Who are the best safeties in this year’s NFL draft?
Ben Fennell is an Emmy Award-winning producer, editor and researcher across several media platforms, including NFL Network, ESPN College Football, The Athletic and Eagles Game Plan on philadelphiaeagles.com.
He is analyzing the draft for The Inquirer, breaking down the best player, the riser and the sleeper at each position.
Today, in part 6 of our series, he looks at three safety prospects.
You can follow him on Twitter at @benfennell_NFL.
Deionte Thompson, Alabama
6-1, 195 | Arms: 32 1/8 inches | Hands: 9 7/8 inches | 40 time: NA | Vertical jump: NA | Broad jump: NA | 225 bench: NA
Round projection: 1 (20-32)
Ben’s take: “He’s that prototypical back-end range player. He’s not really a box safety. He’s someone you want roaming as a deep center fielder or maybe a half-field safety who can come down and cover some tight ends or maybe slot receivers for you, but not someone who’s going to thump ball carriers or work their way into the box. He’s not a big hitter. He’s a bit of an ankle-biting tackler who just tries to survive. He’s a fly-through tackler.
“But he takes really good angles. He has really good speed and good explosive ability. He has a good football IQ to read and react to quarterbacks. He can make plays from the middle of the field to the sideline. He has that type of range. Very Earl Thomas- or Devin McCourty-like.
“He’s limited by scheme. He wouldn’t be a good fit for a team that yo-yos their safeties a lot. You can’t have him down [in the box] one play and move him back the next. He has a certain skill set where you want him more in space on the back end.
“In their opener against Louisville, you saw the whole package with him: the cover skills, the range, the fluid athlete, the light feet, the oily hips, the ball skills."
Juan Thornhill, Virginia
6-0, 205 | Arms: 31 1/8 inches | Hands: 8 ¾ inches | 40 time: 4.42 seconds | Vertical jump: 44.0 inches | Broad jump: 11-9 | 225 bench press: 21 reps
Round projection: 2
Ben’s take: “I compare him to [the Cowboys’] Byron Jones. He has corner-safety experience. He was an outside corner in 2016 and 2017, then converted to safety last year, like Jones did before the Cowboys drafted him.
“He went to the combine and ran a 4.42 and jumps through the roof and nearly broad-jumps 12 feet. You see the range. You see the long legs. You see the high cut. The coverage abilities. Having that cornerback background is so valuable in today’s game. You can drop him down and match him up with wide receivers, yet he has the range to be a back-end player.
“I’m not sure he has the ability to play in the box and be a secure tackler. But teams aren’t really going to expect him to do that. He’s going to be someone you want more on the perimeter.
“He’s probably a Day 2 guy. But if Byron Jones could squeeze his way into the back end of the first round, I think Thornhill could as well."
Saquan Hampton, Rutgers
6-1, 206 | Arms: 31 5/8 inches | Hands: 8 5/8 inches | 40 time: 4.48 seconds | Vertical jump: 36.5 inches | Broad jump: 10-5 | 225 bench: 14 reps
Round projection: 7-FA
Ben’s take: “He’s my late-round version of Deionte Thompson. He’s a Thompson clone. He has the [same] long legs and long arms. He tested very well at the combine. He’s athletic. He has excellent ball skills.
“Some guys are tough to properly evaluate because they’re on perpetually bad teams, like Hampton was at Rutgers. You really have to look at him in a vacuum because he was on a bad collective defensive unit. But how much of that was because of him and how much was just the general climate there? I think he’s someone who could turn out to be a better pro than he was a college player."