projected 40 time: 4.46

Deionte Thompson has been one of college football’s breakout players in 2018, and multiple pro team sources are raving about him - they’re even going as far to say that a first-round buzz is building around him. In 2018, he has two interceptions, five passes broken up, three forced fumbles and 71 tackles. Thompson has displayed excellent range to cover a lot of ground in the deep part of the field and nice instincts. With his size, speed, and IQ, Thompson could be a free safety. A true single high safety to lock down the deep part of the field is a rare commodity to find, and Thompson could be that as a pro. Thompson was a backup to Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison as a junior. Over limited playing time last season, Thompson recorded 27 tackles, four passes broken up and two interceptions. The 6-foot-2, 196-pounder has a big-time skill set and could be a fast riser during the 2019 NFL Draft process. As we all know San Francisco is looking for more depth in the secondary and if they rattle off a few wins to end the season they may slide back in the draft which, in turn, could lend them an importunity to consider Thompson.

Juan Thornhill - Virginia, S, No. 21 - Height: 6’0” | Weight: 210 lbs. | Projected 40 time: 4.48

A prospect who has potential to sneak into the middle parts of the second round, Thornhill excels in coverage from a variety of techniques. He has a natural feel in zone for coverage spacing and working into throwing windows while also effective in man coverage where his length and physicality will serve him well working against tight ends and bigger slots. There are some matchups in the slot, mainly against quicker receivers, that could be problematic for Thornhill in man coverage but he has the physical traits to lineup with flexed tight ends and big-bodied possession receivers. Thornhill is a strong tackler and plays the game with a physical demeanor as he works through contact. He has the contact power expected for his size. He can win near the line of scrimmage and offers the traits needed to function as a box safety.

Jonathan Abram, S, No. 38 - Mississippi State - Height: 6’1” | Weight: 200 Projected | 40: 4.41

More and more people are realizing that Jonathan Abram is a really solid player who has starter potential. Abram has 93 tackles with two interceptions, five passes broken up, 2.5 sacks, and 7.5 tackles for a loss so far in 2018. Sources have been impressed with Abram this season and say he plays the game the right way. He is a physical enforcer in the middle of the field who is a good run defender and functional in pass coverage. One source said that Abram reminds him of former Texas A&M safety Justin Evans, a second-round pick of Tampa Bay in the 2017 NFL Draft. Expect Abram to be selected anywhere between the end of round two and the beginning of round four, depending on how combine season goes for him.

Taylor Rapp, S, No. 21 - Washington - Height: 6’0” | Weight: 207 lbs. | Projected 40 time: 4.50

Rapp has 59 tackles with five sacks, four passes broken up and two interceptions thus far this year and has helped lead an impressive Washington Huskies defense. Rapp was a solid defender for Washington as a sophomore. In 2017, he totaled 59 tackles with two sacks and one interception. Rapp played well as a freshman for the Huskies in 2016 and performed well as the strong safety next to Budda Baker. Rapp totaled 53 tackles with two passes broken up, one forced fumble and four interceptions that season. Rapp is a quality strong safety who needs to impress with cover skills in 2018. The folks over at NFL Draft Geek had this to say about Rapp’s draft projection:

Because of his all around skill set combined with his athletic traits whenever Taylor Rapp enters the NFL Draft he should go within the early rounds. He’s compared a lot to Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith and it’s not hard to see the fit. Both players are good in the back end in coverage and good at coming up to stop the run. While Rapp does show the ability to play man coverage out of the slot and play closer to the line of scrimmage, his success in the NFL could be as more of a traditional safety position.

Taylor Rapp could provide some awesome value for the 49ers if they feel led to spend a second-day draft pick on some much-needed depth for the secondary.

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S, No. 23 - Florida - Height: 6’0” | Weight: 207 lbs | Projected 40 time: 4.53

The 49ers are young in the secondary but the clock is ticking for several players - the likes of Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt have proven to be solid defenders but the jury’s still out on whether or not they can be effective starters for years to come; Ward is more of a wildcard when it comes to figuring his position out and Tartt still needs to prove that he can be a top safety in the league. Chauncey Gardner would provide depth at a position with question marks and seeing him line up next to Adrian Colbert would be quite fun for 49ers fans. Gardner is a converted corner-turned-safety so the growing pains showed early - as he’s gotten more comfortable, though, he has shown potential to be one of the elite prospects in next year’s draft. Gardner-Johnson has 66 tackles, nine for a loss, three sacks, two passes broken up and two interceptions in 2018 from mainly playing slot cornerback for the Gators. He has played well overall for them and has been a productive presence in the middle of the field. Gardner-Johnson is a solid tackler and has turned into an aggressive run defender.