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2024 NFL Draft: 7 Best Ballhawks in This Year's Class

Quinyon Mitchell makes hard contact with a wide receiver in the air and prevents him from coming down with the ball, which falls nearby
Toledo Rockets cornerback Quinyon Mitchell (27) breaks up a pass intended for Miami (OH) Redhawks wide receiver Gage Larvadain (10) in the third quarter at Ford Field. (Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports)

A ballhawk is a quarterback's worst nightmare. These guys can be the biggest playmakers on the field, regardless of the side of the ball. Tom Brady once said Ed Reed, arguably the best ballhawk in league history, was "ingrained permanently" in his mind.

Minkah Fitzpatrick and Budda Baker lead today's ballhawks, but can anyone from the 2024 NFL Draft join them? Let's use our evaluations and metrics to rank the top seven ballhawks coming out this year.

Ranking 2024 NFL Draft's 7 Best BallHawks

Jaylin Simpson puts his arms out in a T shape. to celebrate
Auburn Tigers defensive back Jaylin Simpson (36) celebrates during the first quarter as Auburn Tigers take on New Mexico State Aggies at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.

t-7. Jaylin Simpson, Auburn

Jaylin Simpson comes in as SIS' 10th-ranked safety, but his ball skills are probably his best trait.

Chris Congemo wrote, "Simpson displays the range and ball-tracking ability of a natural ballhawking free safety." He added, "(Simpson) has good hands and looks comfortable attacking the ball out of the air to create turnovers. He also can play through the catch point and time his approach without drawing a penalty."

Simpson had 40 pass coverage Total Points (top five in the class) and ranked eighth in hand-on-ball percentage in 2023, intercepting four passes. Even more impressive, he faced only 17 targets as the primary defender.

>>READ: Ranking the 7 Best Zone Coverage CBs

Jarius Monroe turns a wide receiver sideways and breaks up the pass
Southern Miss Golden Eagles wide receiver Jakarius Caston (1) tries to make a catch while defended by Tulane Green Wave defensive back Jarius Monroe (2) in the second half at M.M. Roberts Stadium. (Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports)

t-7. Jarius Monroe, Tulane

Jarius Monroe comes in as a fifth-year senior from Tulane who was also very productive. Monroe had 49 pass coverage total points and had 17 pass breakups on 51 targets. He also ranks sixth among cornerback prospects in hand-on-ball percentage at 2.5 percent.

SIS scouts Derek Stanzione and Daulton Zeaman wrote, "His instincts in zone and his ability to read the quarterback make him dangerous on short routes. Monroe has good ball skills, routinely disrupting the catch point and turning deflections into interceptions."

Terrion Arnold reaches his arms out and prevents the ball from reaching the arms of Malik Nabers
Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Terrion Arnold (3) breaks up a pass intended for LSU Tigers wide receiver Malik Nabers (8) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. (Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports)

6. Terrion Arnold, Alabama

Terrion Arnold entered the draft after a five-interception season at Alabama, tied for second in the country. He also had 56 pass coverage total points, also the second-highest mark in the country. His production speaks to his ability to make plays on the ball.

SIS scout Nathan Cooper wrote, "Where his game really shines is his ability to play the ball. He breaks up passes regularly and can create turnovers, as well ... He has excellent closing speed to come up and meet his man and the ball. In zone coverage, he does a good job reading the quarterback's eyes and letting them take Arnold to where the ball is headed."

Khyree Jackson, in a neon uniform and black helmet, stretches his body out to make a tackle
Oregon Ducks defensive back Khyree Jackson (5) tackles Portland State Vikings quarterback Dante Chachere (15) for a loss during the first half at Autzen Stadium. (Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports)

5. Khyree Jackson, Oregon

Khyree Jackson, with his 6-foot-4 frame, has the ability to track a ball and come down with it. Transferring to Oregon from Alabama for his senior season, Jackson recorded three interceptions and was fifth in this class in on-ball percentage at 2.6 percent.

In regards to his ball skills, Nick Martini wrote in his scouting report of Jackson, "He can win with good hand-fighting down the field, and his wide receiver experience shows up with his impressive ball skills. His long arms allow him to cover a large catch radius and turn deflections into interceptions."

Tyler Nubin, in maroon, gets his arms around a Michigan wide receiver
Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Roman Wilson (1) runs while Minnesota Golden Gophers defensive back Tyler Nubin (27) defends during the third quarter at Huntington Bank Stadium. (Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports)

4. Tyler Nubin, Minnesota

Tyler Nubin is our top-ranked safety on the SIS Big Board. He has plenty of experience, starting in 43 straight games since 2020. What highlights his No. 1 ranking is his playmaking ability.

Jordan Edwards wrote in a scouting report, "Nubin is a playmaker on the defense's back end against the pass. He has good instinctive tracking ability to locate the ball in the air and good ball skills at the catch point to create turnovers. He is always under control in his backpedal and trusts his instincts when reading the quarterback's eyes."

Nubin had five interceptions in 2023 (12 in the past three seasons) and ranked fourth among safety prospects with 4.7 total points per game.

Mike Sainristil, in all blue, looks to tackle an Ohio State wide receiver
Ohio State Buckeyes running back TreVeyon Henderson (32) runs at Michigan Wolverines defensive back Mike Sainristil (0) during the first half of the NCAA football game at Michigan Stadium. (Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports)

3. Mike Sainristil, Michigan

In 2023, Mike Sainristil mainly played in the slot, where he lined up 66 percent of the time. He was productive when lined up there, averaging two total points per game, first among corners in this class.

From Jeremy Percy, "He has top-notch ball skills for a defensive back due to his wide receiver background and recorded six interceptions and two defensive touchdowns this past season."

2. Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo

Quinyon Mitchell is SIS' third-ranked cornerback prospect after having a productive senior season at Toledo. Mitchell had 17 pass breakups on 59 targets and ranks in the top 10 among cornerback prospects in hand-on-ball percentage, yards allowed per man coverage snap and total points per game allowed out wide.

Jeremy Percy adds, "Mitchell has fantastic ball skills and excels at getting his hands on the ball at the catch point. He also has good catching skills and is a constant interception threat."

1. Cooper DeJean, Iowa

Cooper DeJean ranks as our top ballhawk and sixth-highest cornerback. DeJean ranked fifth in total points per game and fourth in yards per coverage snap among 2024 prospects in his final season at Iowa, a year after picking off five passes as a sophomore.

His broken fibula kept him out of the pre-draft process for the most part, but he has the football intelligence, athleticism and toughness to compete at the next level.

Nathan Cooper writes of DeJean, "He's incredibly cerebral, reading the quarterback's eyes and route concepts and falling off routes to jump others with an uncanny ability. ... He shows natural hands to take the ball the other way if given the opportunity."

This article was written by James Weaver.