Senior Bowl week is wrapping up as practices finished yesterday. There were a lot of surprises and disappointments throughout the week at almost every position, and the safety group was no different. Trayvon Henderson and Kyzir White were the obvious standouts all week, competing each and every play with these talented tight ends, whereas Armani Watts really struggled to standout among this group. Here’s how I’d summarize the group throughout the week:
Easily the biggest winner this week of the entire safety group was Hawaii safety Trayvon Henderson. In my write up prior to the week, I mentioned how he looked to be a very fluid athlete who flashed in a center fielder role. My only true concern though was lack of film available to see who he really is. Well, after watching him go through 1-on-1s and 7-on-7s throughout this week, I can definitively say that Henderson is a legit safety. Right from the first day, his athleticism showed, looking like a cornerback playing with the safeties.
In 1-on-1 drills, he not only showed the ability to stay on the tight end’s hip and break on the ball, but also showed the scrappiness and tenacity that a relatively undersized safety has to show in press against a tight end. In the 7-on-7 drills, he showed excellent range as a center fielder and really looked like the best, and most comfortable, player back there all week. Henderson likely still isn’t a top 10 safety in this class for me, but he rises from a player on my radar to a player that I firmly believe can have a solid role in the NFL.
I came into this week expecting Kyzir White not only to dominate but to really prove himself as the top senior safety in Mobile. He did just that. The physically imposing “Spur” backer from West Virginia was by far and away the best safety in the 1-on-1 drills. Showing off his nice combination of size (6’2” 216) and athleticism, tight ends just couldn’t separate from him. He would either lock them up at the line of scrimmage with impressive technique in press coverage or patiently wait for them to break out of their route and show off his insane closing speed.
Overall this week was a huge win for Kyzir. The only flaw or downside to his play this week is that it essentially confirmed my one fear in him as a player. I wanted to see if he could play a deep safety role and show some of those box instincts on the back end. He looked lost back there though and really out of place. White projects well into a Keanu Neal type role at the next level, who can play the run effectively and lock up tight ends. I expect White to be a lock as a Day 2 pick now after his strong week.
If Trayvon Henderson classifies as the biggest winner and Kyzir White as the best player, then Tray Matthews would be the week’s biggest surprise. I’ll be completely honest, I was not a fan of Matthews at all coming into the week. He looks like a Jeremy Cash type player on tape; an undersized linebacker who lacks the skill set to play deep in coverage. The one thing that he really needed to prove was whether he could lock down tight ends in man-on-man coverage. If he could at least do that, then he could have a role in the NFL. Well he certainly showed that he belongs and really came to play this week.
His overall physicality was really eye catching and he was disrupting tight ends all week at the break of their routes. In the 7-on-7 drills, Matthews showed flashes of what he could be as a run defender, often mixing it up with the linebackers and running backs around the line of scrimmage. He also displayed great leadership, often being the most vocal player on the field. I still question if he can be anything more than a special teamer in the NFL, but Tray Matthews certainly caught my eye with his play this week.
Armani Watts was a bit of a disappointment this week, as he was fairly inconsistent day in and day out. Early in the week, he displayed many aspects of his game that many evaluators (including me) have fallen in love with. The main problem with him is that he isn’t this well-rounded prospect that we believed him to be. He does some things very well (deep zone coverage, anticipation/instincts, play making/ball skills) but is also very poor in other departments (man coverage, tackling).
In 1-on-1s throughout the week, Watts was getting beat left and right by almost every tight end. When he tried to get physical, tight ends were easily able to knock him off the spot due to his lack of size and strength. When he tried to sit back in the tight end’s hip pocket to make a play, he either lacked the route anticipation or lacked the timing to make a play on the ball.
In 7-on-7s, it was a completely different story. Watts showed excellent instinct and range in zone coverage, finding himself in the right position to make a play more often than not. I think this week showed me that Watts will always be one of those guys who looks better in a game than practice and he is certainly limited, yet will make it in the NFL.
Allen came into the week as one of the biggest names in Mobile. The Penn State graduate put together a very nice career there and I expected a solid week out of him. Watching tape, I wasn’t really in love with his game but he did show some things as a box safety that lead me to believing he can be a solid starter at the next level. This week was much of the same, fairly average play from a fairly average player.
In 1-on-1s, he was up and down. He showed nice physicality and surprisingly better athleticism than I thought he would, but he was still beat numerous times from lack of anticipation and lack of overall agility to stay with these bigger, faster players. I think Allen does have a role as a solid box defender and special teamer at the next level, but this week did almost nothing for me in terms of helping or hurting his draft stock. As I said prior to the week, Allen’s absolute ceiling is Kenny Vaccaro, a role playing box safety on a good defense.
The rest of the safety group didn’t play poorly by any means, but none of them really stood out to me or did anything truly notable throughout the week. Jeremy Reaves showed great toughness and athleticism throughout the week, but lacks the overall feel and size for the position. He’s a tweener at the next level with no real position.
Kameron Kelly is fairly similar in that regard. Playing corner in college, Kelly looked very out-of-place and unaware in deep safety coverage. In 1-on-1s, he did have the size to match up with them but, yet again, lacked any real feel for how to play them. He’s a project at the next level.
Lastly we have Quin Blanding, who was exactly what I expected him to be. He had some good plays along with some bad plays throughout the week. He is just that stereotypical high floor/low ceiling player who offers very little upside.