Philadelphia Eagles Draft Preview: Safety Position

Dec 31, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; LSU Tigers safety Jamal Adams (33) reacts after they they stopped Louisville Cardinals on 4th down during the second half at Camping World Stadium. LSU Tigers defeated the Louisville Cardinals 29-9. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 31, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; LSU Tigers safety Jamal Adams (33) reacts after they they stopped Louisville Cardinals on 4th down during the second half at Camping World Stadium. LSU Tigers defeated the Louisville Cardinals 29-9. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

With the NFL Draft around the corner, while we wonder who the Philadelphia Eagles may take, it’s time for a preview of the safety position.

The NFL draft is rapidly approaching and April 27th will be here in the blink of an eye. Between now & then, teams will be finalizing their draft boards: ranking players based on talent, production, potential, intangibles, scheme fit, etc. Over the coming weeks, we will be doing the same thing. Each week leading up to the draft, Ben Solak & I will rank the prospects of a certain position based on fit for the Philadelphia Eagles.

We will discuss & debate the players before finalizing the order; in the same way, the Philadelphia  Eagles personnel department is currently doing. By the time April rolls around, we will have scheme-specific rankings for each position, which will provide some clarity on the Philadelphia Eagles Big Board as a whole. Thus far, we have covered the following position groups:

Running Backs

Wide Receivers

Tight Ends

Offensive Tackles

EDGE Rushers

Interior DL



This week, we finish up our position-by-position look with the Safeties.

Mike’s Rankings

  1. Jamal Adams, LSU
  2. Malik Hooker, Ohio State
  3. Budda Baker, Washington
  4. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
  5. Obi Melifonwu, UConn
  6. Marcus Williams, Utah
  7. Marcus Maye, Florida
  8. Josh Jones, NC State
  9. Justin Evans, Texas A&M
  10. Desmond King, Iowa

Ben’s Rankings

  1. Malik Hooker, Ohio State
  2. Jamal Adams, LSU
  3. Budda Baker, Washington
  4. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
  5. Obi Melifonwu, UConn
  6. Marcus Williams, Utah
  7. Desmond King, Iowa
  8. Justin Evans, Texas A&M
  9. Marcus Maye, Florida
  10. Josh Jones, NC State

The Discussion:

MC: I want to take a moment before we jump in to thank everyone who has been following along with us as we have undertaken this endeavor. A lot of time and effort go into watching film on this many prospects. The support/feedback we have gotten has kept us grinding through the film even on nights we are cross-eyed from doing so. Additionally, I want to thank Ben for his limitless enthusiasm during this process. His youthful exuberance for the draft process is surpassed by his selflessness and innate eye for talent. This is my first time going this deep into the draft and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner on this project.

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All that aside, let’s get to it. Really not a lot to differences a the top of the list here for us. The difference between Jamal Adams & Malik Hooker, for me, was razor thin. I went with Adams at the top of the list given his lauded intangibles and playing experience. I also think he has the more natural ability to play close to the LOS and would make a perfect heir for Jenkins. All that said, Malik Hooker may have the best hands in the draft, regardless of position. Why don’t you elaborate on what puts Hooker in the pole-position for you?

BS: Well, it’s exactly Adams’ similar skills set to Jenkins that puts Hooker at the top of this list for me, simply because I think Hooker would see playing time in Philly far before Adams does. What Adams does well, Jenkins does better, and with Jalen Mills (hopefully) sliding in to play nickel CB, I just think Adams doesn’t bring anything to Philadelphia secondary that isn’t already there.

MC: Quick interjection: Adams is, objectively, a superior football player to Jalen Mills. Counterpoint re: Jenkins is this. What Adams does well, Jenkins does better now. Jenkins is also turning 30 this December. He also happens to hold one of the top 7 contract figures on the team and can be cut to save money after this season. Adams would make an attractive (and cheap) heir. Sorry to interrupt…continue about Hooker: who may have the best hands in the draft and I personally like as a top 6 prospect.

BS: No, that’s a good point about Jenkins. I have to imagine you keep him around given what he means to the defense, but grooming a SS heir should be a priority for Philly.

Now, Hooker brings a rare blend of range and ball skills that McLeod doesn’t have. McLeod has incredible range, but not the ability to play the football and, as such, even though Adams is ranked above Hooker on my Big Board, Hooker gets the nod here. On passing downs, you could hypothetically play a sub package with McLeod and Hooker as your two highs and Jenkins down on a TE or slot WR, which would be utterly bonkers. There isn’t a need for that at all, but we’re talking safeties, so there you go.

We probably can’t go much further without talking about Jabrill Peppers, a player around whom there has been much consternation. I’m glad we’re on the same train, a train that believes in his ability but doesn’t think he’s a top safety in this class. Tell me what you saw that sold you on Jabrill.

MC: With Peppers, it’s a combination of not only what I saw, but also what I’ve heard. When you hear him talk, as he did with Mike Mayock following his combine performance, you can’t help but be impressed. Given his tumultuous upbringing, he is exceptionally well-adjusted & mature. He is someone you can’t help but root for, in this regard.

On the field, he is dynamic and versatile. He can play anywhere from slot coverage to linebacker, to safety. He also just happens to be one of the 2-3 most dynamic return men in the draft. As a safety, he has both adequate size to man-up tight ends and speed to cover wide receivers.

The major concerns for him are his limited production in college. While he played well all over the field, he didn’t produce turnovers in ways some other top-flight defensive backs (and linebackers) did in this draft class. Was this the result of being a player without a set position? Possibly so. He played last season as a linebacker but still didn’t manage to force many fumbles. He is a dynamic player who can cover the full area of the field. I think he just needs some definition in his role and exclusivity in his responsibilities. He’ll get these in the NFL.

Our next couple guys are identical. Obi is a late riser in this process and another UConn workout warrior. He has some safety-cornerback versatility that will appeal to a lot of franchises: the Eagles included. Williams is Utah’s rangy, centerfielding (not a word), ball hawk. Then you get into Desmond King. His size concerns me but the production and ball skills are there without a doubt. Why don’t you elaborate on him a little bit?

BS: Desmond King is criminally underrated in the #DraftTwitter community, and it’s easy to tell why. He didn’t play in an indicative scheme/position in college, and the look most folks got of him–one-on-one, on the boundary, at the Senior Bowl–sullies his projection for many.

Desmond King will never be a great man cover corner. He’ll probably only be a passable man cover safety, but he will be passable. In zone coverage, with his eyes in the backfield, with the freedom to read, recognize, and attack downhill, he’s a solid starter at either corner or safety. You need to run a ton of zone to start him at corner, but I think he has a spot as a traditional SS. Tackling issues must be brushed up, but this is Day 2 prospect.

If I’m thinking of potential Malcolm Jenkins heirs, I like Josh Jones as a potential name and as a sleeper pick at safety in this class. Didn’t get a lot of chatter after playing in smaller NC State, but the talent is definitely there.

MC: Oh man would I love for you to look my wife in the eye and call them “smaller NC State.” Honestly, as a Wake Forest guy, I would secretly live inside that moment.

Josh Jones is 6’1” and 220 lbs and ran a 4.41 40 yard dash. Remember that scene in “Dazed & Confused” where the high school coach’s grandmother got bigger and faster over time? Josh Jones is that grandmother…and he seems to love high-speed collisions. In today’s NFL, I think guys with his size and potential are at a premium on the back end of the defense. These are the safeties you take a chance on in rounds 2-4 because of the payback when you hit on one, is a winning lottery ticket for your defensive scheme.

Is he going to be a Brian Dawkins? No…not likely. Could he be another Rodney McLeod? Probably. That’s a solid piece you buy on.

BS: Yeah, I’m big ups on Josh Jones. The last guy I think really merits a mention–well, Maye merits a mention, but I’d like to talk about Evans. He’s a bit more polarizing a prospect than Maye, I think, given that he isn’t the most consistent tackler on the face of the planet. He loves to lay the wood, but he struggles breaking down in space and often overshoots his target in a big way. As the last line of defense, that’s not ideal.

I’ve always prescribed to the idea that you can make an aggressive tackler surer, but you can’t make a sure tackler more aggressive. I don’t think you’re bringing Evans in to start Day 1–he’s too raw in general–so you have time to work on those tackling issues, as well as shore up his diagnostic skills. He has the range, timing at the catch point, and mentality that you want if you’re looking for an Earl Thomas-esque FS. I’ll take the bait in the beginning of Round 3.

I’d like to wrap up by thanking Mike–can’t be upstaged, now can I? This was his brainchild and I just hopped along for the ride. I did everything I could to derail the project as well, serial procrastinator and irresponsible college student that I am. Mike was patient, encouraging, and flexible–those are rare and valuable traits and make him truly a generational prospect. It was great chatting draft every week.

Of course, I’m much obliged for your participation in our draft endeavors, but don’t leave just yet! Our cumulative, Eagles-specific Big Board will be dropping early next week. Be sure to follow Section 215 on Twitter and keep an eye out for the Draft tool that will make you the smartest fan in Philly come Thursday.

The Big Board

  • Jamal Adams, LSU
  • Malik Hooker, Ohio State
  • Budda Baker, Washington
  • Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
  • Obi Melifonwu, UConn
  • Marcus Williams, Utah
  • Justin Evans, Texas A&M
  • Marcus Maye, Florida
  • Desmond King, Iowa
  • Josh Jones, NC State

    Next: Could a draft night trade be in the cards?

    Writer’s note: These are our joined safety rankings for the Philadelphia Eagles. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter what you think. Next week we will publish our Philadelphia Eagles-specific Big Boards: combining all prospects we have discussed during this project.