Round 2: Washington FS Budda Baker – 5-10, 192 – 4.34 – Junior
Previous Pick: Oklahoma RB Samaje Perine
While the production of Tampa Bay’s safety position improved with better coaching from Brett Maxie last year, both Chris Conte and Bradley McDougald are unrestricted free agents and didn’t warrant more than short-term, prove-it deals. Keith Tandy, who emerged as a productive starter over the last five games of the seasons, is 28 and is entering a contract year, which makes safety a big need position in Tampa Bay and Baker the Bucs’ second-round pick.
Baker has first-round talent, but the fact that he is undersized causes him to slip into the second round. Baker is 5-foot-10 and is up to 192 pounds after playing at 170 two years ago.
“He’s 192,” said Washington secondary coach Jimmy Lake, who used to coach Tampa Bay’s defensive backs from 2006-07 and again from 2010-11. “I almost think there should be a nickel position when you draft. It should say ‘N’ for nickel. We like to put players into boxes like ‘corner’ or ‘safety,’ and he can definitely play the middle of the field like an Ed Reed or Eric Berry-type, but this guy will match up with any slot in the league, too. His speed, his anticipation and his cover skills are top notch. This guy knows how to blitz, he knows angles – he’s a football player. That’s what makes him so versatile, the fact that he can cover a tight end, he can cover a slot receiver, he can blitz, and he can play the deep middle.
“There’s not a lot he can’t do. If there is a knock on him it’s going to be his size. He’s not a 200-plus-pound player. But I do remember a certain guy that wore No. 20 [legendary Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber] for the Bucs that played at about 180-181 pounds, and he caused havoc in the backfield and in coverage.”
Baker, who recorded three forced fumbles, four sacks, five interceptions and 18 pass breakups in three years at Washington played some nickel cornerback in the slot, in addition to playing in the box. Yet he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as a nickel in the NFL.
“I’d rather play safety,” Baker told FoxSports.com. “I like to have a wider vision (of the field) as well as being that last line of defense. If you’re the safety, you either have to make the play or get scored upon.
“With me, it’s like quick-twitch speed. Fearless. I’m not scared to hit anybody even though I was playing at 170 (pounds in 2015).”
Baker’s Washington Career Stats
2016: 70 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 2 INTs, 5 PBUs, 1 forced fumble
2015: 49 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 2 INTs, 7 PBUs, 0 forced fumbles
2014: 80 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 INT, 6 PBUs, 2 forced fumbles
“He’s almost a Honey Badger [Tyrann Mathieu] type in terms of how athletic he is and his ability to diagnose plays,” USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin told SI.com. “When you watch Washington on film, you see him flash across the screen and it’s like, Oh boy. He’s everywhere.”
Baker is the second-fastest player at Washington this year behind wide receiver John Ross, who is projected as a first-round pick. Lake hand-timed Baker at 4.34 in the 40-yard dash prior to the start of the season.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht personally scouted Mathieu and helped make him Arizona’s third-round pick in the 2013 draft when he was vice president of player personnel with the Cardinals. Baker is faster and an inch taller than Mathieu, a 2015 Pro Bowl defensive back, and would pair well with Tandy in the Bucs’ secondary.
Click below to view Tampa Bay’s third-round pick in 2017.