Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Combine attention turns to DBs this weekend
The New York Giants have been missing one of the key parts to a successful defense for quite some time, and that is a quality deep safety.
We had aspirations that Darian Thompson would step into this role and perform admirably – didn’t happen. We were teased by the serendipitous rookie season of Andrew Adams or the 8 interception year of Stevie Brown where he played alongside Antrel Rolle in his final seasons. The glory days of Rolle, when the Giants won their last championship and had a trio of safeties that coexisted on the field with Deon Grant and Kenny Phillips, were now long ago.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing ladies and gentleman. I would love to see a Giants safety that has the necessary ability to cover ground in a deep single high look. With more middle of the field closed looks in the NFL today, especially in a Cover 1 man system which is very prevalent, the importance of a rangy backend player is paramount, and the Giants just haven’t had that player in quite some time. Antoine Bethea is a smart player that doesn’t possess enough athletic ability at this stage in his career to execute that role and Landon Collins was more of a physical presence than a deep safety.
One may be a cap casualty and the other is playing for a division rival. It’s rare that these rangy safeties slip through the cracks of the draft and fall to Day 3, but that doesn’t exclude the possibility. Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson were both Day 3 picks, ironically enough by the same team in the Bears, and they both possess deep cover ability. Let’s take a look at some of the prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft that may have deep cover ability or just may fit what the Giants could be looking for in the safety position.
Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois
It would be an absolute delight if Chinn fell to the fourth round of the draft. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound FCS player combines exceptional short area quickness with intimidating and brute physicality. Both of these traits obviously impact the game against the run and the pass. He’s a strong, fluid mover, with a great frame and he answered all the questions about his ability to play better talent at the Senior Bowl. Coming from an FCS school, many believed he was just the best fish, biggest one, in a small pond. That may have been true, but he had one of the best weeks in Mobile, which may have effectively removed Chinn from the Day 3 range. Perusing through a lot of the consensus draft boards and he’s still in the 100+ range, which means someone is going to get a steal on Day 3.
Chinn’s fit with the Giants is interesting. New York already has two safeties, who are part of the long-term plans of the team, that are more box type players — Jabrill Peppers and Julian Love. I believe former defensive coordinator James Bettcher wanted Bethea on the back end of his defenses because of his experience and high football IQ. Bettcher’s defense’s were complicated units that were pervaded with inexperienced players, hence the vulnerability to the big play.
New defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s defenses shouldn’t be as complicated in that respect, and with another year under his belt, Love may have the opportunity to prove himself as a deep safety. Love has the athletic ability and burst that are requisite for that position, but there are a lot of other aspects to a deep safety than those two traits.
I believe Chinn could be viewed in a similar manner. It all comes down to ability to understand and execute angles (both run and pass), how to judge said angles decisively, know where/when to be in a certain place, have the necessary ball skills, fluidity, and have the athletic traits to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. That range is the tricky part and it’s difficult to judge Chinn’s tape because he is a far superior athlete to the accountant’s he’s playing against, but I feel he does have very good movement skills for a man of his size.
First clip Chinn’s playing Cover 1 high, the role the Giants desperately need. Knowing that there’s two receivers to the field, Chinn shades that direction and slightly opens his hips at the snap. The outside receiver to that side (strength) starts inside the numbers, but opens up outside of them off the line of scrimmage up his stem. Chinn has a ton of ground to cover, but he tracks the ball, gets in position, and undercuts the back shoulder throw for the interception. Very impressive play here, but a professional quarterback’s pass wouldn’t have hung like that, so context is needed. Nevertheless, it’s still impressive on Chinn’s parts and shows me qualities that can be worked on. Second clip shows the closing burst in man coverage on a horizontal crosser. If the throw was made a little bit earlier, and was more out in front of the receiver, then Chinn may have been too far away to make a play on it, so there’s one concern, albeit those routes are difficult in man coverage. Still, the short area quickness, aggressive nature, and ability to disrupt the catch point are all on display here. I love what I see in the third clip, Chinn blitzes from the slot and it’s a handoff to the other side of the field; Chinn is in the backfield with the running back is already passed the line of scrimmage and Chinn sprints across the field and accelerates passed all of those future accounts so effortlessly. But in all seriousness, this shows very good athleticism, incredible competitive toughness, and an excellent understanding of how to cut off someone’s angle through traffic. Someone is going to be happy drafting Chinn, and I would love for that someone to be Dave Gettleman on Day 3.
Jordan Fuller, Ohio State
Long, rangy, safety with good size at 6-2, 205 pounds. Fuller’s athletic ability and movement skills fit well with what the Giants are looking for in a deep safety. Good fluidity in his hips, exceptional acceleration and explosiveness, along with terrific lateral agility lend him to be an excellent option for the Giants on Day 3. But, there are reasons why he should be available on Day 3. Fuller doesn’t employ the necessary physicality in run support to compete, at an effective level, as a three-down defender. He is capable of driving down hard on receivers who are catching the ball and delivering a big hit in that scenario, but he’s liable to get run over, or attempt a sub-par tackle, against running backs barreling downhill, and that’s despite him being the lead tackler for the Buckeyes in 2018. Unlike a lot of other safeties on this list, he doesn’t invite contact, and that will not endear him to Gettleman.
He could also stand to take better angles in run support when moving laterally, which is not an athletic limitation of this former New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year from Old Tappen. Fuller had 5 interceptions and 10 passes defensed in his four seasons at Ohio State. He’ll need to become more assertive as a run defender if he wants to be a starter in the NFL, but he possesses the athletic traits and ability to cover ground that are very hard to comenby in deep safety prospects.
First clip we see him just inside the middle of the field, with his eyes on the quarterback, as he starts to open his hips towards the strength and moves very fluidly to cut the angle off the slot fade. The throw is more on a line, and is a bit overthrown, while also being outside the numbers, which is a lot of ground to cover. Fuller doesn’t get there till the ball lands incomplete, but I wanted to show that clip to illustrate Fuller’s ability to move and cover more than half the field in a timely manner. Second clip shows Fuller as the deep safety in Cover 1 once again; he’s just inside the hash to the boundary side on the RPO. He sees the quick slant developing and drives down hard to put pressure on the receiver which helped force the incompletion. Third clip shows his deficiency in tackling. Not aggressive, lunges forward, doesn’t drive through his target, and he just falls off the running back so easily. As I stated before, those kinds of plays are some of the main reasons why Fuller will be available on Day 3.
Myles Dorn, UNC
With good size at 6-2, 205, Dorn has flashed good range while monitoring the backend of the Tar Heels’ defense. He aggressively comes downhill and is not afraid to try and remove offensive players from their shoes with powerful hits. Has experience playing deep safety, field linebacker, nickel, overhang defender, and just operating around the box. The range he possesses assists his quality ball skills and production. Dorn had 6 interceptions in the last three seasons for UNC and 12 passes defensed. His range, versatility, aggressive nature in run support, and ball production make him interesting on Day 3 of the draft.
Angles are somewhat questionable and he seemed to misjudge them too often on film, and he struggled to maintain speed through tight angles, which leads me to question his change of direction ability when coming downhill. Those two concerns are magnified when merged with each other, which obviously causes a disquiet feeling towards Dorn. Dorn also suffered a significant knee injury towards the end of 2018, which affected his play in 2019, so that should be kept in perspective.
Dorn is playing the field safety spot and the receiver to that side is lined up at the top of the numbers. Dorn opens up towards that outside receiver, but keeps his eyes on the quarterback who sees Dorn’s hips angled outside and thinks he has his slot receiver streaking down the field against the nickel, so the quarterback makes the throw. Dorn flips his hips well and gets his body turned towards the destination of the ball, tracks it midair, and makes an acrobatic interception. That’s one showcase of his ability to cover ground. The second quick clip shows his ball skills in a contested catch situation where he just rips the ball away from a receiver. Third clip is on a third-and-6 near the goal line; Dorn reads, reacts, and attacks the middle of the field crosser in the mesh concept. He squares up and delivers a powerful hit to the receiver forcing a field goal attempt in a tied game late in the fourth quarter.
Julian Blackmon, Utah
Very new to playing safety, so he’s raw in terms of spatial awareness and angle comprehension from this standpoint. Was All-PAC12 in 2017-18 as a corner and was all conference in 2019 as a safety where he recorded 60 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 4 pass defensed. The 6-1, 205-pound neophyte safety had his ups and his downs in 2019. I saw very good closing burst and physicality for a player of average build. He’s a good tackler, although he comes in wild at times, he usually finishes the job in a violent manner.
The struggles in 2019 were due to his inexperience at the position, which is more than correctable with more time and better coaching. I like the speed, physical toughness, and the range was solid too. Maybe the range could be maximized if he has more experience and a bit more trust in what he’s seeing from the backend, because it seemed obvious that this player has a decisive ability when coming downhill. He’s not the most fluid athlete, but he does possess solid acceleration and explosiveness.
One can easily recognize Blackmon’s ability to key and diagnose plays. This could be due to his time spent in the film room or just something he saw earlier in the game, but he really identified the first down play, and look at the punishing hit and angle downhill he took, very impressive. The second clip shows his fearlessness against a much bigger player. Again, his tackling mechanics get wild, but he gets the job done like an AT4 in a precarious environment. The third clip highlights some of the concerns; here against USC, Michael Pittman Jr. is at the top of the numbers in tight man coverage. Blackmon was on the near hash and starts by opening his hips towards Pittman, but totally leaves himself open to the 9 or fade route. Blackmon, who was protecting the middle of the field, but also had over the top help, was burnt on the play and his angles were terrible. This happens to new safeties in a Power 5 conference. The transition to safety, from corner, isn’t easy and Blackmon still did a solid job at it in 2019. There’s a lot of room for growth and Blackmon is versatile, while also showing upside on special teams.
JuJu Hughes, Fresno State
The 5-11, 188-pound Hughes is undersized for the position, but doesn’t show it on the field. Like most players on this list, he plays with reckless abandon and can deliver jolting shots that dislodge balls at the catch point and force running backs to fall down on the spot. Hughes had significant ball production with 7 interceptions and 22 passes defensed from his sophomore to senior season. A lot of his interceptions were poor overthrows by the opposing quarterbacks, but Hughes was still in position to make the plays.
He’s a strong tackler with good acceleration and solid leaping ability. Displayed good mental processing and understanding of how to adjust to the running backs arcs as a deep safety coming downhill to be the alley defender. Read through blocks well, diagnosed, and was never afraid to use his smaller stature to power through bigger running backs. I question his sideline to sideline speed that the Giants will be looking for in a deep safety, but I feel like Hughes would be excellent on special teams and fill a role for the Giants, if injuries befall the team. Hughes will most certainly be around late in the draft.
Hughes is No. 23. In the first clip you see him adjust to the power rushing attack of the opponent. The fullback seals the OLB inside and the contain defender, the corner, boxes the running back into the alley where Hughes delivers a strong shot to the sternum. Would I like Hughes to go low and wrap up, drive through? Yes, but this shows the strength and brute force of a smaller player. Second clip just shows motor, foot speed, and acceleration. Hughes is the defender, in the slot, being blocked at the top of the screen. Watch his recovery speed as he closes in on the running back and stops him just short of the goal line. I always love to see hustle and players who want to succeed no matter what. How many times have you seen a player give up on that play? It happens, but Hughes gutted it out and made a last-second play, while showing some positive athletic ability in the process.