Well ladies and gentlemen, it is finally Draft Season. Well it is for most of us. For a Redskins fan and podcaster like myself, every day is draft season. But we are finally at the 2018 Reese’s Senior Bowl and it is perhaps the most exciting week of the year.
I just have to give a big shout out here to Jon Valencia and the rest of the Breaking Football crew. I’ve been down here for two days now and after finally meeting all these guys and talking to some other writers, I truly feel like I am in heaven.
But let’s get down to business and talk about the real subject here. It is no secret of mine that I love me some safeties, and I’ve had some pretty good recent success in scouting them (Montae Nicholson, John Johnson, Kevin Byard). This group down here in Mobile may not be the biggest names or the deepest group, but there are some interesting prospects to watch:
Kyzir White, WVU
Perhaps the most impressive, and maybe the most athletic, safety down here is West Virginia’s Kyzir White. I honestly don’t know where to start with this guy when talking about him. Right off the bat his combination of size and speed stand out. Standing at roughly 6’2” 216 pounds, it wouldn’t shock me if he ran in the 4.4’s at the Combine (Kyzir’s brothers Kevin and Karaun are also insane athletes).
Another huge positive to his game is his versatility. He played the “Spur” role in West Virginia’s 3-3-5 defense this past season, which gives him so much experience playing in the box and in press coverage against slot receivers. He also is a big-time hitter that rarely overcommits. He will square a ball carrier up and rarely misses a tackle opportunity.
One thing he really needs to prove in Mobile though to become the top safety prospect down here is the ability in deep centerfield coverage. I don’t doubt his ability to play back there, it’s just that he has rarely done it at West Virginia and he needs to prove that it is something he is comfortable with. All in all, White is the most impressive safety down here that I watched on tape.
Trayvon Henderson, Hawaii
Out of all the safeties down here, Trayvon Henderson may be the most interesting one to me. The 6’0” 204 pound safety out of Hawaii barely has any tape on him available on Youtube, or other places, so it was hard to really get a good feel for him as a prospect.
Things that really stood out to me in limited viewings though were the pure athleticism he shows, along with the ball skills. Playing all 4 years at Hawaii, Henderson tallied a total of 9 interceptions, showing great awareness and high point ability on the plays I’ve seen. His athleticism is what really stands out though. He is obviously a very fluid athlete who moves very well in the open field. I don’t question his ability at all as a deep safety with the ability to roam sideline-to-sideline.
Mobile is a big opportunity for Henderson. Not only to show that he can play with top competition, but also to really get some tape out there. I’m really interested to see how he performs against some of the bigger names, but I really think he has a chance to be one of the guys that we come away mildly impressed with.
Tray Matthews, AUB
Tray Matthews was perhaps my toughest evaluation of the group. Standing at 6’1” 210 pounds, the former Auburn Tiger plays the position the way you want it to be played, and I really appreciate that style of play. Maybe more so than other guys who scout the position.
Matthews attempts to be the bully on defense. Often times, he’ll come down from his safety role and really try to lay out opposing ball carriers, and his tackling rarely suffers as a result. I think he can find success in the NFL as a box safety in the right system.
He is really going to have to prove that he can cover/defend in space though. Often times when one-on-one in the open field, Matthews fails to break down and finds himself on the ground way too often. I think he needs to show more in coverage as well, as he seemed to struggle matched up with tight ends and slot receivers at Auburn. Lastly, if he hopes to make it in the NFL, he needs to show he’s a good athlete. If he can keep up with this group athletically, I think he has a chance at the next level.
Armani Watts, TAMU
The most well known, big name player of this group is certainly Armani Watts. The 5’10” 191 pound TAMU safety was highly productive on the Aggie defense, and even showed some flashes on a defense that featured number 1 overall pick Myles Garrett and Day 2 pick Justin Evans last season. Needless to say, he’ll be greatly missed.
First off, Watts is just a clutch big-time playmaker. Just off the top of my head, he had a huge forced fumble against Tennessee (on Alvin Kamara, I may add) in 2016, a game-winning interception against Tennessee in the same game, and a game-winning interception against Arkansas in overtime this past season. He just makes big plays in the big moments. Watts also displays a very high IQ and leadership on tape, always directing players where to go and finding himself in the right position to make a play.
Watts does have a lot to clean up before he can be an effective starter at the next level. His tackling, especially in open space, is really poor. He tends to overcommit and shy away from contact, which is a huge faux pas for me when evaluating the position. He also has a lot of false steps in coverage which tends to leave him one step behind in coverage. I don’t doubt his ability in coverage, or as an athlete, but it’s certainly something he needs to clean up.
Marcus Allen, PSU
Marcus Allen, not to be confused with the great Oakland Raiders running back, is a very nice and consistent product on the field. The 6’2” 215 pound Nittany Lion shows a lot of positive traits that led to some calling him a first round player last season.
Allen is a cliched box safety. He is excellent in run support and rarely misses tackles. He is also one of the most consistent players I’ve watched this year. You will rarely get a bad game from him, just a very steady box defender who knows his assignment, fills lanes, and makes tackles.
I think he really needs to prove two things down here in Mobile. One is his athleticism. Can he move effectively sideline-to-sideline and can he cover opposing receivers will be big questions he needs to answer. I also need to see him bring more thump to his game. A box safety needs to be an imposing presence and I just don’t see it from him. To me though, the worst case scenario with Allen is that he turns into a poor man’s Kenny Vaccaro.
Quin Blanding, UVA
Quin Blanding, a popular name this year, is a guy that I just don’t see the hype with. The 6’2” 209 pound Virginia product does boast very impressive statistics though, garnering 492 tackles and 10 interceptions in his collegiate career.
To name some positives, Blanding is a pure technician who is a great student of the game. The most impressive thing about him is how well he seems to know opposing offenses, always appearing to be in the right place at the exact right time. As a tackler, you couldn’t really ask for more. He almost always breaks down and finishes plays, which is very simple yet impressive.
My main concerns with him though are that I don’t think he’s a good enough athlete to play free safety in the NFL, and I don’t think he’s physical enough to play in the box. Mainly I question where he is gonna fit and how he is really gonna stand out to NFL teams. Hopefully he can put it together and wow some scouts on the field here in Mobile this week.
Jeremy Reaves, South Alabama
Last, but certainly not least, is the 5’10” 185 safety from South Alabama, Jeremy Reaves. Before I continue here though, I just gotta say go google this guy’s name and read about his story. From breaking his back in high school to playing at South Alabama to making it to this game, it really is an impressive journey for this young man, and I’m a huge fan.
His versatility and play style really stand out on tape. He’s a deep safety with ball skills who has cornerback experience. That combo right there is literally every defensive backs coach’s dream. Throw in the fact that he loves to come down and hit players, and he really crushes some guys, and you have yourself a very versatile kid to work with.
The main concerns have to be level of competition and weight. I’d like to see him more around 200 pounds* or so with his play style but I am really excited to see this guy on the field. I really think he’ll turn some heads and could have a chance at really being a star at the next level.
*Editor’s Note: Reaves came in at 204 pounds at the official Senior Bowl weigh-in on Tuesday