Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar concludes our positional rankings with the top 11 safeties in the 2022 NFL draft.
[mm-video type=video id=01g050av17qpg6774h12 playlist_id=none player_id=none image=https://images2.minutemediacdn.com/image/upload/video/thumbnail/mmplus/01g050av17qpg6774h12/01g050av17qpg6774h12-5093b4b7ac250041dfba4dac2facb03f.jpg]
What the NFL expects from its safeties has changed drastically over the last decade. There are multiple reasons for this.
Think about the need for a true shutdown post safety in predominantly single-high coverage. A decade ago, when Seattle’s Legion of Boom defense was the desired template, you were playing heavy press underneath with defined box and post safeties. The Seahawks were able to do this because they had a dominant press cornerback (Richard Sherman), a dominant box safety (Kam Chancellor), and the best post safety of his era (Earl Thomas).
That’s not an easy archetype to copy, because you obviously have to hit on multiple generational players at crucial positions that all teams desperately desire. Your hit rate is reduced by the scarcity of human beings who can do what Sherman, Chancellor, and Thomas could do, and it’s then exponentially reduced even more by the fact that so many teams are looking for those same types of players. Factor in the relative lack of scheme versatility in that particular instance, and all of a sudden, the structure for your hit rate goes from the ceiling to the basement.
Now, look at where the NFL has prioritized its defensive resources in the last few years. The Vic Fangio/Brandon Staley template of two-high coverage and lighter boxes works in today’s NFL for a lot of reasons. Teams are throwing more often. Teams are running the ball not only less, but in different ways and with different types of players. In 2021, offenses threw out of more quick-game concepts (zero to three step drops) at a 60% rate, and the ability of the quarterback to have second-reaction ability to keep things alive when the play breaks down is seen as more of a near-necessity than a prominent luxury.
So, that Earl Thomas/Ed Reed-level deep safety, while awesome if you can get him and if he even exists in any draft cycle? I mean, if you know the draft prospect can possibly be that level of player, you move heaven and earth to get him, because you’re talking about a once-in-a-decade player who can define your defense.
More likely, you’re getting safeties who do a lot of things — some very well, some with developmental issues, and some things they probably shouldn’t be doing at all. You’re going to want a guy who can play some free, some slot, some box, maybe even a few snaps of outside corner, and some reps as a blitzer along the defensive line. It’s why teams go less and less for the defined box and free safeties as they used to.
There are far more Tyrann Mathieus than Earl Thomases. And there are far more safeties who work well in two-high shells, whether they stay in two-high or spin to something else post-snap. Player value at the position has turned from athletic to schematic. It’s more about finding the player who works in the concepts you want to run, as opposed to waiting around for the guy who will fill in the nearly impossible blank.
Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton, the consensus top safety in the 2022 draft class, had 1.440 defensive snaps over three collegiate seasons, per Pro Football Focus. Hamilton had 644 snaps at free safety, 437 in the slot, 313 in the box, 29 along the defensive line, and 15 at outside cornerback.
Hamilton’s specific value is not in his ability to play that many positions, because nearly every safety coming into the draft over the last few years has a somewhat similar position share. His specific value is in his ability to take the multi-position archetype that is the order of the day, and play those positions at a level that is disproportionately high in comparison to the other safeties in this class. Factor in his height/weight template, and that’s where Kyle Hamilton becomes a potentially generational prospect. It’s not at all that he does one thing very well. It’s entirely that he does 4-5 things, he’s NFL-ready at all of them, and he’s NFL-plus ready with this or that attribute in ways we haven’t seen from other players.
When you see the position snaps for the top 11 safety prospects on our list. you’ll see, over and over, how much the value guide for the position has flipped on its head.
Here are Touchdown Wire’s top 11 safeties in the 2022 draft class.
(All advanced metrics courtesy of Pro Football Focus and Sports Info Solutions unless otherwise indicated. All testing data comes from the 2022 scouting combine, with percentile per position, courtesy of MockDraftable.com. Certain biographical information was gleaned from Dane Brugler’s “The Beast” draft guide over at The Athletic, which is a must-read every year).
2022 NFL draft: The top 11 cornerbacks
2022 NFL draft: The top 11 linebackers
2022 NFL draft: The top 12 edge defenders
2022 NFL draft: The top 11 interior defensive linemen
2022 NFL draft: The top 11 interior offensive linemen
2022 NFL draft: The top 11 offensive tackles
2022 NFL draft: The top 11 tight ends
2022 NFL draft: The top 16 receivers
2022 NFL draft: The top 11 running backs
2022 NFL draft: The top 11 quarterbacks