2024 NFL Draft Position Review: Safeties

Kamren Kinchens

Safety Class

Early-round talent: D+
Mid-round: D
Late-round: C-
Overall grade: D+

Merging the 2023 and 2024 prospects

Cooper DeJean
Brian Branch
Quan Martin
Sydney Brown
Tyler Nubin
Kam Kinchens
Javon Bullard
Cole Bishop
Ji’Ayir Brown
Jordan Battle
Calen Bullock

Just to be clear, this article and series is all my opinion based off my own study and information I’ve gotten from general managers, directors of college scouting, national scouts, area scouts and NFL coaches. They all know way more than I do.

Last year was there were no safeties selected in the first round, but there were some good players taken on Day 2. The 2024 NFL Draft has a true first-round talent in DeJean and some quality prospects on Day 2, but very little good depth. Tyler Nubin, Kam Kinchens, Javon Bullard and Cole Bishop are second-/third-rounders, comparable to Sydney Brown and Ji’Ayir Brown. Calen Bullock is a potential late third-rounder, similar to Battle.

Safest Pick: Cooper DeJean, Iowa

Previous Picks:
2023: Brian Branch
2022: Kyle Hamilton
2021: Jevon Holland
2020: Xavier McKinney
2019: Johnathan Abram
2018: Minkah Fitzpatrick
2017: Malik Hooker
2016: Jalen Ramsey
2015: Landon Collins
2014: HaHa Clinton-Dix
2013: Kenny Vacarro

This year was not a difficult choice because DeJean is a very good football player. He is an excellent weapon in coverage as he can play safety, outside corner, and slot corner. DeJean possesses tremendous instincts and ball skills to make game-changing plays. Beyond his intelligence, DeJean is big and fast with athletic upside. Thanks to his instincts, DeJean could be a dynamic weapon at safety. He looks like a safe pick to be a very good NFL defensive back.

Biggest Bust Potential: Sione Vaki, Utah

Previous Picks:
2023: Brandon Joseph
2022: Vernon McKinley
2021: Caden Sterns
2020: Ashtyn Davis
2019: Deionte Thompson
2018: Ronnie Harrison
2017: Jabrill Peppers
2016: Darian Thompson
2015: Gerod Holliman
2014: Ed Reynolds
2013: Eric Reid

This was a tough decision because no player really jumped out. Vaki has received some second-day hype, but I think he is a third-day player who could be a solid backup. Perhaps he goes on Day 2 of the 2024 NFL Draft, and if he is a backup after that point, that would make him overdrafted because second-day picks are expected to develop into starters during their rookie contracts.

Cornerback Rankings by Attributes

Man Coverage:

NFL prototype: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Steelers
  1. Cooper DeJean
  2. Javon Bullard
  3. Calen Bullock
  4. Kam Kinchens
  5. Cole Bishop
  6. Tyler Nubin

Recap: The NFL is a passing-driven league, and safeties with the ability to play some man coverage are a hot commodity. Many safeties are too stiff to match up against a slot receiver, a tight end or a receiving running back. Offenses seek out those mismatches, so good safeties have some man-coverage ability.

DeJean is the top-rated prospect because along with being able to play safety, he is a capable slot or outside cover corner who has size, speed and athleticism. Thanks to his excellent feel, anticipation, and route recognition, DeJean is able to run with receivers and prevent separation. In the NFL, DeJean could be an excellent coverage asset with the man-coverage skill to can take on tight ends, slot receivers, or big wideouts on the outside.

A great attribute that Bullard possesses is being able to play nickel corner. He is good in man coverage to line up over the slot receiver and prevent separation. Bullard also can play man coverage on tight ends, although his size could be a problem in that role. Still, Bullard could be a man-coverage nickel corner to handle slot receivers.

There is no doubt that Bullock has good height to him and has excellent straight-line speed for a big corner. In the NFL, he could fit a press-man, off-man, or zone corner. Bullock has the speed to run verticals with fast receivers to go along with the height to match up with long receivers. Bullock is physical and projects well to matching up with big wideouts.

Kinchens, Bishop and Nubin were not man-coverage safeties in college, but they showed some ability to contribute on receivers downfield, slot receivers, and tight ends.

Zone Coverage:

NFL prototype: Marcus Williams, Ravens
  1. Kam Kinchens
  2. Cooper DeJean
  3. Cole Bishop
  4. Tyler Nubin
  5. Javon Bullard
  6. Calen Bullock

Recap: The ability to handle zone coverage is a must in the NFL. There are teams that weigh this heavier than others due to scheme. Zone safeties need to be intelligent, plus cover a lot of ground while playing disciplined and instinctive football. They have to be able to pick up receivers who work through the short and intermediate part of the field. None of these safeties looks bad in zone, rather they all are good in zone.

In zone coverage, Kinchens and DeJean superb. They cover a lot of ground, pick up receivers who come into their area, and demonstrate the instincts to make game-changing plays. They both enter the next level as valuable middle-of-the-field coverage safeties.

Nubin, Bullard, Bishop and Bullock all have the potential to be solid zone-coverage safeties. Bishop could have the most versatility to play zone in the intermediate or deep part of the field. Bullock is more suited to playing in the deep portion of the field because his thin frame could be a problem for tackling tight ends and backs in the intermediate portion.

Run Defense:

NFL prototype: Kyle Hamilton, Ravens
  1. Cole Bishop
  2. Cooper DeJean
  3. Kam Kinchens
  4. Tyler Nubin
  5. Javon Bullard
  6. Calen Bullock

Recap: The NFL doesn’t have as large of a need for the big, physical safeties of the ’80s and ’90s who were mini-linebackers. Still, coaches want safeties who are good tacklers and run defenders who are capable of playing in the box. All of these players showed some solid run defense during their collegiate careers.

In the ground game, Bishop can drive downhill and tackle in the box. He is adept at making open-field tackles and preventing offenses from breaking big plays. Bishop flies around the field and is super aggressive. He is also a dependable tackler and will dish out some hard hits. For the NFL, it might help him to improve his ability to get off blocks.

DeJean is willing to tackle, and he uses his speed to eat up ground in a blur. With his outstanding instincts, DeJean is always around the ball and makes a lot of clutch open-field tackles.

Kinchens is a solid and willing run defender. He will come downhill to make tackles and is skilled at making some clutch tackles in the open field. While he is not the biggest of safeties, he is put together pretty well for his size and is able to tackle.

Nubin was a contributor as run defender and had a big presence for the Golden Gophers. He shows closing speed and comes downhill quickly to make tackles in run support. Nubin is able to get off blocks and has some good instincts to be around the ball. Thanks to his toughness and size, Nubin can function as the eighth man in the box. However, Nubin does have a problem with missed tackles and taking some bad angles. Those are aspects that he needs to improve as a pro. Still, Nubin is a confident and instinctive defender who provides a big presence for his defense.

In the ground game, Bullard will drive downhill and tackle in the box. He is very adept at making open-field tackles and preventing offenses from breaking big plays. Bullard is a willing tackler and will dish out some hard hits. He doesn’t hesitate to get physical in the secondary and rock ball-carriers. However at his size, there are natural concerns about him being able to hold up as a pro with tackling NFL power backs, tight ends, and wide receivers.

If Bullock were to stay at safety, he should be deployed deep downfield because he does not have the size to be the eighth man in the box. While he is lean, Bullock is a solid tackler for his size and willing to help in run support. If he is moved to cornerback, his run defense could be a nice plus for his team with him on the outside.

Ball Skills:

NFL prototype: Justin Simmons, Free Agent
  1. Kam Kinchens
  2. Cooper DeJean
  3. Tyler Nubin
  4. Calen Bullock
  5. Javon Bullard
  6. Cole Bishop

Recap: The NFL is always hunting for safeties with a knack for picking off passes. Safeties who possess the ball skills to catch errant throws or slap passes away from receivers are great assets. Elite safeties have a knack for creating turnovers.

This year’s class has a few ball hawks, led by Kinchens. He was an amazing turnover machine in college, racking up 12 interceptions over the past two seasons. Kinchens has tremendous instincts that lead him to making plays on the ball. DeJean is on a par with Kinchens as well. Over the past two years, DeJean notched seven interceptions and 18 passes broken up. With his superb instincts, DeJean appears all over the field and makes a ton of plays on the ball.

Nubin showed improved ball skills in 2023 with five interceptions and four passes broken. Many big safeties struggle to play the ball well, but Nubin does an impressive job for a thickly built safety.

Bullock put up steady ball production over the past three seasons for the Trojans. He shows nice hands and uses his length well to high point the ball. Bullock’s ball skills are a strength entering the NFL.

Bullard and Bishop had some ball production in college, but nothing special.

Tight End Defense:

NFL prototype: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Steelers
  1. Cooper DeJean
  2. Tyler Nubin
  3. Kam Kinchens
  4. Cole Bishop
  5. Calen Bullock
  6. Javon Bullard

Recap: Coaches are looking for safeties who can match up against the dangerous receiving tight ends who have become the rage in the NFL. Starting with the likes of Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, there is currently a pursuit of receiving tight ends. Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen, Tracis Kelce and Darren Waller have been so effective over the years that defensive coordinators had to come up with game plans to defend them. Safeties who can cover tight ends are one of the best ways to defend those play-makers.

The top four in this group are safeties who are capable of matching up in one-on-ones with tight ends. DeJean is an athletic cover corner who has the size to match up with tight ends. Nubin can help in covering tight ends, as he has the size and speed to do it. Kinchens did a very good job in coverage on tight ends last fall. Bishop is similar and can help in man coverage on tight ends.

Bullock and Bullard are better suited to play zone. Bullock has height and speed, but he is lean and could get pushed around in the NFL. Bullard competes well, but he is undersized to play man on tight ends.

Tackling & Hitting Ability:

NFL prototype: Derwin James, Chargers
  1. Cole Bishop
  2. Kam Kinchens
  3. Cooper DeJean
  4. Tyler Nubin
  5. Javon Bullard
  6. Calen Bullock

Recap: Even though the NFL is trying to reduce the knockout shots that put some safeties in the Hall of Fame, a safety who is a hard hitter and can separate the ball is loved by coaches. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that tackling is getting worse considering how much players are restricted on hitting. It isn’t hard to see why as players don’t get to practice tackling very often. Even in the rare padded practice, players very rarely take a ball-carrier to the ground. The union has restricted contact, while teams want to avoid injuries. Tackling is becoming a lost art.

Bishop and Kinchens are good form tacklers who show steady technique to get ball-carriers on the ground. Kinchens is in danger of hitting himself out of the NFL though. DeJean is a good tackler and reliable. Nubin is a bit of feast-or-famine in this regard. He can dish out some hard hits and punish ball-carriers. However, Nubin also has issues with missed tackles.

Bullard is aggressive and is looking for contact with physicality when taking on ball-carriers. However, he is undersized for tackling in the NFL. Bullock also is very lean, which could be a real problem if he stays at safety at the pro level.

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