As part of an occasional series, Fanspeak will offer tips and best practices for its wildly popular and first-of-its-kind On The Clock draft simulator.
Today’s topic: Safeties are rarely drafted high. So where do you slot them on your own big board?
Despite not picking off a pass for the first time in four seasons, Eric Reid had career-year in 2019 for Carolina.
Starting all 16 games, Reid, 28, finished with a career-high in tackles (130) and sacks (4) and also had six pass deflections, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. A former 2013 first-round pick by San Francisco, Reid also tied Arizona’s Budda Baker for the most snaps of any safety in the league with 1,212.
So what was his reward?
Reid was released – about a year after signing a three-year, $22 million contract with Carolina.
Such is life of the safety.
When cobbling together your own personalized Fanspeak On The Clock big board, you have to keep in mind where safeties are typically drafted.
Last year is a good example, as it was considered fairly top-heavy with plenty of Day 2 talent capable of starting as rookies. Overall, 19 safeties were drafted, including two in the first round (Darnell Savage of Maryland, who went to Green Bay with pick No. 21, and Johnathan Abram of Mississippi State, who went No. 27 overall to Las Vegas).
Ranking this safety class is difficult because they all do different things.
I feel like you need to separate the position into 3 categories:
Centerfielders (I.E. Grant Delpit)
Box Safeties (I.E. Kyle Dugger)
Hybrids (I.E. Xavier McKinney)
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) March 21, 2020
Four other safeties were drafted in the second round (Marquise Blair of Utah, Nasir Adderley of Delaware, Taylor Rapp of Washington and Juan Thornhill of Virginia).
In total, nearly 70 percent – 13 out of 19 – of the safeties last year were drafted within the first four rounds, including five that were selected in Round 4. And of those 13, seven played at least 50 percent of the defensive snaps, according to Football Outsiders. To be fair, two of those safeties – Abram and Adderley – missed significant time due to injuries, so that total could have been higher.
In other words, if you wanted to draft a rookie starter or at least a contributor at safety, you needed to pick him no later than early in the fourth round last season.
While last year was, indeed, somewhat top-heavy at the position, it still followed a pattern when it comes to drafting safeties.
From 2010 to 2019, there were:
If you follow that trend, then the math is pretty easy when deciding where to slot safeties in your customized On The Clock big board. On average, two are drafted in the first, second and third rounds, while three are typically drafted in the fourth round.
Breaking it down further, approximately 55 percent of all safeties drafted the past 10 years were selected within the first four rounds – which is not a surprise, considering those four rounds make up more than half of the draft.
Remember when Florida State’s Derwin James was a sure-fire top-10 pick? Although James is considered one of the top safeties in the NFL, he wasn’t drafted until the Los Angeles Chargers took him with the 17th overall pick in 2018.
Fair or not, safety is one of those positions that rarely goes high in the draft, due in part to the impact they have on the field and the lack of quality at what’s considered “premium” positions. Case in point: James, who missed most of last year with an injury, was a Pro Bowler as a rookie, while players like QB Josh Rosen, edge Marcus Davenport and OT Kolton Miller were all drafted before James that year.
Again, though, QB, pass rusher and OT are considered “premium” positions. Safety is not.
As last year shows, a safety drafted in the second, third or even early in the fourth round is just as likely to have an impact his rookie year as a first-rounder.
So an important factor to consider when customizing your own big board is that the “sweet spot” is in the fourth round, where most of the safeties are drafted.
Jake Rigdon covers the NFL draft for Fanspeak. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.