Here we are again with another examination of top talents available at positions of need for the Niners in the upcoming NFL Draft. Today we’re going to take a gander at what the safety spot has to offer. Alex Eisen recently went over the top-rated cornerbacks so we’ll round out the secondary by taking a look at if there are any players at either free safety or strong safety worthy of consideration. San Francisco seems to have a solid player in Jaquiski Tartt but, beyond him, there may be some room for improvement.
As always, please let us know what you think and whether or not your top five safety prospects are different in the comments below!
1. Deionte Thompson, S, No. 14 – Alabama Height: 6’2” – Weight: 196 2018 stats: 47 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions, 6 passes deflected
The 49ers need to add safety depth this offseason if they’re going to make the expected jump into the playoff conversation that many expect them to take in 2019. Deionte has what it takes and could be a value pick if San Francisco trades back into the latter half of the 1st round. 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.
2. Nasir Adderley, S, No. 23 – Delware Height: 5’11” – Weight: 200 2018 stats: 48 tackles, 3 interceptions, 9 passes deflected
One of the most exciting things about being a draft evaluator is finding players like Nasir Adderley - someone who you never expected to be anything special, yet they blow you away on tape. The toughest thing about Adderley’s evaluation was finding a weakness, as he appears to be a top-notch athlete with exceptional short-area quickness and fluidity, while also possessing the ability to open up and cover ground with speed and range as a single-high safety. I know it’s early but consider him one of my personal draft crushes.
He’s incredibly physical, bringing the fight to everyone on the field without sacrificing technique or responsibility. I think he’ll check in around 205 pounds with an ideal build for a deep safety, yet also perfectly sized to slide into the slot against all types of receivers when a team needs that role filled as well. The only real question mark with Adderley is the level of competition he faces, as he wasn’t targeted a ton and will need to adjust some to the speed of the NFL game. His traits and intangibles seem to be perfectly in line with the top safeties in the league today, and as long as he checks boxes at the Combine, Adderley will likely be a top 50 player.
3. Jonathan Abram, S, No. 38 – Mississippi State Height: 6’0” – Weight: 210 2018 stats: 99 tackles (53 solo) 3 sacks, 2 interceptions, 5 passes deflected
Jonathan Abram’s ability to attack downhill and provide a physical, tone-setting presence makes him appealing player. He has some coverage upside in short zones and lining up in man against tight ends. With that said, there is much to clean up in his game in terms of processing, playing through contact, angles and playing with better control to be a more consistent finisher. While his frame and play strength are appealing, his fluidity and overall athletic profile is ordinary.
Abram’s has adequate range and good long speed, just doesn’t play rangy in coverage; he’s much more of a vertical attacking safety than a sideline-to-sideline ball hawk. Abram is probably better suited and belongs closer to the line of scrimmage where his hard-hitting ability and tenacity can really shine.
4. Taylor Rapp, S, No. 21 – Washington Height: 6’0” – Weight: 200 2018 stats: 33 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 passes deflected
Taylor Rapp is a bit of a throwback, he has terrific skills in run support and it’s easy to fall in love with his motor and splash plays in pursuit. But in coverage, Rapp presents several concerns, primarily surrounding his ability to cover the necessary ground to be an effective defender in either man or zone coverage. Rapp lacks mobility and short area change of direction skills, he’s going to be a more effective presence in the box as compared to playing 12-15 yards off the ball.
Rapp’s tape is boring…in a good way…and a bad way. He’s simply not instinctive or rangy enough to make many plays on the ball as a deep safety, and Washington often aligned him so deep that he could barely arrive in time to help in run support. That said, when Rapp did have the opportunity to get involved around the box or in space as a tackler, he almost always made it count, getting runners to the ground while closing with excellent burst and technique. Also, he basically never lets anyone behind him in coverage.
5. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S, No. 23 – Florida Height: 5’11” – Weight: 207 2018 stats: 71 tackles (37 solo), 3 sacks, 4 interceptions, 2 passes deflected
Gardner-Johnson is the perfect modern NFL safety except for one thing: all-around consistency as a player. If you looked at his 2017 tape, you’d have seen a train wreck as a run defender and tackler, but a promising playmaker in coverage. This year, he was a little inconsistent in coverage as a slot corner, but remarkably improved in his physicality and tackling.
The reality is that there will probably always be some level of variance to Gardner-Johnson as a player, but I don’t think his lows are that low if the tackling is cleaned up as it was this year, and his highs are pretty dang high. When you consider all that he can bring to a defense with his combination of size, athleticism, range, ball skills and versatility, CGJ is a slight gamble that I would feel just fine taking in Round 2. He can help a defense right away, whether as a true free safety or in a nickel corner capacity, and still has the upside to become a more consistent playmaker as his career continues.