My first position group for the 2020 NFL Draft is basically complete and ready to receive your vitriol. The 2020 safety class is deep in the middle, with plenty of different types of cover men, but not much high-end talent.

The Bucs’ need at free safety may not exist if Justin Evans can rebound from foot injuries that have robbed him of the last season-and-a-half, but at this point, it is tough to count on his return. Andrew Adams, who was re-signed last week, and Mike Edwards, last year’s third-round pick, took turns playing free safety in Tampa Bay last year, but neither did so at anywhere close to a Pro Bowl level and the team could be looking for an upgrade in talent.

I’ve specified which of the following safeties could play such a role in a defense, as well as which ones are best suited for the box or to play in the slot. For some, all three are an option.

One final note: I included Utah’s Terrell Burgess and Clemson’s K’Von Wallace here to avoid constant “Where is Burgess? Where is Wallace?” questions, but both are very likely to play almost exclusively in the slot at the next level, so keep that in mind when viewing their ranking here among the safeties. I graded Louisiana Tech’s L’Jarius Sneed with the cornerbacks as I feel confident he’ll return to the outside in the NFL after a year at safety in college.

Now, let the games begin.

15. Antoine Brooks, Maryland (5-11, 220, 4.64 40)

Free Safety: No

Man Coverage: No

Box Safety: Yes

Analysis: Brooks’ tape and athletic testing take him off the table as an ideal slot or deep safety option in Tampa Bay, but he did his best work around the box in college anyway, so a position switch to linebacker isn’t off the table. However, if you’re a safety making a transition like that, you’d love to see better block deconstruction and tackling than Brooks provides.

At 5-foot-11, 220 pounds with just over 31-inch arms, we’re already talking about a small linebacker as is. Brooks is tough and physical, which could help him make an impact on special teams, but I’m not sure he’ll ever consistently find his way onto the field defensively.

Grade: 6th Round



14. Alohi Gilman, Notre Dame (5-10, 201, 4.60 40)

Free Safety: No

Man Coverage: No

Box Safety: Yes

Analysis: There’s not a lot of value to what Gilman provides a defense, despite how fun it is to watch him fly up to the box and smack ball carriers in the mouth. He might become one of the best special teamers in the NFL if he can get his tackling back to its’ 2018 form, as Gilman plays as fast as his average speed will allow him to, never hesitating to get in on the action near the line of scrimmage.

However, the Navy transfer is hopelessly over-matched in man coverage by more athletic slot receivers, and doesn’t offer enough speed, range or instincts to be an ideal deep safety either. Gilman has the intangibles to play a long time in the NFL in a depth role, but I don’t see him ever being an ideal starter in the league.

Grade: 5th Round



13. Jordan Fuller, Ohio State (6-2, 203, 4.67 40)

Free Safety: Yes

Man Coverage: No

Box Safety: Yes

Analysis: Fuller has all the intangibles you want at the free safety position, but none of the instincts and too-little of the athleticism. He’s not explosive or rangy enough to be an ideal free safety in a single-high scheme, and his biggest struggles on tape have come in man coverage. Despite his smarts and toughness, it is tough to find an ideal role for Fuller in a starting lineup.

Now, he is an elite tackler who won’t hesitate to mix it up physically, and his leadership in the locker room would be welcomed by every NFL team. Fuller will put the “safe” in safety if he’s playing deep at the next level, but there are far worse qualities to have in a backup. His new team will just have to hope his below-average speed isn’t exposed more than it was at Ohio State playing behind stud cornerbacks year-after-year.

Grade: 5th Round



12. Kenny Robinson, WVU (6-2, 198)

Free Safety: Yes

Man Coverage: No

Box Safety: No

Analysis: Robinson’s jump to the XFL from WVU was an intriguing path that may have actually helped his stock some. He’s consistently gotten picks at every level of ball he’s played at, but at some point the lack of range and athletic ability are going to catch up with him. Robinson simply isn’t fast or explosive enough to make the special plays at free safety, and he doesn’t have the man coverage skills, technique or athletic ability (tight hips) to help a defense anywhere else.

I could live with Robinson’s athletic deficiencies in deep coverage, but he’s also prone to guessing and jumping patterns, even if it means abandoning his post. He’s incredibly physical and will make splash plays when given opportunities, maybe even at the next level, but the inconsistencies as a tackler and deep cover man, combined with the lack of versatility, make him a player I’d pass on until Day 3.

Grade: 5th Round



11. Julian Blackmon, Utah (6-0, 187)

Free Safety: Yes

Man Coverage: Not preferably

Box Safety: No

Analysis: I won’t act like Blackmon doesn’t show flashes of quality potential as a deep safety, but in just one season at the position and less than 650 snaps before a non-contact knee injury ended his 2019 campaign, there isn’t enough for me to hang my hat on.

Blackmon is, in a word, inconsistent. He will make a great read and drive on the ball, only to completely miss his assignment on the next play. Even as a tackler, Blackmon will drill a ball carrier on one rep, drag-down tackle or let an opponent carry him a few yards a couple plays later and, at times, whiff altogether.

I do think there are some ball skills and range that make him intriguing deep, but Blackmon’s cornerback background wasn’t stellar enough for me to feel great about him in man, and he rarely played in the box or in the slot for Utah. If you draft him high, you’re probably banking on him consistently putting it together as a deep safety, so you better have the coaching in place to complete his development.

Grade: 4th Round



10. Geno Stone, Iowa (5-10, 207, 4.62 40)

Free Safety: Yes

Man Coverage: No

Box Safety: No

Analysis: Stone’s tape says he’s a Day 2 prospect with starting ability, but his Combine performance puts him in a very low tier of safety prospects in the event’s history. Athleticism isn’t as important for safeties as it is for cornerback prospects however, and Stone’s ability to play with elite anticipation and mental processing allowed him to dominate in deep zone coverage at Iowa.

He’s not versatile like a lot of the other safety prospects in the class, and his middling range is going to make him a tough sell as a single-high free safety. Stone is going to play a long time in the NFL as a decent starter or high-end backup for two reasons: he can play a step ahead mentally in coverage and he’s completely and utterly without fear as a tackler. He’ll miss some shots, but he takes 100 percent of them. That kind of physicality and play speed will keep him afloat even if his athletic limitations always keep the ceiling fairly low.

Grade: Early 4th Round



9. Brandon Jones, Texas (5-11, 198)

Free Safety: Spot duty

Man Coverage: Developing

Box Safety: Yes

Analysis: After being inconsistent-at-best in more of a free safety role for Texas, Jones moved closer to the line of scrimmage in 2019, showing off his best traits as a tackler able to work top down on the ball from shallow zone coverage or from the slot.

Jones can absolutely fly in the open field, showing unbelievable range to chase down perimeter runs and attack passes in the flats from off-coverage. That speed combined with his tackling ability make him a fun watch against the run and the quick pass game, as Jones consistently gets quality stops in space due to his closing speed and typically sound tackling form.

The problem is that for all Jones’ traits, he simply doesn’t play with great instincts, range or ball skills in coverage, and the more vital his responsibility in coverage, the worse he played. Jones is the type of safety that will have a long career in the NFL as at least a third safety who can play in the box, develop as a man coverage defender who can match up with bigger slots and occasionally kick into a two-high shell, but I’m not sure he will ever do anything at a high enough level to be considered a coveted talent. Take him in the mid-rounds and you’ve got a special teams star who can be a classic strong safety starter at best, and a quality third safety option at worst.

Grade: Late 3rd Round



8. Kyle Dugger, Lenoir-Rhyne (6-0, 217, 4.49 40)

Free Safety: No

Man Coverage: Maybe someday

Box Safety: Yes

Analysis: The only way I can describe Kyle Dugger’s incredibly unique style of free safety play is that the coaching staff at Lenoir-Rhyne simply told him to read and react like a linebacker and pray the middle of the field defends itself.

I’m not sure how else to explain the regularity with which Dugger abandoned his post to chase, well … everything. In some ways it worked, as Dugger consistently ended up around the football, wreaking some havoc in the run and quick pass game with his violent tackling and incredible burst to the football. In other ways, significantly biting on every backfield motion and play fake put the Bears defense in bad spots far too often, although opponents rarely capitalized.

Dugger’s technique and mental processing are incredibly raw, and if he is going to play a defensive back role in the NFL he’ll need a lot of work. Where he’ll contribute right away is in the box, where his range and physicality may be good enough to overcome his lack of true linebacker size. A position switch could very well be in order, and if Dugger can master the reads and learn to dissect blockers, his traits will lend themselves far better to linebacker than they do to a traditional safety position. His tape says Day 3, but the Senior Bowl flashes and elite athletic upside give me enough hope to swing on him in Round 3, and his punt return ability (six TDs) should make him a special teams star at the very least.

Grade: Late 3rd Round



7. Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois (6-3, 221, 4.45 40)

Free Safety: Sure

Man Coverage: Yes

Box Safety: Yes

Analysis: Physically and athletically, there isn’t anything Jeremy Chinn can’t do. He’s an unbelievably fluid and explosive athlete who can close ground in an instant when he pulls the trigger. Put him in the box, play him as a big slot defender, line him up deep and he could be successful at any of those spots. He’s that rare of an athlete and physical presence at the position.

Chinn’s issues are only going to manifest themselves if he can’t consistently play at NFL speeds. It’s already a major jump from the FCS, and even there playing with anticipation and rapid reactions happened with less frequency than it should have. Chinn has some awesome highlight reel plays on tape, and every NFL team is going to want to get him on the field early. How impactful he becomes will depend on whether he can start to play quicker in coverage in order to make the most of his elite tools. I’ll bet on Chinn’s upside, but we’ve got to be honest that it’s a projection.

Grade: Early 3rd Round



6. K’Von Wallace, Clemson (5-11, 206, 4.53 40)

Free Safety: If necessary

Man Coverage: YES

Box Safety: No (but he can blitz)

Analysis: Lock me up, but I like watching good football players, so I watched most of Wallace’s 2019 tape by the time I was done with his evaluation. Quality football player. Wallace might be the best tackling safety in this class, all because he closes fast, but under control. He’s had his fair share of big hits, but he’s the rare “pop” tackler that also consistently wraps up, making some excellent tackles outside his frame too.

Wallace’s position on this list is a little misleading because he’s not going to play much safety in the NFL, nor did he at Clemson. He’s predominantly a nickel cornerback which is perfect, because he can thrive in that role in man or in zone coverage. Wallace has the size, length and athleticism to run with bigger, faster receivers inside as needed, and the fluidity and technique to match quicker route runners in the slot too.

He’s been a lock-down cover man for years now, but in 2019 Wallace started trusting his eyes a little more and making more plays on the football. In the games I studied I saw four dropped interceptions, and while he needs to finish those plays (some of them would have been great catches), his positioning and ability to elevate and find the football is top-notch. Wallace is a blur closing on anything underneath once he pulls the trigger, so if he keeps growing in his processing and starts taking off a tad sooner, turnovers are going to follow.

Grade: Early 3rd Round



5. Grant Delpit, LSU (6-2, 213)

Free Safety: Yes

Man Coverage: No

Box Safety: Adequate

Analysis: Delpit’s best spot in the NFL is going to be at free safety, where his ability to diagnose routes typically put him in good position to discourage throws down the field. He lacks elite speed for the position, which is a concern, but his ball skills and tracking ability are high quality for the safety position.

Delpit is probably the worst tackler among all the defensive prospects you’ve heard of in this class, and the issue has been a consistent one throughout his LSU career. Some will bring up an ankle injury that plagued him this past season, but that doesn’t explain his years of poor tackling before 2019, or his inconsistent form and inability to wrap up.

Anyone who tells you tackling doesn’t matter for a safety is just ignoring information they wish they didn’t have to care about, but weaknesses in that area can be overlooked if the player is truly elite in coverage. I just didn’t see that with Delpit. He was consistently exposed in man coverage over the past two seasons, and I don’t know if he has the athleticism to suggest a high ceiling even if he does improve his technique and footwork. Delpit is at his best in a single high role, which he’ll undoubtedly assume quickly in his NFL career, and from there you just pray to the heavens he won’t need to be involved in many touchdown-saving tackles in space as a deep safety.

Grade: Early 3rd Round



4. Xavier McKinney, Alabama (6-0, 201)

Free Safety: If necessary

Man Coverage: Yes

Box Safety: Sure

Analysis: McKinney is among the smartest and most reliable safeties in the class, almost always in the right position as a two-high safety and rarely blowing assignments. The problem is that for all his football IQ, he’s not really a play-maker or an elite athlete, which could limit his upside in the NFL.

What’s great about McKinney is that you can put him anywhere and he’s not really a liability, except maybe against elite route runners in the slot. He got opened up too easily on an island in off-coverage against South Carolina, which worries me a bit despite the fact he handled tight ends well in man coverage.

McKinney is a good processor who can handle deep responsibilities and still come up and play the run with strong angles to the football, but he does need to tackle better, and his smaller frame will be a worry if he plays a heavy role in the box. It’s hard to come away from his tape severely disappointed in much, but he also didn’t excite me as a projection to the NFL. A certain starter, but one that’s ceiling is probably capped before he can reach the Round 1 level of play others have projected him at.

Grade: Early 3rd Round


3. Terrell Burgess, Utah (5-11, 202, 4.46 40)

Free Safety: Rarely single-high, but terrific in deep coverage

Man Coverage: YES

Box Safety: Yes

Analysis: Burgess might be the most fun I’ve had watching a football player this draft season, not because he’s the best one I’ve seen, but because his brilliance in a variety of roles was pretty unexpected for me. After playing sparingly as backup at Utah in 2017 and 2018, Burgess was lights out in 2019, playing in two-high looks as a deep safety, in the box as an extra run defender and in the slot as a top-notch man cover corner.

NFL teams will probably look at Burgess’ 5-foot-11, 202-pound frame with sub-30 inch arms and want to staple him to the slot, and with good reason. Burgess has some of the quietest, quickest feet in man coverage out of any defensive back in the class, and his ability to read releases and mirror route breaks is jaw-dropping. He doesn’t panic when the ball arrives either, showing the awareness to consistently play through hands and finish at the catch point.

But Burgess was also almost unbeatable in deep coverage this season, showing the ability to pass off routes in zone and consistently execute his assignments. His spacing in zone coverage is exceptional, and he plays with urgency to finish plays without committing a penalty down the field.

Yes, Burgess will miss a tackle here or there due to his lack of ideal size and length, but his form and physicality are typically excellent, and he doesn’t hesitate to work into trash as a run defender. Ideally, Burgess is a day one starter in the slot in a defense’s nickel package, where you’ll see little drop-off against the run and have the option to slide him deep at will. The senior may not be a single-high ball hawk, but what he offers in versatility and man coverage should make him an easy Top 50 pick.

Grade: 2nd Round



2. Antoine Winfield, Jr., Minnesota (5-9, 203, 4.45)

Free Safety: Sure

Man Coverage: Limited sample size, but good tape

Box Safety: Sure

Analysis: The biggest concerns with Winfield are his size and his past injury history, which caused him to take two medical redshirt seasons. He played at a high level in college despite the first concern, and the second is something I can’t speak to from my vantage point.

What I can speak to is Winfield’s play-making ability and processing speed on the back end, rarely getting caught out of position and playing with excellent route diagnostic ability in deep coverage. The speedy safety will run and hit in run defense too, never hesitating to fly downhill, sift through trash and get into the mess around the box or out on the perimeter.

Winfield lacks elite range (still has very good range) and has a hitch coming out of his pedal to close top-down on the football, which may cause some teams to slide him into the slot. His reps there were impressive, but limited this past season, as Minnesota predominantly played him deep or in the box. I think he can be one of the more versatile safeties in this class, not indifferent from Tyrann Mathieu in that way, but Winfield may also have some slight limitations that could keep him from reaching the same level of elite impact as the Honey Badger year-to-year.

Grade: 2nd Round



1. Ashtyn Davis, California (6-1, 202)

Free Safety: Yes

Man Coverage: Yes

Box Safety: Adequate

Analysis: Not many analysts have Davis as their top safety, but in my opinion the two most important things a safety can do is cover at a high level and play physical football. Davis checks both of those boxes, playing with elite range and flashes of high-end ball skills as a deep cover man, while also having the size and hitting ability to finish plays in all areas of the field.

Yes, he’ll miss some tackles, but all safeties do, and he’s still better than most in this class. Davis has a cornerback background that has clearly left its mark on his man coverage ability, as he stays under control and mirrors receivers throughout the route. He often baits quarterbacks into throws and then closes quickly, working around receivers to play the ball and snagging several highlight reel interceptions.

Davis has the mentality, athleticism, football IQ and ball skills that a top safety prospect should. He may lose some momentum as a prospect due to not being able to work out and get medical checks before the draft, but it’ll be incredibly disappointing if he falls out of the Top 50 picks.

Grade: Late Round 1

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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nybuccguy
1 year ago

Delpit in the third round? I’ve seen him as an early second rounder in most mocks.

AlbJack65
1 year ago

Time for the “elite college program” snobs to start squawking about how your top 3 can’t possibly be right. LOL!

magoobee
1 year ago

Safety should be a value pick. I would think somewhere in the draft one of them will fall to the Bucs based on their board.

BUC-ASS-BOB
1 year ago

You are all thinking in old Buc ways
Trade up this year give someone next years first pick it will not be a big loss as 32 is like a 2nd round pick.
Need the best OT………… the good OTs will be gone at 15.

jerseybucsfan
1 year ago

Outstanding analysis. I don’t think many will appreciate the work that went into this. Well done!

seat26
1 year ago

I think Safety is the only position in the secondary we address. Corners are solid, and we just need some depth at safety. I’m guessing between the 3rd and 5th round.

geno711
1 year ago

Geno Stone too high IMO.

Need at least 4 good corner backs. Not sure the Buc’s have 4. 3 corners play 60 to 70 percent of the plays. Corners get injured and miss parts of games or series of games. Can’t go into the season with just Dean, SMB, and Davis.

Look at New England. They always get defensive backs and draft them as well. Underrated defensive position where you need depth.

AlbJack65
1 year ago

A great big NO on Delpit. The last thing this aggressive defense needs is a DB who can’t or won’t tackle.

Bucsfan1983
1 year ago

Delpit is round 1/2. Don’t be surprised if Dugger goes in round 2. McKinney is also round 1/2.

Rob
Rob
1 year ago

nybucguy-Early mocks had Delpit as a Top 15 (many had us picking him). Lot of mocks have McKinney in round 1 too.

These Grade Rounds are where I believe Jon has them graded as (since it’s his scouting report). NOT where he thinks they will actually be drafted. I think ALL of us were surprised what grade Licht had one Murphy-Bunting (with Greedy still sitting out there).

Awesome write-up. Appreciate the research for sure.

Alldaway 2.0
1 year ago

I am surprised there isn’t more buzz with Wallace.

NFLeeds
1 year ago

Excellent work, really enjoyed reading it… few names not on there… what’s your opinion on tanner muse, JR reed and Metellus?

76Buc
1 year ago

Delpit is an air tackler. No thanks!

Dman
1 year ago

Great analysis, Jon. Based on your write-ups, Chinn looks like a great prospect that will need a couple seasons to develop, but would be a good pick. Doesn’t feel like our answer to S for this season is in this class. Funny that most ‘Bama players are just assumed to be RD1 picks, but your assessments focus skills and performance. I watched LSU quite a bit this season and the Dilpit hype was ridiculous, but I never really saw anything that made me say, “Wow”, we gotta draft this guy. But I was spoiled by a guy named Lynch that… Read more »

Countrybrew
1 year ago

I like Winfield a lot and because of his height 5’9” he may fall some. If he falls to the third I would pounce, maybe even trade up a little.

BUC-ASS-BOB
1 year ago

Jameis Winston fans got a little good news today Kevin Colbert general manager of Pittsburgh Steelers said Jameis was welcome to compete for a back up spot but a spot on roster would be at the league minimum 610,000.00 uhh!

The Wall
1 year ago

So, considering everything, looks like we need to find a safety in free agency. Maybe not a tier 1 but someone who can play now. Maybe someone who can improve in our system.

Dave
1 year ago

So in other words, he will get paid league minimum, but become a starter by next year. Because Big Ben won’t play much longer, and Mason Rudolph has zero upside. Would be a smart move for the Steelers.Get their next starting QB at league minimum, and if they can finally teach this guy to not turn the ball over at the insane rate he has recently, they have their QB for the next decade. Obviously if the Steelers do become the team that can get Jameis to stop turning the ball over, they wouldn’t be able to get away with… Read more »

David DeLeon
1 year ago

I would love to see Dugger in a Bucs uni next year, reminds me of Sean Taylor!!