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2022 NFL Draft Preview: Ben Fennell’s Top Safeties

Top Safeties
This is the final part of our 11-part positional breakdown of the April 28-30 NFL draft. Today: the Safeties
Ben Fennell is an Emmy award-winning producer, editor and analyst across several sports and media platforms. He has been involved in the production of the last eight drafts for NFL Network and also is a producer for the NFL on CBS. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @BenFennell_nfl

Safeties typically aren’t hot Day 1 commodities in the draft. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is that safeties just aren’t valued as highly today in many NFL defensive schemes as they once were.

The rule changes, which have eliminated much of the physicality safeties once brought to defenses, has had a lot to do with that. Because of that, teams tend to feel they can always convert bigger, more physical corners into safeties if they can’t cut it on the outside or in the slot.

Many teams now also favor three-safety sub-packages in certain situations. Most of those third safeties are Day 2 or 3 picks.

The last true safety taken in the first round of the draft was Darnell Savage, who was selected by the Green Bay Packers with the 21st pick in 2019.

Five defensive backs were taken in the first round of last year’s draft and six in 2020. All 11 were cornerbacks.

That will change this year. Kyle Hamilton, a 6-4, 220-pound safety from Notre Dame, will be taken in the first round, possibly in the top-10. A second, Georgia’s Lewis Cine, also could go late in the first round. At worst, he’ll be an early second-round pick.

Overall, NFL Network draft analyst Ben Fennell has dubbed the safety class in next week’s draft as “just OK.’’

Said Fennell: “It’s a little top-heavy. You’ve got Hamilton and Cine who both should go in the top 40. Then you have a few other guys who could go on Day 2.

“The Day 3 safety group isn’t as interesting. It includes guys that could turn out to be good special-teamers. But it’s not as exciting or deep as the corner class or the edge-rushers.’’

Fennell’s top 5

1—Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame, 6-4, 220, Rd. 1

2—Lewis Cine, Georgia, 6-2, 199, Rd. 1-2

3—Nick Cross, Maryland, 6-0, 202, Rd. 3-4

4—Kerby Joseph, Illinois, 6-1, 203, Rd. 3-4

5—Bryan Cook, Cincinnati, 6-1, 206, Rd. 5-6

The Best

Kyle Hamilton

Notre Dame

6-4, 220

Arms: 33 inches

40 time: 4.59 seconds

Vertical jump: 38 inches

Ben’s take: “Hamilton is a big, rangy back-end safety. He’s an incredibly fluid athlete. Long limbs. Great ball skills. Elite range. He had 24 pass defenses and eight interceptions in 19 starts for the Irish. Has a high football IQ. Very good at reading-and-reacting. He’s not really the thumper, the killer-over-the-middle type. He’s a little klunky in man coverage, but just needs to improve his technique. Wasn’t very effective as a blitzer at Notre Dame. He didn’t have any sacks there.

“You want him with his eyes on the quarterback and eating up ground. Baiting [the quarterback] into throws. Making plays on the ball on the back end, running the alley, things like that. He didn’t run particularly well at the combine. Ran a 4.57, which is fine for a 6-4, 220-pound guy. But when you’re that size, they want you to be Derwin James. He’s not that. He’s a little more of a Jeremy Chinn type. I can give you some other less exciting comps like George Iloka and Aaron Rouse. Those guys were really good pros for a long time.

WATCH: Mike Tannenbaum’s Kyle Hamilton Scouting Report

“The terms prodigy and generational talent have been thrown around for so long with him. That’s why that 4.57 was a little disappointing to people. He’s now slid out of the top 5 conversation to the 7 to 15 range, or maybe even a little further back. But he’s going to be a top-20 pick and he’s going to be a very good NFL player.

“He’s probably a single-high free safety in the NFL. He’s just a really long, incredible, back-end guy who can cover a lot of ground, make plays from the middle of the field or the drive lines. He has incredible ball skills. To the point where the team that drafts him is going to wonder, can he maybe run a post for us now and then. He also is an effective gunner on punt coverage.’’

Round projection: 1

The Riser

Lewis Cine

Georgia

6-2, 199

Arms: 32 ¼ inches

40 time: 4.37 seconds

Vertical jump: 37 inches

Ben’s take: “Tested out of this world at the combine and had an incredible year with Georgia. Remember, he was just a one-year starter because they had a lot of talent in their previous classes. Guys like J.R. Reed and Richard Lecounte. He finally got an opportunity to start this year and he helped them win a national championship. His stock as a player has been on the same trajectory as most of the rest of that great Georgia defense – Devonte Wyatt, Jordan Davis, Travon Walker. As the team got more successful, these guys got more eyeballs on them.

 “This guy is an absolute thumper in the alley. He can play on the back end. He’s the type of guy who wakes up in the morning and wants to play the run. But he also has really good ball skills, really good range, and with a really nasty kind of attitude on the field. Good play temperament and a very physical player.’’

Round projection: 1-2

The Sleeper

Kerby Joseph

Illinois

6-1, 203

Arms: 33 inches

40 time: N/A

Vertical jump: 38 ½ inches

Ben’s take: “He’s another guy who’s really a true back-end free safety. Has very good ball skills and impressive range on the back end. Can also show off that range running the alley, making plays on the perimeter and helping out in the flats from the middle of the field. He had five interceptions for a 5-7 Illinois team that was ranked 43rd in passing yards allowed. He’s made tons of impressive plays showing range on the back end, getting out of the middle of the field, chasing verticals to the sideline.

“Had a good week at the Senior Bowl.  His special-team skills also will help his draft stock.’’

Round projection: 3-4