Senior Bowl 2018 Safeties Review

 

As Michael Kist told the ITP crew at practice, “rankings are stupid”. I agree. So instead of ranking these safeties, which would ignore important factors such as schematic fit, I have decided to tier them.

Before that, a few words on the overall group. The safeties at Mobile lived up to their intriguing nature. That said, I would be surprised if any of them ran under a 4.5 at the NFL combine or pro-days. To the tiers!

Top Performers 

Trayvon Henderson, Hawaii, North Team

Trayvon Henderson was the player I had watched the least film on, but his performance at the Senior Bowl made him a must-watch on my flight back to England. He established himself as one of the best safeties in Mobile.

He was superb in 1v1s, covering tight ends with the ease in which Moe’s Ribs fell off the bone. The best matchup of practice was his battles with Mike Gesicki.

Henderson displayed a strong jam. He had excellent mirroring ability in man coverage: often taking small steps, widening well with receivers and staying square until the receiver had declared. Downfield, he camped on the receiver’s hip pocket.

The 6’0” 204 pounds defender also showed ability from deep safety, playing with range, fluidity and athleticism. His interception in 7v7s of a poorly placed Josh Allen pass up the seam was perfect single-high safety play. Even with a better throw, Henderson would have been there to break the pass up.

Henderson did not break down or take a good open field angle on Penny, missing the chance to make the tackle on the big touchdown.

However, his tackling in the game was generally a positive. He made an excellent tackle on DJ Chark in the flat, breaking down on the open-field runner well. He also dropped Darrel Williams in the hole, sinking excellently and exploding upwards to rock the 5’10” 229 pounds running back.

 

Kyzir White, West Virginia, North Team

Kyzir White improved in man coverage as the practices continued. He will be able to carry most tight ends deep to a safety, and has a physical jam.

In the deeper routes that 1v1s threw up, he looked stiff, with hip rigidity, and lacked twitch. He also gets overly grabby at times, struggling against better route runners at the stem of the deep route.

In 7v7s, he confirmed that he is not a centerfielder at the next level. For instance, he bit on a dig route allowing a post in behind him, with the cornerback in trail coverage.

In tackling drills, the thud he delivered echoed around Ladd-Peebles—his hit power is something else. That 6’2”, 216 pounds frame plus his fast closing speed gives him incredible play strength. Additionally, and crucially, he played with great tackling form.

His prowess block shedding and block disrupting was evident, as was the negative to this—his eagerness to take on blocks sees him get sucked into them, rather than getting outside versus runs as the alley defender.

The Senior Bowl proved that White’s best role is as a Kam Chancellor or Keanu Neal. A box cover 3 safety who essentially plays like a linebacker, but can carry tight ends deep.

Somewhere in the Middle

Armani Watts, Texas A&M, North Team

Watts was the exact prospect that I thought he was arriving in Mobile. His man coverage was plagued by poor mirroring and bad timing on the ball. His tackling was woeful, riddled with lunging.

He illustrated exciting range from deep safety, picking off a tipped pass following a play-fake in scrimmage. But this was inconsistent, as it appeared to be limited by an unusual, high backpedal, which slowed his breaking speed.

 

Tray Matthews, Auburn, South Team

Tray Matthews worked his way over the top of seam routes nicely from single-high, reading the quarterback effectively. However, he struggled more in the redzone, where he got caught locking onto the passer.

He improved in 1v1s each day, staying on the receiver’s backside hip following the cut. He also thoroughly disrupted tight ends at the break of their routes.

I liked his ability to avoid rub routes underneath in zone coverage.

In Need of Improvement

Jeremy Reaves, South Alabama, South Team

Reaves struggled out of receiver breaks in 1v1s. He sank his hips well, but often got boxed out by bigger guys. Yet, in the game, he impressively undercut Mike Gesicki’s post route from a two-high position to avoid being boxed out and swat Baker Mayfield’s pass incomplete. I would have liked to have seen this in practice.

Reaves had a great game overall, aided by Tanner Lee being more generous than Jonathan Valencia in Veets.

Despite this performance, Reaves appears to be a tweener at the next level. His lack of long speed was apparent, making a very specific press-slot role his best fit.

 

Quin Blanding, Virginia, South Team

Evaluators will get sucked in to Blanding’s former five-star recruit status and his 6ft 2 209lbs frame. Yet the Virginia Cavalier was flatfooted and slow in 1v1 coverage.

In 7v7s, Blanding took a business decision late on, not fully breaking on an interceptable post route after gaining the right depth. If he is not going to make these plays in a showcase practice, will he make them on Sundays?

Perhaps I am being overly harsh, and Blanding did show a lot of the good things you see with his tape, such as play and route diagnosis.

Ultimately, though, he struggles due to poor approach angles and bad short area quickness and burst.

This was exemplified by Saturday’s game.

Blanding allowed Kalen Ballage to bring contact to him and ducked his head into the tackle.

His lack of athleticism and range from single high safety was present on an overthrown, lofted corner route. An NFL free safety picks this sort of pass off, but with Blanding there it fell incomplete.

 

Marcus Allen, Penn State, South Team

Allen met with the Bears for a considerable length of time on Monday 22nd. To me, though, the hype and talk around Marcus Allen continues to befuddle and bemuse. I think the Bears would be looking at him as a Day 3 pick.

His feet were stationary and flat in crucial moments, making him a liability in man coverage. He was wooden transitioning, failing to sink his hips into cuts. Finally, Allen looked stiff and slow, with poor COD skills and bad speed control.

His fit in the NFL is as a slow box safety, yet he recklessly leads with his head into tackles and does not break down.

 

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