S1 | Kyle Hamilton
6’4” 220 lbs | Notre Dame
Kyle Hamilton not only tops the Safety group, but we have him ranked as our 2nd overall player in the entire draft class. The term “unicorn” often gets thrown around when describing a highly rated prospect with a rare combination of traits and intangibles, but Kyle Hamilton is as fitting as anyone we have seen in the last decade. He brings tremendous size to the table and has a frame that lanky, but a solid base that will certainly add muscle at the next level. Hamilton is a true do-it-all defender that has the makes to quarterback a defense. There have been concerns with his agility, but he is as fluid as anyone on tape and has true long speed. Hamilton is a coach’s dream to cover Tight Ends and will be one of the few safeties that can match feet with the elite threats in the league.
He’s tough to peg with an NFL comparison due to how versatile and solid he is as a prospect and comparing him to a player like Isaiah Simmons just doesn’t do him justice. Usually when we see safety prospects this highly rated it is due to insane traits and athleticism but there is so much more to Hamilton’s game than that. Hamilton portrays shade of Derwin James, highly do to being the complete package; he is a true defensive quarterback. He is a natural ballhawk that is just as impressive playing centerfielder as he is playing in the box. He has the true potential and ability to lineup all over the field and he will be a true jack-knife, but he is strongest when he plays free safety.
Despite being one of our highest graded prospects, Hamilton has some minor concerns. He missed some time in his career with injuries but nothing that was seemingly serious. It is also worth mentioning his 40 time (4.59) was slower than anticipated and his shuttle time (4.32) was one of the worst in the class. However, Hamilton is a polished prospect and minor concerns with agility and burst are likely being overblown a bit. At the end of the day, he is a 220 lbs Safety that missed just 2 tackles in 2021 and boasts the best range in the entire class. Hamilton is a high-IQ and high charter player that should be drafted as a franchise centerpiece. Good teams will not overthink this pick, as I believe he is the one prospect in this class that is worthy of being referred to as a “generational talent”.
S2 | Daxton Hill
6’0” 190 lbs | Michigan
When you think of modern NFL defensive backs, Daxton Hill is your guy. Insane speed, versatility, and explosiveness…Hill possesses what it takes to keep up with today’s high powered passing attacks and I can’t help but peg Hill in the AFC West in most of my mocks. For Hill, I am not 100% sure where he fits as an NFL defensive back, but that isn’t a bad thing. He is the type of player I could see fitting so many different roles, whether it be as a true free safety, nickel corner or even playing on the outside. He did it all at Michigan and spent most of his time in the slot, but his rangy and explosive skillset could favor a role deep.
Hill is a willing tackler and plays up to his size, but that’s a much tougher task when transitioning into the NFL. At just 190, he will need to throw on weight and his “versatility” stops when it comes to talking about playing in the box. He held his own tackling in the Big10, but what happens when he has to stop Derrick Henry? Hill is a true 4.3 guy that will be able to match feet with anyone, but the concerns that revolve around his frame that keeps him as a riskier prospect. Regardless, Hill brings a lot to love and it’s not often that DBs this versatile come along. The traits alone are enough to keep Hill as a top 50 prospect, but I believe the versatility is what will push him into the late 1st round.
S3 | Jalen Pitre
5’11” 198 lbs | Baylor
Every year I keep a list and listen closely for a very specific kind of prospect. The type that may have a few boxes left unchecked but brings exceptionally high intangibles to the table such as coachability, character, grit and professionalism, which all come in handy this time of the year during interviews and often leads their stock to strengthen. Pitre ranks towards the top of that list this year. He was the defensive quarterback of Baylor’s Big12 Championship team and played in the “star” position, which essentially moved him all over the field. Pitre’s is a pure football player that brings a deeper understanding of the game than your average prospect and has a true nose for the ball. He excels in the areas that cannot be coached and also brings a fire and motor that will cause a front office to fall in love with him.
At sub 200 and a hair under 6 foot, Pitre is a bit small to be a box heavy safety. His role likely will be as a nickel corner or free safety. He doesn’t have the most fluid hips and at times is a bit clunky, but he has great eyes and instincts that helped him make up for that. That will be an uphill battle in the NFL, where QBs and WRs will take advantage of that with ease. Lastly, he’s not the most technical tackler and at times struggles to get lower or really break down in space. I will reiterate, Pitre brings a lot more to the table that what meets the eye. He will be a project but can play a limited role as he grows and has the type of character and professionalism that it takes to make it at the next level.
S4 | Lewis Cine
6’2” 200 lbs | Georgia
Lewis Cine is a well-experienced and high IQ defensive back that was one of the unsung heroes on the insanely talented Georgia defense. With Cine, what you see is what you get. He isn’t the highest ceiling prospect on paper, but he surely brings a high floor. The traits are solid, but nothing that you don’t see every year. He is plain and simply going to be a very solid NFL player with the potential to develop into a longtime starter, but he doesn’t have the makes and build to become a Hall of Famer. Sometimes that is the type of player that becomes an all-time great, but as a prospect there is nothing there that would lead us to believe he is a generational talent. He is one of the better tacklers in the class and certainly will dabble in the box a good bit in the NFL. The biggest skill that jumps off film is his route IQ as he often dissects the quarterback and stops the home run from happening. Lastly, he produced outstanding numbers in his testing with a 4.37 40-yard dash and 133-inch broad jump.
Although his speed was elite at the combine, Cine plays slower on film. He is also not the most fluid player and looks robotic at times, especially in his backpedal and when getting in and out of breaks. His game is frustrating at times. He is so highly skilled at reading routes, but then can come in a bit slow out of a break. Cine is a safety that can do a little bit of everything and brings high quality traits to the next level. He is in the range of the second to third tier of safeties and likely will hear his name called on Day 2.
S5 | Jaquan Brisker
6’1” 199 lbs | Penn State
Brisker is an extremely physical safety that brings excellent size, speed and versatility. He was as willing as anyone as a run defender and also brings an excellent package of technique in coverage. Brisker played a variety of roles at Penn State, but likely will be thrusted into a nickel-box combo player similar to 2020 prospect Hamsah Nasirildeen. Brisker doesn’t bring much above average in terms of athleticism and doesn’t jump off the tape as a mover, but he’s the type of player a team will want played as close to the ball as possible. At 200, he’s a bit too small to play a fulltime LB role, but he’s got a solid frame that can certainly pack on muscle as he develops.
I don’t think Brisker’s game will translate to being much of a deep safety in the NFL and there really isn’t much versatility in his future. I like the idea of keeping him close to the ball because he’s struggles with his eyes and often gets caught peeking. He also is less than stellar when moving around the field, especially in his weak backpedal or when changing directions. Brisker is an explosive run stopping defender who will likely fill a very clear and defined role in the NFL. His improvements are clear and bring a lot of optimism to his stock, but anything earlier than mid-to-late day 2 would be a reach.
S6 | Verone McKinley III
5’10” 200 lbs | Oregon
Verone McKinley III may not be the flashiest prospect with the most hype, but 1st Team All Americans usually are extremely good football players. McKinley lacks the desired size and speed for the NFL, but he brings traits that cannot be coached to the table. He was a true ballhawk at Oregon and had 10 interceptions and 9 PBUs since 2019, with 6 interceptions this past season. McKinley just plays football the way it is supposed to be played and has an amazing feel for the game. His ball skills are obviously exceptional, and he is a tremendous mover, despite lacking the elite high-end speed.
McKinley is going to play a very defined role in the NFL and likely will be plugged in deep as a free safety. The size is going to be a concern and will likely keep him away from the box, as his playing weight will be a lot smaller than what he weighed in at the combine. McKinley is a natural playmaker with exceptional ball skills and instincts, but he doesn’t bring much as a tackler and his stock will reflect that.
S7 | Bryan Cook
6’1” 206 lbs | Cincinnati
Bryan Cook has what it takes to develop into a big-time thumper at the next level. Finesse is a distant term when describing Cook’s playstyle, as he is a hardnosed run stopper that plays with an alpha mentality that will attract coaches in the league. You can wad up Cook’s measurements and test results because his film is all you need to see. He constantly flies around the field like a mad man and isn’t afraid to sacrifice his head and neck to lay out for the big hit. Don’t let the recklessness fool you, Cook also plays with discipline and was one of the leaders of Cincinnati’s defense.
If you are looking for a safety to play a variety of roles and lock down the slot, then Cook is not your guy. I have him projecting as a box heavy safety that can provide additional support in the run game. Don’t get me wrong, Cook has a solid career in coverage, but his true strength relies as a big time tackler in the run game.
S8 | Kerby Joseph
6’1” 203 lbs | Illinois
Kerby Joseph was just a 1-year starter at Illionois but put up enough great tape to earn himself a trip to Mobile for the Senior Bowl. He is another one of these “what you see is what you get” type prospects, as he lacks elite speed and athleticism, but brings a solid skillset that can be worked with. Joseph has a solid frame with 33” arms, which shows up on film with bailout breakups and range over the top. He also has extremely fluid hips that allows him to flip around coverage all over the field and cover a tremendous amount of ground.
With just one year of solid experience under his belt, the inconsistencies and inexperience is evident. On the contrary, it may be a great sign that he was as efficient as he was while still learning the position and speed of the game. I think Joseph projects as a free safety that will get his feet wet in a depth role. The best thing for him will be game experience, which will help him improve his eyes and experience. Joseph isn’t an overwhelming prospect or athlete, but what he put on tape was solid enough for a team to see a long-term project that could be a long time starter.
S9 | Nick Cross
6’0” 212 lbs | Maryland
Nick Cross is a late rising testing hero that will specialize at the next level as a run stopping torpedo. Cross made waves following a dominant performance at the combine where he ran a blazing 4.34 40-yard dash to go along with a 37-inch vert and 130-inch broad jump at 212 lbs. His athleticism and combination of size, speed and explosiveness certainly has helped him stock, but I still see him as a scheme specific safety that will be pigeonholed into a box-slot role.
Cross has the prototypical frame and build for a strong safety, which is even more impressive that he was one of the fastest players at the combine. He flashed in the pan with dominant downhill tackles but missed at an alarmingly high 17%. He also is extremely streaky in coverage as he gave up as many touchdowns as he intercepted. Nick Cross is a high-level athlete that can add immediate run support if drafted into the right scheme and defense.