The NFL is constantly changing and evolving. With this, the rise of extreme athletes is making its way into the league. A prime example of this is when the Cowboys took safety Byron Jones in the first round almost entirely off of his athletic ability. The 6’1” 199 pound safety put on a show at the combine, with a vertical jump of 44.5”, a broad jump of 147”, and a 40 time of 4.36. All of those scores are some of the top safety positional scores in the history of the event.
So if a player like Jones can go round one almost entirely off of combine performance, what other players can rise due to pure athleticism? Enter Obi Melifonwu. The 6’4” 224 pound specimen arguably had a better performance than Byron Jones had at his combine. Melifonwu’s 4.40 second 40 yard dash left people stunned that a 224 pound guy could run that fast. Throw in the fact that he led all safeties with a vertical jump of 44.0” and a broad jump of 141”, and you have a potential first round pick regardless of tape.
— Jonathan Valencia (@JonValencia_WiB) March 23, 2017
So we have established that Obi Melifonwu is an athletic freak but besides the physical traits, there isn’t much to support his rise into the first round. He plays very soft on tape and constantly shows the inability to make NFL plays. So, again, he’s only really getting round one hype due to his athletic scores which is entirely understandable. I will show in this piece that there are other safeties who are athletic guys that have just as much if not more potential than Melifonwu. I’m not against Melifonwu at all, he’s actually one of my favorite players in this draft, but this piece is more to say that he should not be considered in round one with other similar types of safeties out there. That being said, here is a list of safeties who can be just as good as Melifonwu but can be taken in the middle rounds: Montae Nicholson: The immediate player who comes to mind when thinking of Obi Melifonwu is Montae Nicholson. The 6’2” 212 pound Michigan State product has the size and athletic traits that are pretty impressive on their own. Nicholson posted a very solid 4.42 40 yard dash time to go along with a 35.0” vertical and 125.0” broad jump. The reason why I personally like Nicholson though is that he does show more aggression than Melifonwu and loves to hit receivers, especially over the middle. If you really want to know what I’m talking about watch Michigan State vs Wisconsin this past season and you’ll see Nicholson lay into some receivers and even some tight ends. He may not be as rangy as Melifonwu but Nicholson does have offer a team a high upside Strong Safety with the ability to erase tight ends with his athleticism.
Wouldn’t be surprised if NC State safety Josh Jones went in 1st round. Tape is great, height/weight/speed, tough & productive. — Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 22, 2017
Josh Jones: Josh Jones was a very under the radar player until the combine made people take notice of him. At 6’1” 220 pounds, Jones is the prototypical size teams want their box safety to be. What really made scouts take a harder look at him was his 40 yard dash time which came in at 4.41 seconds. Put that with his 37.5” vertical jump and 132” broad jump and you have an ultra aggressive safety who is athletic and explosive enough to be effective in coverage as well. Perhaps he doesn’t belong on this list anymore because he is almost a consensus top 100 pick at this point but Jones does many things that Melifonfu doesn’t do. Jones is physical, aggressive, and a very solid tackler which are things that Obi Melifonwu is not. It wouldn’t surprise me if come draft time, Jones is actually taken higher than Melifonwu.
Arms: 35 3/8
Hands: 10 3/8
Arms: 32 1/2
Hands: 9 1/8
— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) March 4, 2017
Josh Harvey-Clemons: One of the biggest question marks in this draft, Josh Harvey-Clemons has the potential to be one of the better finds in the middle rounds. The once Georgia Bulldog has impressive size and length, standing in at 6’4” 217 pounds with 35 3/8” long arms. The length makes him an obvious favorite to lock down NFL tight ends and that is a trait that NFL coaches are really valuing nowadays. What may be even more impressive is the explosion he showed with a vertical jump of 31.5” and broad jump of 121”. Although he didn’t run the 40 at the combine, I fully expect his time to be in the low- mid 4.4’s at his pro day on March 30th. The main reason why why he isn’t getting the hype that Melifonwu and Jones are getting though is due to how Louisville played him at OLB for most of last season and the fact that he failed multiple drug tests while at Georgia (which led to his dismissal). Regardless, JHC is an athletic beast at safety who has just as much potential as the other top guys in this class.
Rudy Ford: Rudy Ford may be the least known safety on this list. The 5’11” 205 pound Auburn Tiger isn’t the biggest player here but has very good strength for his smaller size. The main reason why Ford stands out and makes this list though is his blazing 4.34 40 yard dash time he ran at his Pro Day. Now I’m one who does discount the times at these Pro Days, because they are rather inaccurate, but regardless that time is pretty good for a relatively unknown prospect. After having a rather lackluster and injury prone senior season, Ford does have the athletic potential with the aggressive play to be a solid mid round prospect. If you want to see Ford play to his athletic potential, watch some of Auburn’s 2015 games. You’ll see a fast, strong safety who loves contact and is actually pretty solid in coverage. Ford will likely remain under hyped throughout the rest of the draft process but I see the potential to be a quality NFL starter someday.