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Safety Bets in 2021 Draft

The Packers have two starting safeties under contract for 2021. Adrian Amos has been dependable if not flashy. He has made his share of game saving plays. Darnell Savage Jr. will be starting his third year and needs to make a jump. He had some good plays in 2020 but was picked on by Brady in the NFC championship and still struggles with missed tackles, tackling angles and big receivers. Perhaps a new scheme from new DC Joe Barry will help. Packer fans have their fingers crossed. Currently, if Amos or Savage were injured, the ranks become a bit thin. Rookie Vernon Scott played well in limited minutes and undrafted free agent Henry Black made a play or two. Will Redmond still struggles with open field tackling and the occasional assignment error. If the Packers draft a safety, it may be to play dime LB or the hybrid sixth DB to replace injury ridden Raven Greene. If this safety could play the slot, an upgrade would improve the 2021 defense no matter what scheme is played.

The 2021 draft has more than a dozen prospects that could be picked in the seven round NFL auction barn. Some candidates are best suited as center fielders, others as box hybrid tackling machines. There are players to meet every team’s need, the question that will begin to be answered on April 29th is whether they will be available when the needy team selects.

One of the most interesting subplots of the 2021 safety draft will be where the two TCU safeties are drafted. Almost every site lists Trevon Moehrig as the top safety. At 6’1” and 208 pounds he has the NFL frame scouts are looking for. But if you review game tape he might not be the best safety on his Horn Frog team. Pundits seem to agree that TCU had the best safety tandem in college football. His safety partner had more game changing plays but does not fit the NFL parameters for a safety. Ar’Darius Washington is listed as 5’8” and 179 pounds. Those numbers scream IR in the NFL. Bob Sanders was a 5’8” safety that played at a high level for a few years but he weighed 208 pounds. In his 4th season he was voted NFL defensive player of the year. It was the last time he would come close to playing a full season. After 2008, he never started more than 2 games. Washington makes great plays on the ball and is a willing tackler but the laws of physics don’t change for any player. Moehrig had many passes defensed but analysts say he needs to improve his tackling and is susceptible to double moves. Some analysts say Moehrig will go in the first round. Washington is more of a 4th round gamble who may need to transition to a slot corner. ESPN does not even list Washington as a draft-able player. CBS has him as a top 150 player.

Jevon Holland

Dec 6, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks safety Jevon Holland (8) breaks up a pass intended for Utah Utes wide receiver Jaylen Dixon (25) during the first half of the Pac-12 Conference championship game at Levi’s Stadium. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The next group of safeties include Jevon Holland of Oregon (6’1”/200) and Hamsah Nasirildeen Florida State. (6’3”/220). These two safety prospects are almost polar opposites in their strengths and weaknesses on the gridiron. Holland has experience as a slot corner where he excelled. He had 4 interceptions two years in a row. He fits the NFL size requirements at 6’1” and 200 pounds. His injury history is relatively clean but he opted out of the 2020 season. His tackling is criticized by more than one analyst but one site has him as a top 10 pick. Nasirildeen is a tackling machine who also has good short area burst. His 2019 season included 101 tackles, 2 interceptions and three pass deflections. Unfortunately, his season ended with a torn ACL that only allowed him to play in two games in 2020. Would the Packers risk a pick in day two on a safety who had questionable top end speed before an ACL injury? There has to be less risky picks out there. Another top rated safety coming off of an ACL injury is Andre Cisco of Syracuse. (6’1”/209) As a freshman at Syracuse, Cisco had 60 tackles, 7 interceptions, and 9 pass deflections. In 9 games in 2019 he racked up 65 tackles, 5 interceptions- including a pick 6, and 5 pass deflections. Unfortunately, he suffered the ACL in a 2020 pregame collision with a teammate after only playing two games. Medical reviews will factor into his draft status.

Sporting News, ESPN and CBS all list the next group of four safeties:

Paris Ford, Pittsburgh (6’/190)
Richard LeCounte III, Georgia (5’11”/190)
Caden Stearns, Texas (6’1”/207)
Reed Blankenship, Middle Tennessee State (6’1”/196)

Ford is only 199 pounds but he is very aggressive. Pundits have used terms like, “fearless” and “instinctive” to describe his play. In 2020 he played 7 games, collected 3 interceptions, 30 tackles, 3 passes deflected and 3 TFL’s. He then shut it down.
Ford is said to run fast. Speculation is he will run under 4.5 in his pro day 40 yard dash. That is scheduled on March 17th. If he runs under 4.5, his stock could rise significantly.

Richard LeCounte III

Sep 2, 2017; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs safety Dominick Sanders (24) reacts with defensive back Richard LeCounte III (2) after a tackle against Appalachian State Mountaineers during the second half at Sanford Stadium. Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

LeCounte III, has an ability to process the offensive keys in front of him and use great reaction times to thwart opponents play designs. He is a football film junkie and student of the game. His tape at Georgia is excellent. Can he make game changing plays? In 2019 he was responsible for seven of the Georgia defense’s 14 turnovers. Capital, “ P” playmaker. His limitations? He may not have NFL top end speed and for a safety, he is small. His listed weight of 190 may be five to ten pounds above his playing weight. His pro day in March 17 will be critical to his draft status.

Sterns is a solid run defending safety who shows some coverage skills. He is very aggressive in his reads and can find himself over committed on double moves and occasionally on angles for tackling. Stern’s major draft concern is his injury history. Two knee injuries and then a turf toe injury had him miss multiple games in every college season. He has true injury based boom/ bust potential. He just helped his cause by running a legit 4.4 forty at his pro day.

Blankenship played mostly against small school competition although in 2019 they did play Michigan, Duke and Iowa, all double digit losses. He totaled 24 tackles in those three games but Iowa posted 293 passing yards and 351 rushing yards to go with 48 points. Iowa set a new record for points scored in the Kirk Ferentz era. Two weeks prior Duke QB Quentin Harris had more TD passes than incompletions against Blankenship’s secondary. The best team that MTST Raiders played in 2020 was Army, who throttled them 42-0. Can this kid really be ready for the NFL?

Other safeties drawing interest include:

Damar Hamlin (6’-5/8”/201) is the second Pitt safety in this draft but does not receive the “buzz” of Paris Ford. Hamlin has two solid years of good tape at the safety position for Pitt, earning All-ACC Second Team honors in 2020 while amassing 67 tackles, 7 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. His first two years at Pitt were marred by injuries but he has been relatively healthy for two years.

Shawn Davis (5’10.5”/199) played mostly high safety at Florida. He has experience as a one high and two high safety. He has good burst and can cover ground and make interceptions but he also has sloppy tackling habits and often seems to try to pick balls with one hand. That said, he has 5 interceptions and 126 tackles in his Gator career. Davis’ injury history may make him slide. He missed the final 5 games in 2020 and first month of the 2018 season. He has never started all of the games in any of his college seasons.

Jacoby Stevens (6’1.25”/216) led the LSU Tigers defense in 2019, all the way to the college championship. His 92 tackles 5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 6 passes defenses and 9 TFL’s were an integral part of that championship. He has played linebacker and safety and he has potential as the hybrid linebacker in the Packers defense. His only limit is his size/speed makes him a bit of a tweener between safety and linebacker in the NFL.

Tyler Coyle (6’2”/215). Connecticut’s leading tackler in 2019. (85 tackles, 1 interception. 9 pass break ups) He ended his Huskies’ career on a high note but did not repeat his performance for his transfer school, Perdue, in 2020. He played in only 4 games in 2020 due to a foot injury. Missing multiple games to a foot injury is not a good prequel to an NFL career. Just ask Vince Biegel. Coyle did come back in the last game of the season and had 11 tackles. Coyle could be a box safety at best, hybrid LB at worst.

Richie Grant-UCF (6’/200) turned heads with a great senior bowl week of practice. Scouts said he played man to man assignments like a corner and also has great tape as a run support safety. In 2018 Grant burst onto UCF’s defensive backfield and filled out the stat page. (108 tackles, six interceptions and two forced fumbles). His tackle totals in 2019 (78) and 2020 (73) are still respectable but until the Senior Bowl, Grant was under the pundits radar. Grant has good instincts and initial burst but scouts worry about his overall speed as there are times he seems to take too long to get to the flats. Part of the reason Grant was named All- ACC was his run support. Grant checks a number of boxes, but his draft position may be linked to his 40 yard dash time.

Christian Uphoff (6’2”/213) of Illinois State is another overlooked prospect who has jumped up in pundits minds and voices thanks to his great senior bowl practices. His college tape was against lesser competition but he looked like a man amongst boys on film. Uphold was voted the top safety of the Senior Bowl’s National squad. He made a couple of good special teams plays during the game too. He did not have a 2020 season due to Covid.

Mark Webb (6’1”/210) Georgia’s second safety prospect had injury issues in 2020. He sat out their bowl game, watching with a protective boot on his injured leg. He started only three games in 2020. In 2019 he started nine of fourteen games for the Bulldogs. In 2017 Webb missed time with a torn meniscus. His four year career totals at Georgia include 82 tackles and 1 interception. Webb mostly played the “STAR” position at Georgia which is their version of the hybrid linebacker/safety.

Divine Deablo (6’3”/226) came to W.Virginia as a receiver and was transitioned to safety as a sophomore. He ended his career being voted team captain and wearing jersey number 25 five times, a V-Tech tradition to honor the best special teams player of the past week. He has 206 tackles and six interceptions in his college career and was named All-ACC first team. His strength would be lining up against tight ends or slower running backs. He does not seem to have the top end speed or the quick twitch hips of a true back end cover safety. He might be best used as a hybrid linebacker/safety.

Tyree Gillespie (6’/207) spent his first two years at Missouri excelling on special teams. He became a starter mid sophomore season and kept the job for 2.5 years. He improved both his technique and stats every season. His film shows good technique in angles, tackling and coverage. One writer claimed he only gave up seven passes last year. He has experience in man and zone coverage schemes. If he runs fast at his pro day, his draft status could rise. So where is the knock? He never made an interception in his college career. Not a big play maker and his defensive team was mediocre.

Talanoa Hufanga USC

Nov 9, 2019; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Joey Yellen (18) throws a pass over the reach of USC Trojans safety Talanoa Hufanga (15) during the first half at Sun Devil Stadium. Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Last but truly not least is Talanoa Hufanga (6’1”/215) who is characterized as a box safety out of USC. But game film shows a player with some coverage skills and decent looking speed. I don’t think it is just the hair that brings some to start making Troy Polumalu comparisons. Hufanga has some skill and is a willing tackler who can stop running backs in their tracks.

This draft doesn’t have super star first round safety talent but the third day should have a deep pool of potential to develop. Let’s hope the Packers find a nugget in the deep end of this safety draft.

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Paul Edwards

Paul Edwards is a lawyer, victim advocate, writer, and long term Packer fan and Packer history enthusiast.

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9 Comments

  1. Howard March 13, 2021

    Paul, Very good and detailed article on safeties. I do think you are being to kind to Redmond. Redmond was taken advantage of in the Rams divisional game, just not on deep passes. I could be wrong, but in the NFCCG I don’t believe Redmond, who was playing the deep safety was suppose to be shading his coverage to Alexander’s man on TBs 1st TD rather than King’s man. On the TB TD before the half why was Redmond paying attention to the receiver in the middle of the field, who was already doubled, when he should have had his attention toward king’s man. Add in the dropped int. before the end of the half and to me Redmond sucks as a safety and always has. Redmond may be a good ST player and an emergency safety (questionable) but to me that is it. Maybe Redmond was playing his position as called by Pettine? Did anyone notice that Redmond did not play the deep safety role in the second half, as much, if at all? There was a reason for that, and that may also be one of many reasons Pettine is gone.
    .
    I do like Sullivan’s instincts and fight. Sullivan is usually always there when you need a play to close out a game or series. The problem with Sullivan is he does not have the speed or change of direction ability to play slot corner. The Packers need a slot corner. Sullivan may be better used as a third safety if Scott or Black are not ready, and Sullivan is retained.
    .
    Agree, if the right safety is available later on the third day take one. For the defensive backfield I think drafting a perimeter and slot corner come before another safety.

    Reply
  2. Mick March 13, 2021

    Yes, good article Paul. I agree Howard, and hope they don’t pick a safety and switch him to perimeter or slot corner. Those moves have proven in the past to not work very well.

    Reply
  3. Ferris March 13, 2021

    Casey Hayward is available. Sign him on the cheap. Had him early when he got beat all the time, now can get him late and see if he has anything left. Anyone but King. I’d rather see Howard back there, I hear he has range.

    Reply
    1. PF4L March 14, 2021

      If good players are to be signed on the cheap, the Patriots will sign them.
      .
      Signing good players who are cheap isn’t in the Green Bay Packers business plan.
      .
      Signing average or under average for far too much money?…..yes…these are the days of our Green Bay Packers.

      Reply
  4. PF4L March 14, 2021

    Speaking of which….why isn’t Mike Daniels on the top 101 Free Agent list?
    In 2019 he’s making 8 million, before that he’s given a winning lottery ticket from Russ Ball,,,,,
    What gives?
    Could ….he have been (GULP)…over paid Russ Ball?
    As a Packer fan, how did i not see that?
    *********************************************************
    “Mike Daniels Is Coming For Blood”
    Mordecai Jones July 27, 2017
    .
    PF4L July 28, 2017
    Coming for blood huh?
    .
    How about coming to 3 playoff games, and actually making a play?
    **************************************************
    “Mike Daniels Sees a Packers’ Super Bowl”
    Joseph Bonham June 9, 2017
    .
    PF4L June 9, 2017
    This dude doesn’t know when to quit.

    Yes, you’ve been very close. Yes, you’ve played in two NFCCG’s. Now tell us Mr. McDaniels, what did you do with that opportunity? Let me help you, in both of those games, you had a combined…

    3 solo tackles, 0 sacks, 0 FF. You are quite the game changer my friend. Matter of fact, in 3 playoff games last season, you didn’t make even one play.

    Good thing Ted gifted you that 41 million dollar deal.
    .
    Mr. Daniels, i can understand you trying to be a vocal leader of this defense, because your play on the field sure as shit isn’t inspiring anyone, except possibly Ted Thompson, but then again, he’s a couple nickle’s short of a quarter.

    Reply
    1. PF4L March 14, 2021

      I wasn’t special, or the only one.
      .
      A lot of intelligent Packer fans saw through this guy and got sick of him running his mouth….in short order.
      .
      Running your mouth is one thing, backing it up is another.

      Reply
  5. PF4L March 14, 2021

    Who’s next….Nick Perry?
    He’s not on the Top 101 list either.
    .
    “The Packers will count $11.1 million on the cap this year for Perry to play elsewhere. The team could have spread out the cap hit over two years by using the post-June 1 designation, but the savings on the cap wouldn’t have been realized until June, and they’d still be paying for the mistake on Perry in 2020.” – Demovsky March 12th 2019

    Wait….that’s because once the Packers dumped him and his salary, no other team would touch him and he retired.
    Nevermind.
    *********************
    Where is Kevin King on this list?

    I guess it’s possible, Gregg Rosenthal knows better.
    When i say knows better, i mean …knows better, than Brian Gutenkunst.
    .
    Sorry Gute, i give you credit when you earn it, but every coin has two sides….Deal with it.

    Reply
  6. PF4L March 14, 2021

    Sorry Packer Nation….i still get a bit wound up thinking about the last 9 years.
    I guess we can just refer to them as….the wasted years.
    .
    I highly doubt, Aaron Rodgers disagrees with that description.
    .
    I can’t wait for the draft….that’s when we’ll find out what year Gute wants to draft for.

    Reply
    1. Mick March 14, 2021

      Just think about what the money they doled out for Daniels, Perry and Graham would of gotten the team if they drafted responsibly and shopped wisely in FA. OOOHHHH< I forgot! They sing to a different tune!

      Reply

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